How to a chart a course to friendship with an ex

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Dear Meredith,

Last year I got out of my first relationship, which was serious and lasted a few years. It was a mutual breakup, as some larger incompatibilities were becoming clearer, but painful because the relationship was also positive, and we were still in love. Now I'm exploring this new terrain of getting over a breakup and having an ex.

I'm writing because I need a little direction in where I should be heading with my healing, though perhaps I should trust that over time I'll end up where I should be. Though we are not contacting each other for a while, we left open the possibility of friendship at some point in the distant future. I have enough months of healing behind me now to realize that I'm not sure if I need to be friends, or can ever emotionally get to that point of losing all feeling for this person that would enable closer friendship. I fully accept that the relationship is over and have no intention of getting back together with my ex, yet they also played an important role in my life, and I like the idea of catching up every now and then if we agree to it (in fact I know this person does this with other exes).

So overall, I'm wondering ... how do I deal with having an ex who is a good person, whom I still care about as a person? How do I both draw and respect boundaries of potentially having this person in my life in some way, even if just in my memories? Maybe this is really a question of how to fully let go — or whether I fully need to. Thank you!

– Charting the course


I love the name you chose for your letter because it highlights the problem. You're trying to chart a course to get to a place that isn't on a map. I've said this before here, but grief – including breakup grief – doesn't move in a straight line.

For now, try to avoid imagining scenarios for how a friendship could work in the future, because your guesses won't get you there. There are a zillion ways it could happen – where you're both capable of checking in and laughing about old times while truly rooting for each other – but it's not on the agenda at the moment.

The nice part about a cordial breakup is that you can go to sleep every night knowing that there's a person out there who cares, but, like you, understands that distance is for the best. It's a shared experience. Not so lonely, even though you're dealing with it in different places.

You're spending a ton of energy on him, imagining how your relationship might change. It feels like that's a way to avoid the more exciting question, which is: what's next for you? You’re single, people are getting vaccinated ... no pressure to date at all, but how would you like to spend your time? What music will be your soundtrack? What will you wear? Fantasize about your own life, placing yourself a few months into the future.

You said it best; trust that over time you'll end up where you should be.

– Meredith

Readers? Can you plan friendship with an ex?