In which I wonder about ‘being friends’

My friends, I am single again. For those of you who never knew I had temporarily eschewed my single state, worry not – because I am again an ‘I’ rather than a ‘we’.

This relationship ended with what I like to call the classic ‘constructive dismissal’. This is where your boyfriend behaves in a way that indicates, quite clearly, that he is no longer that into you (doesn’t return your calls, takes a day to reply to polite text enquiries about his health or his weekend, when asked when he’s available to catch up for dinner/drinks/a quiet night in tells you only about all the busy busy stuff he has got on, and nothing about when he might be able to squeeze you in – you get the picture…) but because he lacks the balls to actually end it himself, waits until you can no longer take it and you end it for him.

I’ve been in this situation before – the most extreme version of which was my marriage, in which my husband’s persistent affairs demonstrated a pretty obvious ‘not that into you’ scenario which he was not brave enough to confront himself, and it was left to me to tell him to leave. In some senses, I suppose, this did give me a certain sense of empowerment (although it didn’t feel like it at the time), and I’m sure he was surprised that I let it all go on for so long before I gave him his marching orders (I know I am, looking back with the benefit of hindsight).

After the end of our marriage, it was my ex-husband’s fervent wish that we would be friends. At first I tried very hard at this, until I realised a couple of things. The first was that he had not been a very good friend to me over the years. A friend would not have treated me the way he had done, and there was really no evidence to suggest that he had anything to offer me in terms of friendship. Friendship with him seemed to be very one-sided, and mainly about me overlooking how badly he had hurt me, and continuing to care about his wellbeing and happiness.

The second thing I realised was that my being friends with my ex meant that I continued to provide him with the bit of our marriage that he had most valued – possibly the only bit that he had valued – someone in the background who provided stability, and made him look functional. So he would come to my house and hang out, get a meal cooked for him, have me check he was all ok, spend an hour or so with his children, and then bugger off to his latest girlfriend’s house – which was pretty much what he had done throughout our marriage.

And so I put a stop to it. I told him that we were not friends and we would not be – because he had no idea how to be someone’s friend.

But now I find myself having ended a relationship again and the man in question wanting us to be friends. It’s given rise to a lot of old feelings that are not his fault, but have left me pondering why this makes me so sad.

I think the thing is that what I want from a man – first and foremost – is someone who will treat me at the very least as well as they would treat a friend. When I’m in a relationship, they are getting something deeper, more valuable, more precious than just my friendship. Why then treat me with more respect and care when I am not a girlfriend than when I am?

I think often these friendships serve mainly to help people feel better about the way they have behaved in a relationship, and I’m not sure what is in that for me. In addition to that, I’ve been (unsuccessfully) dating for nearly 5 years. I’m not sure I want to repopulate my friendship group with men with whom I’ve had a relationship. Although – to be fair – I have made a few friends out of men I dated. But those men were good friends to me during the relationship, and the transition into that new status was painless for both of us.

Then, of course, the ‘friend’ thing tends to get complicated when new people appear on the scene. A friendship is not meaningful if you are dropped when they find a new woman, and many women don’t react well to ex girlfriends pursuing even platonic relationships with their new beau. In my age group, we are all, after all, often already dealing with the ex wife. I have a dear friend, who used to be a boyfriend, whose girlfriend ended her relationship with him when I appeared (invited, obviously…) at his birthday party. When I spoke to him about it, he said that any girlfriends would need to accept his friends, whoever they are.

That is, of course, how real friendship plays out over time, no matter how it started. So if your boyfriend has failed to be a good friend to you whilst you were his girlfriend, what evidence is there to suggest that he would be any better at it when you are not?

Only time will tell, I suppose…

4 thoughts on “In which I wonder about ‘being friends’

  1. Well thought Wendy. I have a friend that is single mum as well, and she surrounds herself with all her ex’s. I went to her birthday lunch and all these men showed up at various times, knowing no one, all kinda waiting for maybe a second of her attention. I thought it was really sad that that actually needed to happen.
    Ex’s are ex’s for a reason. Maybe occasionally and rarely a boyfriend could be a boy friend and the reason for splitting was mutual and respectful.

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    • Thanks Jo.
      I think you’re right – Ex’s really are an ex for a reason. And I think, even in the case of ex-husbands, with whom you share children, it is possible to relate to one another as parents in a respectful way, without being actual friends. I often wonder about people who say their ex is their best friend – I’m inclined to think that if that is the case, particularly if they have children, that they should have stayed together. But that’s just my view…

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  2. You’ve made some great points there and I tend to agree. How will you be treated any better as a friend if you weren’t treated well (or as well as you should have been) as a girlfriend? I have asked for friendship before but it’s only been when I’ve dated someone a few times and there’s been no romantic spark. I figure having a friend is great, and it’s a good way to meet more people. I am not friends with any of my exes (not that there’s a ton of them), and I don’t want to be. They hurt me and they didn’t treat me well. Who needs friends like that? I really think that the reason people ask to be friends when they end a relationship is because it makes them feel better. And whilst I understand that, I don’t have to be a part of it.

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    • Thanks Alice – I think becoming friends with a man you’ve dated in lieu of actually getting into a relationship is a great way to make new friends and expand your network. And I have offered that from time to time, but I’ve rarely found it works, as often the guy is often hoping that you will realise how amazing they are, and eventually release them from the friend zone! Having said that I do have a couple of notable exceptions who have become valued friends (usually because they didn’t fancy me, which is rude obviously, but in the end much better!)

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