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…