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Friends Without Benefits

"I think we should just be friends" is easier said than done especially when old feelings start popping back up. One reader asked the 4-way panel to weigh in on remaining friends with an ex.

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Dear 4-Way,
I recently started hanging out again with a woman I used to date. We mutually decided that we wanted to be friends—nothing more. I really enjoy spending time with her and I know she feels the same. My problem is that when she mentions other women she’s gone on dates with or is interested in, I feel jealous, and that confuses me. Do these feelings of jealousy mean I still have more-than-friendship feelings for her? If so, should I still hang out with her? I thought my romantic feelings were gone, but I can’t imagine what else would be causing me to feel jealous. Any thoughts?—BJ, San Francisco, CA

The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
Friends and nothing more. Hmmmm. In my life, there is nothing more important than friendships.

BJ, there are many kinds of love: romantic, family, and friends. Don’t trivialize the deep feelings that come along with friendship. Just because you’re not attracted to one another doesn’t mean that you don’t value the connection and want to spend time together.  As for the jealousy thing (evil monster that it is), friendship jealousy is real. I’ve been jealous of my straight and gay guy friends when they start dating someone and we spend less time together. Does that mean that I want to date these guys? I really don’t think so. Yet there’s a deep intimacy I have with my friends—men and women alike—and when they go off and form bonds with others, it can be tough.

I wonder what else you have going on in your life? If you’re single and she’s dating, I can see where issues could arise. I don’t know how long you dated, how close the two of you are, or if you were friends first. But I do know that when you date, you spend a lot of time together. Knowing that she’s doing that with someone other than you can make you feel your loneliness even more, especially when you add in the fact that in the lesbian world, we seem to have a tough time differentiating friendship-intimacy from lover-intimacy.  This is what I’ve learned: If you lead a life where you have good friends (not just her) who love and support you, not only will your jealousy subside, but you will have a pretty darn good life. 

The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
This is exactly why I think being friends is (usually) a bad, bad idea. Each person generally has a different agenda for what she wants to happen post-breakup. The ender of the relationship usually thinks being friends is the greatest thing since Splenda or the hybrid car; she gets all the benefits of friendship without having to deal with any of the relationship drama.  The breakup-ee, on the other hand, wants to be friends because, whether she wants to admit it or not, she secretly hopes that the other person will fall madly in love with her after finally—finally!—understanding that lasting relationships really are built on friendship. Who needs attraction? Chemistry, shmemistry!

Bringing together two different people with such different goals can be disastrous. Notice that I said “can” be; it isn’t always. I do think it’s possible to be genuine friends, but enough time has to pass between the breakup and the inception of the friends phase so that any raw feelings of pain or anger have passed.  I think these types of friendships are filled with lots of awkward firsts—the first time you get together, that she mentions dating someone else, or that you do the awkward hug goodbye instead of the kiss goodbye will all be weird—but that doesn’t mean you can’t get past them. Maybe you’re still in one of these awkward first phases right now. Give it some time. If the jealous feelings don’t go away, yes, you may still have feelings for her. You could also just be nursing a damaged ego because you aren’t the one she’s excited about anymore. Give it some time, give her a chance, and see what happens.

The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
I don’t think it’s at all unusual for you to have these feelings. I’ve always been a firm believer that once someone touches your heart, she will always have a special place in your life in one capacity or another.  Remember, just because you’ve agreed to change the status of someone in your life, it does not mean that change will happen overnight. Some of us make a clean break from a partner and walk away. We never have to see that person we left behind again and we don’t have to address feelings of replacement. Some of us choose to keep people in our lives no matter what it takes.

There’s a big difference in loving someone and being in love. Which one fits in this instance? If you reach the conclusion that you are in fact still in love with this person with whom you’ve parted ways, be honest with yourself and with her. You’ll either open doors or close them, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with your feelings. Just don’t be selfish and try to get her back simply because you’re jealous. 

The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
The adage goes, “You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” While I don’t recommend picking your friend’s nose, at least not in public, I do heavily recommend picking your friends carefully.

Friends (and family) are the most important people in your life, and you should put some serious thought into who you’re spending your valuable time with.  Your choice to hang out with someone you dated is a tenuous decision and one I warn against doing. Why did you two start to hang out again? San Francisco is a big city; I can’t believe you couldn’t find anyone else to hang out with.  You say you mutually decided to be friends, but I wonder if that’s really the case. My man’s intuition—we can have it too!—tells me one of you likes the other person as more than just friends and secretly wishes you’ll get back together, and I’m guessing it’s you who feels that way.

Don’t kid yourself; you’re jealous because you still have some feelings for her. That emotion is no picnic and you’re going to feel it on a regular basis if you continue to hang out with her.  Obviously, as a friend, you’ve got to be okay with her dating other people. Not only do you need to be okay with it, but you also need to be supportive and encouraging as she tries to find love. That’s what friends do. I feel like you’ll be sabotaging her, even if only on a subconscious level, as she confides in you. That’s not what friends do.  By the way, she may experience feelings of jealousy too, and could do some surreptitious sabotaging of her own when you start dating others. I also think it’s a potential minefield for your future dating life to be friends with an ex. Especially one you haven’t resolved your feelings for.

Pick friends you haven’t been romantically involved with and leave her for good. Use some discipline—learn what you were supposed to learn from your relationship with her and move forward to new friends and new loves without the baggage.

 

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