Being Friends With Your Ex Is Impossible, Right?

Last night I went to go see Celeste and Jesse Forever — the new indie rom-com starring Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones that’s about a couple who, despite being separated, remain best friends. I have to admit that my expectations for it were low. I had read things about it being an anti-rom-com which, in Hollywood speak, typically means a lot of twee montages of a couple riding bikes and making mixed tapes for one another. I’ve found these so-called authentic movies about love to be more insulting than a mainstream Nicholas Sparks movie because they claim to actually give you an honest depiction of relationships when, in fact, they’re just as phony and saccharine as anything else. Last time I checked, relationships didn’t come with a Moldy Peaches soundtrack and couples didn’t do things like run around together in a water fountain all day.

To my relief, Celeste and Jesse Forever managed to avoid the shallowness that pervades most standard indie rom-com fare and actually showcased a relationship that felt uncomfortably real and engrossing. You cared about these characters. You understood the dynamic. You got why these two people fell in and out of love with each other but still couldn’t let go of the friendship even after all was said and done. At the crux of it, Celeste and Jesse Forever is about the foundation of love, which is always friendship. Your lover should always be, first and foremost, your best friend. If the relationship ever ends, it’s what you will miss the most. You think you’ll be missing the sexual aspects of it, and maybe you will, but above all, you will be mourning the loss of your best friend. You’ll miss the fact that they were your companion, your partner in crime, more than you’ll miss the sex. Sex can be replaced, sex can be picked up at a bar. Connections, however, are rare and can only grow with time.

Watching Celeste and Jesse Forever made me revisit the age-old question of “Can you be BFF with your ex?” In my experience, the answer has been no. I dated my best friend in high school and when it ended, I didn’t have the wherewithal to cut him out. Instead, we just resumed our close friendship without the sex for FIVE YEARS. Oh, it killed me and all my friends were just like, “Ryan, what the hell are you doing? He’s your ex. You can’t be friends with him.” I would dismiss them, saying that it happened back in high school so it didn’t count. We were older now, more mature, and could totally be best friends without it getting weird.

Wrong. So wrong. This is always wrong, right? When has this ever worked out for anybody? Maybe in your 30s and 40s when maturity is a real thing instead of something we PRETEND to have but it certainly doesn’t happen when you’re a 22-year-old psycho with little experience in relationships. Simply put, I lost my shit for five solid years. As long as we continued to be best friends, I was a damn basket case. Why? Because I had never had such a close friendship with another gay guy before or after and it screwed with my head. Our bond was so iron-clad that it made my feelings all smudgy. If we got along so well, why weren’t we together? Isn’t that what you should do with your best friend who also likes boys? Shouldn’t we just get married and be best friends forever?

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. It never is. But I did know one thing for certain: I couldn’t continue being best friends with him. I needed to move on and I couldn’t do that when we were still hanging out every day. It also screwed with my motivation to date and fall in love with someone else. For a while, I was content with just being best friends with him and not having sex. It adequately filled the void for me. Why look for someone else when I’m happy with this person?

These were the lies I would tell myself to delay doing what I knew was the only possible option, which was ending things once and for all. I thought that I was fine with just having our close friendship and didn’t need sex. Our emotional connection was enough for me! That, of course, wasn’t true. You do need sex. You do need intimacy. And since you’re not going to get it from your ex, you need to find someone who can actually fulfill all your needs.

It was one of the hardest things I had to do and I still miss the friendship. I know now that close connections, whether they be romantic or platonic, are hard to come by. But for the sake of my sanity and my own love life, I needed to cut the chord.  In my case, I couldn’t be close friends with an ex. It didn’t work for me.

Has it worked for any of you? I’m genuinely curious. TC Mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

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