Years ago, a former roommate had a particularly acrimonious breakup with a man we’ll call Frank. They’d fallen hard and fast at first, and everything was sprinkles and roses for eight months. Until one evening over dinner, when Frank told her he wanted to be JUST FRIENDS instead of DATINGPARTNERTHINGS. But, Frank said, he did not want to lose the wonderful friendship they had. So he swore he up and down that they would be buddies, and he would henceforth make every effort to make things not-weird.
This roommate went home tearfully, got drunk, and then proceeded to spend the next six months doing what all naïve heartbreak victims do: she allowed Frank’s barrage of ‘friendly’ text messages, Facebook likes, and mass-emailed happy hour invitations to pour an enormous pile of salt on her infected, open flesh-wound of a heart. He had certainly made good on his promise of platonic kinship, and the more casual offers he dispensed the more the rusty knife in her hopeful little heart twisted.
Their strained relationship rotted quietly for a few months, occasionally bubbling over into a stank mess when mixed with alcohol. Each time it did, she’d melt into a pool on the bar bathroom floor/house party bathroom floor/apartment lobby floor and wail the same old wail: “Why is he [verbage implying sexual congress] that [noun implying a loose woman] and then being totally [adjective referring to Frank’s narcissistic lead-ons to emotionally crippled exes]? Are we even FRIENDSSS?!”
And you know what?
Fuck this type of breakup.
Yes, I said it: fuck the lingering are-we-friends-yet breakup. Unfortunately, uncouplings of this ilk are very common. Technology and social media allow our gray areas to be even grayer—so much so that sometimes we aren’t even sure if a relationship is actually over. We place a premium on post-breakup friendships as a sign of our own conviviality. But that’s not usually possible right out of the gate. And that is because when someone we love leaves us, we usually miss that person and feel like crap when they’re around. Breakups beget vulnerability, and vulnerability can lead to terrible, Frank-shaped delusions. The only way to combat those delusions is with a self-prescribed dose of harsh reality, and often that can only be achieved by separating yourself from the thing that is bothering you. Consciously uncoupling from your own lovesickness, if you will.
That said, here are a few affirmations to keep abreast if you decide to untangle yourself from your paramour-turned-frenemy.
1. A person who dumps you and pushes immediate friendship cares about their feelings more than yours. If this person truly cared about you, he/she would see you were in writhing heart-pain and give you space to get over it.
2. Being friends with Frank is not going to bring Frank back. Stalking Frank on Facebook will not bring Frank back either. Neither will sending him drunk texts on his birthday. Frank is not coming back, because Frank dumped you. Out of the 8 billion people on this planet, do you want to be with the one person who explicitly doesn’t want you? No. No, you do not.
3. Engaging stops healing. Delete the phone number. Set social media blocks. If you run in similar circles, take steps to avoid this person for a while if you need to. It’s not evasion; it’s self-protection. You don’t owe your ex anything. Every minute you spend idly on a Frank is a minute you are denying yourself.
4. Being friends isn’t a sign of success. People love to brag about how quickly they befriended their exes. Why? That is not a sign of maturity; if anything, it’s a giant neon sign your fire died a long time ago. If a true friendship develops over time, great. You don’t need to force it, and you certainly don’t need to expedite it.
5. Ripping a Band-aid off hurts less than slowly peeling it off. Go through a little pain now to spare a lot of it later. If you’re the one pulling a soft-breakup to spare someone else’s feelings, STOP IT. Most exes cannot become immediate friends, and that no-contact period is not up to you. Consider closely exactly whose feelings you’re trying to protect. Almost nobody enjoys being faded out gradually. Almost everybody appreciates clear communication with respectful honesty.
6. You have better friends. You wonder: Will you ever find someone who likes “Maude” as much as you do?? Yes. You will. Just look around you and take stock of the people in your life who maybe aren’t ripping your heart to weird shreds. Find those people. Spend time with them. Move on.
Most importantly? Do not break up soft. There is no glamour or grace in softness. Break up hard, and sometimes accept that there will be a mess and that it’s for your own good. Then disengage and stick to your guns. Dare to ask for more than a courtesy invite to happy hour. There are other fish in the sea, and life is short. There is love for you. Stop trying to cultivate Frank the Friend, and go find it.
Thanks, amitp, for the image!
Hannah VanderPoel is a writer and filmmaker in New York City. She works at MTV. Previous credits include Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and HBO. You can follow her on Twitter @hanvanderpoel.
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