Q. After a little over four years of marriage (and 10 years total of being together), my marriage is coming to an end. Not my decision. There were communication problems and things unsaid that I took for granted that she knew. We tried couples counseling for about six months, but all it revealed was that things were not going to improve. I did try to improve, but it was either too little, too late, or she didn’t fully trust what I had to say. She felt we had become, at best, just excellent roommates, and while I agree, I thought it could get back on track and she did not.
Anyway, we are separating on our way to divorce. But before we dated, we were friends. We met in graduate school and knew each other for about a year before we started dating. At that point, we were best friends. Even now, through everything, we still get along and still can have fun together. She has said that she does not want to be married anymore but that she wants to be friends — that she cannot imagine me not in her life.
This leads me to my question — is it an awful idea to try to remain friends after all this? I too can’t imagine her not in my life. But if it were up to me, we would stay married. I don’t know how the friendship works if we are just friends. If we hang out and have fun, either it will upset me because I will want more or think more may still be possible, and/or it may upset me that she can be perfectly fine just being friends. And thinking ahead, what happens when either one of us starts dating someone? I know at this point I wouldn’t want to hear about her dating life. How can a friendship work if there are parts of our lives we can’t share with each other?
Almost every day since she moved out, I am tempted to text or e-mail about my day, and I already miss talking to her and seeing her tremendously. But at the same time, I worry about mixed signals and that if she is friendly, I will take it as a sign she might want to get back together.
I just am really torn. I don’t want her out of my life, I know she wants us to remain friends, and it makes me feel pretty mean and cold to say, “OK, we can divorce if that is what you want, but if so, that will be the end of anything between us.” It sounds mean in my head and very selfish. But I don’t know if any other option works.
Can we be just friends?
A. You don’t have to make a big, final decision about this right now. You’re incapable of having a friendship with her at the moment, but maybe that will change down the road. I think she’d be OK with you saying, “Right now I need space, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Your gut is telling you that if you talk to her right now, you’ll want her back. Listen to those instincts, because it’s too early to think about anything beyond self-preservation. Shutting her out now does not mean that she’s gone forever. Your relationship has evolved into many things over 10 years — you’ve been close friends, partners, and exes. That evolution hasn’t stopped.
Focus on the immediate issue, which is getting through the day and finding new people to text and call when you feel like you want to talk. And let her know, if she asks, that your relationship is a work in progress. You want her in your life, but you need to build a life without her before you can invite her in. Meredith
It sounds as if this was her idea more than yours, and you are still processing the whys and what happeneds. It’s okay to tell her you need time for yourself, and maybe somewhere down the road you can be friends again. Just not now.
Best advice ever from MG. I’ve been there, and am now very good friends with my ex. It’s possible. But not yet.
I think it’s way too early to contemplate a friendship. When my ex and I split, I tried to make it as amicable as possible, and for the most part we were still friendly and courteous. However, I realized it was because he wanted me back and still had/has feelings for me that I just don’t share. It turned him into the bitter, evil, nasty, disgusting human being he is today. You don’t want to be that, so make a clean break and you can revisit this “friendship” thing after the divorce papers are signed.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible for you two to be friends. Someday, maybe. Emphasis on “some” and on “maybe.” She’s got half a say in what the future holds, or does not hold, between the two of you.
As long as you aren’t mean to her or cruel to her in your explanation of what space you need then you shouldn’t be worried about being mean.
The answer is yes, you can be friends if that’s what you want. I have almost an identical timeline as yours and I am friends with my ex. BUT, you have to want to be friends. Don’t just do it because that’s what she wants. And don’t do it as a way to hold onto the marriage.
Right now, you cannot be friends with her. You don’t need to say that you can never be friends, just not right now. Don’t worry about it. You are looking out for your own interests just like she is.
She can’t imagine you out of her life? Of course she can. She moved out. She’s divorcing you. She’s already made you a much smaller part of her life. How big of a part of her life do you think you’ll be when she meets someone else? Reread what you wrote about remaining friends. Practically all of it is you talking yourself out of being friends with her. That’s your answer.
Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.