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When a romance ends, can a friendship grow? NPR listeners weigh in

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Is it ever a good idea to stay friends with an ex?

Last month, Life Kit asked our audience this question as part of a story and podcast episode on the topic. If you share kids or pets, it might make sense, say our relationship experts. But steer clear if you were in an abusive relationship or still have feelings for the other person.

Dozens of listeners wrote to us with their thoughts on the subject. Their stories illustrate the wide range of possibilities that can come when a romance ends. Some said their ex was their best friend. Some said they had to stay cordial for practical purposes. Others said they realized ... they didn't want to be friends at all!

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

‘We still live together’

My ex and I are not only good friends, but we still live together under the same roof and co-parent our 13-year-old son.

When we got divorced in 2015, we decided to stay in the same house together. Housing is expensive in California. We'd each take a huge financial hit if we had to sell our home and find our own places to live.

We also didn't want to split time with our son, who was 5 years old at the time. With this arrangement, we could co-parent more effectively and see our son every day. We worked out a custody agreement that clearly outlined when each of us would be responsible for our son and his care. Now, almost 9 years later, my ex and I are very close. But no, we're not getting back together.

Yes, dating has been hard. Who wants to date a man who still lives with his ex? But the pros far outweigh the cons. --Brian Gonzales

‘My ex-wife is my best friend'

I’ve been divorced from my ex-wife for 22 years. We have two children, a son and daughter who are now grown and live close by.

For a long time after the divorce, I was hurt, angry and lost. But after looking back on hurtful things I said and did, I better understood her perspective. I needed to mature more.

Very slowly, we began to rely on each other for help. She developed health issues and went on disability. Today, my ex-wife is my best friend. We advise each other on many facets of life, from dealing with siblings to home repair. We celebrate family events together with our kids and their significant others. We are now very proud grandparents of one precocious 2 year old, the joy of our lives.

It feels good not to be wrought with bitterness and anger over a failed marriage. --Todd Scheler 

‘I want little contact with my ex’

My (now) ex-wife and I divorced this January. We were together for 34 years and raised two sons, who are now 33 and 28.

For the sake of our children and to honor our years together, we both intend to maintain an amicable relationship. But I am not sure what the shape of that relationship will look like going forward.

For the time being, I want as little contact with my ex as possible. I need the psychological space to discover who I am in 2024 as a recently divorced 67 year old. And I want to allow the feelings and thoughts about the dissolution of our family and divorce to settle. --Bill Cooper

‘I wish he were a tiny bit miserable’

Six months ago, my husband of 8 years and partner of 21 years divorced me. He said he still wanted me in his life, but as a friend.

We are in regular contact and meet up a couple times a week. But I'll be honest: it has been difficult seeing him just pick up and move on while I am still coming to terms with everything. I want him to be happy, but at the same time I wish he were a tiny bit miserable.

The fact that we have a pretty small circle of friends doesn't help. When I see him with a mutual friend, they discuss people in their lives, lives which seem to include me less and less. It leaves me feeling like a third wheel. --David Lantrip

P.S. Make sure your readers know I'm quite a catch. And obviously single.

For more relationship advice (plus health, finance and parenting tips and more), subscribe to Life Kit’s newsletter

‘He believed we’d continue to be best friends’

When my 15-year relationship was ending, my partner -- who was in the midst of making himself my ex -- said he firmly believed we’d continue to be best friends.

All of a sudden, I blurted out, “but I’m not friends with people of your caliber.”

It’s fascinating to realize that the person who you entered the relationship with can become someone you wouldn’t choose to know now. This helped me stand in the present moment, knowing one thing with certainty. --Maya Drozdz

‘It created something beautiful’

My ex and I were not right for each other romantically and had a bad breakup full of mistrust, jealousy and sour moments.

Still, I wanted to become friends again. We both are queer and felt a lot of pressure to become friends for the sake of our friend group. So I decided to forgive my ex for everything that went wrong. It backfired so bad that we didn’t talk for years after.

It was during COVID that we reconnected. We were living in the same city. I had gotten married to another woman. My ex and my wife met for the first time shortly after.

We had long talks about how we could be better friends and have a meaningful relationship. My wife, my ex and I dance together and have adventures together. When I was pregnant, my ex was my support person. My ex is now part of my chosen family.

This didn’t happen overnight. Time gave us the space to heal from our wounds and have many conversations about how we want to move forward together. It created something even more unexpectedly beautiful. --LaKecia Farmer

Thank you to everyone who took the time to email Life Kit with your submission. Sign up for our weekly newsletter to take part in reader-generated stories like this one.   

This story was edited by Meghan Keane. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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Copyright 2024 NPR

Malaka Gharib
Malaka Gharib is the digital editor of the NPR podcast Life Kit. Previously, she was the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team, where she covered topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.