Ms. Opinionated: Should I Try and Be Friends With My Ex-Girlfriend?

Nicole Georges
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Nicole J. Georges is an illustrator, pet portrait artist, and zine teacher living in Portland, Oregon.

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Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here.This week, Nicole Georges talks a reader through their thoughts on an ex who’s maybe still a friend.

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

So, I have this ex-girlfriend—we started dating in college when we lived in the same co-op, and maintained a mostly long distance relationship for about two and a half years afterward. It was challenging, to say the least. We probably were better suited to be friends than lovers in the first place, and the distance didn’t help. 

Toward the end, she became emotionally abusive: manipulative, dishonest, and then blaming me for being upset… that kind of stuff. Finally, she cheated on me with a mutual friend even after I specifically asked her not to sleep with this person, said it was my fault for being depressed and that’s why she cheated, and then was mad that I broke up with her. Ugh! It has taken me four years and therapy to feel like I’m over this bad sad situation. I broke off all contact, blocked her on Facebook, and haven’t seen or spoken with her since. I’ve also been in a great, committed relationship for a few years with a partner who is supportive, communicative, and understanding. 

But here’s the thing. My ex and I still have a lot of mutual friends and every now and then they’ll mention something about her, or I’ll just ask (“casually”) what she’s up to, and… I miss her. I know she’s a good friend, even if she was a terrible girlfriend to me. I’ve thought about getting back in touch, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to imagine it without just being furious and thrown back into a lot of self-doubt and terrible feelings and wanting to punch her in the face. However, this summer one of my best friends was visiting her and later told me that she (my ex) said she wanted to reach out—in part to say sorry—but didn’t, because she wanted to respect the fact that I might not want to hear from her. Of course, this consideration made me want to contact her even more.

Best case would be: I contact her, she apologizes, we don’t really stay in touch but I don’t feel like I have to avoid gatherings if she’s going to be there or something (we don’t live in the same state so this wouldn’t be frequent anyway).

Anyway. That’s my whole long story. Short version: is it nuts to think about getting back in contact with this person?


Moved On (Maybe) in Massachusetts

Dear Moved On, 

I’m proud of you for taking care of yourself after an awful situation. 

You’ve gone to therapy, you’ve moved on romantically, and you’re a better person for it.  I am also proud of you for having enough forgiveness inside of you to even consider this option. Please accept this image of a hippo wearing a party hat as my personal note of congratulations and esteem. 

a drawing of a cute hippo wearing a party hat

I do not think it is an awful idea for you to get back in touch with this person. I am in friendly touch with just about every person I’ve ever dated—even people who smashed my heart to pieces and left me with nothing but a house full of dog hair and mistrust. 

Do you still want to make love to her? No. 
Are you looking to be super-close bosom buddies? Absolutely not. 
I think the goal of being in touch, extending an olive branch, and being “Hi, Bye Friends” could be very healthy and healing. It takes a lot of energy to hold a grudge and hate on someone who you see around town. Believe me.

It is not easy. 
Is your friendly acquaintanceship contingent upon her apologizing? If so, I’d hold your horses. You have no control over whether or not she apologizes. And even if she does, what if she doesn’t apologize for the *right* things, or in the way you want her to?  Then you might get mad all over again. 

Acceptance can offer you everything you need. Can you accept her as she is? Can she make amends to you by being kind and a friend from afar? I think the answer is yes, and I think that might be all you can get. Anything above and beyond is gravy. It’s bonus. It’s great. 

And what about you? I recommend that you do a little soul-searching before you get in touch. Are there things you did in your relationship that you are not proud of? Are there things you said in the heat of the moment, or when you were feeling especially tweaked, that you wouldn’t say or do today? If so, apologize. Apologize apologize. You be vulnerable. Be kinder and “more magnanimous” (to borrow a phrase from Dear Sugar) than you thought you could. Offer what you miss about being her friend, and let her know you’d like to get in touch.  Let her know you aren’t some perfect victim, sitting atop a hill and waiting for her to crawl to you. Give her the opportunity to meet you on level ground. 

You don’t need to fear her any more. She can’t hurt you. She isn’t your emotional support system, 
she is just an imperfect person who really fucked up at one point, and now she wants to be your acquaintance. Maybe she’s mellowed, maybe she hasn’t. You get to assess that from where you are today and see if she fits in your life. As an acquaintance, as a friend, or as a pen pal. 

If not, oh well. At least you tried. 

Good luck. 

p.s. Confidential to readers: Don’t forget to say “Thank You” for things. It’s rude not to.

Do you have a question for advice columnists Andi ZeislerSydette Harry, or Nicole GeorgesSend it in! All questions will remain anonymous. Read previous installments of our feminist advice column

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Please think twice about taking this advice

Why the hell would you wanna become friends with someone who was abusive to you and was the catalyst for having to put your life on hold for four years just to get over them?!

Forgiveness is one thing, and forgiveness has nothing to do with the person you're forgiving, but about yourself and being able to let go and move forward. It doesn't mean for a second you need to bring toxicity back into your life. I would NEVER suggest this to a client. This is horrible advice, please think twice and know this person is not qualified to give it to you. Talk about destructive. It'd be like telling a woman who was a victim of domestic violence to become friends with their abuser after they spent a few years apart and worked on themselves. Your ex was emotionally abusive to you and manipulative. WTF honestly.

I never comment on this sort of thing, but I would hate to see you completely regress and get sucked back into that drama. You do not need that and will be vulnerable to it because of your past transgressions with them.

Thank you "Horrid Advice"!

Thank you "Horrid Advice"! I was just coming on here to say the same thing after reading this yesterday. Normally I'm a fan of this column and they normally give good advice, but I was very disappointed by it. Did Nicole even read the whole thing? How can she say that the writer should try to forgive this ex, when she clearly said toward the beginning of the letter that she was both emotionally abusive and a manipulator? That just screams of an extremely toxic situation all over again. The ex sounds like a horrible person, no matter if she wants to apologize or "feel bad" about the past. What makes anyone think she won't end up doing the same old habits again if they form some kind of relationship again? I would personally NOT try to make amends with this person. If I were the writer I would simply ignore her and move on, since they have now managed to do that after years of therapy. Please don't get back in the cycle of abuse again!

I agree but with one qualification

<blockquote>You don't need to fear her any more. She can't hurt you...</blockquote>

I think I may be a more reserved person than Ms. O. And I tend to cut people out of my life easily and drastically. So I might not personally follow this advice. But ultimately I think it was the right advice because it was what Moved On wanted to hear.

My only addition would be that this person CAN still hurt you, so it is good to be careful and thoughtful about drawing firm boundaries with her. The big problem with the relationship was how often this person violated your boundaries and abused you psychologically. There is a chance that this person has changed and is no longer like that, but until you know her well enough to be sure, caution is the best advice. Especially if her apology seems to frame the ex's abusive behavior in a way that doesn't seem right to you.

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