The Psychology Behind Whether It's Possible To Be Friends With An Ex

by Dan Scotti

I’m not exactly sure how they did it, but "Seinfeld" accomplished the unthinkable for nine full seasons.

I’m not referring to any of the show’s many awards, regardless of how impressive its list of Emmys might be. I’m not alluding to any of the fame it's attained, money it's grossed or the frequency of reruns that still air on cable television – across multiple channels, on a nightly basis – decades later.

I’m hinting at the fact -- for nine full seasons -- Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes showed the world friendship after a relationship is possible, it’s real, and it can be spectacular, too.

Personally, I’ve never been able to find my own Elaine. Partially because I’ve never really wanted my own Elaine. I guess because I come from the cut-all-ties school of relationship endings.

As soon as my relationships come to a screeching halt, I like to... get my money's worth, so to speak. I make sure no words, regardless of how immature, go unsaid; I’ll give not one f*ck before hitting the “unfollow” button (across various platforms of social media), and if you borrowed any of my clothes during our time spent together? I want my sh*t back.

While I might be a neurotic bastard, full of memorized Drake lyrics and cynicism, can you really blame me? I mean, is it really that ludicrous to want to keep your relationship eggs separated, so to speak?

Friends, over here, in one corner, and the women I’ve loved and had sex with, exclusively, in the other. That’s where I like to draw the line.

If she cared about me or my future, she wouldn’t be formally removing me from hers in the first place.

Just because you did genuinely love or care about someone at one point doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to carry out a watered-down extension of your old flame into the now.

You don’t necessarily have to be “bitter” to realize some things need space in order to fully grow properly. If you never allow yourself time to move on from a person, you’ll never fully move on as a person – and this can lead to long-term problems down the road.

When you hold on to certain people solely for the sake of “holding on to something important,” you'll also find yourself holding on to certain feelings for that person.

If you asked Stephanie Nolasco, of Fox News Magazine, she'd urge you to think twice before agreeing to that coffee date.

Making use of the work done by therapist and author Nina Atwood, Nolasco notes the potential perils of keeping someone you might’ve once had feelings for on an intimate level in your life.

According to Atwood, “let’s be friends,” rarely equates to real-world success. While it may sound good, in theory, there are many obstacles for former lovers who are trying to go the platonic route.

First and foremost, the feelings of emotional attachment. Atwood explains even after you lose some level of physical attraction to an ex, you’ll likely still harbor an aspect of emotional dependence on him or her.

If you maintain a “strong connection and attachment as friends,” you’ll remain stuck on that person, emotionally, even if you’re not necessarily tempted in the same physical sense you once were.

Atwood also notes following this type of dependence makes you all the more vulnerable to get hurt all over again once your ex finally does find someone new. It all originates from the idea of being “replaced” by someone different.

Juliana Breines, PhD of Psychology Today, provides us with further reason to cut all ties once the relationship ends. Breines emphasizes the brief window shortly after a breakup is an extremely lonely time.

For this reason, we might feel as though the only other person who can empathize with us is our former lover – so we shoot them a subtle text or ask to catch up over lunch and ultimately fall into what Breines describes as “the on-again/off-again relationship rollercoaster.”

While you might tell your friends – and yourself – there aren't feelings involved and, thus, no strings attached, research suggests these types of relationships are “characterized by lower satisfaction, less love, more uncertainty, and more communication problems.”

Dr. Breines also alludes to the prevalence of “social media relationships” following a breakup as well. According to a survey of 3,000 people in Men’s Health, 85 percent stalk their exes on Facebook following a breakup. Seventeen percent admitted to doing so on a weekly basis.

Sure, you might think remaining “Facebook friends” is practical because you can do neat things like “stay in the loop” about her life without you.

But, not so, shockingly. Breines draws a strong connection between Facebook “stalking” and subsequent increases in jealousy and anxiety.

I guess it comes with the territory when your Mini-Feed is constantly refreshed with selfies of her next to the dude she’s currently bedding.

Ultimately, however, every situation is specific to each relationship. Despite the sturdy amount of psychological advice suggesting otherwise, the whole “let’s stay friends” attitude can work, given the proper timing and, of course, patience.

Perhaps things weren’t working “in there” (cue Jerry Seinfeld pointing to the bedroom), but “out here” – on a platonic level – things are very good. There's a right way to maintain the post-relationship friendship.

According to psychologist Karen Sherman, a period of separation is critical prior to rekindling the friendship. It doesn’t have to be long, but it's important to let the romantic aspects of your rapport die down a bit before jumping into something as "friends.”

Sherman recommends waiting at least six months to a full year before trying anything, although, I’m not exactly sure if drunk texts breach those terms.