I have a good friend who recently went through a tough breakup. It was one of those situations where the relationship was good, but not right. The hardest thing was that they still shared the same gym… and all the mutual friends they had made there together. Neither of them wanted to change gyms, so things were complicated. She and I were getting dinner last week when she mentioned how difficult it was to navigate said friendships after she and her boyfriend had broken up. We both wondered, can you keep mutual friends after a breakup? And if so, how do you give yourself the necessary space to heal?
In my friend’s case, her pals from the gym were trying to be upbeat and supportive after the breakup, but the dynamic definitely felt awkward at times. For instance, once she started dating other people, it felt weird to talk to her buddies about it when they were still so close to her ex. She also had to see her ex a few times a week, which added to the prolonged heartbreak. Talking to her made me realize how murky all of this can be. The common wisdom I usually hear is that cutting off all ties with an ex is the best way to move on. But when that’s not possible — and especially when you don’t want to quit on your shared friendships — things can get a bit more complicated.
I talked to breakup coach Trina Leckie about how to navigate this sticky situation. She says this can be tough for many people to manage — so if you’re struggling to know how to handle it, you’re not alone! But at the end of the day, you shouldn’t feel like you have to give up the mutual friends you shared with your ex. “If someone is truly your friend, they will still be your friend regardless,” Leckie emphasizes. “It shouldn’t feel as though you can’t still maintain the friendship.” But things will inevitably feel different, especially if you're used to hanging out with these friends only when your ex is around.
Just because you and your ex are no longer an item doesn’t mean you have to break up with all the people you both got close to. “People shouldn’t have to feel alienated if they go through a breakup,” Leckie says. After all, you probably need people more than ever right now! If these friends care about you, they’ll respect the fact that your relationship ended and still want to spend time with you regardless. “You would want to hang around with these friends when your ex is not around,” Leckie says, so why not hang out one-on-one? Even if you've never spent time with this person without your ex there too, now is as good a time as ever to start.
Friends should regard one another as individuals, Leckie explains — and a meaningful friendship should be able to adjust after your breakup. "If you feel that it is awkward or if they seem distant, the friendship wasn’t likely worth having in the first place," she says. It may feel a bit strange at first to spend time with someone whom you only hung out with when your ex was around, but establishing this new norm is an important part of moving on.
At the same time, you shouldn’t expect these friends to take sides or to stop talking to your ex. “If you met them as a couple, you can’t expect them to cut off all ties to your ex,” Leckie advises. Try to accept the fact that your breakup was between the two of you, and your shared friends don’t need to end up on one team or another. Trust that they’ll have enough tact not to talk to you about your ex constantly — and if they bring him or her up, you can always politely say you’re still trying to move on.
Also, keep in mind that if the breakup was messy, you don’t want to spread unnecessary drama about your ex to your mutual friends. “Don’t engage in gossip, and don’t bad-mouth your ex because then whatever was said can easily get back to your ex,” Leckie warns. It’s understandable if you need someone to vent to, but save the shade fest for your other friends (the ones who aren’t connected to your ex). Getting your mutual friends involved in the unpleasant details will only make everyone uncomfortable.
Ultimately, it’s all about finding a balance between maintaining your shared friendships and prioritizing your healing process. Hang out with your shared friends as much as you’d like, and if you’d prefer not to talk about your ex or your breakup, be honest with them. “True friends will still put in the effort to maintain the friendship,” Leckie says, no matter how closely they were tied into your life as a couple. Friend groups are great, but sometimes it’s the one-on-one interactions that really bring people closer — so take advantage of this shift in your friendships! Maybe it will allow you to get to know your old mutual friends in a new light — one that makes your independence a priority.