Relationships

How to Be Friends With Your Ex

Rule #1: Forgiveness can’t be rushed, faked or forced

Nineteen months after our marriage fell apart, Keith and I went out for dinner. We’d both moved on. We were in love with other people, and each of us was super happy in our respective relationships. Enough time had gone by that Keith and I had settled into a fairly comfortable friendship by then, but mostly via e-mail, so it was our first night out together since the split.

I suggested one of our usual spots, a favorite Korean place around the corner from the apartment we used to share. One soju led to another and we started laughing a lot, sitting closer together, touching more. At one point, Keith brushed a strand of hair out of my eyes — something he’d done a thousand times before. The gesture was so intimate, it hit me like the blast of a cold shower. I jumped to the other side of the booth.

"That’s crossing the line,” I said and we quickly called it a night.

Being friends with an ex, I later realized, is like political redistricting: All the old boundaries have to be redrawn.

Flirting isn’t the only thing that suddenly fell outside the lines. Jealousy also had to be off-limits. On our way out to catch a movie one night, Keith took a call from his girlfriend Amy and I couldn’t help but overhear him say, “love you, babe” in that soft whispery voice that was once reserved for me. It was like nails on a blackboard. I took a deep breath, waited until after the film and suggested we invite Amy to join us for the movie next time. Getting to know Keith’s girlfriend is what allowed me to erase my jealous streak.

At first, Keith didn’t get it when I insisted we not reminisce anymore, either. That may have been the hardest one of all. When it was good, it was really, really good, and he bristled at the idea that we had to act as if none of those amazing moments had ever happened. Watching a bartender make a mojito made him want to talk about the time in Miami the stripper sat on my lap. Driving past the Chateau Marmont cued the tale of when we were first falling in love and spent the night lying on our backs alongside the hotel pool, dangling our feet in the water, hypnotized by the night sky. Each time a ghost would appear triggering a new story, I’d explain that giggling over our past sex and romance was disrespectful to my new boyfriend. Keith may not have liked it at first, but he came to respect my feelings about it.

I think the biggest reason Keith and I have been able to stay so close for so long is that we waited a long time before we even thought about trying to reboot our relationship. We needed for the pain to subside first, and we both knew it. Forgiveness can’t be rushed, faked or forced. No doubt Cosmo has cooked up a formula for figuring out how long to wait before you try to be friends again — something like “half the time you dated,” I think I read somewhere — but, truly, love and war are too messy for math. It’s just not the same for everyone. And when it’s time, you’ll know.

Now that we live in different cities, Keith and I don’t talk as much as we used to, but I consider him my best friend. He’s in New York. I’m in LA and I miss him a lot. I call every couple of weeks and when we say goodbye, I almost always say, “I love you.” And we’re both cool with that.