I read an article recently that stated that mutually beneficial breakups are the worst. Reading that line over and over, I couldn’t get over how much that was bullshit. Breaking up with my boyfriend was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because I knew we’d accomplish what many thought impossible: We’d break up and stay friends.
This is quite a personal article for me to write, but I figure there’s a lot of people out there in a similar situation to us. If our experiences can at all help you guys in what you’re going through and not let it become the perfect shitstorm, then it’s worth me putting this out there.
Standing on the other side of international departures, Mum, Dad & my now ex were there smiling and waving me goodbye, with tears streaming down their faces. I gave them a brave smile and final wave, and promptly ran to the nearest loo and sobbed uncontrollably for half an hour.
I was off on the adventure of a lifetime, moving to the island paradise of Koh Tao, Thailand to become a diving instructor and try out this digital nomad craze. But that meant leaving my family, friends, and boyfriend. Had I gone completely bonkers??
Why Break Up?
L and I had been together for 3 years, with 2 of them spent living together. It was an amazing relationship, and we truly valued and respected each other. We grew as people during our time together, and I learnt things from him I didn’t think possible, mainly because I’m a stubborn know-it-all. This was all happening during some of the most stressful years of my life, and being with him truly was the only thing that kept me from completely losing my shit.
We used to joke that it was time for my weekly mental breakdown. He’d listen to me ramble on for hours about my work issues and family drama. He’d play with my hair when I was on the edge. And he never judged me when I was on a downward spiral and played Far Cry 4 for a month straight.
So when I came back from a holiday to Koh Tao with the knowledge that I was going to move there, I was terrified. I knew I didn’t have it in me to be in a long distance relationship, but I desperately loved him and didn’t want to beak his (or my) heart. I also couldn’t bear the thought of not having him in my life but didn’t want to continue dragging him down the depression rabbit hole with me. Could we break up and stay friends?
Working out why you think you need to break up is integral to working out if you and your partner truly can stay friends. I hate to say it, but if it’s a volatile relationship without much mutual respect, you’re going to have a hard time of it.
When I broke the news to him, he did the last thing I was expecting. He said he was so happy that I was finally happy. That the way I acted as I talked about my plans there was the most cheerful I’d sounded in months, and that clearly this was the perfect move. I’d never been more in love with him than I was in that moment, and I instantly knew that we could break up and stay friends.
If you decide it’s time to break up and your partner doesn’t take the news well, be careful. This is a huge sign that you’re not on the same page and will make staying mates extremely difficult. You may need to start coming to terms with the likelihood that this relationship ain’t destined for friendship.
Planning Your Break Up & The Future – How We Did It
What Are We Now?
This weirdly was the hardest thing to decide on, and it took a lot of thought. What would we call each other? Ex sounded too negative. ‘Best friends’ was perfect, so we settled on that.
Feeling comfortable referring to each other in conversation is a big one, because if you stumble around saying “My ex… uh I mean best friend…” you’re going to feel bloody weird about it.
When would we ‘officially’ break up? We decided that we’d leave it to the very last second, so as I crossed the international departures threshold at the airport, we were officially single. Until then, it was our relationship as per normal.
Working out exactly when it will happen, regardless of if it’s immediate or at a designated point in the future, is extremely important. Setting boundaries, especially when it comes to physical affection and emotions is a big one if you both want to stay sane.
When it came to dating other people, there was no hesitation – Tell the other person when it felt right. I remember getting a sheepish Facebook video call from L a few months ago, and I knew straight away he’d met someone. He was so nervous to tell me, but I couldn’t have been happier for him. I remember feeling so ecstatic for him and was on a high all week after that call.
If you are the first one to score a new partner, be delicate in delivering the news to your ex. It’s a weird situation, and you don’t want to launch into it telling them about this great new person you’ve met and leave them feeling all rejected. Go slow, a chunk of info at a time.
And if you’re in my situation and your ex gets a partner first, be happy for them! Your mate is happy, and therefore you should be too. If you do have any lingering feelings for them, now is not the time to bring them to the surface.
When I told people I was moving overseas, everyone’s first question was “What about L?”. Explaining to them that we were going to break up and stay friends was constantly met with a blank stare, but our close friends eventually understood why. If anyone could break up and stay friends, it was L and I.
It’s important to explain to your mates why and how this is happening because in all likelihood you share a lot of mutual friends. You also want to make sure there’s a support network behind both of you in case it does turn into a shit storm.
One of the hardest parts of breaking up was knowing that I wouldn’t see L’s family much anymore, and nor his mine. We were extremely close to each other’s parents, and L’s 2 brothers had even been my housemates for a few years. So we were a tight-knit bunch. To this day that’s the hardest thing to deal with for me, but I do my best to stay in touch with them. We discussed our plans with the parents in detail, giving them a chance to ask any questions. We all agreed that we were still family, regardless of if L and I were together or not.
When you’ve been with someone for a while, your families have likely become quite fond of your partner. So the hurt from a break up can resonate deeply. Keep in mind that they are emotionally invested in your relationship too, so don’t forget that they’ll need time and support to process the situation.
Staying In Touch
Although we don’t talk as much as I’d like due to crazy work schedules and time differences, when we do it’s just like the good old days. There’s no awkwardness or resentment, and we continue to have a very honest and open friendship.
Make sure you schedule time in your week to talk to them, whether it be via Skype, messenger or phone. And don’t be afraid to hang out in person too! Being around each other and not being in a relationship feels weird the first few times, but I promise you do get used to it.
So How Did We Break Up And Stay Friends?
- We spoke often about how we were feeling
- We were upfront with our friends and family
- We made sure that we were both on the same page
- We ensured that there was no resentment
- We were honest about any concerns or hangups
Have you broken up with your partner and stayed friends? I’d love to hear how you nailed it or would have done it differently.