Elle/Esquire Magazine: Science Says Run From Any Guy Who Is Friends With His Ex!


I've never understood being friends with an ex. I suppose its because I was never friends with my exes before dating them because of how I met them, nor were they part of some social group I was connected to. But I just don't see the overarching value of remaining friends - what possible purpose could it serve if the breakup was anything other than the most awesome and luxurious breakup you've ever seen?
That said, I've never really disparaged my exes. Things didn't work out, it's why I stopped dating them, I was happy to meet a new person and see if we clicked. What possible purpose could talking shit about your exes serve?
Me, I don't have so many people I really like that I can afford to just throw one away because we are no longer bonking.
I'm very strongly pro friends-with-exes. It means that you see your romantic partners as human beings and friends first, and that you probably see me as a human being and a friend. This is good.
I saw the article with the headline that said people who are friends with their exes are narcissists and psychopaths and I thought, "uh oh; I hope none of the exes I'm friends with sees this!"

With a few notable exceptions, I am friends--in some cases, good friends--with all my exes. The reasons for our breakups, though, was never that either one of us decided the other was a total asshat piece-of-shit garbage-human. I get that it would be hard under those circumstances to remain friends.

Occasionally, one person is so devastated by the relationship's end or is still pining so hard that they simply can't be around the other one. There are two or three men I've dated that told me they can 't be friends and asked me please not contact them because it would be too painful. And no matter whether someone wants to be friends or not, if you have an ex who has a scorched earth policy, you can't make them be friends with you. I dated a guy whom I really fell for and when he broke up with me, I was crushed. He just never stays friends with his exes--wishes them well, and all, but no more contact--and we have no friends in common, so we have no contact. Probably just as well for me because I still carry a torch for him and he has since married and it would be too painful for me to see him.

But I think that all the things that I liked about someone I dated or was married to are still there (most of the reasons for the breakups with people I'm still friends with are because one or both of us lost the sexual/romantic attraction or there was a sexual incompatibility), and I still like hanging out with that person. Besides, I am a believer that I can use all the friends I can get and keep. Especially as I get older and there's good reason to think I may not be romantically partnered in my old age. Friends are important.
It could be that the good folks at Elle want to reassure their readership that having a hate on for one's ex is healthy and normal. Indeed, science may prove it one day but in the mean time it just doesn't strike me as helpful.
How odd to not take into account the reason why someone is an ex. If your ex tried to murder you, wouldn't that be a critical piece of the puzzle? There are excellent reasons why I told "She-who-must-not-be-named" that I never want to see her again. None of them have to do with what kind of person I am, unless you include traits like "not suicidal" or "has an ounce of self-esteem."
Congratulations, Dan. You have discovered the first principle of "science reporting":

I think there's a slight adjustment to your principal that needs to be considered: "Science reporting by NON-SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS sucks, etc., etc."

That said, my guess is that most normal people will probably not be on friendly terms with all of their exes, but being friends with at least one or two of them could be considered a good sign.
Nice work. If the Slog/Stranger has a regular feature "So I read the actual paper and here's what it said" I would love that so much.
Hmmm. I don't have regular contact with most of my exs. Only one. But that's just because our lives have gone in different directions, we live in different parts of the country now. Not because there is any animosity. Of all the people I've dated there are only about two I would think that I would actively avoid. Most, if I ran into them, I'd be pleased to see.

We don't hang out with most of them, but I like to think I am on friendly terms with pretty much all of them. I don't see why anyone should see that as a problem. I liked them enough to date them for at least a little while. Why would the fact it didn't work out mean I have to dislike them suddenly and want to avoid them?
"what's wrong with straight people?" - Seriously? This is not obvious? A culture that repeatedly asserts that men and women can have no value to each other except as sexual partners, and can never be friends (regardless of whether they are exes or not).
What's weird about this to me is that Dan never seems to acknowledge the idea that sometimes people might not want to remain friends with their exes because they're, you know, heartbroken.

But then, maybe that's a big red "Do Not Date" flag in Dan's world, too...
Basically what agony @3 and nocutename @5 say. I've been single for a long time, will likely stay that way, so I need my friendships and I do my best to keep them.
Eh. I think Dan has answered this one himself, actually, but apparently he's forgotten his own explanation: there are fewer gay people. When you belong to a small community and you're likely to run into your ex often, you kind of have to get over yourself and your hurt feelings, much faster than a straight person does. And then, since not enough time has elapsed for the two of you to really grow apart and become unfamiliar, the basis for your friendly, pre-romantic connection is likely to reappear.
@16 That doesn't explain the reported higher levels of jealousy.
@9: Eh, I wouldn't classify anything put out by an actual journal as "reporting". At most it's a "newsletter".
@17: Homosexuals, unlike (most) heterosexuals, are in the interesting position of being capable of being jealous of their rival and sexually attracted to them at the exact same time.
I know gay couples where 1 person or the other had issues with a former partner/s. So I don't think this is entirely accurate. They were kind of quieter about it. These relationships had to remain. I think some of this may have to do with the way of our society - and LGBT communities - social networks - which may be smaller - or "we're all we've got" - have to keep on, keepin' on. Maybe one day when all things are equal and people don't need the same support systems, we'll see problems that are more similar to hetero couples emerging in LGBT couples.

So it's kind of political, isn't it? If you're not in a certain position, you have to put up with certain things - and shove some your own feelings aside.

So personally, I'm skeptical of persons having relationships with former partners. I suppose each couple has to work it out for themselves ... but I'd tend towards caution in this area. I can appreciate what posters say about seeing people as persons - and this means I was a person to them, etc. - but the same is true for the person they're currently involved with on a more intimate level - that's a whole person they're with - who has needs and feelings that are fully legitimate.

It doesn't mean you bear the ex partners ill-will or hate their guts. You just kinda move on.

Obviously, there's another set of different issues if people have children or work together. But that's another subject unto itself.
If I had to generalize, the "actively loathes and despises their exes" is the larger red flag. That person isn't ready.
(Part of my post didn't go up - so I'll try to reconstruct ..) I'd say it's a real red flag if you're going out with someone who's always talking about their ex's - whether it's positive or negative. And people can use their ex's as a defense to intimacy or real involvement with their current partner. Sometimes people do this more quietly. It's more subtle, they're not discussing ex's all the time, but they do this or that - which they know on some level - makes their partner feel a certain way - or they don't know - but - the other person feels it in any number of ways, regardless.

Sometimes people transition out of relationships more slowly. So they eventually let go, but they hang around for a while, and I can fathom that. But when someone else is there - it's another story. And why do they need you in their relationship - and why should they have to. They didn't choose to go out with you too.

So again, I'm a skeptic. If you feel weird about it - I'd listen to those feelings and look at what's going on. And whether it's right for you. And whether you want to continue seeing a person who's still "with" their ex or ex's in one way or another.
For several reasons, gays and lesbians get along better with their partners, and resolve conflicts better than does the average straight couple. People communicate better with someone of the same sex (this is true for same-sex friends as well). They also carry less resentment about arguments, and there's less jealousy, for the reasons mentioned at @16. Because they got along better when they were together, and don't misunderstand each other all the time, I imagine they carry forward less baggage and resentment after a breakup.
Here's a This American Life excerpt about the research that shows this:

Gottman and a researcher named Bob Levenson have also done a 12-year study of homosexual couples. There were just 42 couples-- a small study for Gottman, who usually gets 130 couples of races and ages to match the demographics of Seattle.


Ira Glass
The study looked at 21 lesbian couples and 21 gay male couples, and compared them to 42 straight marriages of the same length of relationship and relationship satisfaction, as measured on a questionnaire. The researchers videotaped the couples talking about some issue that they conflict about. And they found that the homosexual couples were far better than the married heterosexual couples at bringing up an issue in a non-confrontational way, of listening when criticized. They were less defensive. They were more positive.

John Gottman

I mean, when you listen to the tapes, it's unbelievable what they're like. I'll give you an example of this. One gay man said to his partner, "What did you think about the sex this morning? Who do you think initiated the sex this morning?" And his partner said, "Well, you don't really have the kind of body on a man that I find really the most attractive." And the first man said, "I know that. But who do you think initiated sex this morning?"

Now can you imagine a husband--

Ira Glass

Oh, my God.

John Gottman

--talking to his wife, right?

Ira Glass

And saying, "You don't have the kind of body that I find attractive."

John Gottman

That's right. Can you imagine her saying, "Yeah, I know that. But who do you think initiated sex?" So there's so much less deception, so much more honesty, and so much more directness. And I don't know if it's representative. But I was very impressed.

Ira Glass

Gottman still can't explain why the gay couples would be so different. He thinks part of the reason might be that, in general, it's just easier for men to talk to men and women to talk to women. The fact that they communicate so differently makes things harder in heterosexual couples.


"Especially as I get older and there's good reason to think I may not be romantically partnered in my old age." Why is that, nocute, @5? (If you're still reading).
@1: It's entirely contextual, obviously you enjoyed something about them and their personality, it depends on the feelings (and lack thereof today), what happened during the relationship, how it ended, and how long it's been.

There's no need to think overbroadly about it. There's also no obligation that one should have to be friends just because someone told you that people should... Someone who's friends with all of their exes no matter what is a little confusing to me, but that's their bag and I try to not worry about the decisions of others.
Let me pose this question: Apart from divorces with children involved or work situations or open relationships (that most just read about) - have you ever known people carrying ex's along into current relationship - where it's both partners in the relationship doing so? As far as all the people I've known in these scenarios, it's always just one partner doing it.

Once again, people just want to punish SS for OS faults. Sigh. And my thanks to M? Jay for the best wishes.
@23 I'd guess that a lot more LGBT persons use therapy proportionally - to members of the heterocommunity. Just in terms of dealing with being a discriminated against person. You have a lot to come to terms with and you gain a lot of other skills in the process. Why you'd see that phenomenon in how couples talk and listen with each other.

On the "i don't find your body attractive" thing - gotta say that it's relative to gender identity too, how people connect with this stuff. I'd say it's a pretty lousy thing for a man to say to a woman - it's a form of sexist put down and psychological abuse. With two men, the meanings could change tremendously. So I don't think it's a goal to strive for within a heterosexual relationship. Making that a goal - becomes another way for the woman's feelings to be delegitimatized [sic]. So, if he's feeling that way about her body - maybe he should be going to talk to a professional or someone else about that, first. To find out what's going on there, and why he's in a sexual relationship with someone whose body he doesn't find appealing.

I agree with @24. It's other people's stuff and the relationships they choose.

But there are equality issues that are very important. It's not so much about whether it's okay for YOU to keep bringing your ex's along in a relationship. It's about the other person there with you - your current relationship. And how THAT person feels about it. If you're a caring partner, that's very important to you. When you're intimately involved with someone, there's a whole other set of needs and feelings that come into play. For most, I'd say. And bringing other partners into it, can be a way of hurting another person - and quite a lot.
Hm, with poly relationships, and open-coupling and stuff, I'm seeing less "exes" in the formal, more traditional sense, and more fluid relationships that wax and wane sexually over time, "sexual friends" with less antagonism and more friendliness generally. Even if we don't have sex anymore, we still remain friends, although I wouldn't call any of them an "ex-". Maybe we'll have sex again sometime, maybe not. But better to treat everyone well, like humans, and respectfully. You liked them for a reason, right? Not just for their genitals...

Maybe it's because we don't live together as romantic partners -- which is a major source of conflict, communication and otherwise.

Maybe (one of) the key(s) is to live with non-romantic, platonically-compatible people, and just have sex and romance outside of your living situation.
Jeez. How hard is this. Here are the sub categories of Ex relationships:

1. There's having zero involvement - positive or negative - with ex's.

2. There's being on civil speaking terms but little direct involvement with an ex.

3. There's being constantly involved in the lives of your ex's and being BFF's.

4. And there's pathologically wasting energy and time actively hating your ex's.

1 & 2 are normal and desirable.

3 & 4 are generally red flags and almost always mean either narcissists, cheaters, or psychos - or at the very least - unwanted drama.

See? Simple.

@25 I have one exception or qualifier to my statement here - that I just remembered - a couple in which it was BOTH doing it. But it wasn't *just* ex relationships - it was .. well .. all kinds of relationships. This couple. Each of them so lovely as people, individually (more or less).

Hetero couple - the woman always pulling other men into their relationship. On any number of levels. These were 2 gorgeous, intelligent people. He was constantly getting hurt. So - this was the woman doing it to the man - and she was quite good at it - I mean, she didn't look like a bitch doing this or anything. If you listened to her, she was quite sympathetic. But he was getting the shit kncocked out of him. And he was lovely man.

Well, one day, he went away for a while to another country (for separate reasons). Well, the women there went wild for him. I mean, he was a gorgeous man but he was simply appreciated in a whole other way outside the U.S.

He came back to America with a whole new view of things. Now SHE had to deal with his relationships. And it was a humbling experience for her.

What eventually happened to our two lovebirds, I don't know. Last I was aware, they had, indeed, triumphed over any number of obstacles. But again, dunno what the final chapter wrote.

AND - although each one played their part in HURTING the other one - with this little game they were involved in - they switched off - back and forth - taking turns - over the history of the relationship. It was never both - it was first HER - for quite a while - and then, accidentally, he discovered he could do it too -and she got a taste of her own medicine.

So as they say .. do unto others ... or consider the mile walked in the other person's moccasins.
@27, actually they matched the gay group with the straight group pretty well. As I recall, none of the couples had had any counseling. The rest of what you said is spot on though. Thanks for reading that long tome.
@8 and @9, The New York Times does pretty good science reporting, don't you think? I usually burn up my 10 articles just in that section. (I know it's rude not to pay; I'm not so much cheap as poor right now). I've also read some really comprehensive articles about "recent studies" in the New Yorker, of all places.
John Oliver recently did a segment on popular news' shitty job of covering scientific advances. Sometimes the journalists are lazy, sometimes they or their editor are looking for the most sensationalist angle, and sometimes the PR person representing the scientists' institution is looking whatever hook they can find to get media coverage, however inaccurate. I'd say this is a prime example of one that could have been included.

From my perspective, I'm friendly with most of my ex's, but mostly we've drifted apart. We're friendly when we see each other but don't usually make plans to meet up. But, maybe because I'm gay and many of my friends are, too, many of my friends have pretty close friendships with some of their ex's that for most isn't related to still co-parenting children -- in some cases, even best friendships with ex's. Even if you aren't romantically compatible, there may be a lot of other things in common that would make you good friends even if you had never ended up in a relationship.

I once continued to live with an ex for three years after we broke up. But we had just bought a house together the year before and it took some time for us to disentangle ourselves financially. (I was eventually able to buy him out and he moved to another state.)

But I should add that no one should be made to feel bad if they aren't close with their exes. Sometimes the relationship was abusive or toxic. Sometimes one is just too heartbroken. Sometimes there's too much drama, or boomeranging back together and then breaking up, and eventually you have to break the cycle.

In general, I think Dan's advice about listening to how someone you're starting to date talks about their exes sounds pretty good. It's not foolproof (maybe they were in a string of abusive relationships -- people do that until they figure out how to break the cycle). But the exes are all always the bad, evil ones, that can be a red flag, in my opinion.
@28 Some people are declaring themselves asexual - the way people come out and declare themselves gay. They don't want to have sex at all - and they are looking for permanent or long-term partners in living that do not want a sexual relationship either. I was impressed to read this in a post by a young person recently. I guess our society is coming a long way if people can be o.k. about who they are, honest and open about it, and thereby find others who are compatible with whatever they are seeking.
I've never been fond of 'you must be friends with your ex' concept. I think too often it's used to bully people into staying in contact with people who are bad for them. I mean Dan has a point there's a difference between hatred and just not having enough in common to invest in the relationship once it ends.

But then there seems no way to win. Friends with an ex? You're just using them for sex! Not friends with an ex? You're a jerk who's screwed up all your relationships!

What is the level of contact with exes that's allowed?
This is my wedding party:


The woman right of me, in the fetching copper dress, was my groomsmaid; we dated for most of college and she remains one of my best friends. The two gentlemen in the back left are both exes of my spouse. Great guys. The one that lives near us we hang out with from time to time. The other one gives us crash space whenever we cross the continent and visit his neck of the woods.

I don't get hating on your exes. You dated them for _some_ reason, right?
Dr Zaius - There's surely another category between 2 and 3.


M? Jay @27 - I'll agree that OS/SS dynamics are different, but you (and Mr Glass) leave out the original "most", although he might have implied it still to be there. I'm not sure what you're asserting when you consider only the M>F communication versus M>M; what would be different about F>M (and F>F)?

I'm sure there are plenty of OS people among the assembled company capable of handling (supposed) SS levels of honesty. Your conclusion suggests an evo-psychy direction about fertility-vs-resources it would be pleasant to avoid.
Speaking as someone who was dumped literally four days ago, I have no problem being friends with exes, *depending on the reason/method of the breakup.* Guy I dated for 3 months, got along with, had a lot of fun with, but the spark never worked up? Great, let's hang out. Guy I was married to for 6 years who tried to create a secret life behind my back before surprising me with a summons? Fuck that guy. Guy I dated for 6 months who dumped me four days ago (for what I think was a misunderstanding he never asked me about) and seems to legitimately want to be friends? Ehhhhh, get back with me in six months.
Huh. I'm a bi woman and I'm friendly with a couple ex-girlfriends but no ex-boyfriends. I've always attributed it to having marginally better taste in women than men in my youth and young adulthood. I don't hate any of my ex-boyfriends, but in most cases the reasons we broke up were pretty much why I didn't want to stay close friends.

My brother is straight and he and his (straight) wife have maintained a friendship with one ex each. His ex-girlfriend sang at his wedding and she's an honorary aunt to their two kids - she's bi and married to a woman, so that may be part of why it works.
The reasons for the breakup are pretty crucial to the question of whether or not staying friends with them is a good sign or a bad sign.
@31: The NYT does usually have decent reporting, yes.
Also, use Incognito Mode (or the equivalent if not using Chrome) and you can read unlimited articles.
@40, It's weird, and I don't know why, but that has never worked for me.
shefightslikeagirl @37,


My beloved was on sufficiently good terms with his significant exes that when we went to the Netherlands together I got to meet them. There's only one that he actively stays in touch with and calls several times a year. She came and visited us for two weeks.

My beloved has met my significant exes except for my ex-from-hell. I call two of my exes on their birthdays and occasionally visit.

It's hard to get over a breakup. Friendship doesn't need to pick up instantly as soon as the you are officially not an item. It can take a year of no-contact before that makes sense.
I'm friends with my college boyfriend and with the long-term partner who came after him. I also maintain casual friendships with several people I used to date. My husband has a similar collection of friends. Life is too short to cast good people out of your life just because the relationship didn't work.

The only one I really don't want to see again is a guy I dated who turned out to be a control freak and a compulsive liar. Not worth the drama.
I'm a mixed bag. One of my exes I consider a good friend, and remain on good terms with him. I can't hang out with him regularly (he lives very far away), but we talk occasionally and it's generally friendly. We even collaborate occasionally, since we share some common interests.

The others (4 total) were all (select at least three): career criminals (1), addicts (3), abusive (2), had severe personal hygiene issues (2), chronically unemployed (3), extremely manipulative (2), socially inept to a degree where it was somewhat humiliating how they acted in public (4), indoor chain smokers (2), stalkers (1). I don't usually talk about them unless it's necessary to explain circumstances, but I don't think I'm a bad person for either actively cutting them out of my life (1) or letting us drift apart (3).
I think that remaining friends with exes depends on how the breakup happened in the first place and, in particular, when you jump ship.

When you jump ship when thinks are kinda bad but not awful then it is easier to stay friends. OTOH, if you stick with the relationship until the "kinda bad but not awful" turns into "Rome burning to the ground level of bad" then it will be much harder to stay friends.
This is of course a generalization but I would be worried if someone I was dating had nothing good to say about all exes or only had good things to say about exes. It would speak to someone who isn't having a mental process as they explore themselves via dating. If you hate your exes, you're not having that internal process after relationships where you think, "What could I have done differently?" and if you can't say anything negative, you're either not putting your feelings on the line in the relationship or not trying to see what you need that is different next time.

I'm good friends with one of my exes (who once unsuccessfully tried to drunkenly seduce my very-hetro wife), send birthday messages with a few others and have no real contact with others. I can say nice things about each one, can also talk about the things that I didn't like and why the relationship was doomed, and have a clear concept of why each one didn't work out. For the ones I don't have regular contact with, I imagine that if we ran into each other and had some heart-to-heart, there are things I would apologize for and things I would bring up that always bothered me. None of it is urgent or needs to be said but I hope that's a healthy way of looking at it?

And as to straight people having exes at weddings, at my wedding I had my one ex I'm close with there (and her mom) and made sure that my wife felt comfortable inviting her six-year almost-got-married ex because he's a nice guy who was important to her (and I like drinking beer with him and having him tell me about all the weird things he removes from people's sphincters as an ER doc - that's a guy you want to keep in your life).
Also, I've been reading this blog for years and years and never commented because I knew if I created a profile, it would be bad for my work productivity. This was too interesting to stick with that plan. Take that boss man!