I once heard that in 99.9% of all female/male friendships, one or the other have more feelings than just plain friendship would require. Whether or not that statistic is entirely accurate, I would say from my own experience, there is a lesson in it if you maintain opposite-sex friendships, which most people do.
Even platonic friendships have their fair share of awkward sexual tension, if not with you, with the other person even if they admit nothing of it. How much harder is it then to justify and maintain a healthy platonic friendship with an ex-partner? Pretty hard. Here are some challenges you might come across:
1. Overcoming Intimacy and Attraction
A healthy cross-sex friendship is defined by the absence of acting upon or desiring physical intimacy. Friendships that never came from or evolve into romantic attachments still can feel the burden of unwelcome sexual tension. In a study published by the The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, research found that 62% of the 150 professional men and women interviewed reported sexual tension in their current opposite-sex friendships. (Chatterjee, Psychology Today)
Since that already underlying tension frequently exists, friendships that have evolved hastily from a romantic relationship are much more vulnerable to fall into a dicey scenario of manipulation, jealousy, or awkwardness because of the lack of time allowed for emotional restoration—kind of like constantly picking a scab from a wound and never letting it heal. Deep physical attraction and the temptation for intimacy must be overcome before a friendship can ever be successful.
2. Relationship Role Shift
Another one of the defining characteristics that differentiates romantic relationships from friendships is the male/female roles within the both. Over the course of the relationship, roles for each person are established. Couples who want to maintain a friendship can be at risk of falling to the old routine, however established. In friendship, there must be equal pairings.
3. Danger of Hopes and Expectations
The thing that can kill any chances of true friendship between ex-lovers is the hope and expectation of a future rekindling of the previous romance. Those kinds of expectations indicate that there is still heartache and longing, and acts of friendship become a vehicle for manipulation, which never turns out well.
Equally so, if you find yourself in a emotional position to maintain a healthy friendship but the other person is still vying for romance, it is best to back off of the idea of friendship entirely in the best interest of that person until he or she can come to terms with the break-up.
4. A Grip on Jealousy
Jealousy is another fatal flaw in the friendship, but it is often very hard to avoid especially when the friend-once-lover is romantically involved with someone else. Moving on in love yourself can be the only cure for that.
5. Limiting the Activities
A romantic relationship means exclusivity in many things—time spent, how it is spent, and where it is spent. Friendship and just friendship means that the terrain of your past activities is changed dramatically, i.e., no more long phone conversations, long stays at the other persons house, exclusive hangouts, etc. While it may be hard to break the relationship routine, it is essential to do so.
Friendships after a relationship mean that boundaries must be set. As friends, certain privileges that once were available in the relationship are no longer appropriate for the sake of maintaining the platonic-ness of the friendship.
5. Timing is Everything
Cross-sex, platonic friendship is extremely rewarding if both parties truly seek the better of the other over themselves. In order for that to occur, you must ask yourself these questions:
Am I still in love with this person?
Do I still find them deeply attractive?
Do I still hope for a future relationship with this person?
Do I spend a lot of time with the person or desire to be with this person more than I do with my same-sex friendships?
Am I jealous of other potential relationship this person could have?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions, there is a slim chance a chaste friendship with this person will work. I would suggest going awhile without contact and give some time to move on yourself. Friendship after a relationship is not necessarily unrealistic, but timing is everything. Consult Jerry Seinfeld and Elaine Benes for further instructions…
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