Friend zoned: How to deal with an ex who wants to be mates

Breaking up can be a very difficult time for both the dumper and the dumped. It’s rare for two people to be in the exact same place at the same time and to want to end a relationships for the same reasons and under the same conditions or circumstances. When an ex then suddenly wants to be friends, things can get even more complicated. It’s important to consider why your ex wants to be friends and then make some tough, but important decisions relating to how you will proceed.

What to do when an ex wants to be friends

It is really important to think back to the moment when you broke up with your ex before you even consider being friends with them. Remembering the way in which you broke up with clarity will help to determine the possible reasons why your ex now wants to be friends (as much as it is possible to decipher what an ex is thinking at any time). For instance, did you shout at each other and tell each other that you hated each other? Did your ex tell you that they wanted to split up, but that they were frightened of losing contact with you forever? Did your ex simply stop calling you until eventually you had to breach the subject with them?

Whenever you experience a break-up, it is essential to spend some considerable time apart without any contact whatsoever so that both parties really have the time to think about how they feel. Emotions are high after a break-up and it is impossible to think clearly. Sometimes, the time you spend apart should be as much as a few months to really find out whether you miss the relationship or not. It might be that you miss being in a relationship, but not necessarily the relationship that you had with your ex.

There are a number of reasons why your ex might want to remain friends. The best way of working out what that reason is lies in a clear analysis of their actions rather than listening to what they say. For example, your ex might say that they want to be friends, but make no attempt to see you or support you like a friend does. In this instance, your ex is all talk. He or she is saying that they want to be friends just to ease their guilt. Watch closely and take your time to evaluate the situation properly over a few months. Does your ex want to know whether you are dating or not? Does your ex take every opportunity to tell you about their new wonderful life without you? Does your ex call only when he or she wants sex? Analyze their behaviour and draw your conclusions from there.

Once you have figured out why he or she wants to be friends, you can then decide whether or not you have a friendship that’s actually worth saving. You might have had a great sex life, but did you really share things as friends? Is it the friendship you miss or the closeness of being in a romantic situation with someone? Was your ex someone you laughed with, went out with, shared fears and ambitions with? Or was the main basis of your relationship with your ex purely based on sex? Perhaps you shared lots of thoughts, feelings and intimate details about yourself with your ex, but now that you think about it, he or she shared nothing with you. How much of a friendship do you really stand to lose if you don’t invite your ex back into your life on a platonic level?

Whatever you decide to do, you must set some boundaries and then maintain them. The relationship has changed. You are no longer romantically involved. The idea is that you are going to be just friends. Therefore, what does that mean? Does that mean that once a month you’re going to go to the cinema and catch up over a coffee, because that’s the part of your friendship that you miss the most? Perhaps being friends will mean having to come to terms about sharing everything - new ambitions, new worries and new loves, even, because the best thing about your friendship as a couple was the sharing - the hours of talking until the sun came up? Whatever you decide, have a frank conversation about it, where both of you lay down the rules, and then abide by them. If your ex can’t stick to those rules, it might not be possible for you to remain friends.

Whether you believe it or not, your ex will be putting themselves first, even if they are the nicest person in the world. You must do the same. If you are thinking about your ex too much every week, it is best to cut the friendship and move on. If the situation is making you sad, jealous, anxious or uncomfortable in any way, don’t try to salvage anything. Accept that things have to move on and cut your losses. When something doesn’t work, hoping that it will is not going to change the situation. Letting things go on for too long will just make everything that much more painful.


  1. Talk to your friends about what’s going on and get their opinions. It’s good to have an outsider’s perspective.

  2. At the same time, avoid listening to friends who might have their own hang-ups about relationships and who tell you that no matter what you believe a friendship is impossible. Your friendship with your ex might just be one of the best relationships you have in life.

  3. Being friends with an ex is hard for anyone. It’s complicated by nature. However, the complexity of the situation is not something you are likely to encounter every day and it is worth exploring. It will be a new way for you to grow and mature and perhaps reap better results from romantic relationships that await you in the future.


  1. If your life is taken over by an ex wanting to be friends, seek professional help and talk things out with someone trained in social psychology. It will help you to manage the situation. Ex partners wanting to be friends is a difficult one.

  2. Don’t push a friendship. If you don’t want to be friends with your ex, for whatever reason, don’t feel the need to do so. You will only hurt them more and cause problems for yourself in the long run.

  3. Be aware of the ex that wants to be friends for ulterior motives. As stipulated above, study your ex’s behaviour for a few months before deciding why you think they might be seeking a friendship with you and then decide whether these reasons sit well with you or not.

Things You'll Need

  • Time apart
  • Lots of friends
  • A new project or focus of some kind
  • Professional help (should things get so complicated that the situation takes over your life)
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About the Author

Tracey Chandler specializes in travel articles and features for female-interest publications online. She reviews Latin American cinema, creates press releases for an online marketing company and manages her own blog "The Jolly English Pirate." She holds a B.A. in performing arts at Middlesex University.