Should I Be Friends with My Ex?

I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. How could someone who told me he loved me and cherished me just walk away? I remember waking up in the morning and realizing the end of our two-year relationship wasn’t just a bad dream. I had a knot in my stomach, and feelings of sadness and devastation engulfed me. Would I ever know happiness again?

To compound the problem: even though this young man thought it was best we break up, he let me know he still had feelings for me and wanted to “stay friends.” So, off we went to our two different colleges to start our sophomore year in a mess of complex emotions.

For three months, I rode an emotional roller coaster each time I saw an email with his name attached, received a phone call from him, and especially when he asked to see me over Thanksgiving break. Surely he was going to tell me how much he missed me and wanted to get back together. But after hours of conversation, he gave no hint of re-initiating our relationship. When I asked him about it, his words cut like a knife, “You’re like a sister in Christ to me.”

Just Friends?

I realized then that being “just friends” was not helping me move forward. I was living in what I hoped would happen, instead of living in the present. With all the courage I could muster, I asked my former boyfriend to stop calling me, stop emailing me, and stop asking to see me. It simply was too difficult to move forward when I was always hoping that we would get back together. Taking this big step forward, and all the pain that came with it, caused me to pore over my Bible like never before. I was searching for hope in the midst of my bleeding heart. The Psalms were like a soothing medicine to my aching soul:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:18–19)

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5–6)

And the promise of Psalm 84:11 — that God would withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly — was the rock I clung to when I missed him and was tempted not to trust my own decision. Choosing not to communicate with my former boyfriend was an act of trusting God. As tempted as I was to call him up for various reasons, manipulate my way into seeing him, or find excuses to email (texting was not an option these many years ago!), believing in the promise of Psalm 84:11 was the strength on which I stood.

I reasoned that if he really loved me and desired to get back together with me, he would pursue me wholeheartedly. Until then, I needed to let go and move forward with my life.

Five Ways to Move On After a Breakup

Recently I received a couple messages from single women wondering how to handle the pain and loneliness of a breakup. One young woman felt like she still needed to remain friends with her former boyfriend in order to show him the love of Christ. She described the intense pain she felt when he ended their relationship and the complexity of seeing him nearly every day at work. Yet she still asked him to remain friends with her despite the awkwardness of their situation.

I acknowledge every relationship is unique, and I’m not pretending to know all the answers to any of them. But I want to caution singles from thinking they can remain “just friends” with someone they had a long-term, romantic relationship with. More often than not, one of the individuals involved still has feelings for the other, and, like myself, could be secretly hoping that staying in touch will lead to a reunited relationship.

Putting our hope in a renewed relationship rather than putting our hope in God and the plans he has for us is dangerous. I’ve seen many young women repeatedly wound themselves by hanging on to something that wasn’t meant to be. So, if you find yourself with a broken heart today, tempted to keep texting or communicating with your former significant other, consider these ways to move forward with your life and trust God’s bigger plan.

1. Pore over your Bible.

The two years following that breakup I often refer to as my “greenhouse growth” years. The pain of my aching heart sent me searching the Scriptures to find comfort and hope. Let God use the pain in your life to direct you to his promises of infinite joy, strength, and hope.

2. Surround yourself with Christian community.

After losing the person you likely most valued spending time with, you’re in need of others to come around you to listen to you and point you to Christ. The friends I made in my campus ministry were a lifeline of support to me (especially a young woman who invested four years in discipling me during that rocky time).

3. Keep serving.

Get outside of yourself and the pain you’re feeling by looking for opportunities to serve (1 Peter 4:19). What needs are in your church that you could fill? Is there a meal you could make for a new mom, a younger teen you could mentor, a mission trip that you could make time for in your schedule? The summer after my breakup, I went on a two-month mission project out of state. It was one of the best decisions I made because it helped to invigorate me spiritually and emotionally.

4. Distance yourself as much as possible.

The following year after our breakup, I went on an overseas study to Spain. Adding physical distance between the two of us, without the probability of running into each other numerous places, helped to keep me moving forward. Even if you see each other at the office, don’t go out of your way to chat and communicate.

5. Trust God is for you, and not against you.

He will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). God promises to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted. The loneliness and pain will subside as you fix your eyes on Jesus and trust he can satisfy far beyond any human relationship.