Ask Page: I Don’t Want to Be Friends With My Ex. Does That Make Me Less Polyamorous?

a broken egg shell on the grass, that it appears that a bird has hatched from, although the bird is not pictured and seems to have abandoned the empty shell
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Hi Page,

I’ve been following your writings and came across something in your “Wedding & Exes” piece. I’m looking for a bit of advice. 

In that piece, you mentioned a study which says that poly people are more likely to not cut off communication from their exes versus monogamous people. My girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend) and I recently broke up after I realized that I do have polyamorous tendencies and wanted to explore what that meant. She was temporarily cool with it… then she wasn’t. And she initiated the breakup over text. This happened about a month ago.

I’ve wanted to pull the plug on communication, partially because it hurts… and also because I don’t see the point in communicating right now. She wants to stay in touch. Am I betraying my poly-ness by not wanting to communicate right now?

Thank you again. 

*

Not All Polyamorous People Stay Friends With Their Exes… and Those Who Do Don’t Necessarily Stay Friends with Every Ex

While research has shown that polyamorous people do tend to stay friends with their exes more often, the number of former relationships that become friendships is not one hundred percent. I’m friendly with most of my exes, but there are frankly some I don’t talk to at all.

But here’s the thing: I don’t believe I know a single polyamorous person — at least not one who has been polyamorous and involved in those social circles for any length of time — who isn’t at least open to being friends with an ex in theory. Nor do I know one who thinks it is inappropriate to remain friends with their ex (or for other people to remain friends with exes).

Not that they don’t exist. I’m sure there are a couple out there somewhere. But they’re rare.

And looking around at the monogamous people I know, I can see numerous examples of people who fit this description. Who either are completely closed to being friends with an ex ever and/or think it’s inappropriate for other people to do so, especially if they have a new partner in their life, viewing it as a form of disrespect or lack of sensitivity to the person they’re currently dating.

Now, again, it’s far from one hundred percent of the monogamous people I know. I do know some that are friends with their exes. But it seems to be a rarer attitude.

True, it’s just in my one mental inventory. A small sample size, to be sure. And filtered through my own personal bias. But it squares up well with what empirical research has found.

There are going to be outliers in both groups, even with the overall trends. So there are going to be polyamorous people who completely break from the overall pattern — and virtually everyone I know who has dated enough has at least one ex they don’t talk to much or at all, for whatever reason, regardless of their relationship style.

It Sounds Like You’re New to Polyamory

As a minor aside, it’s worth noting from the sound of your letter that you’re just making your initial foray out into polyamorous relationships and prepping for it by reading as much as you can. So all things being equal, I would honestly expect you not to have more classically polyamorous attitudes regarding exes and instead to have ones that more likely mirror those of most monogamous people. Not because you’re any “less poly” (whatever that means) but because you’ve likely spent most of your life surrounded socially by people who are either monogamous or want to be.

I’ve found that polyamorous socialization isn’t instantaneous at all. There’s a lag. And often people do tend to take a few years to fully adopt those kinds of attitudes (if they’re going to), a process which typically involves developing or finding a polyamorous social circle.

It’s actually fairly common for newly polyamorous people to feel deeply uncomfortable with their exes. And to have a hard time with other things, like moving away from the relationship escalator as an expectation for each and every relationship.

Again, not because of who they are intrinsically. But because of the company they’ve kept. And the media we’ve all been exposed to.

You Just Broke Up, and If You’re Hurt and Don’t Want to Communicate, You Don’t Have to

The second big issue of course is that you just broke up. A month ago. That just happened. That’s no time at all.

You mention twice that you don’t want to communicate “right now.”

You don’t say once that you never want to communicate with her ever again. Nor do you indicate that you’re completely closed to the idea of ever mending bridges with her again in some hypothetical future.

You just say that you feel hurt and don’t see the point in communicating right now. 

This seems entirely reasonable to me. You get to feel however you want about the breakup. You can be hurt by it. It’s a completely natural human reaction. Especially since she initiated the breakup (rejection hurts), and because you mentioned in your letter that she did it over text, I suspect the method she chose was hurtful to you as well. Most people do find it preferable to have that discussion in person (although a notable minority of folks do prefer to receive bad news over text, and others have argued there’s really no right time or way to end a relationship, it always sucks).

You get to be hurt if you’re hurt. That doesn’t make you any less polyamorous (again, whatever that means) or that you are “betraying your poly-ness.”

You’re Allowed to Set a Boundary

Now, you don’t have to be friends with anyone, whether they’re an ex or not. So if you’re feeling this is a case of “nah, I don’t want to be friends ever,” you know what? That’s your right. You don’t owe another person your friendship.

But a lot of times, I find that people don’t really know right after the breakup, whether they ever want to be friends again. Not until some months have passed and there’s some emotional distance. Not until that hurt has faded to a point where you can really look at the social connection with clear eyes and evaluate if it’s something that can turn into a fulfilling friendship. However long it takes.

It seems an entirely reasonable boundary to set with her that for the time being that you need some space, a break in communication. To process, to heal. To figure out how you feel. And how you want to move forward.

I’ve been on both sides of that particular boundary. I’ve been the person setting it, and in other circumstances, I’ve been the person who was asked to give someone space.

A Good Friend Will Honor Your Boundaries

I’ll tell you from personal experience: You learn a lot about people when you set boundaries with them — especially ones that involve them not getting what they want (at least not right away).

Here’s a big tell when it comes to friendship: A good friend will honor your boundaries, even when it’s not easy for them.

Indeed, it was difficult for me to give exes space when they asked for it. But when I did, we were eventually able to go on to have a friendship.

And in cases where I asked someone to give me space and they didn’t and kept reaching out… well, that told me a lot about them, too.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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