Do I have to?

She broke up with me and I still love her. Should I keep my word and try to be friends?


Cary Tennis
June 1, 2004 11:40PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

A few weeks ago my girlfriend broke up with me. This was the first truly serious relationship for both of us and one that lasted for over five years. The breakup came with relatively little warning; as recently as a few months ago, we were both talking about spending the rest of our lives together.

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A little while before she ended things, we had a minor fight during which I, out of frustration, raised the possibility that we might eventually have to break up. She was understandably upset by this and asked me to promise that if it ever happened, I would remain friends with her. I agreed, since I realized that the threat of breaking up with her was just something I had said out of anger and didn't really mean.

Since then, I've tried to stay true to my word. I've spoken with her fairly regularly and even met with her a few times since we broke up. The problem is, these meetings have only reminded me how much I am still in love with her. Every time I see her feels like our relationship in fast-forward; I start out incredibly nervous, settle down and feel comfortable with her, become sublimely happy just to be in her company, and when I leave, feel like she's dumped me all over again. When she's not around, I'm more accepting of the fact that we're no longer together, but when I'm with her I have to keep myself from trying to hold her hand or telling her that I love her.

I don't want to go back on my promise, especially if it would look like I'm doing it out of spite, but at the same time I realize that it's probably not a good idea to spend a lot of time with someone whom I still love. Is this devotion to my ex (and my promise to her) dangerous? Can there be some happy medium between living in denial and cutting her out of my life?

More Than Just Friends

Dear More Than Just Friends,

If you don't want to be friends with her after your breakup, you don't have to. It's good to keep promises, but certain kinds of promises are a kind of wishful thinking nourished by the euphoria of love. When the love ends, the promise seems strangely inappropriate and out of context -- because it is. It's a little like if you were married and had promised to mow the lawn every week and then you got divorced but you're still mowing her lawn.

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Here is the logic of this: She broke up with you. Along with rejecting you, she rejects your promises and your obligations. She probably made lots of promises to you. If I read you correctly, she even gave you reason to believe that she might like to spend the rest of her life with you.

Maybe that says something about what kinds of promises we should make when we're in love. A breakup is in itself a kind of broken promise. So if you don't want to be friends with her, if it's too much of a pain, I think it would be OK if you just told her so. In fact, it might do you some good to put your own feelings ahead of this sense of duty for a while.

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So take back your mower. Mow your own lawn.

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Cary Tennis

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