Lovers to Friends. Is It Worth It?

Lovers to friends is one of the most complex and beautiful transitions two people can experience in a relationship dynamic. I’m not referring to a relationship where two people were long-term partners. When a long-term relationship reaches its end, enough of a foundation has been built to know whether or not you’re able to authentically remain in each other’s lives. I’m talking about the type of lovership that was deeply passionate and filled with unknown potential; it’s the kind of dynamic that satiates the primal pulses of your body and leaves you craving more; eventually someone always ends up wanting more. 

Someone will inevitably desire the devotion, commitment and security that aren’t expected pillars in a lovership. Loverships don’t last—they’re an ecstatic liminal space. The question of “what are we?” will pop the serotonin bubble and the lovers will be dropped into a comedown with “the talk”. The rose-colored glasses lose their tint and potentially differing realities set in. One person wants a committed partnership; the other isn’t ready. This is a ubiquitous ending to a lovership. 

“Let’s stay friends” is an all too well known statement between used-to-be lovers. Most of the time this option is loosely offered without the foresight of the foundations and internal resources that are required for two people to evolve from lovers to friends. Boundaries, transparent communication, and grounded self-awareness are vital to this transition. It takes work to build a friendship from the fragmented pieces of an ex-lovership. Suddenly, you’re expected to be friendly, but not too friendly. The intimacy you experienced with your bodies and your hearts don’t dissolve into dust to be swept under the rug. You have to pull yourself away when eye contact becomes eye gazing. What makes the transition even more difficult is when compatibility is present just as much as chemistry. The compatibility is what entices the thoughts of “what if we were more?”

In the past, I have never chosen to build a genuine friendship with an ex-lover, especially if I was the one desiring commitment. I figured it to be an unnecessary form of masochism that my heart didn’t need. Now, I know what it took for me to step up to this challenge—my evolved emotional maturity and a person I deemed important enough to navigate this transition with. When I laid in bed with this lover, naked and comfortably entangled with his body, I knew this was the last night we’d experience each other in this way. I wanted a committed relationship and he needed to learn how to be alone. The impending talk was lingering over us and he finally initiated the conversation. I reached for his shirt to blanket my body, mostly desiring to cover my emotional vulnerability. 

After the clear revelation that our wants and needs were misaligned, we understood our current container needed to dissolve, but our connection had the opportunity to take on a new form. To my surprise, I found myself being the first to say “I want you in my life, even if it’s as a friend”. Beyond our explosive, potentially dangerous, chemistry, he felt like familiar kin. I felt safe in his presence and he made me laugh in ways that no past lover or partner ever did. He offered perspective with his levity and reminded me that the spiritual journey doesn’t have to be so serious all of the time. I valued his presence in my life, lover or not. 

Our final morning together was heartbreakingly beautiful. We spent the hours remembering each other’s bodies in a blissful state, engaging in intimate conversation over coffee, and playing house while he cooked breakfast and I arranged a bouquet of fresh flowers on the dining table. I felt both grateful for the way it was ending while also grieving the potential of ever having similar moments like this with him again. 

I was overly confident about my ability to simply transition into becoming “just friends” with a man I only knew how to be in a lovership with. We had a mutual friend group so learning to be friends was going to have to be a necessity. An amicable ending initially made it more difficult to let go and move on. We remained in communication through text and fell into natural flirtatious banter.  After our first in-person reconnection at a friend’s birthday gathering, my body reliably reminded me that it wasn’t so easy for me to forget the imprints of our romantic chords. Within a group of people, we naturally gravitated toward one another and lit up at the opportunity to be back in each other’s lives. 

As much as I valued his presence in my life, I honored my needs above all else. What I needed was time and distance to entirely grieve the entity of one relationship and make more space for the birth of a new one with him. I made this choice and transparently communicated my need to keep him at a healthy distance. I firmly set my boundaries—no casual text catch-ups, no 1-on-1 hangouts, and only limited interactions at group gatherings—he entirely respected my requests, like the gentlemen he is. The only time he broke our agreement was when he thoughtfully reached out informing he’d be present at a group event, but he was willing to not attend if I didn’t desire to see him. 

When months continued to pass, I didn’t miss him anymore or yearn for the unfulfilled possibility of partnership with him. There was now more space for a new expression of our connection. I eradicated my “no 1-on-1 hangouts” rule and decided to take the first step to building a friendship with him. He met me at my favorite herbal tea house and we slipped into easy intimate conversation and comfortable laughter. Again, he was familiar to me. However, this interaction was different than the last. I didn’t feel a longing for him. Instead, I felt an overwhelm of gratitude. As he spoke about his new found perspectives on life and his personal growth journey, I celebrated the milestones he was reaching. I sat across from him in complete ease with the familiar intimacy that was the foundation for our connection, but without the insatiable yearning to be what we once were. 

I remained rational with our growing friendship and encouraged the both of us to continue to communicate any boundaries that were needed as we both navigated unpredictable territory. I was honest with myself and with him about the possibility of my feelings reverting back to “more than friends”. If I did find myself playing out “what if?” again, I expressed my need to create distance between us. He respectfully obliged to give me whatever I needed throughout the process. 

Throughout the entire journey, I’ve continued to ask myself, “Why do I want him in my life?”. Without a doubt, I always come back to the fact that he adds value to my life and as someone who is intentional about who I choose to keep in my community, this is not a trivial decision. I’ve also had to give myself harsh reality checks about any underlying motives for keeping him close. After I realized I still had “more than just a friends” feelings, I questioned whether I was desiring to have in my life so we could still have a potential future in partnership. I don’t recommend anyone pursue a friendship with an ex-lover if there’s even the subtlest undercurrent of hoping for more in the future. 

We continue to build our friendship, reach new milestones, and honor the growth we’ve experienced as individuals that allow us to even attempt this journey. We don’t deny the natural connection we have and the intimate past we share. It’s comfortable for us to spend an entire day together talking about this existential human life while also experiencing blissful silly laughter. We also have to catch ourselves becoming too comfortable and missing what we once were. Sometimes a breath has to be taken and a moment has to be broken.

Lovers to friends isn’t for everyone. Some people truly are meant to experience one expression of a relationship dynamic and permanently move on. There needs to be an affinity for transparent communication, honest self-awareness, and an understanding of boundaries. I have no idea what will come from this evolution together and I’ve detached myself from any possibilities. In the present moment, he’s no longer an ex-lover or someone I used to date, he’s a friend. As someone who isn’t afraid to love, I’m fortunate enough to have been able to love him as a lover and continue to love him as a friend. 

by rebeccaespinoza

Rebecca is an LA-based writer. She's a student life, constantly inspired by lived experiences or by the curiosities of her heart. She has a passion for learning which has led her down a beautiful path of self-discovery through art, spirituality, and personal development. At the end of the day, she loves having new life experiences and getting to write about them .

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