Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

You can be friends with an ex

July 10, 2013

Q. How do I start a friendship with my ex? We were together for two years. The breakup wasn’t mean or anything. We both said we’d like to be friends, but nothing much happened and it’s been almost six months. We talk once in a while, but that’s it. My sister says that all couples say “let’s stay friends” when they break up, but nobody means it. I want to be different. Is it possible to be friends with an ex?

15-year-old male

Mary Jo’s response:

Friendship is a two-way experience. Is it possible to maintain a friendship with an ex-partner? Of course. It’s possible to nurture a strong friendship with anyone if both people are interested. The challenge is that a friend relationship with a past partner is complicated. You share history that may make friendship awkward; one person may be seeking more than friendship.

As a counselor, I’ve witnessed the struggles many divorced couples endure as they strive for an amicable breakup. Emotions can be high; people can feel betrayed or hurt by the split. Too often children are caught in the middle. I’ve also seen couples develop solid friendships where co-parenting is a reality.

How would you start a friendship with anyone? Communicate. Listen. Be available if your friend has a problem. Share common interests. Your situation is more complicated, but you also have a breakup that appears positive. Talk with your ex and share your concerns. Be respectful and don’t push. Sometimes your sister is correct and “let’s stay friends” is just an empty phrase. You’ll never know if you don’t try. If friendship isn’t likely, step back with dignity. Good luck.

Q.Is it strange that I’m not interested in a relationship? My friends are all about hooking up, but honestly I don’t have time for that. I don’t think I can admit that to my friends. I just want reassured.

15-year-old female

Mary Jo’s response:

Consider yourself reassured! Not everyone is ready for a relationship at your age. Some adults don’t choose to be in relationships. How you interact socially is a deeply personal decision. There’s a time and a place for everything; enjoy being 15. I’m glad you’re strong enough to stand alone in spite of your friends’ choices.

Q.My girlfriend and me just went through a pregnancy scare, and she’s not pregnant. It really freaked me out. I told her we have one of two choices: don’t have sex or use better protection. She doesn’t like either of those options. She used to be on the pill but stopped. I’m OK using condoms. She’s really pushing not to use them, though. I thought girls were supposed to be the responsible ones. She respects you. Will you please tell her I’m right? We have another year of college and we’re not ready for a baby. And I wouldn’t want her to have an abortion. We’ll probably get married, but my parents say we can’t get married until we both graduate. My dad says he won’t pay my tuition if I’m married. I’m honestly not ready to break up or give up sex, because we’ve been together almost four years and we really do get along. Maybe she’ll listen to you.

21-year-old male

Mary Jo’s response:

Thanks for the confidence. I’m concerned that your girlfriend isn’t sharing her true feelings with you. It’s possible she’s not being honest with herself.

Of course the best way to avoid an unplanned pregnancy is to postpone sex. And using protection lowers risk. I think your girlfriend realizes those truths.

I suggest a frank conversation about your future. Did she stop taking oral contraceptives for a physical reason? When did she last see her gynecologist? Is she anxious to be married? Does she think having a baby will hasten that marriage? Is she unhappy with college? How did she react to the pregnancy scare? How solid is your relationship? I’ll be happy to meet with you both if you like. If your relationship is going to stay strong, you need to sort out both of your feelings. Sometimes a third party makes a challenging conversation easier. Good luck.



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