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Should You Take An Ex-Friend Back?

When should you forgive and reconcile vs. forgive and move on?

What About Your Friends?

Several years ago, one of my closest friends violated a boundary.


A very firm boundary that she was very much aware of. When I confronted her about it, rather than taking full ownership for what she did, she deflected—and by that, I mean manipulated—by taking a victim approach. When I called her out on that as well, she claimed that she needed some time apart to figure out where things stood between us. Fast forward to a year later and, out of the blue, I received a (count 'em) whopping 10-page letter about all of the things she thought I did wrong and what I needed to do in order to restore our relationship.

Look, before even getting deep into this topic, be leery about someone who doesn't take personal ownership and responsibility in your relationship with them. It's very difficult to establish or maintain anything healthy or lasting with that type of individual.

Anyway, after giving her oh-so-arrogant "offer" some thought, I wrote her back and told her that I would pass. After all, the main thing that caused our breakdown in the first place was her refusing to address the error of her ways and just how much she disrespected me. Since she came at me with basically the same approach 12 months later, it didn't take a best-selling self-help book to know that it was going to be a matter of time before we hit the same wall…yet again.

I didn't share that lil' tale of mine as a way to say that you should never take a friend you once fell out with back. We all make mistakes and sometimes time really does heal all wounds (more on that in just a bit). What I am saying is, just like with an ex-boyfriend, if someone is an ex-friend of yours, they are that for a reason. So, before you decide to let them back into your head and heart space, do yourself a favor and ask yourself the following five questions. It could spare you more wasted weeks, months or even years with someone you should've left alone…the first time.

Why Did Things Fall Apart in the First Place?

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One of my close friends is a relationships coach (shout out to Jay Hurt). Because we both work in the relationship realm, we're constantly having debates about how to handle different situations. A common discussion is what constitutes a mistake vs. what is an intentional bad choice.

I'll give you an example. One time, we were discussing how often should a spouse take someone back after they've had multiple emotional affairs. Whenever Jay comes at me with "I mean, people make mistakes", I'm usually looking at my phone like, "Are you serious right now?!"

Mistakes are birthed about of a lack of knowledge, carelessness or misunderstanding. If someone is harming another person over and over again, that is NOT a mistake; that is a conscious choice. OK so, when you're trying to decide whether or not to reconcile with an ex-friend, it's important to reflect on why/how the two of you fell out in the first place.

Was it because of a really big mistake? Or was it due to a series of poor choices? If it's Column B, be cautious about getting back involved with individuals who intentionally bring you drama, turmoil and harm. It takes a lot of self-work to break outta that kind of pattern. Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of people who choose to grow in that way.

Have They Owned Up to Their Ish? Have You?

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Recently, I ran into an ex-friend who wanted us to reconnect. As I was listening to them go into their song-and-dance about me knowing how they are, about 15 minutes in, what I realized they weren't doing was apologizing for their actions.

I have learned the oh-so-very hard way that if someone doesn't clearly address what they've done wrong (or how they hurt or offended you because wrongdoing and hurt feelings are not automatically or necessarily one in the same) and then apologize for it, not only does it reveal a lack of humility and personal accountability, it also sets you up for being hurt by them all over again. Same goes for if you're the one who hurt them.

If someone is truly interested in reconciling, one of the first things they are going to do is take responsibility for their actions. So yeah, look for that while contemplating what you should do about restoring things with an ex-friend. If they are too prideful or "worse", too clueless to address core issues, you're setting yourself up for a series of reruns, which includes getting run over…again. And again.

Can You Keep the Past Out of the Present?

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People who claim to be highly-spiritual but don't know how to forgive baffle me. Even Scripture tells us that there is no way we can be forgiven by God if we don't forgive other people (Matthew 6:14-15). A person has to be mighty full of themselves to think that God should overlook their missteps when they aren't willing to do the same for folks who are just as human as they are.

However, forgiving someone (which for me, sometimes comes in the form of releasing them) doesn't always mean that you should go back to the way things were. The former friend that I mentioned that the beginning of this piece? I've seen them since. I hug them whenever I do. But they were so disrespectful, on so many levels, that I already know it would be extremely close to impossible to totally leave the past out of our present.

Forgiving someone doesn't mean that you don't learn from the experience. Sometimes the lesson is to make peace and then…move on.

Were They Ever Really Your Friend to Begin With?

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Something that creeps me out are people who make it their mission to be my friend. Meaning, things don't evolve organically. It's more like a goal of theirs to get my number and be all up in my business. Something is extremely disingenuous about those types of connections.

When I look back on how stable my friendships are now in comparison to how cray-crazy some of mine used to be in the past, I realize that a lot of my past situations weren't very authentic. There was a lot of codependency, opportunism and one-sidedness going on. And really, what kind of solid or lasting friendship can come outta that?

Not too long ago, I penned "10 Things You Should Absolutely Expect from Your Friendships". A little while before that, I wrote "Why Friendships Should Come with Deal Breakers, Too". Believe you me when I say that you can spare a lifetime worth of time, effort and energy if, before you take an ex-friend back, you reflect on if the root of the fallout was accepting that neither of you were really friends to begin with. Ouch and amen.

What’s Different About Them—NOW?

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We've all seen someone on Twitter share their perspective on something, only to have someone pull up receipts from five years before that reflect a totally different stance. Sigh. That's one of the most challenging things about social media—it doesn't really leave much room for maturity or evolution.

That's why I'm not comfortable making a blanket statement that anyone who has had a falling out with a friend, they should never consider reconciliation. If the "person in question" is showing signs of growth (especially in the areas where the two of you fell out in the first place), they offer up a heartfelt apology and you can honestly leave the past in the past—oh, and you have some solid reasons why becoming friends with them again would be a beneficial thing at this point in your life—at least be open to considering it.

Sometimes, what time does is not only heal wounds but transition us into better people. The kind of people who could turn out to be better friends than before.

If that is what appears to be happening with your ex-friend, take things slow but don't keep the door totally shut. Being willing to see where they are now could up being a blessing in disguise—for you both.

Featured image by Getty Images

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our weekly newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

The Truth About Maintaining Friendships As An Adult

How To Build A Squad of Empowering Friends

Why Talking About Your Friends Behind Their Back Is Actually Normal

The 5 Must-Have Friends Everyone Needs

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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