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Why Staying Friends With An Ex Is OK (& Healthy)

Love & Relationships

It was Thanksgiving day and my boyfriend and I were cooking at our place for two very special guests. My five-year-old son, and his father...my ex. Most women would consider the idea of entertaining both men under the same roof to be absolutely insane, but I wasn't worried a single bit. My ex and my boyfriend had more than just me in common - they are also insanely mature. They also know I don't dismiss, discount, or eliminate men from my life based solely on the status of our relationship changing. This is what I come with and I don't apologize for it.

Toxic people have no place in your social circles and shouldn't have the honor of knowing you anymore.

But on occasion, you meet that person who you mistakingly mark as a lover first. In the end, you realize that who that person was all along was a really good friend. You don't miss the sex, you don't miss the intimacy or romance - you just miss the friendship because it was genuine. For me, that old rule of never befriending an ex didn't always apply. Some of my closest friendships started out between the sheets. So what? My overly-welcoming vagina shouldn't be the reason I cancel everyone who ever graced her with their presence. Right?

To me, staying friends with some of my exes is a defining quality. I am this way, because I love this way and these friendships work because I'm conscious, genuine and honest - with myself and my partners. If staying friends with an ex is on your to-do list, here's a few pointers from a self-proclaimed master:

Define The Friendship

First of all, let's set some boundaries. Not every ex is worthy of friendship. That ex that cheated? The ex that constantly belittles you for letting him go? That ex that still tries to get back together with you? Those aren't the ex-lovers that can go into the "let's stay friends" box - at least not mine.

Being friends with an ex should hold the same requirements as staying friends with your college roommate. When the friendship hasn't changed just because the core motivator was removed, that's a sign that this is a legitimate friend and not just someone your holding onto for unhealthy reasons.

Your Friends Are My Friends

If you're not single, and you're still friends with an ex, then a new obstacle takes center stage. Your partner might feel a way about the possible competition. The best way to calm worried nerves is to let them decide for themselves by introducing the ex to the current. Let them see that there is no chemistry between the two of you that he should be worried about, and see maybe why you wanted to stay friends in the first place. If the idea of introducing the two of them makes you want to cower and hide - then maybe you're kidding yourself about that ex after all.

Understand It Won't Always Be Kosher

Staying friends with an ex isn't just an interesting experience, it's also a little taboo. So, the mere idea of it may send possible suitors running for the hills. In most circles, staying friends with an ex is a red flag, so you'll have to do a little work to make sure it's not a red flag for a new partner. If they voice their legitimate concerns, take them seriously. Have that conversation as many times as needed. But in the end, follow your gut. Unhealthy friendships can ruin healthy relationships - but the opposite is also true.

Don't Entertain Flirtation

Maintaining a friendship with an ex or anyone you were once romantically attracted to gets a lot harder if lines are blurred. If you're friends - real friends - then that means you are not options for each other's dating roster. If you guys want to occasionally sleep together, then call it what it is - polyamory. But if you genuinely wish to keep that friend a friend, keep flirting out of the equation. If you can't digest this friendship without a side of sexual tension, then you probably need to get real about what this friendship really is (i.e. a crush).

When An Ex Becomes A Crutch

If you've been single for a while but you have a million male friends you messed around with at some point, then I'm sorry to say, you're walking around on crutches. Being single, in all of its agony and glory, is meant to be a space for you to reflect on you and sit with yourself so you understand who you are - unbothered by commitments or emotional pulls.

If your goal is to not be single one day, you might need to fully embrace this phase no matter how long it lasts in order to move onto coupledom. Bear in mind that not having a man to text late at night about your problems allows to you check in with yourself about them instead. But if you have an ex on reserve speed dial for those moments, then the purpose is kind of defeated.

Activity Buddy

Staying friends with certain exes was something that took some time to figure out for me. But one defining quality stands out. We have things in common. Real, tangible things in common that are not happy hour or Netflix and Chill. So, if we want to hang out, there's usually an activity in mind. A band that only he and I would find so fascinating, or an event within our mutual industries. Going to hang out all the time just to get drinks and talk feels a little too much like dating for my taste. If we're still friends, there has to be a defined purpose in order to avoid a slippery slope.

Take The Time, Do It Right

One thing that absolutely must happen if you are to befriend an ex is space and time. Even if there are no hurt feelings involved, deciding to be friends should be approached only after a cool-down period. Say outright that you would like to be friends, real friends. Then take a month or maybe even two to get some space. That time is super necessary in order to create a clean slate and shake off any vibes that might be carried into a platonic friendship.

Champagne For Real Friends

Here's an easy way to tell if your friend-ex is really a friend. Tell him about your dates. This is what friends do, they talk about their dating life. If I told my female best friend about my last sexual encounter and she responded by shutting her eyes and saying, "Eh...too much information," I would think she lost her mind. Being friends means knowing about each other's lives - not just the elements we can handle. If your ex launches into defense mode or unfairly criticizes your new boo - that's not a friend, that's just another hater.

If you can't be real friends, it's time to say goodbye.

Featured image by Shutterstock

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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