This week science confirmed two of my longest-standing theories. The first is that people who stay friends with their exes are more likely to be psychopaths and/or narcissists. The second is that all lesbians are likely to be psychopaths and/or narcissists, by virtue of the fact that we're good at staying friends with our exes. Like, unbelievably good. In the world of lesbians, it is perfectly acceptable post-break-up to preach to every straight person in your path about how they will never comprehend the agony of your break-up (because, how can anyone understand the intimate bond that forms between two women???) and then be spotted having a jovial beer with said ex just one week later. Possibly even with the ex and their new girlfriend. Possibly with the ex, their new girlfriend and your new girlfriend. Like one big happy family who all wear black in July.
Psychologists at Oakland University asked participants to list reasons why they've decided to stay friends with previous partners, before polling this against certain personality traits. "Individuals who score higher on measures of dark personality tend to choose friends for strategic purposes," concluded the study. "Thus, it is likely that these traits will be associated with valuing friendships for utilitarian or instrumental reasons, such as to maintain sexual access."
Now, as someone who identifies as a lesbian, is good friends with every one of my exes, and has been told multiple times that I'm a psychopath and/or narcissist, predominantly by those exes, I feel well placed to offer some advice when it comes to turning an old relationship into a healthy friendship.
Most people aren't friends with their exes for a few obvious reasons. You're angry at them. Seeing their faces feels like treading on a plug with no shoes on. You don't know how to fill the gaping hole where all those awkward emotions used to be. You find them boring. You can't believe you fancied someone who only showers twice a week. You don't want to go to the pub with the person who knows that, when you come really hard, sometimes you piss yourself a bit. These are all valid reasons not to want to be friends with your ex. But there are also some reasons why you might want to reconsider.
If, like me, you're constantly trying to reconcile the fact that you're the worst person in the world with the fact that not everyone wants you in their life, then you may find that being friends with your ex offers you some kind of validation. Especially if you cheated on them. Doing nice things for a person whose life you ruined not only helps you sleep soundly at night, but helps to reassure them that the three years they spent listening to podcasts in the bath with you weren't totally wasted.
Other reasons? Well, ex-sex is an obvious no-brainer: fucking the person you fucked when you were 17 will simultaneously make you feel young again and make you feel like you've improved in bed. And on a slightly less calculated note, you had a deep connection with this person; you know how to have fun together, you know each other's family bullshit, you know what to buy each other for birthdays and Christmases. Why waste all of this? Besides, no one gives good, honest advice like the person who knows your deepest insecurities.
If you want to be friends with your ex (and potentially bang them) you first need to throw everything you knew about breakups out of the window. Lesbians are adept at this because we are all mad. Every last one of us. We scour around for a partner who looks like our doppelganger. Then we fuck them, move in with them and get a cat with them in the space of three weeks. Then we change our appearance to look even more like them (see, narcissists…) to the point where we are indistinguishable. And then, after two years, one of us fucks the other's best friend and the cat suddenly becomes homeless.
The right amount of time between breaking up with someone and being friends with them is really easy to grasp. If you get a text from an unknown number, like the optician's or your drug dealer, and automatically panic that it's your ex, it's too soon. If you are stalking your ex on Instagram and can objectively and calmly turn to your colleague and say that their new hair looks shit, then it is time. You should approach them with a message that is in no way self-serving and in no way too personal: "Saw this article on sea anemones, thought you'd like it. How are things?"
When you've established a friendship with your ex, it can be the most wonderful thing in the world, but don't let this lull you into a false sense of security. The most basic law of physics after gravity is that everyone fancies people who aren't into them. Even if your ex was the one who broke up with you, they're going to be gagging even harder to go for ramen with you and tell you all their boring problems if you're the one who's gone cold. Do not be fooled. The minute you're into them again, they'll be making out with someone else in a pub toilet.
Which brings me to my last piece of advice: the main danger presented when reconnecting with your ex is that someone will catch feelings again. This is especially dangerous for lesbians because we crave the same amount of attention as 15,00 Andrex puppies on a comedown, so we are well schooled in how to deal. Firstly, put some boundaries in place. Unless you both have the anatomy of Barbie dolls, four glasses of wine and "I'll crash on your couch" is only going to end one way: in running mascara, your friends' eye rolls and you gaining six pounds. Life is for making mistakes, but it's also for learning from them: sometimes it's best to keep your ex at a comfortable arm's length.
More from VICE: