After Breaking up, Can We Still be Friends?
[This was my first newspaper column, done in the 1970’s.
I still believe it, and our society still doesn’t.]
Reader: My lover and I are breaking up a 16-month-long relationship. I want to hang onto this as a friendship, but he says it can’t be done. If not, why not, and if so, how?
Dr. Schmidt: Nobody tells you that when you start to fall in love physically and emotionally, your friendship is passing a point of no return. The heat of romantic passion welds you together like two metals. After this, your friendship and your romance, just like the two of you, are welded together. And though the heat of disagreement can separate you just like two metals coming out of weld, you can never separate the two cleanly again.
The reason breakup just ruins the friendship is that romance and lovemaking set up desires for exclusive, frequent, and permanent access to each other, and these desires just can never be satisfied outside of marriage.
The only kind of friendship you could salvage is one where you can’t talk about your romantic loneliness, your attractiveness and body images, your interest in going out with people, the nature or future of your relationship, or your feelings for each other. That’s just not much of friendship, is it? Yet open up any of those topics, and the love cat jumps right back out of the bag. Except it’s no longer just a friendship–out jumps the mongrel dogs of jealousy, self-pity, frustration, and unfulfilled longing, and these dogs will savagely destroy the friendship. You can’t get comfort from the person who’s causing you pain, any more than an alcoholic can find real comfort in a drink.
Being friends later on down the road only works when you’ve both found somebody else to satisfy your romantic longings, and those new lovers just happen to be OK with the old flame as a friendship, usually because they’ve got one they’d like to keep around too. But don’t hold your breath. That happens about once in a hundred years.