Step back and take an honest look at the situation
Q: I have never understood how exes can remain good friends. How do you go from having all of someone to only having a part? After my divorce, I met the love of my life. During 2 1/2 wonderful years, we were exclusively intimate, took vacations together, met each other's family and friends, shopped for houses. During our last six months, he became distant, citing increased work demands. I began to conclude that he had emotional intimacy issues and this was "his way" of pushing me away.
Then suddenly he announced that he wanted me in his life but that we should date other people. I knew I could never make the transition from intimacy one day to watching him date others. I was hurt and angry that he would/could even propose such a thing. I made two attempts to contact him afterward, met with a lukewarm response and no follow-up.
My conclusion is that I was fooled and he actually never cared for me the way I cared for him. I have seen people divorce and somehow become better friends but I cannot understand how that happens. Can you tell me what I am missing here?
A: What you're missing, I believe, is insight beyond your experience. Just because you have painful, lingering feelings doesn't mean every breakup involves them.
This may seem screamingly obvious; of course all people are different, and all situations are, too. In fact, we put ourselves in other people's positions, and "feel" things we've never actually experienced, almost daily — through TV, movies, books, art. A well-handled drama series could show you exactly how exes form a friendship.
But that's because it's safely abstract. When a situation is all too real and you're in the middle, seeing something from someone else's viewpoint becomes extremely difficult. Why? It forces you to look at yourself with someone else's eyes.
Unless you're willing, and ready, to see yourself in an unflattering light, you're only going to get a distorted or limited view. I think this is exactly where your comprehension of these friendships breaks down.
When you needed to explain why this man became distant, you decided he still loved you, but was simply unable to show it. You used a flattering light.
When you needed an explanation for his breaking up, you decided that he deceived you into believing he cared when he never actually did — which makes you gullible but otherwise blameless, and makes him the bad guy. Again, flattering light.
Both of these omit a far more common, but also more painful possibility: He did love you, at first, but doesn't anymore, and he's trying to be gentle about it. If you ask around, I think you'll find that the two-year mark is when passion commonly dies. I'm sorry.
I'm also confident the ability to withstand unflattering light is at the heart of post-breakup friendships. To pull it off, both parties need to be able to accept their ex's view of events, and of themselves. You don't just recognize what somebody dislikes about you; on some level, you have to agree.
It's not for everyone — the reckoning can be brutal. But the friendships can be sweet.