1. If either of you still has feelings for the other.
I know this seems obvious, but sadly it often isn’t. One of the most difficult factors of being friends with an ex is that rarely are breakups 100% mutual- usually one person wanted to end something, and the other didn’t. It seems reasonable that just because you didn’t work out as a couple, doesn’t mean you couldn’t work out as friends. But if either of you are harboring even the slightest amount of feelings for each other, it makes being friends 1000x more difficult.
2. If the problems in your relationship weren’t resolved before the breakup.
For some people, the reason the breakup is because they grew apart, or because they just lost interest over time. For others, the breakup because they had irreconcilable differences. Maybe one person was consistently rude to the other. Maybe one of you hurt the other deeply and it couldn’t be resolved. Either way, if you broke up because you couldn’t heal your differences, then being friends isn’t going to work. You’re going to be holding onto the things they did or didn’t do, or the behaviors they likely haven’t changed. These things always come back up- and if they weren’t fixing those things when you were dating, it’s very unlikely that they are going to work on them now that you’re friends.
3. If boundaries that are set aren’t respected.
When trying to be friends with an ex, it makes sense to set boundaries for what a friendship looks like. You are going from being with each other constantly and romantically into something more platonic. That means you don’t act the same way that you did when you were dating. If one of you sets boundaries for what they need to be friends- i.e not hanging out alone together, not being flirty, not bringing up the past- and the other person doesn’t respect those boundaries? You can’t be friends. They won’t allow you to be.
4. If you two still act flirty around each other.
Old habits can take a while to die, I know. It’s hard to change your behavior when you’re used to being cute and flirtatious with someone, and then you suddenly have to stop. Yet if you’re still being flirty, you’re not being friends- you’re just calling yourself that to feel better. Friends don’t flirt with each other, even as a joke. If you wouldn’t act that way with one of your truly platonic friends, then you shouldn’t be doing it with your ex that you want to be platonic friends with.
5. You haven’t spent any significant time apart.
Sure, in some spaces that can be difficult. If you have mutual friends, share a class, or live in the same town, it can be hard to spend time not seeing each other. However, sometimes we try to jump into being friends with an ex because we don’t want to stop seeing them- even if we know it’s for the best. If you haven’t spent weeks, even months, apart first, then the truth is you aren’t going to be friends. You’re just having a hard time being apart from someone you used to spend all your time with.
6. If they/you are dating someone who isn’t comfortable with you two hanging out.
This one can be tricky, because it’s easy to pose the question of “well that person clearly doesn’t trust their partner.” However, someone being friends with an ex can always cause some suspicion with a person- and if they have a boundary set here, you have to respect it, even if you don’t like it. And if you or your ex encourages you both to meet with them secretly behind their back? That doesn’t set a good precedent for a friendship.
7. If you spend all your time talking about your past relationship.
Maybe you are finding ways to be just friends, and you’re still sorting things out. However, if you’re spending all your time talking about your memories as a couple, then being friends isn’t going to work out. You have to be able to talk about what’s happening in your lives now, finding new topics to center on. If every time you are together one of you is dredging up the past, then you are only bringing attention to who you used to be- not what you’re trying to be now.
8. If all of your friends tell you it’s a bad idea.
It can be hard to hear it, especially when you want their support. Yet your friends know your relationship, and they see things you didn’t. If your friends are telling you to not be friends with your ex, it’s not because they want you to be miserable- it’s because they love and care about you. They can see signs from miles away that you’re blind to, because you loved that person. If they can sense that you two can’t be friends, you really should listen to them.
9. If your ex jokes about you two getting back together.
Sometimes it can be difficult to discern whether your ex still has feelings for you, but if they are cracking jokes about you two dating again when you’re trying to be friends? It’s clear that they have some residual feelings there. And why wouldn’t they? It’s hard to not have feelings for an ex, especially if you dated a long time. However, making jokes like that only makes things more difficult for you both trying to be just friends.
10. If the breakup was because of something they did that was hurtful, cruel, or inappropriate.
Again, this one feels obvious, but love and feelings make us do crazy things. We overlook things we shouldn’t and we accept things we don’t deserve. Maybe your ex cheated on you. Maybe they hurt you, in deep and devastating ways. Maybe they were rude and unsupportive of you when you were together. Maybe they were cruel to your friends and family. Whatever the situation might be, it can be easy to think that these things only happened because you weren’t right as a couple- but maybe they wouldn’t do that to you as friends. The truth is, if they did those things when they claimed to be in love with you, it’s because this is who they are as a person. They won’t change because your relationship is different- they will only change if they want to. You can’t be friends until they change because they want to.