Relationships often involve the intertwining of two peoples' personal lives: shared possessions, linked social media presences, and overlapping friendships. This level of intimacy makes breaking up, an already emotional event, even more taxing and complicated for the people involved. A recent YouGov poll asks Americans how they handle break-ups — and more specifically, whether or not they are, or prefer to remain, friends with their exes.
Do Americans want to stay friends with their exes?
The poll asked Americans whether they'd like to stay friends with someone after a relationship ended on good terms, without either person significantly wronging the other. Among all Americans, 37% say that if they ended the relationship, they'd like to stay friends with the ex-partner they broke up with; 29% say they wouldn't want to stay friends. Slightly fewer – 31% – say they'd want to stay friends if the ex was the one who ended the relationship; 34% say they wouldn't. In both scenarios, men are more likely than women to say they'd want to stay friends.
How many Americans are friends with their exes?
Digging deeper, we asked Americans how they've handled friendships with exes in the past. Among people who say they have at least one living ex-romantic partner, 17% say they are friends with all of their exes, and 37% are friends with one but not all of their previous partners. The largest share of people – 44% – say they aren't friends with any of their exes. Women (49%) are more likely than men (38%) to say they're not friends with any of their exes.
Would you be comfortable with a partner of yours being friends with an ex?
How would Americans feel about their current partner having a relationship with an ex? Most people would be comfortable with a partner of theirs being on good terms (57%) or speaking terms (55%) with an ex. However, Americans are split on whether they would be comfortable with a partner being friends with an ex (41% are comfortable, 40% uncomfortable), and few would be comfortable with a partner of theirs being best friends with an ex (22%, 60%). While being best friends is off limits to most, many would also be displeased with the opposite situation – that is, a partner being enemies with his or her ex (32%, 40%).
When relationships end, what do Americans normally do – and what do they expect their friends and family to do?
Breakups involve making and adjusting to change. What type of changes do Americans typically make after a relationship ends? When asked to select as many as apply from a list of nine possible actions, almost half of people say that immediately after a relationship ends, they would likely change their account passwords that an ex may have access to (45%), and nearly the same share (44%) say they would likely return possessions of their ex's (44%). Around one in four say they would unfollow their ex on social media (25%), delete photos of themselves together with their ex on social media (25%), update their relationship status on social media (25%), or delete their ex's number in their phone (23%). Only around one in 10 say they would have a rebound (11%), get rid of presents their ex gave them (11%), or start online dating (11%).
Women are more likely than men to say they'd take seven of the nine actions asked about. The only things that men are more likely than women to say they'd do immediately after a breakup involve dating someone else: having a rebound relationship or beginning online dating.
How do Americans want their friends and family to react to a breakup? Many don't know. Around one in five people say that after a breakup, they would want their friends and family to do each of the following: not speak to their ex (21%), return possessions of their ex (19%), delete their ex's contact information (18%), or unfollow their ex on social media (17%). Half either say they don't want their friends or family to take any of the six actions asked about (33%) or aren't sure what they'd want them to do (22%).
— Isabelle Kirk, Carl Bialik, and Linley Sanders contributed to this article
See similar results in the UK: Can you stay friends with your ex?
This poll was conducted on September 15 - 19, 2022 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Adobe Stock (Antonioguillem)