There are some situations where everyone involved knows you’re lying as soon as the words leave your mouth. When you run into a long-lost acquaintance on the street: “We should get lunch sometime.” When a friend asks for your help with their impending move: “I’d be happy to.” When your significant other has just become your ex: “Let’s still be friends.” You don’t believe these things, and the person hearing them probably doesn’t either — but still, you act like they’re true, because that’s just the way it’s done.
Except for the small handful of times where both of you really do want to stay friends with an ex. Or maybe you don’t believe your own promise, but somehow still find yourself falling into new, platonic habits once you’ve broken things off. Either way, a study recently published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences and highlighted by Emma Young at BPS Research Digest found that most people who keep the friendship alive do so for one of seven reasons.
Based on the participants’ rankings, the study authors narrowed down the list to seven main reasons why people might choose to be friends with a former partner: sentimentality (a category that included more specific statements like “we shared a lot of good memories” or “they were supportive of my goals”); pragmatism (“they were able to provide me transportation to places” or “they had attractive friends”); continued romantic attraction (“I still had feelings for them”); shared resources, like a kid, a pet, or an apartment; diminished romantic feelings, which made it easier to actually follow through on a platonic relationship; and “social relationship maintenance,” which covered things like keeping a friend group intact and minimizing drama. They also found that certain traits were linked to certain categories — people higher in extraversion, for example, were more likely to value pragmatic reasons, while people who scored higher in agreeableness prioritized sentimental ones.
As Young noted, past research has found that friendships between exes aren’t actually as rare as we might think, though there’s a caveat: In most cases, unsurprisingly, those relationships are more fraught than other friendships, with each person ascribing more negative qualities to their ex than they would to the rest of their friends. Free rides and good memories are worth keeping in your life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come with an emotional tax.