It’s never easy to take a relationship from romantic to platonic. But some ex-partners make it a point to stay in each other’s lives—and new research, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, sheds light on the reasons they do so.
For their study, psychologists at Oakland University in Michigan asked participants to rank more than 150 potential explanations for why former love birds might choose to stay pals. Then based on the ratings, the authors identified seven main categories of reasons: continued romantic attraction (which included statements like “I still had feelings for them” and “I still felt jealous after the relationship”); pragmatism (“they were a useful social connection” or “they had a lot of money”); social relationship maintenance (“to prevent awkwardness in our friend group”); sexual access (“there were a possible hook-up buddy”); children and shared resources, such as property or debts; diminished romantic feelings, which made it easier to transition to just friends; and sentimentality (“they were a great listener” or “they were supportive of my goals”).
In general, study participants ranked sentimental reasons as most important for keeping a friendship alive. Pragmatic motives—designed to use the ex for anything from free rides to home repairs—fell at the bottom of the list.
But what was most interesting about the findings was that participants with similar personalities tended to value similar reasons for pursuing so-called PRFs, or post-relationship friendships. For example, the researchers found that both men and women who scored high on extroversion were more likely to express interest in a “friends with benefits” scenario. And those who scored high in agreeableness tended to value sentimental reasons for maintaining a bond with a former flame.
Meanwhile, those who scored higher on “dark personality traits” (associated with hostile or manipulative behaviors) were more likely to stay chummy with an ex for pragmatic perks like financial support, social connections, and potential hook-ups. “This suggests that some individuals may maintain friendship after a break-up for reasons that depart from what some might typically expect from a friendly ex,” lead author Justin Mogilski, PhD, told Health via email.
He added a word of caution to the recently single: “Just because you want to maintain friendship for one reason does not mean that that friendship serves the same purpose for the other person,” he says. “Some pairings may have fundamentally different reasons for staying friends, and this may lead to hardship rather than happily ever after.”