Just friends. The friend zone. Bummer burger with a side of friend fries. No matter how you serve it “friendship” is the f-bomb for romance. Casual internal estimates suggest that, like, 90% of couples and would-be couples who decide to “just be friends” never speak again. It seems going from passionate potential soul mates to occasional coffee cohorts isn’t always an intriguing prospect. "Friend" even has “end” written right into it. 

But there’s also a rare phenomenon where people say “let’s be friends” as more than an ultimate lip service. Where once-lovers attempt to spare the chewy friendship crust of the relationship, even after all the delicious, fatty romance toppings are scraped off. It makes sense, in theory: You did share the most intimate, personal pieces of your life with that person. And there had to have been more than one reason you made it past the in-it-for-the-sex three-month mark, right?

I interviewed six success stories in their mid-20s, who managed to stay friends with at least one ex*, and their accounts showed there’s a reason most exes don’t stay friends: It’s hard work. But the work does come with rewards. For one of the six, let’s call him Joey**, the reward for staying friends with his first serious ex was keeping his job. “Thankfully we remembered how to be coworkers who didn’t go home together from work. Otherwise, one of us would have had to go,” he recalls. But the stakes can also be simpler and more personal, as in Rachel’s case: “He was one of the most important people in my life, so he always will be.”

Whether you need to stay friends to avoid quitting your job or just want to find the friendship light at the end of your crumbling relationship tunnel, there are real tactics to consider when attempting a post-lovers friendship. The following 10 semi-chronological tips stood out as remarkably consistent guidelines for the brave souls who were able to immigrate to the friend zone in one piece. Use with caution, enter at your own risk, break up again in case of emergency.

*To be clear, I’m not talking about ex-husbands and wives or ex-baby-mamas and daddies here. Staying friends with them has much higher stakes and is the subject of another, more serious article.

**The names of those interviewed have been changed to protect them from the exes they’re not still friends with. Any similarity the names may bear to real persons or iconic '90s sitcom characters is purely coincidental, probably.

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