I used to believe exes could not be friends. Friendly? Sure. Friends where you hang out and keep each other apprised of what’s happening in your life? No way. I didn’t believe it was possible.

Perhaps that’s because I’ve had my share of breakup trauma, and I believed that an ex didn’t deserve my friendship. At the core of a romantic relationship is a friendship, a powerful one. So why bother with a watered-down version? Won’t it just make me miss the stronger version?

Since most breakups contained some version of the “can we still be friends?” discussion while emotions were running high, it was usually too soon to discern whether that was a realistic possibility. First, I’ve found, you need a healing period.

In the same way that Mark Twain said humor is tragedy plus time, the formula for ex-friendship might be breakup plus time, plus some more time, add in a bottle of whiskey, possibly some yelling and apologizing and maybe more time (and more whiskey).

I also understand that the key to being friends isn’t to try to mimic the relationship you had minus the physicality. It has to be almost a brand-new friendship. Both people have to be willing to get to know one another again.

Over the past few years, one ex has become my go-to person when I need advice for whomever I’m currently dating. I go to him when I’m trying to decipher male behavior; when I’m wondering if something is a red flag or I’m just being ridiculous, or when I’m debating what to give a new guy for his birthday. My ex, too, will tell me about the dating apps he’s using, why he likes a particular person and the places he’s thinking about taking her for a date.

What’s great about the friendship is that I know it exists only because we’ve bridged the rift that caused the romantic love to fall apart and paved the way for platonic love. The advice I seek and he readily offers is from someone who makes clear that my happiness is important to him, and he has the true inside track. He used to be in the trenches with me! His perspective is unmatched by anyone else’s.

For example, when I was head over heels for someone who was being attentive and charming — who introduced me as his “girlfriend” before we’d even dated a week — he warned that this guy seemed in a hurry to get married and wasn’t taking time to get to know me. Fast-forward two months and my ex was in a position to say “I told you so,” but instead of gloating, he told me I was going to be okay.

Another time he encouraged me to give a new guy a chance when I was disgusted with dating in general. He helped me see that I needed to be open to possibility rather than assume the worst. “Is it fair to hold this guy accountable for what went wrong with someone else?” He asked me. He was right, it wasn’t.

My ex has also brought to my attention, in a non-confrontational way, behaviors that had hurt each of us in the past. Such as the times we didn’t tell each other that other friends would be crashing our dates, assuming the other person wouldn’t mind instead of asking if it was okay. Or the fact that he can now tell when I’m upset, but that I used to sound breezy and noncommittal instead of admitting I was hurt. He’s pointed out defense mechanisms that I have often overlooked or barely noticed.

All of our conversations have provided some clarification for why we disagreed before and perhaps how I could avoid future fights with other people. Most important, our friendship has made me a better communicator. Rather than jump to conclusions, I’ve looked at what could have been construed from what I said or did. And when I’m upset, I don’t pretend to be fine. Hiding my emotions only leads them to fester, and exploding after some banal comment like “did you remember to take out the recyclables?”

When my ex and I were together, we didn’t address the issues that made us incompatible, out of fear of that things would end. And that’s not healthy for anyone. With his advice as my friend, I’ve been in relationships where the level of mutual understanding surpasses anything I’ve experienced before.

Rather than force relationships into one label or another, I’m more open about what they might become. When a romance doesn’t pan out, it’s easiest to decide that the person doesn’t deserve any room in your life. Now I’m doing the work to see if they might fit in a slightly different place. Because sometimes the work is worth it.