How great is this tip for dealing with people who invade your personal space? Since there’s no transcript at the link, I’ll tell you:
When someone comes up behind you and is too close, get visibly and audibly startled ( “Aaaah! Yikes!”) and move back. You want people to turn around and look at what’s happening. Then say “Wow, didn’t realize you were so close” or “Whoa, too close!” And let it be super awkward. Don’t apologize or smooth it over. Do it every single time until they get it. I would add: If it’s happening at work, document each time it happens and then report it to HR if they don’t get it. I would also add: Dear Tech Support Guy at My First Job After College, the way you always came up behind us and put your hands on our shoulders for unwanted backrubs when you had to fix our computers made us all hate you and I should have a) screamed and jumped out of my skin and b) reported you to HR for being fucking creepy and awful.
I’m putting today’s question behind a cut because of mentions of past abuse & sexual assault.
Dear Captain Awkward,
When I was 16-20, I was in an awful, horrifying abusive relationship. The guy, let’s call him Suckface, destroyed me as a person through emotional and physical abuse and rape. Now, I managed to get out of that place and rebuild myself. I have an amazing Team Me and they rock. The point of this letter though, is that I’m still friends with a number of Suckface’s friends. We aren’t super close, but I see them every week for a table top game I adore and we have occasional parties where we hang out. I don’t really ever have to have contact with Suckface except when I want to go to the super fun parties, as Suckface get’s invited as well. The whole group knows, as I’ve told them, that Suckface abused me. But they have made it clear they don’t want details and I haven’t offered them much.
I’ve finally managed to ask the group to not have both of us at the same party(because of reading this blog actually!). I (think) I made it pretty clear that I won’t be mad if they invite him instead of me, I just don’t feel safe around him and won’t attend. However, I don’t think the group really gets it. They treat it like he’s just an ex I’m irrationally mad at and don’t want to see. And while they haven’t forced me to interact with him again, they don’t seem to really make much effort on making sure only one of us is going. They still invite both of us.
I get that the lack of care about my boundaries is pretty shitty, but I also know how hard it is to see when your friend is a monster. I just am not really sure how to approach the situation. I don’t need them to not be friends with Suckface, though I might wish that. I just need them to understand he makes me feel unsafe without sounding like some nutty ex.
Awesome Von Tightpants
While you have done a great job speaking up for yourself and asking for what you want, you cannot control who this social group invites to their parties. I mean, you literally cannot control it: You asked them directly to handle invites a certain way and they chose not to do what you asked.
So let’s talk about what you can control.
Is it correct to assume that Suckface doesn’t go to the weekly gaming sessions? If that’s the case, that’s your territory with these folks. Relax, enjoy yourself. If he does show up, leave. And then let the hosts know why you left and ask them if he will be coming to sessions in the future.
With parties, your hosts have clearly declined to invite only one of you to parties and would like you to sort it out for yourself. So, if you see in advance that your ex is invited and planning on attending a party, don’t go. It’s a painful, unfair choice, but it’s the one that is in your power.
But that doesn’t mean that you just fade away. Depending on how close you are to the host and how receptive they’ve been to you speaking up in the past, send them a personal note. “Thanks for inviting me. I’m so sorry to put you in an awkward position, but I’ve decided to stop going to events where I am likely to run into Suckface. But I do love seeing you, so please let me know if you’d like to get together solo sometime, and I’ll definitely see you at [Game Playing Thing] next week.“
Translation: “No, I won’t be there. Here is why. I like you, though.“
That’s not being manipulative or rude, but it is about being direct about what you need and giving the hosts some choices about how they handle things in the future. If they are going to choose Suckface, make them consciously choose Suckface. Make them do the emotional calculus. You’ve told them straight up it’s okay if they invite Suckface to things instead of you, so brace yourself if they finally take you at your word and stop inviting you to certain events going forward. That’s potentially hurtful and unfair, but that is one of the outcomes you’ve directly asked for, so in a sense it’s a victory.
A really Pyrrhic one. Because this situation is full of so many traps.
The history you have with Suckface, and the fact that this group of people know at least something about that history, is the big caveat here. By making it clear that they don’t want to know any of the gory details of what happened between you, they gave you a pretty clear (and crappy) message: “You’re invited as long as you don’t make us really think about the fact that our friend is an abuser and a rapist.” Per their logic, if it were *that* bad, you *would* be mad if they invited him instead of you, ergo it can’t be that bad, ergo they should just keep inviting you both to things and let you sort it out among yourselves (which is actually a GOOD way to handle things when you are friends with two exes absent a history of abuse and nefarious acts), ergo they don’t really have to do any more work or thinking about this, and as an extra special shit bonus, it gets to be kind of your fault for not being more “honest” in the first place (even though they said they didn’t want to know).
Your reasons for avoiding Suckface for the rest of recorded time sound pretty fucking rational to me. But because these people have asked you to never fully share those reasons, they get to maintain a sheen of plausible deniability and pretend that their desire to continue hanging out with Suckface is totally logical and rational but your desire to avoid him is because of stupid irrational ladyfeelings. Unfortunately, if they knew the gory details, they might invite him to stuff anyway. And if you were to say, “Listen guys, I’ve tried really hard to be cool with this, but the guy RAPED me. Can you take 30 seconds and decide to invite EITHER him OR me so that every time you have a super-cool party I don’t have to scan the invite for his name and have my excitement immediately replaced with terror and dread?” you risk that cardinal sin of Geek Friend Groups, “creating drama.”
We all know that there are people who genuinely do create drama. They make every situation about them. They gossip. They steal boyfriends for fun, or start a torrid affair with your married boss after you brought them to happy hour one time. They undermine you with backhanded compliments and gaslighting. They make a lot of noise and control people through the threat that they’ll make a scene. Every interaction with them leaves you broker than you were before, behind on some shit you really needed to get done, and emotionally drained.
But so often, “creating drama” is a phrase that people use when they want someone who has been a victim of something to shut up. It allows them to blame the victim for bringing the problem to their attention and making them feel bad while glossing over the fact that the drama was really created by the victimizER back when they did bad things. The friend group gets all caught up in issues of “fairness” and “logic” and “It was so long ago, why are you dredging it all up now?” and treating the victim’s feelings (or, again, quite rational & reasonable request to not have to sit next to one’s rapist at dinner) as illogical and unreasonable.
Someone who accuses you of “creating drama” in this case is basically saying that abusing & raping one’s partner might be bad, but making people feel weird about it at parties is worse.
It’s not fair that you should lose out on something you value because of that dude. It fills me with rage to see abuse victims retreat time and time again from social spaces while charismatic predators are allowed to remain. But I also think that maybe it’s bad for you to keep exposing yourself to Suckface and to people who chose “We prefer not to know.”
So I say, before you retreat entirely, stop going to things where he will be and let people know exactly why. You worked so hard to be “cool” and to not make people choose, but if this is still hurting you it’s okay if you ask people to choose. It’s okay if you want them to choose you. It’s okay to ask that some events be off-limits to him so that you can enjoy yourself. You don’t have to be the bigger person to people who stayed friends with your rapist.
Some good phrases to have up your sleeve:
“This is what I need to do to take care of myself.”
“I know it feels like ancient history to you, but it is still fresh for me, and running into him constantly makes it worse.”
“I am not trying to ‘create drama’, I am trying to ensure that I don’t run into my rapist at parties. I know that’s a really uncomfortable topic for you to think about – it’s uncomfortable for me, too.”
“You say ‘emotional’ like it means that I am wrong. I have very good reasons for not wanting to be around him anymore.“
I am pessimistic that this will work out the way you want it to, but I hope someone in that group will surprise you and really have your back, and I hope time and love from Team You will do their work in helping you put this whole thing further in your past.