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#552: Crossing Paths with Darth-of-Old

Hello, nice people of the internet!

I took your generous Pledge Drive donations and finally bought myself a reliable, working computer. I CAN WRITE AGAIN!

February is over and my 2-week sinus-infection-shitbeast-respiratory-thing-from-hell seems to be lifting. I CAN WRITE AGAIN!

HI IT IS NICE TO SEE YOU ALL I MISSED YOU AND HOPE YOU ARE OK

Today’s question comes up in a lot of forms, so let’s kill many birds with one stone, or hey, can someone find a new, less horrifying metaphor that means that same thing?

Dear Captain and Crew,

 2006-2008 I was dating a grand master Darth, “Ben.” The details of his darthiness aren’t particularly relevant, except in that they were generally either “micro-aggressions” or happened without witnesses. For example, in public he’d make a lot of subtle comments to undercut my self-image and competence in order to get me to do what he wanted me to. Which on their own were fairly *eye roll* move on-y, but added up were extremely detrimental to my emotional health.  In private he was downright manipulative and abusive.  

In 2008 I took a semester off as an escape strategy, which gave me the confidence to break up with Darth.  Unfortunately at the time I nurtured a misguided belief that when you break up with someone the “mature” “adult” thing to do is to maintain a friendship with them.  And so we did, and in this “friendship” he maintained the same darth-y behavior of our relationship.  Additionally twice he pressured me into living with him so it wasn’t even that much safer than in the relationship. 

Finally, I moved 3000 miles away.  For a while he would still send me manipulative electronic and phone communications, but eventually I developed a “Team You” in my new city, who convinced me to cease all communication with him and not look at any contacts he makes.  This was probably the most stress relieving decision of my life.

The problem: we still have many mutual friends from my former city.  While some of the people in our friend group also felt abused by Ben, many have stayed friends with him. So I’m trying to figure out how I navigate situations such as weddings or reunions, in which I know Ben will be present.  I wouldn’t want to miss these occasions, and I don’t feel like I would be in any danger, but I want ways to address two issues:  (1) How do I communicate to my friends that my relationship and subsequent friendship with Ben were abusive and detrimental and as such I have cut ties, but they are free to do with him as they please, so long as they don’t require us to sit next to each other on a seating chart or something and (2) If I do end up “cornered” by Ben at one of these events, how do I communicate: I have cut ties with you, I am willing to be cordial and polite but I am not willing to engage any further than that.  

For (1) I’m worried about having to “prove” his abusiveness, which could quickly get to an awkward place if I discuss the awful things he did in private, but would be hard to do only describing the micro-aggressions because these were really only problematic because they built up so much.  For (2) I know he would say that logically I OWE him an explanation and try to manipulate me into such so I’d rather get away from the topic/him before he starts using his finally honed tactics.

Wanna Be Hans not Luke 

P.S. I am a lady for pronoun purposes

Dear Han/Hans:

Hans and Franz from Saturday Night Live, also, I'm old.

We are here to awkwardly pump you up.

Han Solo looking sheepish yet relaxed

Who *wouldn’t* want to be me?

Learn this phrase. Love this phrase. Repeat this phrase:

“Actually, ‘Ben’ and I aren’t friends anymore.” 

For most reasonable people, that answers the question. If anyone asks you why? or whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

“You know, we tried to keep in touch for a while after we broke up. But the more we interacted, the more I realized that I just don’t like him.” 

I know that it is tempting to seek 1) justice, 2) validation of your memory and perspective from people who are in a position to bear witness to what happened, and 3) deserved shunning of the dude by all things associated with fun and goodness in the world, but being brief and direct should get you around any “proving” that what he did was wrong, “sufficiently” abusive, whatever. You don’t have to prove squat; you just don’t like him, and the boss of such decisions and feelings is you and you alone. If people ask “what happened” or “why?” (or whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?) you can decide how much detail to go into.He was constantly shitty to me in a million small ways that are hard to really describe but that add up to a portrait of ‘yeesh’ and ‘never again,'” vs. “Eh, I don’t necessarily feel like recapping it,” + “I can be civil in small doses, though, so, let’s talk about exciting stuff like YOUR AWESOME WEDDING!”

Don’t justify it more than that if you don’t want to. You just don’t like him. This is the insidious aftermath of abuse in geek social circles: You think you need to show some kind of cause for not liking someone, even when the person has mistreated you. Even if Ben (or a proxy) could somehow win the argument that you are being unfair in not wanting to hang out with him, would it make you like him and want to be around him again? Howabout we change the terms to “I, Han/Hans do sincerely despise ‘Ben’ with all my soul. I will be civil for the sake of others because that’s what party guests do, but honestly, he can eff right off.”  People can draw whatever conclusions from that they want to. If they need his flaws “proven” to them before they’ll accept your opinion, you can lump them in with old Benji in the Yeesh-bin of history.

“Heyhowsitgoing” + Being Elsewhere is your current plan for encountering actual Ben at these events, correct? Hopefully that will work. Probably that will work. If it does work, then rejoice: he has gotten the message that you don’t want him in your life and is keeping a respectful distance. This is how adults who don’t like each other handle social situations.

If it doesn’t work, and he insists on having some kind of conversation, try the Broken Record approach and then physically move away. Repeat as necessary:

  • “I don’t want to talk, Ben.”
  • “You’ll have to excuse me.” 
  • “I’m here for [Bride/Groom] and [Bride/Groom], not you. Let’s drop it.” 
  • “Yes, I am avoiding you, and I want to keep right on doing that.”
  • “You are making me very uncomfortable. I’m walking away now.”
  • “I’m not actually interested in repairing this friendship or working anything out. Not sure I can be any clearer than that. Howabout we drop it and just celebrate with our friends?”

If he is a certain flavor of Darth, he will use “clearing the air,” “apologizing,” “making things right,” etc. as a way to come across as a bemused, hapless good guy who can’t understaaaaaaaaaand why you just won’t give him your time and attention so he can talk at you. He will enlist others in this cause. “I just want to make things right, but she won’t talk to me. Can you help us clear the air?” This sounds like what you are (reasonably) worried about.

Keep these scripts at hand should you meet Ben’s Middle Child Wingman and Carrier of Geek Social Fallacy #4:

  • “I appreciate the apology.” + “You’ll have to excuse me.”  You can “appreciate” it the way one does a work of art or a fine wine or well-performed production of Hamlet. You can also do that appreciating from a safe distance.
  • “It’s nice that he wants to discuss things, but I’m just not interested.” + “You’ll have to excuse me.” 
  • “There’s nothing to actually work out, since he’s not a part of my life anymore. We’re just two random guests at the same party.” + “You’ll have to excuse me.” 

In case of a scenario that came up once upon an inbox question that I never got time to answer, where it’s the host of the event pressuring you to “make peace” or “forgive” “because it’s my wedding!” or “do it for meeeeeeeeee” consider the following responses:

  • Wouldn’t you rather have some cheese knives?”
  • “Loathing another human being with all my soul is not, actually, like, negotiable.”
  • “I am really glad you want me here to celebrate your wedding. I am so happy for you! Can’t we leave ex-boyfriends out of this and just celebrate the day?”
  • “The less ‘Ben’ and I interact, the better I’ll like him.”
  • “It’s not fixable because there is nothing to fix. He’s not a part of my life anymore, beyond us being guests at the same party. You are a part of my life, though, and since I’m back here so rarely I don’t want to waste our precious time talking about stupid ex-boyfriend stuff.” 

“You need to feel x way about y person as a favor to me” is not actually a favor that people get to request!

One of the ways manipulative people get their way is through the tacit threat of “making a scene,” as in, Ben might approach/corner you and say something that would sound innocuous to people who don’t know your history, in the hopes that you’ll flip out and appear unreasonable by comparison. This is how unreasonable people use “keeping the peace” and the social contract against reasonable people.

If by some chance you “made a scene” to get away from your abusive ex-boyfriend who would not leave you alone at a party, it would not be the worst thing in the world. It would not be your fault, and, while stressful to contemplate, honestly I think we could all benefit from more “scenes” of this type. After all, you survived years of your constant emotional abuse, is an awkward moment at a party is supposed to scare you? Seriously? While you don’t want to give this guy too much room in your head at a function you’re supposed to be enjoying, practicing what you’ll say, thinking of escape routes ahead of time, etc. can help you feel more grounded if something should come up. But go ahead. Go ahead and imagine the scene, where you say “SRSLY, what part of me not calling or writing you back for seriously YEARS at a time did not sink in? You’re gonna follow me around our friend’s wedding like a kicked puppy and try to ‘make’ me talk to you? Is that what today is about for you? I’d feel sorry for you if you weren’t so creepy.” + executing a perfect pivot worthy of Beyoncé + leaving a room of stunned people behind you without a care in the world because they can’t touch your courage and your awesomeness.

In the past readers have suggested the most excellent strategy of having someone serve as your official party comrade for occasions like this: someone who is in the know about the dark, shitty history and can be a buffer in situations when you need an easy out (“So sorry to interrupt! Han(s), can you come help me with (conveniently invented task)?”) and a not-so-easy out (“Dude, she said she didn’t want to talk to you. GET THE HINT ALREADY!”). Since there are others in that same friend group who are wise to Ben’s antics, you should have no shortage of people who are also trying to avoid that dude and can summon you to solve urgent dance floor emergencies.

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93 comments
  1. Amanda said:

    My friend’s dog trainer uses, “feed two birds with one seed,” since it’s less violent.

    • DarthTrina said:

      That works. I once thought of quite a few less violent replacements, but at the moment I can only remember “watering a dead plant” for “beating a dead horse.”

    • I can’t see how that would work in real life though – how can they both eat it if there’s only one seed?

      I’d advocate “catch two birds with one net” – I’m an ornithologist and we set up nets to catch birds to measure them, put ID bands on, etc. and then release them. Usually you only get one bird per net, because you set the net up in a certain bird’s territory and only catch him. Catching two birds with one net is a big win.

      (P.S. This was great advice! It’s so easy to get freaked out about these situations, but if you’re prepared, they’re usually not nearly as bad as you’re dreading.)

      • commanderlogic said:

        No, see, one bird eats the seed. The other bird is a hawk or owl, and eats the first bird.

        …Which doesn’t solve the “less violent” exactly but does leave us with at least one living bird. SUCCESS.

        • JenniferP said:

          Have I told you lately that I love you.

    • Pixie said:

      I like “water two flowers from one hose,” myself.

    • ARA said:

      My friend says “feed two birds with one scone.”

      • “Hug two birds with one arm” is very big around my office.

        And spot-on advice, as per ushe.

    • Hmm … feed many cats from one bowl?

      Cuddle two cats on one lap?

    • rollinghead said:

      In Italy we say “catch two pigeons with one fava bean”

    • Make two soups from one stock, because all metaphors are better when they involve delicious foodstuffs.

      • “defeat two velociraptors with one doorknob”

  2. mythbri said:

    I particularly like the part of the Captain’s advice about what Ben would accomplish by “proving” that LW was making it up/being unreasonable/the ACTUAL mean person, etc.

    Nothing, that’s what. That wouldn’t “keep the peace” because the peace is already broken. LW is just trying to keep it civil, and civility is not the same as peace. It wouldn’t magically make LW accept Ben back into her life, because guess what – you can’t “logic” someone into being friends or having sex.

    So really, if Ben does try to prove anything at these social events, it’s an exercise in futility, and hopefully LW can play Expert Level defense on Social Space Invaders while still having a good time.

  3. Copcher said:

    Excellent advice, as usual. To add to the list of things you can say to Ben if he corners you, I think you phrased it quite well yourself:

    “I have cut ties with you, I am willing to be cordial and polite but I am not willing to engage any further than that.” + “You’ll have to excuse me.” + walk away.

    Also, I’m terrified of scenes and avoid them at all costs, and I totally agree with this: “while stressful to contemplate, honestly I think we could all benefit from more “scenes” of this type.” You survived living with this guy (more than once) and you got away! Be proud of yourself, and let that pride, and the support of Team You, help you through any scenes Ben makes.

  4. For the friend-rescue situation, I like an extended hand and “Come with me if you want to live.” Recognizably a quote, defuses the situation with nerd-humour, and kind of unanswerable, *especially* if the asshat has been openly badgering the target.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hilarious!

    • Better yet, reference the recent Lego movie: “Come with me if you wanna not die!” It’s fresh in our cultural mindset, plus it’s a really fun movie. :)

      • There… there was a lego movie?? Not everyone’s cultural mindset, obviously.

        • Rowan said:

          There still IS a Lego movie. It’s still on, and it’s AWESOME.

        • Its not out in New Zealand yet (I think) – assuming by the fact your website is little pakeha, you are from NZ like me :)

        • Oh XD well, yeah, it was in theaters recently. Saw it with my now-ex, actually. It’s a fun flick. Not outstanding, but a good couple hours of entertainment.

    • Annalee said:

      I once used “There you are! You need to come with me–$mutual-friend’s hair is on fire.” Which is not nearly as recognizable a nerd reference, but we got five paces away from the person I was rescuing my friend from before said person was like “wait–what did she just say!?” and by then, we had enough no-mentum to keep noping off about our business.

      • Pepper said:

        “No-mentum” is a great word. Mind if I steal it?

        • Annalee said:

          :-). Thanks! Yes, feel free to use it!

      • Serin said:

        Can I tell you how much I’ve been needing the term ‘no-mentum’?

        • Annalee said:

          :). Now I want to make it a thing.

  5. Admiral Backward said:

    Great column. Welcome back!

  6. onamission5 said:

    Alternate scripts for when/if Ben manages to rope a third party into approaching LW:

    Direct- “It’s really weird that Ben put you in this position since he knows we’re not friends any more. I am sorry he did that to you.” Sympathetic arm squeeze, smile, walk away.

    Avoidant- “Hi, (well meaning sap who got roped into this shit), it is so nice to see you!” Proceed to question person at length about how/what/where/when/why are they doing, make it nigh on impossible for them to segue into Ben Stuff. If LW has the gift/curse of nervous verbal diarrhea, this could be very effective.

    • Redgirl said:

      I absolutely love your direct script. Brilliant!

  7. Mary said:

    Can I just second everything the Captain has said about actually PRACTISING saying this stuff, and visualising yourself being the calm poised one who is just like, “yeah, I don’t think so” + “you’ll have to excuse me”? Like, I know sometimes i can read this kind of thing, and think, “that sounds great, but I don’t think I’d ever manage it in practice”. But really visualising yourself being that super calm, centred person and practising those sentences in front of the mirror can make a really big difference. If the real situation comes up, your brain really does go, “oh, I know, we practised this one” instead of “panic! Evil! Bad! Run! Freeze! Panic!”

    • Mary said:

      And you know, if you also want to practise a Piece of Your Mind for if a scene is the only thing that is going to work, it is totally OK to practise that too! But avoiding conflict is often less stressful and easier to walk away from.

      • salted_caramel said:

        YES. Practice all the words (civility-keeping and scene-making) out loud and the Beyonce pivot too for good measure, then you will have those tools when you need them.

        • megweck said:

          I love singling out the practicing here. Something I do a lot, when I am really concerned about something that might become A Confrontation is this:

          1. FIRST I practice the Most In-Your-Face-Diva response that I want to say (the response that, if this were a movie, would be the climactic “SUCK IT, JERK!” scene). I picture myself doing that a few times, so I sort of…get that picture of myself as empowered fully fleshed out and fresh in my mind.

          2. Once I come down off of that high, I start to picture what the MOST CIVIL scene possible is – the one where all of the awed on-lookers see that I am mature and confident and benevolent, and ‘Ben’ is being immature and manipulative and trying to cause A Scene. I practice that one A LOT MORE, and I pay attention to how I feel when I picture myself saying those words (how are my shoulders – tense or relaxed? How is my posture in general? how am I holding my face – smiling slilghtly, frowning, blank? how is the sympathy for someone as lowly as Ben shining forth from my eyes for all the world to see? How natural do the dramatic pauses feel, during which I come to understand that Ben, silly, horrible, Ben still…doesn’t get that this is over, and he has lost?). Pretty importantly, I always picture myself emerging from the encounter pretty un-phased. I picture myself shaking it off, and walking away with a “huh…whatever?” look on my face, the way you do after the bank teller is really rude to you, for reasons that are clearly not your fault – you feel unfortunate that it happened, but you forget about it 5 minutes later. In essence, I sort of try to create the equivalent of muscle-memory for what my righteous civility is going to look and feel like, and how easy it’s going to be to not let it affect the rest of my night.

          For the record, I do a lot of this visualizing while on long-ish drives, so that I can PHYSICALLY practice relaxing my shoulders, smiling-benevolently-yet-confusedly at ‘Ben’s’ persistent horribleness, and also be blasting empowering music while I do so.

          • Mary said:

            I love this, YES! And I also like the strategy of starting off with the most high-drama diva version and then toning it down, so your brain sort of knows it’s got that version in reserve, and really, you are doing the Ben a MASSIVE FAVOUR by going for the politely coolly civil version.

    • Okay so, maybe this is weird, but I will often do these kind of scripty rehearsals for myself either while I’m working out (if it’s not yoga) or while I’m doing housework. “I’m sorry, S, I’m not going to be nice to you just to make things easier for you.” *ruthlessly mops floor* *increases rpm on elliptical*

      • Anisoptera said:

        And this, right here, is how I became a person who occasionally gets caught talking to herself. :-/

        Seriously though, practicing out loud definitely helps.

        • Frost said:

          Only occasionally? I talk to myself all the time, and not just practicing scripts for when people are being dirtbags! Of course, when I’m at work I can always disguise it as talking to one of the dogs (I work in a grooming salon, yay puppies! Boo bitey dogs with asshat owners!) or, if I’m at home on my laptop, that I was talking to someone over my headset in a raid or something. XD

          • Anisoptera said:

            Haha – I live alone, so I only get caught occasionally even though I do it constantly. Like, I’ll forget I have guests, or a neighbour will see me talking to the bin while I put the rubbish out…

          • Heh – we spend a lot of time at work talking to Bill Gates.

            Okay, make that “swearing at” Bill Gates.

          • Yeah, I also talk to myself a lot, only I just moved in with a bunch of roommates so now I sometimes get caught at it :P juuuust a little awkward, y’know

      • Carpe Librarium said:

        The number of times I give the dishes a good telling off…

      • Mary said:

        Me and my partner don’t tend to do it out loud, but we’ve both caught each in the facial-expression / hand gestures of “AND ANOTHER THING” at some invisible foe!

    • Every roommate I’ve had knows that when I’m in the middle of some type of interpersonal stress, I monologue while getting ready in the morning. I’m already not a morning person, so when I grumpily brush my teeth and practice telling off whoever it is that has me upset, they tend to give me space and then chuckle about it with me when I’m in a good mood later. So yeah, seconding practicing, because it helps with being able to say what you need to say when the time comes, but also helps me with processing whatever it is that is troubling me.

  8. Outragesaur said:

    I also think in the moment LW you will be mortified by the mere sight of him. So be prepared for any emotions that can momentarily weaken your confidence or resolve. No one wants to deal with this stuff, which is, like the Captain so often points out, what Darth’s rely on. When this happened to me, I felt trapped, surrounded by mutual professional acquaintances, and I felt panicked and a little slow. My fight or flight response kicked in. If my experience is anything to go by, he may even ruin part of these events for you just by being there. But once all that anxiety wears off, you’ll feel rage. Total outrage. Get angry and give him a sharp “buzz off” if you have to.

    In my situation someone I had explicitly cut off email contact with because of murky history showed up at an professional event where I was. They started talking to me. They talked to me as if I’d never cut off contact, as if we were old friends who’d inconveniently lost touch. I didn’t even bother with, “Don’t wanna talk to you” + “excuse me” I just jumped to part 2 with “spotted someone I need to talk to about workthing, excuse me” and moved to a different spot in the audience and got on with my life. He got the message. If it had not been a professional setting I probably would have gone with, “I don’t want to talk to you (you spineless cheater/liar!)”.

    Anyway, if your Darth isn’t made of the strong stuff, even your softest attempts to get him to eff off will make him feel uncomfortable enough to stop. If they don’t, and you have to go heavy and make a scene, the turd deserves it. Do so with the internet’s blessing.

  9. ambivalentacademic said:

    Re: Making a scene.

    If you are not confident that you can execute the Captain’s most excellent scenario under duress (being cornered by the object of my fear and loathing sometimes interrupts my brain-to-mouth connection), I am very much in favor of just issuing a tight-lipped non smile or that face and throwing a drink on them, followed by the Beyonce pivot.

    Drink throwing has it’s advantageous in that it seems (to me at least) much more socially coded as “holy shit, that guy must have just done/said something totally reprehensible to make her do that!” than yelling (which is my next alternative, and which is often socially coded as “wow, that lady just totally lost her shit for no reason!”).

    OTOH, I am under the impression that throwing a drink on someone, even someone who deserves it has been treated as assault in some cases, though that seems more likely for two strangers in a bar than two people with history at a mutual friend’s wedding.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m gonna say ixnay on the inkdray owingthray, for exactly the “That’s assault, brutha” reasons you outlined. Maybe go with “NOPE” and the pivot and keep your drink for the triumphant shot.

      • LeighTX said:

        Plus, it turns your friend’s event into a memorable one for the wrong reason–it won’t be, “Hey, wasn’t Fred’s wedding so much fun because of the great DJ?!”, it’ll always be, “Hey, remember how Hans threw that drink on Ben at Fred’s wedding?!” A calm reply and pivot is less dramatic (and so less satisfying for YOU), but will be nicer for your mutual friends.

        • ambivalentacademic said:

          All good points.

          Perhaps: “I would like to throw my drink at you but I’m a bigger person than that.” Pivot. Down drink. Feel like a total badass.

          • Aimee said:

            Or even “I would like to throw my drink at you but you’re a waste of drink-throwing, and this is a delicious drink.” Pivot, down drink.

          • Just what I was thinking, Aimee.

        • Marvel said:

          This is a really good point. General you in effect: your feelings and boundaries are important, but you don’t want to cause any UNNECESSARY scenes. (Necessary scenes, though? Go for it.) I think it’s really good if you can find that line for yourself so you don’t go overboard. Saying this as a person who goes overboard a LOT; I’m still trying to find that line myself!

      • seriously?! throwing a drink on someone is seriously, as in legally, an assault?! I think all the reasons and more against it are good, but I can’t believe it would be considered assault…

        • Adele said:

          Seems right to me. It’s not ok to physically do things to people without their consent.

        • silence said:

          maybe you’re focusing on the movie version where it’s a glass of water or clear liquid and you have a short shot of the person dripping then it cuts to the next scene and they are in a new dry outfit. Real life is more likely to involve a coloured/sticky drink that leaves someone in a wet / stained outfit for the rest of the event and possible damage to any phones/electronics.

          • Alcohol in the eyes isn’t exactly fun either.

          • UtterEast said:

            I saw a great post about how various “amusing” water/liquid-based pranks have rapidly become totally unacceptable with the rise of ubiquitous cell phones– no, pushing Dave into the pool wasn’t funny, also here’s an invoice for $600 for his ruined phone and drycleaning.

          • My workplace has a long-standing tradition of dunking people in the (filtered, chemical-ed) duck pond (the ducks are sort of unintentional but tolerated) on the occasion of their marriage. The way that tradition looks these days is:

            * calendar invitation for the time of dunking
            * group migration out to the pond
            * someone gets their cellphone ready to film
            * the honoree usually has flip-flops and a towel
            * the honoree divests themselves of their electronics
            * cooperative tossing
            * fishing out and drying off
            * sharing the pictures

            Sometimes those doing the tossing go in too. People who don’t want to do it make their wishes known, and generally something else (like a decorated office) happens. Everybody knows what’s going on and it’s planned and consensual, which is why HR hasn’t come down on it with the fury of a thousand suns.

  10. I find it helps to remember in these types of situations that I am the one with all of the control. I get to to control who I interact with and if people are rude enough to ignore polite hints to go away then I get to be direct – “I do not want to have this conversation with you. I am going to (talk to x/get some food/the bathroom) now so please leave me alone”.

    And the Captain is right, you don’t have to prove to your friends that he is Darth Vader, just state calmly that you don’t want to interact with him but that you will be civil because it’s the right thing to do.

    And if all else fails channel your inner Diva and remember that HE has lost out because YOU have taken your awesome, sexy, badass self away from him and his toxic BS. Make a scene and then sweep away accordingly.

    • tawg said:

      I agree with this. When I’m afraid of someone, or of confronting them, the assumption is that THEY hold the power. And that’s really not true.

      Sometimes I hold the power because they want to talk to me, not the other way around. They need ME to allow the conversation and so I have the power. Sometimes it’s because their comfortable place in the social hierarchy has been undisturbed because I’ve been silent about some fucked up stuff going on. They need ME to keep the peace re: their social status. Sometimes I have the power because I’m the preferred friend at a social event. They need ME to keep calm, because if I make a scene then they’re the one who will be asked to leave.

      And, in my experience, people who are relying on me to keep quiet just love pressing boundaries. I think it might be a way to convince themselves that they have the power – “tawg tolerated me last time, so I’m going to make sure that she doesn’t fall out of the habit of tolerating me”. More often it feels like a way for them to ‘keep me in my place’, which is below them and afraid of them. They seek me out in public because they want to see my discomfort, because that’s valuable for them. So making a stand and sending a message of “Actually, I’m willing to call your bluff. I’m willing to bet that you harassing me at a group event is going to make you look really bad and make people wonder about you” was massively valuable to me because it worked. I had the power and I realised it and the jerks backed off.

      LW, I don’t feel good saying ‘hey, you should do this!’ because you know your situation way better than I do, and I know that when I was dealing with Darths my own safety was way more important to me than some ideal Standard Operating Procedure for Stressful Socail Interactions that someone else handed me. But my social life became a lot easier when I let some key people know that my Darth had some some messed up stuff. In my case, the people who were valuable to me also had skeevy feelings about my Darths. One Darth was purely social while another was a Significant Other. When I made it clear that I wasn’t going to turn up to events the Social Darth was at (or that I would attend when he had left, since he was reliant on public transport and the buses stopped at around 10pm), my buddies stopped inviting him to things. He was seen as the gatekeeper to a lot of geeky social stuff (which was why I tolerated him and why a lot of my friends did), but we learned to ask people for their numbers rather than relying on him to invite ‘his buddies’ and to arrange stuff without him, and he was fucked up to a lot of people so we were all pretty happy to get on without him. (My SO Darth never bothered to make friends with my friends, so when I left him there was no risk that he would turn up at my friends’ events, which I am SO grateful for.)

      So if you feel scared about the chance of interacting with your Darth, maybe make sure a few people know why you really want to avoid that. You don’t have to tell the whole story if you don’t want to. “This person makes me uncomfortable and I’m worried they’ll try to do exactly that at this event” is something that a lot of people can understand. The more people who are aware that this person has been told “No” and is nevertheless prepared to push your boundaries = more people who will see you calmly walking away from Ben and know that the action has a much deeper meaning = a lot of social scrutiny that (in my experience) a Darth Does Not Want.

  11. Question about similar situation, only the Darth in question is a drama-seeking significant other to parent… any alterations to this plan that incorporate fun family dynamics?

    • Anything parental/familial, if it’s necessary to interact at all I like the Bean Dip strategy. “I’m not prepared to discuss that with you. Bean dip?” Just change the subject with “bean dip?” You might want to change the food item for something that’s actually present, but that’s up to you.

      • Toffeemama said:

        I like that strategy! I’d actually go so far as to suggest “Bean dip?” even if there’s no such dip present. That way, even if the other person says yes, you can just say, “Great, I’ll go find some,” and walk away.

        • I have actually done that to my mother. It did not go over well, alas. I had to escalate to phase 2, which is No Dip Because I’m Not Talking to You.

      • In our circle of friends it’s “how about that local sports franchise, huh?”

    • staranise said:

      Depends on how much you’ve read the archives, since there’s a whole tag for parents. Some prior letters that might be helpful to you are #404: My thief of a dad is going to be at my sister’s wedding, for the full shutdown, and #497: On “keeping the peace” with an unlikeable mansplainer, when you may have to interact on an ongoing basis, and #209: My mom is pressuring me to invite my molester to my wedding, and it sucks BIG TIME, when relative A is trying to draw you into Relative B’s whirlpool of drama.

  12. MrsMorley said:

    Dear Han:
    First, congrats on getting away from Darth Ben.

    Next, I second (or third, or fourth, or …) the Captain’s advice to practice the scripts.

    In my life, I’ve found saying to our acquaintances that the ex and I are no longer friends, works well. Fewer people worry about why than I had expected.

    But when people do ask why, my tendency is to say “Because we’re not. I don’t feel like going over it any more.” + change of subject.

    And the only script I’d contribute towards dealing with him is “That’s nice.” + smile + “Excuse me” + walk away.

    You’re a thoughtful person for asking this.

    Yay you!

    • Zooey said:

      Yeah, I think ‘I don’t feel like I want to talk to ex’ is one of those things people generally understand. They might make the wrong assumptions about why you don’t want to talk to ex, but frankly who cares – the people who matter know the truth, and if other people want to assume it’s a tragic heartbreak or whatever, it’s annoying but less exhausting than explaining and justifying why ex is a douche.

      • This is very true in larger groups, but has a couple of major exceptions. One of these exceptions is polyamorous circles, where there is a really serious amount of pressure for everyone to play nicely. Any sufficiently “alternative” interest-based group will tend to catch this if the proportion of poly people present is high enough. This pressure happens for a lot of reasons, a significant one being the pervasive nature of the Geek Social Fallacies in poly circles, and another one being the fact that over time, a large regional group of poly people tends to become a group of people all of whom have at some point dated all the rest. Poly also has a strong current of entirely farcical “drama allergy” (the people who decry drama the most are usually the most horrible people to be around, and “drama” is frequently defined in terms of how uncomfortable it makes everyone else) that tends to punish via social ostracism plus destructive and punitive “gossip”.

        In such a social group, you will be punished for refusing to forgive and forget. Your desire to not associate with your ex will be used as evidence for your immaturity and drama-mongering, and you may actually end up being completely ostracized.

        (Such ostracism is usually a blessing in disguise, imo, with fronds like these etc. but I always take this into account when I hear someone say “I don’t feel like I am able to tell my horrible ex to push off/ask my friends for backup”. Because this is SO pervasive.)

        • peregrin8 said:

          Wow, I am so glad I’ve never been involved with that particular flavor of poly.

    • M Dubz said:

      I personally like “my God bless and keep my ex far away from me.” It’s just the right amount of snarky, plus it if a Fiddler on the Roof reference (in which the character in question is referring to the czar).

  13. Reblogged this on Note To Self and commented:
    As someone who has a couple of Darths in my past, I can say that all of this is fantastic advice. (And much appreciated)

  14. Kanny said:

    To be honest? Don’t for one moment worry about propriety when it comes to your well-being! A little discomfort from overhearing “I already said I don’t like you, Ben! [sashay away]” is not enough to kill a good occasion for everyone. Worry about you first; your real friends will understand this it’s hard enough just to be there for you and will hopefully respect your efforts to stay civil. You sound very mindful already. :)

    Also: I’d give up any hope of getting your righteous shunning/people ALSO calling out Ben for being abusive, if you hold onto it. I SO get the need to see that the universe is just and good and the people who’ve hurt you will get what they deserve (a righteous call-out and social shunning perhaps? legos outside his bedroom door for the rest of his life?), but that is unfortunately not likely. But you’ll be much happier if you put your energy into the relationships you WANT to maintain and simply keep it low-key. “I don’t like Ben, and I want to spend what little time we have together enjoying OUR time together, Friend! <3"

    Do you keep a journal? Are you interested in talking to someone about complicated Benfeelings, or have you already? Do you have somewhere to parse out what happened, basically. That will go exponentially toward making you feel confident in your choices re: Ben!

    Good luck LW!

  15. golden peanut said:

    How about, “Hit many balls with the same cue”?

    I’m referring to billiard balls, btw. Is there a different word for those which doesn’t have a second, anatomical meaning?

    • Carpe Librarium said:

      Oooh, or “pocket many balls with one break”, although that might be a bit jargony.

      • And sounds a lot dirtier. I think coz of the pocket.

  16. Drew said:

    Many excellent suggestions so far, but I do want to add a caveat. Your being 3,000 miles away from Ben and your friend group has given him a prime opportunity to poison the well against you. If you KNOW someone is on Team You and will be at the ceremony, it might be well to ask in advance if there’s anyone who might be a surprise benchwarmer on Team Ben, so you know not to rely on them for support in the moment.

    If it turns out you can’t identify anyone going to the wedding who is solidly on Team You, you may think about bringing someone from where you are who would love a cross-country trip to go to a party and is willing to be Team Who’s-Ben? for the night. Ben is going to have a really tough time trying to re-establish his place in your life with another guy hanging on your arm. Of course, this gets into added expense you may not be able (or willing) to take on, but if you can afford it or your friend is willing to chip in, it’s a thought.

    As to the larger issue: being 3,000 miles apart takes its toll on many friendships. If you find that some of your friends back at the old homestead are not being sympathetic to your desire to shut Ben out of your life, you don’t need to make a scene or even produce an African Violet; distance and the slow fade will be more than enough. “Sorry, really swamped with my awesome new life. I’ll be in touch soon!” (“Soon” being a conveniently vague term that never actually has to arrive.) And it will make your already awesome gift of friendship even more special for the folks you DO stay in touch with.

  17. maggiebea said:

    This is all such excellent advice. The part I have had to practice most consciously is the diva-pivot-and-walking-away part. My early social conditioning had it that a conversation at a party ends like this:

    Me: It’s been lovely to talk with you, but I need to speak with Jane.
    Them: Sure, catch you later then.
    Me: See ya!
    Them: Bye!

    But what if they don’t follow the script? Then I get:

    Me: It’s been lovely to talk with you, but I need to speak with Jane.
    Them: Jane’s already talking with John, and I really need to ask you about …
    Me: Okay, what?
    Them: (babble, babble, trying to reopen the old horse-hockey, whatever)
    Me: It’s time for me to leave now.
    Them: But wait, there’s more to say.
    Me: Well, okay, but just for another minute.
    Them: … [repeat until I am rescued by a third party through no fault of my own]

    I needed to learn that I don’t need to wait for their agreement or permission before I am allowed to walk away. Yes, I can still label that as ‘rude’ if I want to. But I have already said everything I want to say to this person at this time and it would be ‘rude’ of them to try to make me stay after I’ve said I’m leaving.

    I finally learned to say (after the above repetitive nonsense): “Look. I tried to leave this conversation with a conventional socially-graceful white lie, but that was obviously a mistake.” Followed by the diva-pivot and walk away briskly.

    Took practice.

    • Iris said:

      From the distance of middle age and a stack of hard earned emotional security I find I am often reading CA with a slight frown on my face because so many women seem to equate “Polite” with “Nice” or “Accommodating”. Good for you that you have learnt the difference!

      For everyone else I just want to reiterate that there is *nothing* rude about just not wanting to talk to someone. You don’t have to give a reason for wanting to leave or prove anything to anyone or have anyone’s permission to go. The Captain’s “You’ll have to excuse me” is brilliant because it’s a polite statement that is nonetheless a very clear statement of “I don’t want to talk to you now”.

    • Charlene said:

      Walk away even if Jane is talking to John. Just walk away.

  18. Carpe Librarium said:

    “Pet many puppies with one hand”?
    “Silence many critics with one glance”?

    • I used to be very adept at scritching two rabbits on the head at once with one hand, actually!

  19. attica said:

    I actually would prefer cheese knives. Cheese knives are great. Slicy, not stabby. What a great suggestion!

  20. I would make sure there will be someone there who has your back, and maybe hit them up for a rescue if needed. If they can’t, or you don’t want to pull someone into the drama, practice saying “I don’t want to talk to you.” -walk away- If he continues after you or tries to corner you: “I already told you I don’t want to talk to you. I have nothing to say to you and there is nothing you can say to make up for how you treated me. You are not part of my life any longer and never will be part of it again. Get over it and leave me alone.” If he tries to continue anyway – “I tried to say this politely, but you’re refusing to listen, so obviously that didn’t work. I will NOT talk to or listen to you anymore. If you don’t leave me alone I will not just make a scene, I will make an entire fucking Broadway musical. Go fuck yourself with a cactus.”

    At least, that’s what I’d do, but I’m a bit on the socially inept side and don’t care what people think.

  21. Blue Cat said:

    I’ve been using “hit two targets with one projectile.”

    • JenniferP said:

      Literal. I like it.

  22. Cris said:

    One slight and probably unneeded addition – be careful of how much you drink. I found on more than one occasion when I was uncomfortably cornered after having a drink or two too many (not even drunk, just bubbly/happy party drinking) that I was unable to quickly reframe myself back to badass without a clear head.

    And like several others, I HIGHLY recommend the advice of practicing what to say and visualizing various situations and how you’d deal with them. If you can imagine the most uncomfortable scenario and visualize what you’d say and how you’d say it and repeat those words out loud a few times, they WILL come easily when they need to. I’ve done it and I felt like a million bucks when I did my diva walk away.

  23. Marna Nightingale said:

    Lots of good suggestions and scripts here: the only thing I’d add is that many of them are *quite* long, and in dealing with a Darth with a microaggressions kick that is often ill-advised.

    Long is a problem because 1) sadly, no amount of rehearsal is going to make Darth *not interrupt and try to talk you down*, and 2) more words gives Darth more to work with, whether by following you around arguing or by poisoning the well with others by deconstructing your words at them.

    Scoring points off a Darth is DEEPLY tempting, but that’s the game THEY want to play. I have – very slowly and painfully – taught myself to remember that before I start playing I have a perfect score; it can only ever go down, because *a person who has verbally abused you in the past is trying to rope you into another round of Full And Frank Exchange Of Views, and you do not LIKE that game, especially with them, because they cheat*.

    I am a big fan of *long cold stare* “Excuse me” *pivot*.

    If Darth follows you, there’s always “DREADFUL to see you, DO fuck entirely off,” if it matches your general style.

    For “helpful” friends who can’t seem to parse “that sounds awful; I don’t want to talk to Darth” I use – and I’ve had to use this a lot – “If I thought any good outcome from “clearing the air” with Darth was likely or desireable I’d be having that conversation with them, not this one with you. Please drop it forever.”

    • I think you make a good point here. This is how I’ve recently had to deal with my ex. A point-by-point refutation of all his bullshit talking points is just lending them credence. Watching him come unglued when I won’t play his game and just reply to his 10-paragraph FB message with “Huh. Well that’s interesting, gotta go.” is actually very rewarding.

  24. Anonymous for this said:

    I heartily second the making peace with making a scene part of the Captain’s advice (the rest ain’t bad either!).

    My story is quite different from the LW’s but here’s how allowing myself to “make a scene” went down for me.
    My aunt’s ex-husband is, as far as I can tell, a Darth for her. He also molested me when I was a teenager. When my cousin got married a few years ago, I had just started really dealing with that with professional help — or perhaps the tension of knowing he was going to be there, as the father of the bride, was what pushed me to get the help I needed.
    Anyway. I had tried to build a buddy system with my sister and my mother, who both knew about what had happened: we had agreed that they would intervene if he tried to talk to me and/or make excuses for my leaving early if necessary.
    As everyone came out of the church and we were all chatting and catching up (we don’t have gatherings of the extended family very often) I wandered away from my sister. I was chatting with another cousin when suddenly someone moved in from behind me and kissed me on the cheeks (standard greeting in my country) and gave me a big bear hug (understandable in the context but not so standard) and asked how I was. As soon as I realised who was doing this (you guessed it), I went very rigid, turned away as I muttered “fine thanks” and walked away and didn’t look back.
    What I did was extremely rude. And I didn’t care.
    I figured if the cousin I had been talking to wondered why I was behaving that way, he could ask asshole ex-uncle. In actual fact I have no idea how he reacted. No-one ever asked me about it.
    So yes, for the rest of the day and evening I was constantly aware of where the abuser was in the room so I could avoid him, but that didn’t stop me from chatting and dancing and having a good time.

  25. If your ex tries to talk to you beyond basic pleasantries (“Hi, don’t the couple look happy?”) that would be weird and inappropriate. You are not friends – you have made it clear to this person that you do not want to be friends. So it would be weird if they asked invasive questions about WHYYYYY. I’m not saying it’s not likely to happen – I’m just saying that that is a weird and inappropriate thing for someone to do so if it happens I recommend you react as though someone has just done something weird and inappropriate.

    Give an “okay” or “wow” in a flat voice and go and enjoy the wedding.

    If they follow you and try to pursue it then THEY are the one making a scene. I hope that this person will be sensible enough to not make a scene at someone’s wedding because that would be even more weird and inappropriate.

    Good luck!

  26. XtinaS said:

    “Fix two bugs with one patch.”

  27. azurelunatic said:

    This is for suitably advanced notice, with friends who aren’t likely to attempt to play peacemaker.

    “Hi Friend! I am delighted to be attending your special event! I apologize, because there is no easy way to say this next part. As you may recall, I used to be dating Ben, and we tried to remain friends after I moved. Long story short, that did not work out so well. I wasn’t planning to catch up with him at all, so it would help a lot if you could avoid seating me near him if you’re making a seating chart. SO HEY let’s talk about something awesome! Lots of love, me.”

    It’s a lot less direct than “I realized with some horror that Ben had been abusive to me all along, and cutting ties has made me free and oh so happy, and I swear on my pretty floral bonnet that if you shove him at me because you still think I’m willing friends, then there will be an awkward scene to end all awkward scenes because as much as Ben is deluding himself, I am NOT, end of story”, but it communicates the essential points:

    1. You and Ben aren’t friends.
    2. You don’t want to have anything to do with Ben.
    3. It doesn’t have a “him or me” demand, it just has a “nowhere near him” request.
    4. It’s “me” and “him”, there is no “we” or “us”. Maintaining a friendship requires mutual continued consent. Ending it can be unilateral.

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