Dear Captain & Friends,
A while ago, I had a falling out with a lover I’d had for a relatively short time. They are in the habit of not speaking to people when displeased with them, and my last contact with them was to say that I would contact them when I felt like I was in an emotionally good place to talk again. I also made it clear that they could contact me before then, and I’d be open to scheduling a talk at that time.
After some time and hearing some of the hurtful things they said about me to my primary partner, I’ve decided that I don’t really want to talk to them. Some of my actions and habits were clearly misinterpreted, and while I don’t think this former lover is a bad person, I also don’t think they use their words enough for me to feel comfortable around them. I use my words A LOT, and I’m pretty direct about discussing what bothers me, why, and if I think it needs to be changed or it’s something I know I need to relax about. They didn’t choose to communicate their boundaries or feelings to me, except for a little bit at our falling out, when it was already too late for us to talk about fixing things. That’s not the kind of (lack of) communication style I want in my life. I’ve already started taking a look at how I was misinterpreted and deciding what I want to do differently in the future, with other people, to avoid that issue the best I can.
There are two problems with this.
1) I feel guilty because I said I’d say something when I personally felt like the rest of my life was going smoothly enough for me to talk. I don’t care for going back on my word.
2) We share a (large, to be fair) social circle, which they’ve been in far longer. I get anxious when considering going to events I know this person will be at, not knowing what they may have said about me to other people (they spoke poorly of one person they were *still sleeping with* when I was seeing them) and also fearing what people will think if they notice me and this person avoiding each other/not speaking.
What do you think? Should I offer to schedule that talk, or at least say I don’t care to? What kind of script could I use? And how can I deal with going to the same events?
Thank you for your time.
Going for Calm & Responsible
Dear Calm & Responsible:
If you think sitting down with this person and talking through some things will make you feel less anxious (about attending future social events, for example) and help you leave things on a better note, then by all means schedule something.
Script: “I promised I’d get in touch when things got more manageable around here, so this is me getting in touch.”
But what to say then? You don’t want to be sex partners again. You don’t even really want to be friends again. You mostly want them to stop discussing you with people who are not you.
I think big “clearing the air” talks are for when you have a relationship you are invested in preserving. When you are really done with the relationship and not interested in reconciling or spending any time together, you risk just opening old wounds or giving a false impression of your level of investment.
So if you want to let the whole thing drop, let it drop. You’re 100% allowed to just move on without a big talk if you think it will just stir up bad feelings and long discussions about stuff you don’t really care about anymore. A little time has gone by since this note came in, so I doubt this person is waiting by the phone to hear from you. Not getting in touch with them to talk things over IS a kind of response. It means: I don’t want to be in touch with you right now. As Elodieunderglass and others have stated: There is no special reward you get for being the most accommodating and nice to people who hurt you.
As for how to handle things in the social circle, it is completely probable that this person has gossiped about your relationship, so your anxiety at the possibility of some friction is understandable. But that friction and awkwardness is eminently survivable. I think you should keep going to fun events you like, nod at this person and say a brief hello, and focus on talking to the people you really like. If something awkward comes up from a third party, you can say “Yes, we dated briefly, but it turns out we were a bad fit. No need to rehash it, what’s new with you?” or (if they are pushy)” or “Wow, my least favorite topic! Well done!” depending on who/how close you are/what they say and how they say it. People will figure out pretty quickly that you don’t like to go over the gory details of your love life in public. Anyone who keeps crossing the line once you’ve set up the boundary that you don’t want to discuss it is way out of line and you may proceed to the “Look! Over there! Is where I want to be!” stage of interaction.
If you do think your former partner will be receptive to some communication and that talking things over are likely to make things better, ask yourself: Is this person better in email vs. text vs. phone vs. chat vs. in-person? and choose your medium.
Script #1: If you feel you need to draw a boundary about what is and isn’t up for public discussion
“Hey, I promised I would get in touch at some point, so I’m getting in touch. How are you doing?
Okay, cool, so I’d love to figure out how we can be in the same social spaces and not step on each other’s toes or make each other feel weird…what do you think?”
“Well, one thing that would make me more comfortable is knowing that you will take any concerns or issues you have with me directly to me before you discuss them with others. It really hurt my feelings when you told (stuff) to Partner that you didn’t tell me, and I don’t like the idea of the details of our sad business being out and about in the friend circle. Can you reassure me about that and help me feel more comfortable?”
(listen, likely to a lot of justification)
“I don’t want to reopen old wounds, but I did want to be clear that privacy and directness are important to me. Mostly what I’d like is to be able to say hello to you at (events) in (social circle) and have that be positive and have us leave things on a good note. Is that cool?” or “What do you suggest?”
Script #2: If you feel compelled to honor the promise to get in touch eventually but don’t actually want to discuss anything.
“Hey, remember how I said I’d get in touch? I’m getting in touch. How are you?”
“Cool, that’s good to hear. Well, I don’t have anything really serious to talk about, I just didn’t want things to be awkward when we run into each other at events. I’m really grateful to you for giving me the time and space I asked for, it really helped me feel better about everything.”
You do feel “better,” right? Not awesome, or you wouldn’t be writing, but more confident about what kind of treatment you need from a partner and probably happier now that this person isn’t still a big factor in your life? This person doesn’t have to know that “better” = BETTER WITHOUT YOU.
If this person tries to open up a big serious discussion, you can close it off. “I appreciate the apology” or “I appreciate your efforts in wanting to clear things up” + “But there’s really no need – let’s just let bygones by bygones and I’ll run into you at (events) when I do. Take care!”
You don’t owe them reaching out in the first place, you definitely don’t owe them a full airing of grievances.
Script #3: They get in touch with you.
“Wow, yeah, I’m still not ready to talk.”
“Well, since you’re here, I’m pretty sure I’m not interested in resuming any kind of close friendship, but I would like to see you sometimes at events and not have that be painful and weird for either of us. Being able to say a quick hello to you at parties and then chill and enjoy everyone who is there would make me feel like we left things on a good note.”
In all of these scripts I am trying to outline specific behaviors that would be comfortable or okay, because when someone has wronged you and is trying to make amends it can be helpful if they know specifically how to go forward.
I hope this helps and that you can return to enjoying parties without worrying about what this person is saying behind your back. Good on you for figuring out what you really need from a relationship.
Finally, dear & beloved commenters, it’s the week of the winter where I remind people that the tip jar is open. If you can throw a dollar my way, I’d be ever so grateful.
I don’t have a special reward this time around, but I took my short film The Wardrobe out from behind the password and now everyone can watch it. Here are some other projects that I’m excited about:
- A short film I directed, Meet In A Public Place, is in the last stages of post-production and will be ready to be posted here on the site soon. Premise: It’s always good to Google someone before you meet them in person for the first time, but it’s possible to take this too far. Much too far.
- Boyfriend and I wrote a webseries together about a married couple that tries to bring the spice and connection back to their marriage. Unfortunately they decide to do this by using sex tips from Cosmopolitan. You want to see this web series, right? Your donation will help us get it made.
- My graphic designer friend is starting to work on Captain Awkward Swag – t-shirts, reusable bags, mugs, cross-stitch patterns, and most importantly, greeting cards. Need to tell someone that you don’t want to be friends anymore or that they make you 30-35% more human? We’re on it. If you think something should definitely be on a card or a t-shirt, tell us here.
That’s all for now. Thanks always for reading and being the best community on the internet.