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
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.