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#675: Can the circle please be broken? (When your friends like your ex even after he’s your ex).

Hi there,

I was with a guy for just under two years and in that time, I included him in my busy social group. I have a very large, very close group of friends that I have been friends with for nearly a decade. When I met my ex, he didn’t really have any friends of his own but made a few friends in my group and was friendly with just about everyone. We broke up 3 months ago due to him having kids and me not wanting kids, which I have a lot of guilt about, despite knowing it was the right decision for both of us.

Here’s the problem. He’s still showing up to our parties and events. I KNOW I can’t tell him who to be friends with – but I also wish he would stop coming around. I already have one ex in the group, my ex-husband, which is awkward enough, but we made friends with these people at the same time. This guy was only around for maybe a year and a half and while my friends liked him well enough, he was definitely still seen as MY boyfriend and not a member in his own right. Cliquish? Yeah, probably, although no one would ever be unwelcoming to him and as a group we are HEAVILY infested with Geek Social Fallacy #1 so I doubt that he’ll stop being invited to things.

I feel like a giant, selfish jerkwad because I know he doesn’t have (m)any friends of his own so he wants to cling to the ones he made through me and he IS a good guy – but I also feel like these are MY friends and having him around is uncomfortable and awkward. It will be even more so as I have started dating someone else and while I’m not ready to start bringing the new guy around yet, I will at some point and then will have to deal with him meeting not one, but TWO of my exes.

I don’t know what to do about this as I am fully aware of how selfish this desire is and that I sound like a total jerk. I know that a lot of this is a reflection of the guilt I feel over our break up and seeing him just reminds me of that, which I understand is my problem and not his. I get that I can’t tell him not to come around anymore, but short of just stopping going to events myself, what can I do? Do I just have to deal with this or is there some middle ground I’m not seeing? If it is something that I just have to put on my big girl panties and deal with, do you have any suggestions on doing so?

– Not normally a jerk, I promise!

Dear Not Normally A Jerk:

I’m a big proponent of “you don’t have to be friends with your ex if you don’t want to” but I am also friends with many exes. For me, personally, even when nobody was awful to anybody else and everyone wants to stay friends, the only thing that makes it possible is a 3-6 month no/low contact period between breaking up and trying to be friends. I know others roll differently, but I need time to let go of old feelings (anger is a feeling) and to reset and re-categorize the ex in my head from “Oh look it’s my person, see how he leans” to “Hey, it’s that guy.”

So, my question is, do you want to be friends, or friendly, with this ex? Did you agree when you broke up that you’d still be friends (and does he think that agreement is still in effect)? Are you still Social Media buddies? And if you do want to be friends, eventually, do you have to be friends right now? Because maybe the problem is that it’s still too soon to want to run into him at all, and one vector where you have control over this is to say “Ex, you are being super-cool and friendly after this breakup, but I’ve realized that I can’t handle being friends and I’d prefer that we not stay in contact.” Or, “Ex, I need more time to re-adjust, could we agree to take a few months off from contact and hopefully try to be friends then? I realized that I keep running into you, and while I know that will be nice 6 months from now, it’s throwing me off-balance now.” Just like with a breakup, own the feelings as yours, and make it about you and how you need space from him. If he doesn’t know that you don’t want to see him, how is he supposed to know that you don’t want him to come to stuff? Look first to the Geek Social Fallacies in your heart.

Asking people not to invite certain other people to events is a tricky business. I think there are times it absolutely should be done (when one partner has mistreated the other) and should be done without making the victims of mistreatment ask. Since as far as I know everyone was good to everyone else in your breakup, the automatic NOPE! doesn’t apply. Still, you could ask close friends, “I know you all like Ex, but I need to not see his face for a couple of months, and I’ve just asked him for a break in contact. Could you help me out here? I really want time with just you.” They are then within their rights to say “Aw man, we really like him and we think of him as our friend now, not just your boyfriend. Can’t we invite both of you and let you just work it out?” which will give you information about how they see the situation. Your friends may immediately get it, or they may not, so my recommendation is that you don’t take this step unless you’ve also told your ex directly you’d like some space. I think it would be a jerk move to ask other people to stop inviting him to things without you making your feelings clear to him first.

There is middle ground, where you don’t have an awkward conversation with your ex, and you don’t ask your friends to stop inviting him around (and kiss up those larger social events as places where he will likely be), where you take control of some of the inviting in your life. This is where some of the Geek Social Fallacies questions run aground, because people get very used to the way a social group functions as a group, and tend to cast the problem as me vs. THE GROUP (see this example, which would apply to your ex somewhat). Groups are made up of individual people, and you have the power to cultivate these people individually or in smaller groups. So what happens when you make the plans, and you control the guest list? Plan a thing. When you do, don’t make a Facebook Event or an Evite or anything that can easily be shared or have a “The More The Merrier” context. Send individual emails to people, or call them to say, “Friend, I’d love you to come over on Friday to play games at my house. I’m inviting a few other people. BTW, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to Ex – I’m trying to give myself some space from him right now, but I really want to see you.” Your ex is also welcome to cultivate closer, individual friendships that don’t come through you. Some of your friends may extrapolate that you don’t want him at larger things. Some may not. Either way, you get time with your friends without the prospect of seeing him.

I’ve been on all sides of this. Long ago, I had a creepy ex who had no friends and who glommed onto mine…so he could ask the women one by one to come over to his place and offer them creepy foot rubs. I think telling people “I’m no longer in touch with that person at all, you do what you feel P.S. ‘ware the Foot Petter” sorted it out. I’ve had mutual friends break up where one was behaving very badly and one was not. The badly-behaving one had the closer and prior claim, and probably to this day thinks that his ex “stole” his friends. She “stole” them/us by not being a hands-y maudlin stalker asshole. My friends were great at knowing when I needed space from my most recent ex and checking with me first about inviting him to stuff, which I know hurt his feelings since he really liked them and vice versa, but he understood that I needed the space and that things do change in the aftermath of a breakup. A few breakups back, I was the one in your ex’s position and I trace many of my closest friendships back through that one former partner. We had an amicable breakup, wanted very much to remain friendly, and gave each other a few months of space, but, I don’t think the poor dude actually got any space from me since his friends were like, “You broke up, too bad, so sad, but we’ll still see Jennifer, right?” I don’t think I was inserting myself in “his” friend group or “clinging,” instead over two+ years we had all developed our own friendships that didn’t go through or revolve around him, and I’ll forever appreciate how gracious he was about it. One consequence of bringing the person you love around the friend group that you love is that they might fall in like with each other.You don’t have to stay in touch with this dude, but also, it doesn’t have to be awkward and awful forever.

My read on your situation is that it all needs a bit more time. You don’t want to bring your new person around your friend group until the dust from the ex has settled. You maybe will be friends with ex someday, or at least friendly, but it’s still in the weird phase where there are too many feelings (annoyance is a feeling) for that to happen naturally. If you don’t want to ride it out, address it with him directly. And/or invite your friends to things that don’t include him. Maybe save the mass shunning for assholes. Be nice to yourself and give it time.

——————————

Here endeth the winter Pledge Drive, with a final shake of the donation jar. You are of course welcome to give at any time, but I will stop tacking these reminders onto posts for a few months.Thank you all so much for your generosity, and thank you for reading.

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57 comments
  1. sara said:

    My vote here would be to focus on organizing one-on-one/small group socializing for a while and see how that feels.

    Asking your friends not to invite this person to their own events feels, to me, like asking people to pick sides. And honestly, I think it’s not appropriate to ask friends to choose sides unless there was some genuine bad behavior on your ex’s fault, which it sounds like was not the case here. Also, if you’re the one forcing people to make a choice, you can’t guarantee that people won’t choose the other way, and that seems like creating needless hurt for yourself. Your perception is that all (most?) of your friends saw this guy as your “plus one” rather than a genuine friend, but you don’t actually know that is the case…even if not everyone feels that way, it’s totally possible that at least some in the large friends group really have a connection with him and I don’t think it’s your place to say that just doesn’t exist. I was somwhat in your ex’s place with my college boyfriend, and although the relationship was a little longer (2.5 years), when we broke up I definitely stayed close friends with some people I met through him and was even a bridesmaid in the wedding of two of them, and the female half was a bridesmaid in my wedding. At some point, how one met friends isn’t as important as the fact that you did, in fact, become friends.

    That’s not to say that your feelings of hurt and awkwardness here aren’t real and genuine. And I think it’s 100% okay to never invite this guy to parties at your place, and to invite a couple of best friends over and have a venting session where you’re just like ‘I get this is sort of unreasonable, but WHYYYYY?!?!” I would give things a few months to cool down by just focusing on smaller gatherings where you can have more control over the guest list. Asking a couple of friends over to watch The Voice, meeting one or two people for dinner or a movie, grabbing drinks with a couple of friends near your workplace in the evening, etc. I think a little time will give you some perspective on all of this.

    • “Asking your friends not to invite this person to their own events feels, to me, like asking people to pick sides. And honestly, I think it’s not appropriate to ask friends to choose sides unless there was some genuine bad behavior on your ex’s fault, which it sounds like was not the case here.”

      I don’t agree with this portion of your response, because I don’t think that asking your friends for some space from an ex is *by definition* asking them to pick a side. Sure, you can definitely communicate this in such a way that it IS asking them to pick a side [See: “If you keep inviting Ex to your parties, that means you’re not my friend.”], but I don’t think that saying you need space from an ex need always be framed this way.

      These people are the LW’s friends, and they have known her/him for longer than they’ve know the ex. Conveying to them that s/he needs some space from his/her ex is offering information about LW’s mental/emotional state, which is something you should be able to do with your friends. The LW stating this is not a Bush-era “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” kind of thing.

      If the LW follows the Captain’s advice and says something to her/his friends like: “Hey guys. Ex and I broke up. He’s a good guy, we just weren’t going to work out in the long run. I need to take some space from him for the next few months in order to heal and re-set our relationship. I am not trying to dictate your relationship with ex, but know that *I* need time away from him.”, that allows the LW’s friends to take that information into account when drawing up the guest list for their next party. Frankly, as one of the friends in this situation, I’d appreciate the heads-up because it would allow ME to navigate my relationship with both parties in the least emotionally-fraught way possible.

      • sara said:

        I think this is fair enough. I guess I was reacting to what felt to me like a desire on the part of the letter writer to have the ex stop showing up at large group events, period (i.e. the awkwardness of having to introduce a new partner to two exes isn’t going to disappear in a few months). While I totally GET the emotional response, I think actually taking action on it isn’t super cool. “I need space, let me know if you’re inviting ex so I can decide if I feel up for attending” can be fine, but I got the sense from the letter that the writer might be looking for a solution beyond “Don’t attend events that will make you feel sad and awkward.”

      • I think that no matter how it’s phrased, a request of “please don’t invite this person” without the reciprocal expectation of “okay, and the other half of the time we will not invite YOU” is a request to take sides.

      • I like the spirit of the original answer, though I think it’s not that picking sides is the best answer. I think CA is just saying, hey these are your options. You can totally ask your friends to do this and it may backfire, so consider that possibility if you choose to go that way.

        I’ve dealt with this problem and my tactic has been to change my view of this as a “group”. Ask friends to do one on one events. Say things like “Hey we rarely hang out one on one, let’s do some bonding!” When you say it like that, no one is going to bring along a third wheel no matter who it is. In these small meetings, everyone gets more candid.

        After a few of these, I didn’t mind groups where anyone came in because if I’m uncomfortable or feel distanced from my friends, I can always ask for another one on one or smaller group event. This does mean leaving the safety of the group where everyone else makes plans for you and you just go along for the ride. Still if you want to feel you’re in control of your life, actually taking control in a way that is about building friendships rather than avoiding others does some wonders =)

    • Terrified Gardener said:

      I haven’t been in this situation in any capacity, but this sounds good to me. Six months (or so, ymmv) can be a long time to go without going to a big group meet up but if you’re still seeing enough individuals from the group on their own or in smaller groups I expect it will be easy enough to get back into it when things have calmed down. I think also if the LW phrases things in terms of “having time for things to adjust” or some-such, that will be sufficiently neutral and understandable that the Geek Fallacies shouldn’t be too overpowering.

    • LRex said:

      +1 on all of this!! I don’t think it’s cool for the LW to ask her friends not to invite her ex around. I’ve been one of the mutual friends caught in the middle of a breakup and it really sucked to feel like with every event invite I was choosing a “side” when neither party had done anything wrong.

      • Muddie Mae said:

        Ugh, I’m in a similar situation right now, although oddly enough I’m in the middle between my ex and some of my friends! He and I stayed very close friends after we broke up, but he had a falling out with a few of my (formerly our mutual) friends a few months ago. So now I’m doing the “head’s up, A B & C are invited” to him and them.

        Thankfully I don’t throw a lot of parties.

  2. Kitts said:

    I am kind of having trouble sympathizing to much with the LW here. It’s one thing to ask some of your closer friends “hey, could you maybe sometime have an event without ex, because I feel weird coming to events with him right now.” But it seems more like she wants him to be uninvited to everything, not because he’s a bad guy, but because she feels guilty. I’ve been on the receiving end of that, and it was horrible. People I thought were good friends, who is hung out with and has heart-to-hearts with vanished from my life, scheduling social events only on the nights I worked, or just not inviting me to things I’d been invited to regularly before. Six months later, ex and I were good friends again, and those people tried to become my friend again, but I’m not sure I’ll ever trust them again. A few other friends made a point of reaching out, inviting me and ex to different events (and sometimes the same events), and those people remain my closest friends, five years later.

    I’ve also been on the other end, but no matter how may the breakup, I’ve never felt I had the right to tell my friends who they could spend time with. I have one ex that I just can’t handle seeing, so I’ve asked mutual friends not to invite us to the same events, and not to update me on his life. They like both of us, so they do that, even though it is sometimes a hassle.

    Also, it sounds like ex is a single dad? So making new friends and finding new social groups is probably hard for him. Sticking with LW’s friend group might be more a car of time and energy limitations than shyness or clingyness.

    I don’t know, I don’t think the LW is a bad person, and her feelings are understandable, but in this case I think she should probably not try and cut off her ex from his primary social group.

    • V said:

      I was there too. After ten years, when we broke up, I found out that not only I’ve lost a boyfriend, but also most of my friends. And it hurts a lot. Even now. That didn’t happen to him, and my friends keep inviting him. But it make me realice who were really my friends. I also discovered that you always can start again, met new people and do new things.

      So hard as it is, in the long way it worked out. Anyway, what I won’t find fair it’s asking your friends to not invite him without telling him. Because then, he could fell left out and not understand why. He could think that it’s something he have done or that they didn’t like him. And that’s additional hurt that won’t help him. My ex did that and was worse that the break up. Now what we have it’s and awkward situation were he acts as if we are still friends and that things are “allright” but I don’t see him as a friend anymore, just an acquittance. Sad but true.

      Anyway, my point is that I can see LW point. It’s not easy for her as wasn’t for my ex. Be honest with him and things would sort out.

    • I don’t know, I don’t think the LW is a bad person, and her feelings are understandable, but in this case I think she should probably not try and cut off her ex from his primary social group.

      I don’t think LW has any obligation at all to Ex – aside from the general obligation to not be a bad person. If his primary social group is her friends, that’s sad for him, and not her problem

      • Jenn said:

        How is cutting someone off from their social group to avoid awkwardness being a ‘good’ person? That seems like an asshole move to me. And if the LW pulls that then she shouldn’t be surprised if she’s the one who’s not invited to things.

        • I think you’ve misunderstood me. I was stating that it is not the LW’s responsibility to supply their ex with a social life, and that they (LW) isn’t a bad person for no longer wanting to share a social life with ex

          • Jenn said:

            Agreed. But the Ex is allowed to make their own friends and build their own relationships, even if they do with people the LW’s knows. She doesn’t have to provide him with a social group, but she shouldn’t try sabotage the group he has even if that means occasional awkwardness, or skipping a few parties.

          • But apparently his social group is her friends. All I’m saying is that it’s not her problem that his social life may end.

          • Jenn said:

            You realize she doesn’t own her friends right? That they get to make their own choices about this. I mean this guy wasn’t abusive and he he didn’t treat anyone badly. Whatever relationship he has with the friends is something they get to define for themselves. The LW doesn’t get to pull the plug on someone else’s relationship [which I doubt she’ll do as she’s commented further down.]

          • Of course her friends get to decide who they like. My point though, is that she isn’t required to support him. Or withdraw to make space for him.

  3. I have a somewhat similar story. Years ago I dated a guy for about 8 months, and it turns out I got along with his friends beautifully. They are some of the most awesome, kindest, strongest folks I know. When he dumped me, I did end up going a few months NC from him while simultaneously keeping his friends. They, to their eternal credit, handled the balance by only selectively inviting both of us anywhere (I don’t think we were at the same party together for at least 6 months) but spending lots of individual time with both of us. They also separated my ex-boyfriend and their friend into two separate people, so that I had space to complain about my unfair feelings to friends without those friends feeling they were betraying my ex.

    Now me and the ex find each other at the same party maybe once every few months, and it’s a social breeze. Everybody is friendly, we see each other as just “hey it’s that person”*, and everybody got to stay friends.

    I think my advice is to shore up they’re-my-friends time away from the ex (as Capt suggested, plan your own events, ask them for alone time away from parties) and temporarily decline large party invites if you know he’s going to be there. Give it a few months, and then when the dust settles, try easing back in. I think you’ll find that with some distance, sharing the same group of friends doesn’t always have to mean running into him, or having to insist that one of you be excluded.

    *To be fair, he also doesn’t totally remember who I am. 🙂

    • Tricksie said:

      Okay…your last statement makes me think there is totally more to this story? Do tell!!

  4. wondering said:

    Dear LW

    I sympathize. This sounds very awkward! But you can’t control what other people do (of course you can ask for help), you can only control what you do. And having been one of the friends whose friends have broken up? Sucks, because everyone keeps asking you to choose but you love both your friends. It doesn’t matter who was whose friends first if you are all true friends now.

    I second CA’s advice to take control of invitations. If you don’t want your ex/s at an event, be the planner. Do friend dating where you do something with just one or two friends, not the whole group. If you receive an invitation to a large event, find out if ex/s have been invited and take stock for yourself whether you have the spoons/desire to attend if ex/s are there. Talk to your friends about your discomfort; if they know how to make it easier for you, they’ll probably do it. Maybe they’ll alternate invitations between inviting you to event A and inviting the ex/s to event B.

    Just don’t tell them that they can’t be friends with your ex/s.

  5. peeta8 said:

    I vote Big Girl Panties on this one; it would feel different to me if LW hadn’t initiated the breakup. Recent ex, probably sad about it, needs his Team Me, and these people have been his friends for up to 2 years. Let him have friends!

    • gmg said:

      I agree with you about the larger issue of what the LW should do, but I am not sure it’s quite fair to frame it as “Well, LW, you asked for this because you initiated the breakup” (apologies if I misread that). People initiate breakups for all kinds of good reasons that don’t rise to the level of “I need to be safe from this person,” and in those cases the initiater, too, will still likely be sad and still need his/her Team Me. I think that’s why the Selective Inviting is the best idea here, though may be tricky to pull off given that Geek Social Fallacy #1 runs strong in this group.

      • peeta8 said:

        Yeah, I didn’t mean “you asked for it” — I meant that Ex is probably having a pretty sad time and could use their friends’ support.

        Also, my own experience as a friend-caught-in-the-middle was to de-facto “take sides” with the one who wasn’t trying to get us to take sides.

  6. Get yourself interested in different things for awhile. Make new friends by going to new events. Then, when time has passed, get back involved with the old friends. Don’t worry about these friends for now.

    With time, you’ll get over it. It’ll just make it awkward if you try and explain to all these old friends about you and the ex. And plus, you’ll widen your social circle if you make new interests and new friends. 🙂

    • Silva said:

      I don’t know that LW will be very well served, or needs, to sever ties with her whole friend group and support system over this. It seems a little disproportionate of a reaction when there are many more moderate ways to interact with her close friends and not ex.

  7. I definitely feel for LW. It’s such a crappy position to be in: Ex didn’t do anything wrong. Ex didn’t initiate the breakup. Ex seems to be a pretty likeable guy. It’s harder to get through to your friends why it’s hard to be around him because there’s no villian in the story. It also sounds like it was a hard breakup to do in the first place. LW knows she doesn’t want kids but has been with a man with kids for two years. She probably tried like hell to make it work. I don’t think she wants for Ex to not have friends. I think she wants to enjoy her friends without Ex around because the FEELS are still way too raw.

    I agree with Captain wholeheartedly. Make separate, smaller plans with separate, smaller groups and inform Ex as well as the closest friends in your group that you’d like a heads up if Ex is going to this or that shindig and that you’re looking for some space for the moment.

    • LW said:

      Exactly! Thank you for understanding. I worry that I’M becoming the villain for not wanting him around, but really it’s because seeing him or even hearing about him sends me into a tailspin of guilt and sadness. Breaking up with him was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because other than the kid issue, our relationship was really awesome and I know that I broke his heart, which kills me. I just want to not feel like the Terrible Heartbreaker every time I hang out with my friends.

  8. LW said:

    LW here. Thanks for your advice, Captain. To be clear, I would never tell my friends that they can’t be friends with him, just like I wouldn’t tell him that he can’t be friends with my friends. I know that this is MY issue, not anyone else’s and I feel awful for feeling like I really just want him to disappear especially since he did nothing wrong. But, those feelings are there and I’m trying to figure out how to deal with them in a way that is kind to him but also meets my needs.

    The hard part is that I live kind of far away from this group so having small, one on one gatherings is difficult. I really only see them when there is an event or party (which is a couple times a month) and on a semi-annual trip we all do. I guess I’m sensitive about it because I already feel like I lost a large part of another group when my ex-husband and I broke up so I’m afraid of this happening again. I’ve asked those closest to me to not invite us to the same thing for a while and made it clear that they are welcome to invite him, but to please let me know if they have so that I know not to attend. I guess that’s all I can do besides work on letting go of my guilt and putting on my big girl panties. Adulting is not so fun sometimes.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      Does your ex live closer to them, or is he in the same place you are?

      • LW said:

        He lives in my area.

        • Muddie Mae said:

          Well dang. I was thinking maybe there was some way to rejigger things for a short time so that he did the smaller gatherings/one on ones…

          I know not everyone is a big phone-talker (I’m not) but maybe while you take your cooling off period you could reach out to a few individual people through email/phone/skype/facebook message. Just keep some connection there, both for them and you.

        • Courtney said:

          If you are still on good terms with your ex, and you both only tend to see FriendsGroup at big events, you might consider talking to him about splitting the parties between you for a few months. (Like, odd months/even months or 1st/3rd week vs 2nd/4th week or even splitting by types of events.) I would have an exception for parties that are *about* one or the other of you (birthday parties or parties celebrating a work or personal triumph). For the semi-annual trip, you could do something like each of you take one, or y’all suck it up and both go, but ask for some break-out activities that you split between you.

          Another thought is that if some of the parties are large (lots of people, party sprawls over multiple areas of a house, etc.) ask him not to try to have conversations with you at the parties “I don’t expect you to avoid me, and it’s fine to say ‘hello’ but please don’t try to engage me when we are both at the same function for the next X months.”

    • Anothermous said:

      Good luck to you. I think asking to not be invited to the same things is 100% the correct way to proceed. It’s okay that you don’t want to see him for a while. Telling your friends that you’d prefer not to be around him right now isn’t telling them “You can invite him AT ALL” it’s saying “Please only invite one or the other of us for the time being.”

      When my brother broke up with his longtime girlfriend a few years ago, they shared a close social group. This is exactly what their group did–invite each of them separately. It worked out really well for everyone. The social group is still intact, and both my brother and his ex are now happily involved with partners better suited for them.

      • Flowery Hedgehog said:

        This is totally the way I do things with my [divorced] parents. In my case, it’s for [i]my[/i] benefit, because I’ve learned the hard way that I cannot be in the same room with both of them at the same time, but same idea. I just do not ever invite both of them at the same time. This has had unfortunate fallout, as I have had to explicitly disinvite one of them when the other was going to be present, and it…did not go over well. Hopefully that doesn’t happen for the LW– and it need not happen if everyone involved is willing to respect everyone else’s boundaries!

        Point is, it is possible for someone (or a group of someones) to maintain good relationships with both parties in a breakup, and inviting only one or the other of them at a time is a good step toward doing so.

    • Guava said:

      Hey LW, I sympathize. There is nothing that makes it harder for me to get over something than feeling like I’m being forced to see the person I need space from on a regular basis. I think it’s good that you let your mutual friends know how you feel in the way that you did, where it’s about them understanding that you’re trying to take care of your own needs without dictating anything to them. Good luck!

    • There is also organizing mini-events-within-events. I’m part of a hobby that has big province-wide events about every other months, where you’re surrounded by tons of people for the entire day. If you want to get away from someone, or tighten friendship ties with someone else, you organize a group outing away from the main group, like “the four of us are going out for lunch” or “we six are going into another room for an hour to work on a performance” or “let’s you and I go for a drive to the neat store nearby.”

  9. There’s nothing wrong with the feelings of wanting that space and I think your friends, as people who care about you, will be happy to try to help accommodate you in your recovery period here. You can’t expect them to prioritize your desires every time – oh, I want to go to -this- thing and not -that- thing, so only invite him to that one. But they’re not stupid, they know breakups are hard.

    That aside, I have to say that if I was one of your friends and I read this? I’d be a little put off by the sort of tone of ownership you take. I am not anyone’s possession. Nobody has “dibs” on me because they knew me first. They don’t get to veto who I spend time with at this point because they’re the person who introduced me – either as a random acquaintance or their then-significant other. Part of loving our friends needs to be respecting their autonomy and the lives they have outside of us.

    They will respect and help you if they are good friends, even if it makes their lives a little harder. But you need to be willing to respect them even if it’s harder for you.

    • LW said:

      Hence why I am not and will not tell them not to be friends with or invite him places. I never said I would veto anything. As I said, I am fully aware that my feelings on this are selfish, but I haven’t expressed those feelings to either my ex or my friends for that very reason. I may have jerky feelings sometimes, but that doesn’t mean I have to BE a jerk and voice/take action on them.

      • human said:

        I don’t think your feelings are jerky or selfish. They are just feelings. I mean, I think most feelings are selfish? Because they’re yours (or mine, or whosever) and no one else’s — right?

        Anyway, having feelings is a thing that happens, but we choose how to behave, and it sounds like you’re really going out of your way NOT to behave like a jerk. And it also sounds like you’re doing just fine at that. I think you should cut yourself a break because you are doing basically okay.

        And I’m sorry you’re having a hard time after this breakup. It sucks. I feel sure it will get better for you with time, because these things generally do, and also because you seem to have a pretty awesome sense of perspective about things, which helps a lot with that.

      • Dear LW,

        I don’t think you’re acting badly AT ALL.

        On the other hand, for your own sake, I suggest finding friends closer to where you live. That way you can have disorganized friendships again. (I mean, friendships that don’t require Organized Events.)

      • You asked in your question about whether there’s a middle ground but you don’t seem like you’re willing to see it. You only contextualize your feelings as jerky and say you “will not tell them not to be friends with or invite him places.” But I don’t see anyone saying you should do that. People keep saying it’s okay to have feelings, it’s okay to ask your friends to do things to help you feel better and that includes some accommodation. Reasonable people understand breakups can be challenging. Good friends want to do things to help you feel better.

        If you really want to wear a hair shirt over this then nobody can stop you. But I doubt your friends would really want you to suffer rather than ask them to do something small for you. The only reason I brought up how you sounded is that often we can help ourselves deal with our feelings better if we try to view them in the right framework. Stop looking at this in a black&white I-am-awful way and try to separate out the reasonable self care stuff from the monkeymind possession stuff.

        Identifying the geek social fallacies isn’t just about giving stuff names. It’s about seeing things accurately so we can be better for our own sakes.

        • LW said:

          I know, logically, that what you are saying is true. It’s what I would say to a friend that was going through this. That doesn’t seem to stop the troll in my brain from telling me that I’m a terrible person for hurting him and even more terrible for moving on and dating others so quickly. Most of the time I’m pretty good at telling it to shut up, but we have a Big Event coming up and it’s been triggering my worry about seeing him, which has activated my Guilt Glands, which makes it harder to not listen to my brain troll and easy to forget that I’m not asking for something that’s unreasonable.

          What’s funny is that I try really hard to fight our group’s collective GSF #1, as we tend to tolerate really bad behavior from people simply because no one wants to be the bad guy and tell them they can’t come around anymore if they’re going to act like that (or, if someone – usually me – does volunteer to do so, it’s hard to get any support for it), so I’ve come to associate that particular GSF with tolerance for boundary crossing/other bad behavior. It didn’t even occur to me that I was taking it on here, since there hasn’t been any issues with him being anything other than gracious and accommodating. But I can see now that this is where a lot of my anxiety and guilt for not wanting him to come around is coming from.

          Getting outside perspective really helps, so thank you all for helping me come back to reality.

  10. Emmers said:

    ALL THE UPVOTES for this: “Groups are made up of individual people, and you have the power to cultivate these people individually or in smaller groups. So what happens when you make the plans, and you control the guest list? Plan a thing.”

    It’s good and healthy to have some social events happen with not-everybody-in-the-group (yessss GSF).

  11. h said:

    LW, it seems like one thing you could use (unrelated to the breakup) is some friends who aren’t long-distance. I get the impression that you’re only going to “big invite-everyone” events due to the distance, and you’re not part of the “oh hey we have a free evening come play board games” type events. Local friends could take up some social slack.

    Another ideas is to plan more “no-reason” visits to the town where your people are, so you can socialize with them without even bringing up your ex.

    This still leaves the question of how to handle big group gatherings, but if not every social event was a big group gathering, the ones which are might be easier to handle.

  12. short of just stopping going to events myself

    Can I gently suggest that that is actually something I think you should try for some number of events? Or go to only every other event for a while? Time heals all wounds, but it seems like it rips off the Scab of Guilt every time you see your ex. I think you’re not giving the Scab enough time between events to heal up on its own and get smaller.

    • +1, I’m a big proponent of going to things alone– there is a lot of anxiety around having to be SEEN WITH PEOPLE, otherwise you are a WEIRD LONER, but this just isn’t true, and there is a lot of peace and relaxation that can be had when you go on your own once in a while.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      Yeah, when I broke up with my last boyfriend, I avoided That Meetup We Met At for a few months. It was easier for me (if not for him, but unfortunately he was kind of an ass about it) to go back after having a break.

  13. Clarry said:

    You broke off a relationship that was going nowhere. You broke off a relationship that was going to leave him terribly unhappy if it continued over irreconcilable differences that he could have seen too. And yet you’re the one who feels guilty. How about him for wanting to stay and kick the unhappiness down the road. What you did wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. First thing to do: Start seeing yourself as the hero you are.

    2. You don’t say WHY he doesn’t have any friends of his own. I could understand if people have different friend groups or different friend styles or if one person has a large extended family or if one person has lived in a town longer. But NO friends of his own? Not a few good buddies? And yet he’s this terrific great guy who just by the way has no friends. Something isn’t computing. Maybe you feel like these are your friends because they are. You have nothing to feel guilty for here either so the second thing to do is to stop beating yourself up for feeling like he’s glomming on to something that you have at least partial ownership of.

    3. What on earth is wrong with having someone you’re dating meet your exes? Assuming you’ve acted honorably towards them (and it sounds like you have), the new guy shouldn’t mind meeting the old guys. So let go of some of the awkwardness about that too.

    After that, all I can suggest is that you meet with your friends in smaller groups, but that’s easy for me to say because I prefer smaller groups in the first place. Even at a large event, you’re not talking with everyone at once. It’s natural to move around a room and chat with this person over here and those 3 people over there. Practice making friendly eye contact with the ex before moving on. If he seeks you out more than that, he’s being the creepy one.

    • Eh, there are all kinds of reasons why someone might find themselves friendless or nearly so in adulthood, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them. Maybe they moved a bunch, maybe they had to disengage from their previous friend group because of an abuser, maybe they underwent a radical shift in their political beliefs or religion that cost them a bunch of friends . As another commenter noted above, being a single parent can also make it really challenging to get out and make new friends. I think a lot of people can struggle with finding a new social group in adult life, once they’ve outgrown the ready-made camaraderie of school/dorms/the party scene. It just seems really judgmental to assume that “socially isolated = defective person”… not to mention, that sort of judgment can turn into a really nasty cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies!
      I agree with the rest of your comment though.

      • Siege said:

        Maybe they were broken up with, and the friends mostly went with their ex…which is the situation I find myself in now. Although we shared a friend group for the 10+ years we were together, he is much more outgoing than I am, so most friends started out as his. I am still “friendly” with most of them, but I get the impression that he has communicated that he does not want to be at the same events as I am, so I just don’t get invited to things anymore.

        While I understand LW’s position, and know that her feelings are hers and are completely valid, my heart goes out to her ex, since he has not only been broken up with (for valid reasons, but still) but now she wants to have him removed from the friend group he found, too.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      I agree with kesjalyn. I have a bunch of friends NOW, but there were a few years where I had basically no non-internet friends, between not knowing how to make friends outside of a college setting and moving a few times before I could figure it out. My sister doesn’t have a lot of friends because she her customer-facing job leaves her with little interest in socializing. And those are just our reasons. I don’t think it matters why he didn’t have friends before.

    • #1 is so utterly on target

    • LW said:

      He had a drug problem several years back and when he got clean, he obviously had to distance himself from the people he was hanging out with. Then he went back to school and that was the focus of his life, along with his kids, for several years. He did have a few buddys in school, but they were “hang out at school” friends, not “do stuff outside of school” friends. Plus there’s the whole single dad thing and having people in his life that make him feel guilty if they perceive that he is not spending 110% of his time, energy and focus on his kids – so even when he did get invitations to stuff, he felt like he couldn’t take them up on it.

      Thank you for your kind words. I do know that breaking up was the right thing to do and logically, he did as well. I just feel badly because I hate knowing that I’ve hurt someone that I care about, even if it was necessary.

    • TO_Ont said:

      It sounds from the letter that he does have friends, they’re just the same friends as LW has. That doesn’t make them not really his friends.

  14. If you are still on speaking terms with your ex, and able to have the “I need a bit more time to adjust conversation”, then one thing I and my ex did was text each other to give a heads up about when we were planning to go to an event the other might be at. E.g. he once texted me to say “I know you often go to [venue] on Fridays, but this week my friend is having a birthday there.”

    Obviously this only works when people are respectful, and don’t turn it into a competition.

  15. Muffin said:

    I think this POV might make me Extremo McXtremerson here, but what the hey: LW, I think it is 100% absolutely awesomely fine both to tell your friends that you don’t want to see your ex for a while AND to stop seeing those friends who can’t respect that. Here’s why:

    There is, in my experience, only two reasons why a friend of yours would refuse to offer you at least SOME safe space where you don’t have to see your ex. (Note that I’m not suggesting that you demand they Hate Your Ex Forever! which it doesn’t sound like you want either.) Reason One is that they really like your Ex more than they value your friendship. It happens! This happened to me! and when it happened to me, it turned out that nothing I did was going to dislodge my Ex from my friends of more than a decade (!!), so it was a waste of my tears and energy. Don’t waste your tears and energy. Let these people go.

    Reason Two is that this person thinks they know better than you do about What The Right Thing Is To Do Right Now. These people are a waste of your love right now. In the wake of a breakup, people who want to dictate to you how to organize your life are the least helpful kind of friend you can have. Wish these people a peaceful au revoir and pick up with them–perhaps in a less intimate way–when you’re finished processing the breakup.

    I deeply, deeply hate the culture that says it’s unreasonable not to want to see your ex after you break up. I agree with the Captain: it is normal! it is healthy! having some separation is good for you! and anyone who refuses to help you with that either out of personal preference or a desire to run your life for you is NOT on Team You. Find the people who are on Team You, ask them to help you make the next six months of your life bearable, and devote your energies into loving those people and yourself.

  16. “Here endeth the winter Pledge Drive, with a final shake of the donation jar. You are of course welcome to give at any time, but I will stop tacking these reminders onto posts for a few months.Thank you all so much for your generosity, and thank you for reading.”

    I’m happy that I could donate! Also, if you ever started a Patreon, I’d be in like Flynn, and I think a lot of other people would too. Just sayin’.

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