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.
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