How can my ex-girlfriend and I live together while avoiding jealousy and drama?
January 11, 2009 1:38 PM   Subscribe

How can my ex-girlfriend and I live together while avoiding jealousy and drama?

My girlfriend and I broke up, mutually and amicably, about three months ago. We live in the same apartment, although we have separate bedrooms. This is Manhattan and it's an amazing apartment and neither one of us is leaving it until summer at the earliest. We want to remain friends as best we can, and we both realize that while we loved each other very much, our personalities and lives are simply incompatible in the long-term. This is the background.

Now, both of us are going out and seeing other people. We have an agreement not to bring other people back here, although in theory I care less about that aspect than her. However, last night was the first night since we broke up that both of us stayed out all night; I got home about five minutes before she did this afternoon. It wasn't outwardly awkward.

But: I felt a twinge of jealousy. Hypocritical, yes. Ridiculous, yes. I truly want her to be happy, and I want her to find a nice man with whom she can have a good relationship. I really do. But there is an unpleasant, atavistic seed of jealously that hurts when I know she is out with someone else. I'm sure that sometimes she feels the same way.

I apologize for how needlessly prolix and boring this is, by the way. Because this is anonymous, I want to make sure all the facts are out there.

So two questions: one, how can I control/manage/kill that spark of jealousy? I don't want to treat her poorly or seem hurt or standoffish or childish when this sort of thing happens. Two, how can I be respectful of her feelings and not make her feel anything similar to what I felt? Have any of you been through this before? What should I know?

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
But: I felt a twinge of jealousy. Hypocritical, yes. Ridiculous, yes.

Emotions are neither hypocritical nor ridiculous. They are there. Acknowledge them as real. Accept them without acting on them. Its a normal ouch and accepting that twinge of pain will go a long way toward allowing you to feel it briefly and move on to thinking about other things.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:47 PM on January 11, 2009 [7 favorites]

One thing that immediately comes to mind is doing a search on the web for polyamory and jealousy. You're no longer seeing your ex, but I think a lot of the thinking still applies--lovers (and ex-lovers) in close quarters who are intimate with other people. There are probably tons of discussions and articles out there about dealing with sexual jealousy. Another buzzword is "compersion".

Also, it seems like you're doing great--being introspective and taking responsibility for your feelings.
posted by zeek321 at 1:48 PM on January 11, 2009

how can I control/manage/kill that spark of jealousy?

You can't, you're just being human. Time will take of this, just keep moving forward.

how can I be respectful of her feelings and not make her feel anything similar to what I felt?

Like you, she's human and may feel this at times. But that's really not your concern, you two broke up. It's nice that you're thinking of her feelings, but that's not your concern. Don't be a dick about it, but otherwise you have to let it go and act like her emotions about this are for her to deal with, 'cause it's true.

Same goes for you, of course.

Have any of you been through this before? What should I know?

It's much harder to separate if you're living together. If there is anyway possible, any at all, one of you should move out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:49 PM on January 11, 2009

My first reaction when I saw the above-the-fold was "You don't!" Exes can be friends, but you need time to get over each other and get un-used to that person being such a big part of your life.

But, if you're really going to do this, you guys seriously need to give each other as much space as possible. It's great that you want to stay friends, but you seriously, seriously, need to get used to being apart. Be roommates, not friends, at least for a little while. Don't be rude and ignore her, but like, don't spend all your time together. Hang out in your room as much as possible, have separate meals, etc. etc. I've tried to stay good friends with an ex immediately post-breakup, and all that wound up happening was we were way too close for either of us to have other relationships, and we eventually wound up back together and then had an awful second break-up. I can't imagine how it would've worked if we lived together, especially if it was like in your situation and you still do care about each other.
posted by SoftRain at 1:51 PM on January 11, 2009

It sounds to me like you're already handling it pretty well. If you aren't sick to your stomach at the thought of her being out in the world, you're better off than I was :)

Time heals.
posted by crickets at 1:51 PM on January 11, 2009

1. You can't manage that jealousy except by staying busy and keeping your mind off of it by working out, going out, distracting yourself. Seeming standoffish isn't treating her poorly. It's pretty normal and you don't have to be 100% buddy buddy with her all the time. That's not really reasonable to expect that of yourself after a breakup. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself permission to be distant and not engage with her if you need that distance.

2. You can be respectful, but at some point you have to realize that you can't control her feelings. She may feel jealous if she sees you put on a shirt that she thought was hot when you were dating, for example. You can't predict that or control it. So, the basic things like don't bring anyone home, don't have obvious conversations with a new lady friend in front of her, don't play loud cheesy love songs. Beyond that you just have to let it go.

I have been there, and it worked out best when we pretended not to know each other and stopped trying to be friends. The situation just didn't provide us with enough space to be friends AND maintain healthy boundaries.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:54 PM on January 11, 2009

For fuck's sake.

You can't.

I know.

I have the restraining order to prove it (she told me to get out, and I told her to fuck off).


(and I'm a very easygoing fellow)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 2:01 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's going to be impossible to NOT feel twinges of jealousy so soon, because you're human, she's still someone who cared about you and whom you care for, and things are still pretty fresh. It's whether you act on those feelings that could cause drama, and it sounds like you're not doing that,'re already handling things well, by agreeing to not bring new friends back home and the like.

All I could think to do differently is that maybe if you're just feeling a little sulky when this happens, if you kind of subtly warn her that you're just In A Mood and she should tread carefully so she doesn't do something dumb and roommate-ish and you end up ripping her head off. But that's really, really minor -- otherwise you're doing things fine.

But you're just plain not going to not feel at least a LITTLE jealous for a while yet, unfortunately.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on January 11, 2009

Jealousy can kill you. Like the snake from inside. Steel yourself against it because you can never hide.
posted by emhutchinson at 2:07 PM on January 11, 2009

"Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in the memory as the wish to forget it." - Michel de Montaigne

Get out. For the mental well-being of both of you, get out.
posted by geekyguy at 2:08 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

It doesn't seem like there's anything wrong here.
posted by citron at 2:12 PM on January 11, 2009

The only people who can understand this are people who live in New York City. Otherwise, it just seems so simple - why would you put up with this otherwise?

That said, there is no good ending to this story. Unless you are paying $70 for her great-great-grandmother's apartment on Bedford Avenue and N. 6th Street (this actually happened to someone I know), no apartment in the world is going to be worth it. And even then, unless it was clearly "your" apartment or "her" apartment, the warfare over who gets the place (assuming you're both on the lease) is going to kill you.

Get out.

I'm not saying do it now, but if it's such a fantastic apartment, then you can get a great roommate fast, especially in this economy. If it's not such a fantastic apartment, WHY ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING THIS?

What I would offer as a suggestion:

Someone decides who's moving. The other person chips in on the broker fee to find a new place, or helps with the legwork. There is no rush, there is no pressure. Do not offer to help them pack or offer to help them move, but the right thing would also to be to split the mover's fee with the other person. Yes, this will cost you money, but if you BOTH had to move out, it would cost you more money, and it will save your sanity.
posted by micawber at 2:15 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've seen other people go through this and... well, you've made it work better than any case I have EVER heard of. EVER! I didn't think it was even possible.

(Disclaimer, I am a complete failure when it comes to love and relationships. This advice comes through the looking glass)

Hypothetically speaking there may still be a slight glimmer of jealousy on her side as well. To bring it up might do some serious damage, it might not. It depends on how rational the two of you are (emotionally speaking). The fact that the two of you have made it this long works in your favor.

The other thing that's important is your relationship status. If one of you finds a steady, happy relationship before the other it could signifigantly augment jealous feelings.
posted by Pseudology at 2:26 PM on January 11, 2009

My parents still lived together for a year or so after announcing their separation because they had to sell the house first. To prove it was a genuine separation they had to maintain separate lives in the same household - each had to do their own chores, separate meals, basically be roommates as another above suggested. I suggest you do the same.

They had some ridiculous arguments when each would get home late, though. At the time I thought they were mad and one of them should have moved out.

This is a very difficult situation to be in, and if you can get someone else to take over at least part of the lease, that might be the best solution.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:45 PM on January 11, 2009

You're in an untenable situation. This cannot end well, unless the relationship lasted like twenty five minutes--but, you say "loved", so I guess not.

If you don't move out, you'll probably continue to feel this way until you find yourself somebody new and longterm--a one night trick doesn't count. The problem, of course, is that it's awfully hard to court somebody new when your old flame is eight feet away. Especially since you say you can't bring anybody home.

For everybody's sanity, you (or she) must move out. If you can't do that until summer, you'll just have to cope and slog through till then.

Mind you, this is coming from somebody who has never stayed friends with an ex. (With one exception, but she has extenuating circumstances--and even her I don't ever talk to.)
posted by Netzapper at 2:50 PM on January 11, 2009

You're probably about to learn what many, including myself, have already -- that this type of arrangement rarely works. Jealousy is unkillable.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:53 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

how can I control/manage/kill that spark of jealousy?

You probably can't do anything about it directly. You're just going to have to live with it for a while. The way to deal with it internally is go "uh huh - there's the jealousy thing happening again" instead of pretending that it's not happening. Once you get to the point of being able to say that to yourself and then have a little giggle about it you're home free.

I don't want to treat her poorly or seem hurt or standoffish or childish when this sort of thing happens.

If both of you have been able to make this thing fly for the last three months, you must already have excellent communications going, so I'd suggest taking advantage of that. There's no shame in feeling what you feel, and there's a lot to be proud of in attempting to deal with it the way you obviously want to. So if you do get to the point of needing to say something like "Would you mind if we didn't talk right now? Because I've got this irritating atavistic childish jealousy thing going on that I need to take outside and walk off for half an hour" then I'm sure she will cope.

Two, how can I be respectful of her feelings and not make her feel anything similar to what I felt?

You can be respectful of her feelings, but there is absolutely nothing you can or should do to stop her from feeling them. She is going to feel what she feels, and she is going to have to deal with that just as you have to deal with yours. Best thing you can possibly do to keep this thing working is keep getting better at feeling what you feel and acting with courtesy anyway. And if she tells you that she has this irritating atavistic childish jealousy thing going on that she needs to take outside and walk off for half an hour, what you need to do is just let her do that without trying to make it better.

Breaking up is never easy, even when both parties are as good at being amicable about it as you clearly are, and it's a mistake to believe that it can be. That said, you are going to get a lot of people telling you that you are DOOOOOOOOMED and that you need to GET OUT NOW before the BAD THINGS HAPPEN and so on and so forth, but you really don't need to buy into that drama. Accepting your own feelings for what they are, and expecting your new roomie to do the same, will go a long way toward keeping the weeping and the wailing and the rending of garments away from your happy home.
posted by flabdablet at 2:59 PM on January 11, 2009

I stayed in the marital house with my ex (ten year marriage) for about a year and a half after we separated. He began dating after three months or so, and within the first year he'd met the woman he's still with. I spent a lot of time out of the house, as did he, and we stopped cooking at home together; we'd go out to eat together frequently, though. We also worked for the same company and often on the same projects. After I moved out, we spoke infrequently (maybe 3-4x/month) for about five months, and then got back into a regular daily conversation. His girlfriend has been absolutely supportive of our desire to make this as amicable as possible; she's a sweetie and he's better off with her than with me.

Was there jealousy and that weird little wiggle of "I am not entirely cool with this even though I have no right not to be"? Of course. We're both human. Reading polyamory stuff helped a lot, as did finding other things to do than sit at home and brood about whatever/whomever he was doing. The question of "how do I stop this" is probably best answered by "You can't, but you can be aware of it and watch it happen without acting on it and hurting her." That's also how you can respect her feelings. I'd avoid saying anything like "Hey, I'm working on my tiny twinges of jealousy about you and New Dude. Are you feeling anything like that?" It will come across as manipulative, even if unintentionally.

I am surprised by the OMG NO in the comments above, though. In my circles, the experience the OP describes is far more the norm (of course, we're also talking about northeastern cities with Apartment Issues), and at a party in one particular social circle, it can take a good 20 minutes to explain all the former relationships in the room. It sounds like you both have an interest in making this experience as respectful as it can be, and I think that's awesome.
posted by catlet at 3:03 PM on January 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

As so many people mentioned above, that jealousy will be there, and the best thing you can do is admit to it. There is no right or wrong about feeling jealousy, but not acting on it is always best. I know some will say you can't live with an ex, and others will say it's entirely possible. In my experience all relationships are different. I was with someone for five years and he has a hard time being in the same room as me. After eight months, our conversations (about dividing house/finances/etc) are strained at best. On the other hand, one of my best friends lives with his ex wife and they are very good friends although their split was far from mutual or amicable.

As someone who works with an ex (not the one I mentioned above) I know that I feel jealousy when I see him growing close to another woman. I also know that I'm likely better off without him. Still, I hate the idea that he could feel closer to someone else than me because our connection felt so insanely close and personal and unique and impossible. After a couple months of hoping he felt jealous or angry I finally realized I care about him above all my other petty emotions and when I feel twinges of anger I acknowledge them and occasionally allow myself to revel in it. Then I accept that he deserves to be happy, and so do I, so the best I can do is hope he finds something else as beautiful as what we once shared. Of course, this line of thought always follows some intense ill feelings that I have to pass through first...then I can acknowledge that I don't feel that way all the time. Also, time will help....

Hope the personal anecdotes are helpful. and good luck.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 3:33 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

You've already gotten some good advice, so i just want to add that I've been in this situation and there is one great, unexpected benefit to those pangs and jealousies that you're feeling now. If you truly care about this person and expect to stay friends with them, living together during the first, rawest part of the break-up can force you to learn to deal with those things head on instead of just avoiding the other person and eventually losing the friendship. You know that you're going to have some pain, but you also know that it will eventually subside. This is your chance to work through it while still close enough to the other person to see if you still mean something to each other that's worth hanging on to in a new way. My ex is now more like my brother - with the added benefit that if I'm acting like a $%#@ in a new relationship, he can tell me and I know that he just might be right, and vice-versa.
posted by lorax at 4:28 PM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think that you're doing really well - and if you both do your best to be considerate, this situation can work out. After you break up with someone, if you want them to continue being part of your life, you just need to start interacting with them as friends, and treating then/thinking of them in the same way you would your other friends. It takes a little time, but after a bit the jealousy/awkwardness goes away, and you are just left with a really good friendship. I share a house with my ex, and have for a long time (7years? can't remember) he as the basement, I have the upstairs, and we share the ground floor. It's great - we're totally comfortable together, still have a lot of the same interests and friends. He gets along fine with my boyfriend... he's like family.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:28 PM on January 11, 2009

Dude. You cannot live with your ex girlfriend and not be miserable. It's not possible. I am sorry. Run, move to another town, anything. Go.
posted by xmutex at 7:21 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Staying in the same apartment is such a bad idea I can hardly articulate it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:37 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

one, how can I control/manage/kill that spark of jealousy? I don't want to treat her poorly or seem hurt or standoffish or childish when this sort of thing happens. Two, how can I be respectful of her feelings and not make her feel anything similar to what I felt? Have any of you been through this before? What should I know?

There's actually three parts to this, which boil down to "how can I control my emotions," "how can I control my actions" and "how can I manage her feelings."

The first one: You can't control that spark. But you can work through it in your head so that you can let it go. Some people are good at this and some are not. If you are the sort of person who's a little analytical and can think "huh, I had this thought, I wonder what triggered it, let me think about this intellectually," then you can do this. If you're the sort of person who will become engulfed in feeling an emotion while thinking about it, you're not going to be able to do this.

The second one is easy to explain, even if it's a little hard to practice -- you make a conscious decision about your behavior and your reactions, and take the high road. You two have chosen a somewhat unconventional relationship, and you both need to be willing to work for it, if you want it. If you've done your mental homework above, this is a lot easier.

Three: You can't. She's gotta do that herself. And this is the place where I warn you that if one of you is compromising in hopes of getting back together, or if one of you is happy to not bother looking for an apartment but is not acknowledging that you two do have a sort of relationship (albeit with changed terms from before,) this arrangement is going to be unhappy.
posted by desuetude at 6:40 AM on January 12, 2009

Right now is one of the best times to be looking for a new apartment in Manhattan. I realize the economy could get worse, but the housing market always gets tighter in the summer with interns coming to work for the summer and people generally moving in the summer. You'd be an idiot not to take advantage of the current housing surplus. I'm having landlord's drop their asking prices on rentals without me even asking them to. Tons of great places have been vacant since Jan. 1. Now is the time. Yeah looking for a new place still sucks, this is New York, but the places are so much nicer/cheaper than what I saw 3-4 months ago (I've been subletting) and they are staying on the market so much longer. You can probably even do it without a broker.

Now on to your actual question, I would opt for denial. In this situation I think it's really the healthiest thing. Just keep telling yourself she probably just stayed at a friend's because she didn't want to take a cab. I do this all the time. You really have no idea where she really was, let alone if she was with another guy. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't, but don't let your mind go there. It's much easier to think of these things in the abstract. Yes one day she will move on from you, but you don't need to know the time and place when that happens, so just don't think about it. She stayed out partying with a friend, had a few too many and crashed on their couch. Just keep saying it to yourself until you believe it.

And for god sake's just get a new place, really I promise you you'll find a great place, you really will. And remember you have to move out eventually why delay the inevitable?
posted by whoaali at 10:25 AM on January 12, 2009

I'd normally agree with the "someone needs to move" thing, but it's been three months of living together, you've remained amicable so far, and you've only had twinges of jealousy? Most people can't pull that off, but you are doing DARNED good at this. If anyone can deal with that situation, I think you can.

Read up on the poly/compersion stuff, realize you're gonna have twinges here and there, maybe both of you need to hold off on getting serious with anyone until the summer, but...otherwise, keep on keepin' on. I think you're doing well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:19 AM on January 12, 2009

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