Staying Friends With an Ex
December 8, 2004 11:55 AM   Subscribe

ExFilter: I recently (approximately 5 months ago) initiated a breakup with a guy who now lives in another city. We are still in touch and I hope to stay friends with him. I also recently (approximately 4.99 months ago) started dating another guy; that whole situation is going amazingly well and I am going on vacation with him soon. I have told the ex about the vacation but not about the company and definitely not about the dating. I am sure that he would be upset.
The question: is full disclosure (about the timing and everything) required if I want to consider myself friends with the ex? Even if it might make us not friends anymore? How about partial disclosure, not including the timing, or not including the intensity of the new relationship? I don't like feeling like I'm lying, but I don't think I actually am lying at this point, I'm just omitting information. Obviously partial disclosure would be lying. But is it justified lying? (Is there such a thing?)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total)
I don't mean this in a flip way at all -- I think honesty is overrated. I can see pushing for it in a romantic relationship, though even then I think there are limits, but I don't really see any reason for "total honesty" among friends. Diplomacy and tact, I think, should be more important.

That said, I think you should eventually tell the ex about the current guy, but there's no reason you should be giving him any more info than what is relevant to the conversation (which should be, basically, "I'm dating someone, he's nice, I'm happy" and end there). The ex doesn't need to know every detail of your life.
posted by occhiblu at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2004

Lying by omission is still a lie. Not to get all preachy and moral on you, but you're fooling yourself if you think otherwise.

If you had nothing to fear from telling Guy A the truth, this question would never have been asked. Friendships are built on honesty and trust, not deception. So yeah, if you want to remain (true) friends with Guy A, he deserves the truth. That way, you're being honest and letting him know that you still want to be friends, and if he rejects the friendship because of the truth, it's his choice. And if he doesn't --- hey! great! You have a mature ex.

On the other hand, I'm wondering why you're feeling the need to tell Guy A about Guy B right now --- unless Guy A's been making inquiries about the upcoming vacation. But I still think in the interest of an honest friendship you should tell him.
posted by m0nm0n at 12:20 PM on December 8, 2004

Touchy subject and without full information its hard to give accurate or useful advice. I'd say tell him, or at least start to tell him. If he hears about it through the grapevine then his feelings will be much more severely hurt and you may lose the friendship altogether. You may still but coming clean sooner rather than later not only looks better, it lets him know that you care about his feelings.
posted by fenriq at 12:22 PM on December 8, 2004

I don't know if you've considered it, but your current beau might also find that information, well, at least interesting to know.

And while I agree with occhiblu in principle, I also have a feeling that it will all come out eventually if you remain friends. At some point he'll ask where/when you met him, and then you'll be forced to either lie or come clean.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:23 PM on December 8, 2004

Well, assuming that you wouldn't have a problem telling your friends about the new guy, it sounds to me like you're treating your ex as more of an ex or an acquaintance than a friend.

There's nothing wrong with that, but it's a good distinction to be aware of and choose to change if you're so inclined. Ultimately, I think you have to decide whether you truly want to be friends with your ex, or whether you'd rather keep him as an acquaintance.

I think the truth is always best. If you really are trying to be friends with your ex, don't base it on lies. In my opinion, that does not a friendship make.
posted by widdershins at 12:26 PM on December 8, 2004

Who you're dating is none of your ex's business, and if he were to ask you should tell him so. It is not "lying" or in any way dishonest to not mention you're dating someone else.

You can't be friends with him, though. Not yet.
posted by kindall at 12:30 PM on December 8, 2004

Make a clean break from your ex. Give it a year, then go back and make friend like. Clean breaks are usually best.
posted by eurasian at 12:31 PM on December 8, 2004

I should add that I was in a similar situation two years ago. I started dating someone about a month after my ex and I broke up. Even though my ex initiated the breakup, it was still difficult to tell him about the new relationship. (For some reason, getting into a new relationship quickly after the end of an old one somehow feels like a betrayal of the old partner, even when there is no cheating or any inappropriate behavior going on - it's a strange thing.) However, I knew it had to be done and did it. We remain very close friends to this day and he was part of my wedding this summer. We certainly would not have the same level of closeness if I had lied to him about my feelings or my life.

Honesty is integral to good relationships, be they romantic or platonic. That doesn't mean that everyone needs to know everything going on in your life - how much to divulge is always up to you - but there are certainly ways of speaking your truth without going into details.
posted by widdershins at 12:40 PM on December 8, 2004

Ultimately, there's no objectively right or wrong answer here - just opinions. For example, I couldn't disagree more strongly with m0nm0n: in this context, a lie of omission is nowhere near a lie. In my view, your ex is no longer your significant other, and he has no more claim on that part of your life than any of your other friends. If you want to keep a relationship private from him for a time, that's your right. Friends, without the context of a previous relationship, woulndn't normally have a problem with that, and neither should he.

Of course, he may or may not see it that way. So you have to estimate his reaction to being told now vs. his reaction to finding out on his own vs. his reaction to being told later, and try to pick the one that he'd react best to.

You might consider this: in the course of your usual conversations with your ex, find an appropriate time to broach the subject. (Maybe start by asking him if he's seeing anyone, even if you know the answer). Then lead him into a general "line drawing" discussion; we're not in a relationship anymore; blah, blah, blah; I still want to be friends, but I don't want to hear all about your new relationships, because things are still sensitive between us; blah, blah, blah; for now, while we're both still moving on, we're going to need to keep some parts of our lives private.
posted by gd779 at 12:50 PM on December 8, 2004

Seems to me you have to treat this as you do/did past relationships. It is unfair of someone in a current relationship to be jealous of a past relationship, just as it is unfair of someone to be jealous of a current relationship after they are not part of the equation.

Not to pyschoanalise you, but my guess is that this is your guilt creeping in. You say 4.99 months, but is that the truth? And even if it is, and you met the new guy the day after you broke up with your ex, perhaps you are more concerned with the timing of the new relationship more than the fact you are in one. Would you feel the same way if you entered into a relationship years after the breakup?

Only answer questions which are asked, but all relationships—plutonic or otherwise—deserve honesty. Good luck.
posted by terrapin at 12:51 PM on December 8, 2004

Has your ex found a new special friend yet? If so, go ahead and tell him. Maybe get a mutual laugh about how you felt that it might have been awkward.

If not... if I was in the ex's position, I wouldn't really want to know about the timing issue. (on preview, what terrapin said)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2004

Ignore that second paragraph. It reads worse than I intended, and I don't have a right to read between the lines.

Gook luck!
posted by terrapin at 12:57 PM on December 8, 2004

errrr.... good
posted by terrapin at 1:10 PM on December 8, 2004

the fact that you're tortured about this tells me that your moral compass says you need to tell your ex.
posted by glenwood at 1:11 PM on December 8, 2004

it is unfair of someone to be jealous of a current relationship after they are not part of the equation.

Really? It sucks when you're thinking "damn, that was really rough, I need some time to get my life back in order before I'm ready to pursue a new relationship," just to find that your new ex has already started his or hers.

It has nothing to do with being hurt because he or she likes somebody other than you! It's just strange to see that this event which totally turned your life upside-down (forcing you to completely rethink all of your plans for the future and question your own identity), had a completely different effect on the only person with whom you experienced it.

Is that unfair? Is it jealousy?
posted by Eamon at 1:16 PM on December 8, 2004

Telling him will hurt him, but eventually help him get over you. Sometimes people need a shock to realize that they haven't let go, and need to.

If you think it won't help anything, that he's not going to be able to get over you, you probably shouldn't be friends right now.
posted by lbergstr at 1:20 PM on December 8, 2004

Oh, I evaded the hard part about the timing, didn't I?

Tell him everything. My reasoning (how clinical!) above still applies. And remember, just because you hurt him doesn't mean you did anything wrong.
posted by lbergstr at 1:24 PM on December 8, 2004

just because you hurt him doesn't mean you did anything wrong.

This is worth remembering.
posted by Eamon at 1:34 PM on December 8, 2004

To understand Guy A, you probably need to understand the Ladder Theory.
posted by C.Batt at 1:39 PM on December 8, 2004

you're obligated to tell your ex as much as you're comfortable telling him ... when you're ready to tell him

it's only lying by omission if it's something he has a right to know ... and he only has a right to know if you feel he does

my view is that once a relationship is over, who the people start seeing is their business and no one else's ... unless there's kids involved, in which case it's the other person's business in as much as it affects the kids

i guess it boils down to how close a friendship you really want with the ex and what degree of openness you feel is necessary for that degree of closeness

it's not a question of lying, it's a question of openness
posted by pyramid termite at 1:40 PM on December 8, 2004

If he's going to be upset about you dating someone new, then you can't be friends with him. A friend you can tell you are dating someone, and the person does not get emotionally upset about it. This doesn't mean you can't still be "friendly." I see no reason to feel you "owe" him any details regarding your current love life. Perhaps at some point in the future he will move on and meet someone new. You can then mention your new beaux without him pining away for you somewhere. Or maybe after some more time passes. But as long as he's still emotionally invested in your previous romance, it will be impossible to be friends and friends only.
If I'm reading right, you broke up with the old guy for the new guy, but neither of them know this. I see no reason why old guy ever has to know this fact. It may be technically dishonest to, at some point, tell him you met new guy "a few months after we split up." However, I think this is in the "little white lie" category where you are sparing him a good bit of sting with no good reason to be *completely* honest. If you continue to get serious with new guy, he probably deserves at some point to know you left old guy for him. Just seems like the kind of honest admission important in relationships.
posted by sixdifferentways at 1:42 PM on December 8, 2004

I think you have to separate out any reasoning you may have that you are protecting them from feeling upset, from any motives you may have to protect your own feelings in case 'ex' or 'current' gets upset with you. I also think the longer you leave it, the harder it will be to tell, and also to justify as to why you did not tell in the first place.
posted by carter at 1:48 PM on December 8, 2004

C.Batt, I sure hope you are kidding about the Ladder Theory. Because that is the biggest crock of misogynistic, assholic shit I have ever read. Now I have to stop talking about it before I punch a hole in the wall. I hate that guy.
posted by librarina at 1:50 PM on December 8, 2004

Tell him you are involved and met some time ago. Later, tell him the truth, and let him know you didn't want to hurt his feelings. Once a relationship is over its over. Really, he's just being childish if he's going to be hurt. On the other hand, I understand how he could feel little weird about the whole thing.

My advice: Tell him about your new relationship and the intensity of it. Tell him the whole story 6 months from now.
posted by xammerboy at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2004

I'm having trouble remembering the exact wording, but this is pretty close. Meyer's Law: "In any emotionally difficult situation, the thing you find hardest to do is invariably the right thing to do."
posted by mojohand at 2:52 PM on December 8, 2004

Torn between two lovers....

Oh. I guess not.
posted by ParisParamus at 2:56 PM on December 8, 2004

this post stinks. twice it plays games with being straight. first, what's 4.99 supposed to me? sounds like 5.01 and a guilty conscience. second, what's the deal with this not being lying because it's just withholding information? seems to me that you need to speak the truth a little more often...
posted by andrew cooke at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2004

and, continuing with my possibly-wild assumptions, i think you're afraid of the ex getting angry and "leaving" you. you want to break up without pain and you're doing it by manipulating others.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2004

i think you're afraid of the ex getting angry and "leaving" you

Well, that seems clear. She (I assume) says she hopes to stay friends with him. Yeah, she probably is afraid she'll lose him as a friend. Of course she is. Does that mean she shouldn't be in a new relationship now? Of course it doesn't.
posted by librarina at 3:16 PM on December 8, 2004

Tell the ex.

I've been that guy. My ex-wife lives in the same town as me, and we've remained good friends (there was a brief "cooling off" period--nowhere near a year). When my ex and I were going to be showing up at the same party or something, she'd warn me well in advance if she'd be bringing a guy. That didn't necessarily make it easy, but it made it easier. Eventually the raw feelings went away, and I could be genuinely happy for her when she was happy in a relationship.

Your dating life is your own business, but as you say, it's going to be a sore spot, and to some extent, you're dragging him into it. If you want to remain friends with him, do not blindside your ex.
posted by adamrice at 3:37 PM on December 8, 2004

i didn't mean they shouldn't be in a new relationship. i meant they should stop lying to themselves and everyone else. and stop asking other people for approval for that lying. the least you can do to someone you broke up with is be honest with them and give them the chance to make their own decisions. they're not some toy that should be jerked around to make your life as pleasant as possible. they're a real person who might well be helped by a clear reason for why they were dumped rather than evasive half-truths that leave them in the dark, hurt and confused.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:43 PM on December 8, 2004

I will give the same advice I give for all questions relating to honesty in relationships of any kind. I have learned from experience that whatever it is that you are trying to hide, the person you are hiding it from WILL FIND OUT eventually. Maybe you will reveal it in a drunken stupor, maybe a mutual friend will let it slip.

Unless there is an absolutely zero percent chance of this happening, you should tell now because the consequences of keeping a secret tend to increase over time. If he is going to be a baby about it five months later, he isn't much of a friend worth having IMHO.
posted by mai at 3:47 PM on December 8, 2004

Honesty is integral to good relationships, be they romantic or platonic.

That pretty well sums it up right there. Your behavior/choices to date already tell me that you are someone I couldn't have a relationship with—for your sake, I hope that these two men you are dealing with won't feel the same way.
posted by rushmc at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2004

That was odd. I've encountered something quite similar to this recently, so much so I thought the poster may be the other person involved until I got to the end of the question.

I would say it would depend somewhat on how exactly your relationship with your ex went.

other than that, this from glenwood sound pretty right to me: the fact that you're tortured about this tells me that your moral compass says you need to tell your ex.
posted by sinical at 4:25 PM on December 8, 2004

5mths and 4.99mths makes it seem like there was something (unofficially) going on with GuyB while you were with GuyA. Like andrewcooke said: your "4.99" sounds like "5.01".

If you don't want to remain friends with A, you owe him nothing. If you'd like to continue a friendship, you owe him the truth (all of it). Plain and simple.
posted by ruwan at 5:08 PM on December 8, 2004

Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not
escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery. Go, farewell. Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go; and quickly too.
-Hamlet, ACT III. Scene I.
posted by idontlikewords at 5:13 PM on December 8, 2004

I don't understand all the clamoring about 5 months vs. 4.99 months. Isn't it possible that anonymous's heart just started shifting towards Guy B? That doesn't imply infidelity or wrongdoing - it's just something that happens, sometimes, and it's a perfectly valid (if not humane) reason for ending the presumably non-committed relationship with Guy A.

Also, can someone explain to me why anonymous "owes" Guy A full disclosure regarding her subsequent romantic entanglements, assuming that anonymous was never unfaithful to Guy A? If their relationship is over, then where does he get this absolute right to not only inquire about, but be informed about without even asking, every detail of her life? That's the kind of obligation you have in a relationship - it's not the kind of obligation you owe to your friends.

It is, of course, perfectly understandable that Guy A might want to know, and if he finds out later, he might even be hurt by not having been told. But that's just the lingering attachment generated by a freshly ended relationship - it's "how can she get over me so quickly!". The very fact that this might be an issue for him indicates that he hasn't let go of the past yet. How, exactly, is that her fault?

I keep lots of secrets from my friends. I have friends that I've known for 20 years, friends that I consider as close as family, and sometimes I don't tell them about relationships I've started. Am I lying to them and commiting some horrible crime against our friendship that I wasn't aware of? If not, why does anonymous owe Guy A extra-special treatment? If she's not comfortable discussiong the subject with him, then he just has to learn to live with the fact that their personal lives are now seperate, I say.

But: that is entirely different from the practical question, which is, "given that Guy A is still emotionally transitioning from SO to friend, what should I tell him that will likely allow us to remain friends?"
posted by gd779 at 6:15 PM on December 8, 2004

gd799, the difference between 4.99 months and 5.00 months is like seven hours. That isn't much time for one's heart to shift. And without knowing how anonymous initiated and discussed the breakup, it's quite possible that honest disclosure of the new relationship will change the way the ex thinks about the breakup.

Anonymous, I think you should tell him. If he doesn't know all the reasons why you broke up with him, he'll find out one day from another source and be hurt and angry. And if your relationship isn't sufficiently platonic for him to know about your new relationship, maybe discussing the truth will reinforce that the romantic phase is over. From your description, it sounds possible that he is biding his time, waiting for you to have second thoughts about the breakup; if that's the case, I think it would be unfair to allow him to think that.
posted by subgenius at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2004

You are in no way obligated to tell your ex everything. You don't need to have a big conversation about this or explain yourself, etc. Slip the fact that you're dating someone into conversation casually somehow when you can; maybe something about having plans to go somewhere with them, or something fun you did together, etc.

You do not need to confess all the details re the timing as though your ex is a priest. You don't need to go out of your way to make sure they know that it took you no time to get over them; that's hurtful, and why go there? Hell, why don't you tell them they've gotten kind of porky over the intervening 5 months and just finish them off?

But do tell them you're dating someone, and let it come up again after the first time so they'll know it's a steady relationship. Best to be clear about that.
posted by onlyconnect at 6:48 PM on December 8, 2004

Ay ay ay... Friends with a guy you dumped? Why don't you just rip his heart out and pour a mixture of salt, lemon juice and alcohol into his open chest. If your prior relationship was anything serious, only under the rarest of circumstances is such a friendship remotely possible, truth told or otherwise. Ask yourself this question: if you offered him a night of crazy sex, would he turn it down? if the answer is no, you can't be friends.

And as far as telling him the truth, the bottom line is, when someone gets dumped and their ex starts dating another guy "4.99" months later, there's really only one way to take that: your ex just upgraded. And that's why you don't want to tell him, because you know it'll hurt his feelings. It has nothing to do with your privacy, and not having to tell your "friends" everything (like the folks above suggest). It reeks of shadyness, because you're keeping something from someone for ultimately your own gain, not just because it's none of his business. And on that note, it wouldn't hurt to step back and ask yourself exactly why you want this "friendship." What is it that you're taking away from it?

If you want to go ahead with this, I pray your ex is seeing someone else already, and that she's gorgeous. It's your only hope.
posted by drpynchon at 7:46 PM on December 8, 2004

when someone gets dumped and their ex starts dating another guy "4.99" months later,

you mean ".01" months later - as above, it was a matter of hours. Obviously the break-up was brought about by the presence of a new opportunity. For the dumpee, this is just about the worst kind of break-up, even if no technical lines were crossed. Emotionally they're sure to feel rejected.

there's really only one way to take that: your ex just upgraded.

yah. I am a big advocate of honesty, but I also think you have to be realistic about the sort of relationship you & yr ex can have - you can set boundaries and make it clear to one another whether talking about new SOs is okay or not, for instance. Skirting the issue is the wrong thing to do. But imagining a comfortable warm friendship where he's happy you & the guy you ditched him for are together, is a little unfair. I would say you should tell him, and make it clear that it is serious, ie, there's no chance of reconciliation, if he's still wondering, and then let him lead the way. He may not want a friendship with you just now, and that may be healthier for everyone involved. Or he may be over you and be happy to hang out.
posted by mdn at 8:59 PM on December 8, 2004

You can't be friends with an ex without a requisite period of UNSTOPPABLE RAGE. So I would lie. It will help bring on the rage so the real healing can begin.
posted by jennyb at 10:02 PM on December 8, 2004

you mean ".01" months later - as above, it was a matter of hours. Obviously the break-up was brought about by the presence of a new opportunity.

It didn't occur to me that she had really done the math on this - do you think she did? I thought it was just a figure of speech.

And I also don't think it's as obvious as you say. Having recently ended a long-distance relationship because of long-distance reasons, the "he's in another city" part is what caught my eye, but maybe I'm projecting.
Then again, we're all projecting.
posted by librarina at 10:45 PM on December 8, 2004

<brutal honesty>

You should tell your ex everything, so he's fully aware that you dumped him for another guy and are stringing him along. That way, he'll realize what a cold, heartless person you're being, cut off contact with you, and get on with his life.

You did a bad thing, and you're feeling guilty about it. The one who is paying for it is your ex. This is your opportunity to do the Right Thing. Bite the bullet.

</brutal honesty>
posted by mkultra at 7:23 AM on December 9, 2004

It didn't occur to me that she had really done the math on this - do you think she did? I thought it was just a figure of speech.

no, I'm sure she didn't - sorry if that sounded confusing. I just meant, clearly she left the first guy for the second one, and even if she did not technically cheat, in the sense of actually make out with the new guy before ending the first relationship, she was definitely open to new possibilities while in the first relationship. This is a weird situation in modern romances where there isn't a standard courting procedure, etc, so that one party may think the relationship's going somewhere, while the other is just having fun while looking out for something better, and it means that it can be harder to categorize what counts as betrayal.

And I also don't think it's as obvious as you say. Having recently ended a long-distance relationship because of long-distance reasons, the "he's in another city" part is what caught my eye, but maybe I'm projecting.

a) she didn't specify if it had been a long-distance relationship before the break up, or if so for how long. b) yes, I think it's clear the new guy was the reason for the first relationship to break off. She is clarifying that she did not actually cheat by differentiating between 5.00 and 4.99, but as a figure of speech it tells us that the two things basically happened simultaneously. You really think she had just happened to meet some new perfect guy right after getting off the phone with the guy she dumped? If something so unusual had been the beginning of this story, I'd bet she would have worked in some details about it...
posted by mdn at 9:17 AM on December 9, 2004

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