How to stay friends with both people in a break-up
September 22, 2010 8:09 PM   Subscribe

How do I avoid alienating either of two friends who just broke up? I have to pull out of attending an event with one of them, so do I mention that it's because I'll be attending with the other, or say nothing about why, and risk running into them there?

I have two friends, let's call them Alice and Barbara. They just broke up: Alice is broken-hearted, and because she moved here to be with Barbara, she doesn't know many people here. Barbara did the breaking-up, but I don't know her side of the story. Could be that she's miserable about it too.

I like both of them, and don't want to lose either as friends. I don't want Barbara to think I'm siding with Alice, but on the other hand, Alice is the one who needs more practical support right now (is really miserable, has few local friends, had to move out and is looking for somewhere to live, etc).

I stupidly accidentally ended up in a situation where I had promised each individually to attend a certain event with them. I now have to get back to one of them and ask them not to buy a ticket for me after all. I've decided to attend with Alice, since Barbara is going in a group of friends, while Alice would be on her own if I don't go with her.

So I have two options. One is to email Barbara and say, "Hey, don't buy a ticket for me after all." No explanation. She won't mind, but if she then later sees me at the event with Alice, she might think I'm "siding" with Alice, or otherwise be annoyed. The other is to email Barbara and explain that I am choosing to attend with Alice so Alice doesn't go alone. This is more likely to piss off Barbara in the short term, but I really don't know... The event is large enough that I'd say there's maybe a 50-50 chance of them seeing us there.

Extra complication: I have to work with both these people.

What should I do? If you were Barbara, would you be upset if I said I was attending with Alice, and view that as a decision to take Alice's side? Is it possible in this sort of situation to remain friends with both people in the long run? Is there anything I can do or say at this stage to make this a more likely outcome?
posted by lollusc to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Option 1 - Tell the one you're not going with that you're going with the other and why. I think you have a perfectly legit reason to go with Alice. Make it up to Barbra by doing something else later.

Option 2 - Just don't go.

Your first option, quite honestly, is bullshit. The fact that you're trying to hide going with Alice is what would get me mad at you. So don't do that. I might be annoyed, or even mad for a bit if I found out you were going with Alice instead of me. But I have other people I'm going with and I'm from there. I'll get over it. Granted, I'm a male and you've used female names so take that for what it's worth. The only times I've been friends with both people when there was a break up I was friends with one person pretty much because they were going out with the other. In that instance it makes perfect sense to stay friends with the one you were already friends with. But let me get back to the topic at hand.

I would imagine that explaining yourself and letting Barbra know that you still want to be friends with her but that you also have to make sure your friend Alice doesn't go crazy in BarbraCity without Barbra.

If it works out that you can only be friends with one, so be it. It won't be the end of the world.
posted by theichibun at 8:17 PM on September 22, 2010

If Barbara is remotely decent, she'll understand your sentiments. Explain the complete mix-up in double booking yourself and add that since she already has a group attending with her, you're going to accompany Alice because she'll be lonely. Basically, what you just told us.

Break ups can bring out the best and worst in people. I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago when my two friends broke up; one person was gracious and forbearing during the awkward social run-ins with his ex, while she would get black-out drunk and start fights with him. I am only friends with one of those people today.

Since Barbara is the break-up instigator, she's in more of a position to accept your explanation not as "siding," but as the nice thing to do. If she's less than understanding, it's honestly a red flag in my book. I'd attend with Alice anyway.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:41 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Canceling on and giving them a reasonable explanation (which it is, in your case) someone is much, much better than canceling on someone and bumping into them at the same event.
posted by emd3737 at 8:46 PM on September 22, 2010

Best answer: I don't think you should go. If they were just friends of yours, you could probably work it out with them--but since you work with them, it's better to play it safe. Reschedule with Alice and tell Barbra you're busy. Find something else to do that day/evening.

This is a situation where you are actively choosing between them, even if your intention is to be fair to both of them. For some people, actions speak louder than words or professions of intent. If Barbra is that sort of person, you might find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation at work.

Also, when I broke up with my ex, our mutual friends generally picked him to hang out with instead of me, because I had outside support, and he didn't, and because he was a better friend to them than I was. I was not invited to a lot of group events, because he wouldn't attend if I was there. Even though everyone made an effort to meet with me individually, I felt incredibly hurt, rejected, and guilty even though I fully understood that they were doing it because they loved him and not because they didn't like me enough. In Barbra's shoes, I would have done the decent thing and said ,"Yes, of course you should go with Alice"--but I would also be nursing some seriously hurt feelings for a while. And, well, while that is what happens in friendships, I wouldn't really want to stir up those feelings in a person I worked with.
posted by millions of peaches at 8:51 PM on September 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

Tell Barbara the truth about why you are going with Alice. If she wants someone she previously cared for to be alone and for you to avoid all contact with her, she's done you a favor by proving what kind of person she is, proving you've made the right choice.

However, definitely make time to spend with her later when you tell her about the plan change. As the person who seemed like he was totally okay in a break-up where we shared all friends, my good friends always thought I was okay because I always seemed to have people to hang out with and seemed to be doing much better than my ex. However, those friends were casual acquaintances whose company I kept so I wouldn't drive myself insane, and spending time with real friends would just remind me of the pain. So don't assume (and it seems like you haven't) that Barbara's not just as hurting on the inside.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:00 PM on September 22, 2010

Also, lying -- or even a sin of omission in this case -- could much more seem like you're getting involved and picking a side if it comes out. If you don't want to pick sides or make drama, than just don't. It's really easy. If they decide to act immature, then again, you're being done a favor.

You should also, if she doesn't know, let Alice know that her ex is going to be there. Though she should be able to be in the same place if there's limited contact, she also should be given time to prep herself.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:05 PM on September 22, 2010

I have been in similar circumstances. Here's how I think it can be handled diplomatically.

1) Talk with Alice. Let her know that you are supportive of her, and are looking forward to attending said event with her. Make sure she knows that Barbara will be there with friends. Do this for two reasons. First, so she knows that you continue to talk with Barbara, and that your support doesn't mean breaking all ties. Second, so she has the opportunity to bail if she doesn't want to bump into Barbara at this event.

2a) If you're willing to skip the event, be willing to do something else with Alice during that time frame. Have ideas ready.

2b) If you cannot or will not skip the event, though Alice wants to, make sure she knows you'll be attending. Make it clear that you're doing so because the event is important to you, and that you're not choosing sides by going. Make plans for something with Alice close to the date of the event.

3a) Talk to Barbara after having talked to Alice. Make certain that Barbara's friends are definitely attending with her, and that this isn't a presumption on your part. Assuming this is confirmed, then, if you will be attending with Alice, let her know that you're going with Alice, for the reasons you've told to us. If neither you nor Alice attend, you can still let her know the reasons you won't be there. Barbara should be understanding, though it's worth being prepared for her to be taken aback. It may be her first realization that other relationships she has have now changed too, at least for the short term. Here, too, you can have something prepared to suggest to do together later, which will reinforce your position of wanting to support Alice, but remain friends with Barbara.

3b) If Alice no longer wishes to attend, but you still plan on going, you may meet up with Barbara. You don't have to have the conversation that step 3a requires. But if Alice's name comes up, you should say that you're still close with Alice too, and that you'd be uncomfortable talking behind her back, and leave it at that. Focus on your friendship with Barbara rather than the relationship between the two of them. At the same time, remember that you don't owe Alice a report.

This is tricky. But like most things, it can be done with some grace, planning, and most of all, open communication.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:13 PM on September 22, 2010

Best answer: This is actually pretty easy.

Step one: cancel the trip out with both of them. This takes care of any potential drama and conflict, pure and simple. Obviously, don't go to the event on your own, either. Use the night to learn a new skill, like knitting.

Step two: at your convenience, sit down with each friend individually. Say "I heard about your breakup, and I want you to know that I'm still friends with you, and with [other person], because neither of you broke up with me. However, I need your help to know what rules the two of you have set up for your shared friendships -- can I invite both of you to the same party? Can I talk about one of you in front of the other? If [other person] invites me to an event and then you do the same the next day, should I say no, I'm going with [other person], or no but not tell you why, or yes and we'll all go together?"

My point here being that their drama doesn't have to be your drama, if you address it head-on and don't put yourself in between. Good luck.

oh and if you really want to go to that event, tell each of them that you've been invited by both of them, and you know they won't want to see each other so soon, and you don't want to pick one over the other -- no taking sides! -- so you'll be going on your own, and you hope you run into them there.
posted by davejay at 10:21 PM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Seconding davejay's advice.

You need to figure out how the social dynamic has changed because of this recent breakup, because there is a good chance a similar situation will happen in the future (especially since you're working together). The best way to do that is to talk to both parties. You do NOT want either party to think you've sided with them and then feel betrayed when they find out you're also hanging out with their ex.

After my recent mutual break up, this is what a friend did:
They stated that they were remaining friends with both parties right away, as soon as they learned of the split. They were not taking sides in the break up and they would continue to hang out with both parties because they valued both friendships.

I was the Alice in the relationship, so their words meant a lot to me. I also thought that this was really nice because we both knew what to expect.
posted by Elachim at 11:05 PM on September 22, 2010

I came in here to give the exact advice that davejay did. Go davejay!

You don't have to take sides. And you are a good person for not wanting to.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:45 PM on September 22, 2010

Oh yeah, pull the ripcord on this event. Abort! Abort!

I like davejay's suggestion for a sort of summit meeting with each party. But I have to say that my experience is that things which start out seeming civil eventually turn sour over the long run.

If you maintain friendship with both parties, you will be perceived as choosing a side, regardless of what you do. That kind of undercurrent of bitterness can only go wrong in the long run, particularly in an office environment where you're all seeing each other every day.

I think your safest option is to throttle back the friendship level with both of them, as long as you're all working together. If one of them leaves, you can start doing the "friends with both" thing, but not before.
posted by ErikaB at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2010

> I came in here to give the exact advice that davejay did.

Yeah, davejay is on the money. But you should prepare yourself for the possibility that you're not going to be able to remain friends with both, because people are not always their best and wisest selves after a breakup, and you may be forced to choose.
posted by languagehat at 11:51 AM on September 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. For some reason it hadn't even occurred to me to not go to the event at all, but there's no reason why not. The other, longer-term advice is also useful. I know it might not be possible to stay friends with both, but I do want to try. (And just as clarification, although I work with them, it's not in a typical office environment, or even in the same building. I have to interact with each of them for work purposes, but usually 1-on-1, so the other isn't present. And I see them both together in a large meeting once a week, but that's no big deal.)
posted by lollusc at 8:00 PM on September 23, 2010

« Older Any benefit to a new modem?   |   Cans and aluminum in fridge: safe? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.