How to heal when the hits keep on coming?
October 6, 2010 4:09 AM   Subscribe

My friend is dating my ex. How does this not end in murder-murder-suicide?

My ex and I were together for a little over two years, in high school and in college, and broke up (messily) over the summer.

We're in the same study abroad program, spending a year in Europe with 38 other people-- obviously a tricky situation, since we are forced together pretty much all the time.

The plot thickens when I see my friend (casual acquaintance of about a year, very friendly for about a month) coming out of his bedroom early one morning, then see them holding hands, cuddling together on the train, spending all their time together, etc.

There is really no way to avoid seeing them together.
Seeing them together makes me want to stab something.
I do not want to go to jail.

What do I do?
posted by karminai to Human Relations (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Be as mature as you can be and swallow your anger as much as possible. Sometimes, seeing your ex and your ex's new squeeze together is just unavoidable. One of the more frustrating parts of normal life, but for sure part of normal life. If you feel like she/he would be receptive and mindful of your feelings, talk to the friend gently about how seeing them all over each other makes you feel. Otherwise, try to let it go and be happy for your ex and your friend. After all, you don't want to do anything that paints you as the jealous, vengeful ex.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 4:17 AM on October 6, 2010

You're not obligated to socialise only with the 38 other people in your program. Treat this as an opportunity to branch out and make local friends. You'll spend more time immersed in the local language and culture, which means you'll gain more from being overseas.

Oh, and please don't talk (or even joke) about wanting to stab your friends. Voicing feelings like that within a close-knit group is going to make people uncomfortable.
posted by embrangled at 4:49 AM on October 6, 2010 [15 favorites]

That stabbing feeling you have is from your lizard brain. Experience it, recognize it and then overrule it.

Be courteous and grown-up to your friend and your ex. You liked each other enough to be a couple for a while but not enough to remain a couple. You are now better off because you can find a better relationship and so are they.

If you are mature about it you can probably be good friends with your ex one day and stay friends with your friend and that will be worth a lot.

Whatever you do, do not turn your life into a crappy TV drama or soap opera. These are bad templates to live by.

Now for pragmatic strategies. There are 38 people in your study abroad group. Set yourself the goal of becoming a good friend with each and every one of them. Even the ones you don't initially like. Fill your social calendar with the exploration of other people and other opportunities. One of these people could be your next relationship or know someone who will be your next relationship.

You're young. If you just avoid the stupid part of being young all those friends you make now can become great friends later in your life.

Oh and a big important point. Don't keep going on about this to your friends. Maybe mention it, if you must, but don't ruminate on it with them. People tend to run like hell from someone who constantly chews their emotional cud in public and those who don't eventually run may be misery vampires who just want you to stay unhappy.
posted by srboisvert at 4:57 AM on October 6, 2010 [33 favorites]

What embrangled said. There was a recent Onion piece about "Dick around abroad college programs." Your question reminds me of that piece. If nothing else make friends with kids in other programs. Don't joke about the ex. Pay attention to where you are.
posted by vincele at 4:58 AM on October 6, 2010

CS Lewis once wrote something along the lines of the fact that you can't be charitable towards someone by just sitting around trying to manufacture charitable thoughts. Here's a brief bit from the same:

"Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."

It might sound a little funny, but I've found its true particularly with the people I have the most disdain for - I find it easier to be around them when I actively try to do them "a good turn," with no selfish motive to put them in my debt in any way. Instead of trying to manufacture nice thoughts for them, I actively go out of my way to do/say something kind for/to them. This leads to, strangely, not necessarily an increase in my "liking" them, but as Lewis thoughtfully put it - a decrease in my dislike, as it were.

It won't be easy to say / do nice things for them, but it might help more than just sitting around trying to think your way into being happy for them.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:01 AM on October 6, 2010 [37 favorites]

spending a year in Europe with 38 other people

There are more than 38 people in Europe. I can see nearly 40 from where I'm sitting and I bet you haven't met any of them yet.

As I understand it (although not having been on a similar scheme myself), a big part of the study abroad thing is supposed to be seizing opportunities to learn the language, meet the locals and try out the culture. So use this disruption of your current social scene as impetus to go out, be more adventurous and create or join a new scene. If your course-mates are spending most of their time just among themselves, you'll be getting a far richer and more worthwhile experience than them.

The more time you spend away from them, having fun and meeting people, the easier it will get when you have to be around them. Healing won't be fast, but it'll be faster.
posted by metaBugs at 5:03 AM on October 6, 2010 [15 favorites]

My brother taught me something about this.

If you could look ten years into the future and find out that your friend and your ex are in fact perfect for each other, get married, have a family and a beautiful life, would you want to prevent that? Obviously at this point in time you don't know for sure that they'll end up that way, but do you want to risk taking away a lifetime of happiness?

I found some comfort in that when one of my ex's went out with someone else I knew. As it turned out, they weren't perfect for each other, but I felt good about giving them the chance to find out.

I owe a whole lot to this thought process too actually, because my long-time girlfriend was (once upon a time) my friend's ex. He let his feelings go, and it turns out we ARE perfect for each other (or close) and will hopefully be together forever. We've been together for five years, he's still our buddy (and has had rewarding relationships since), it's a win-win in the long run.

Be awesome - be happy for them.

And a final word from The Whitlams - "She was one in a million, yeah. So there's five more just in New South Wales!"
posted by autocol at 5:04 AM on October 6, 2010 [12 favorites]

IME, this is a more common POV with women than men. I've heard many women say, "I couldn't date him; he's A's ex-boyfriend." OTOH, I've both dated ex-girlfriends of buddies, and buddies have dated my exes. Others' mileage may vary, of course: some women would be fine with it; some men are jealous even of their exes.

Why is this relevant? Because that suggests both that it's completely feasible to get along, and that this anger you feel is common, but not necessary at all (roughly half of us don't feel the need). He's an ex - you have moved on. But your jealousy hasn't. That isn't useful to you; it's a nail holding your foot in place while you try to move on.

Heck, I even get jealous of boys who get to date women I have unrequited crushes on, but it isn't useful. Ultimately, I'm happy for the couples. Inwardly, I wish I were *he*... but I have to keep reminding myself that's silly. She doesn't want me in that way, so I'm holding myself up with those thoughts.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:21 AM on October 6, 2010

I don't have a lot of regrets about my own past behavior. Even though I've made some bonehead moves, I'm pretty forgiving of myself. But among my biggest regrets in life is how I behaved when I found out my recent ex (we were still very close and were talking reconciliation and The Future) was secretly seeing someone I thought was my close friend. I wagged my finger, I made pronouncements, I really threw down a big honking gauntlet. I didn't do anything creepy or evil--just one big blowup conversation between him and me, and then I stopped speaking to either of them for years, which caused our mutual friends considerable discomfort. My behavior earned me a reputation among that circle of friends that I've never shaken. And even though my ex lived with and married this other woman, they eventually and inevitably divorced. Was I right about their inability to stay together? Of course. Was I right to make such a scene? Of course not.

More than 15 years later, and with a mended but very distant friendship between me and my ex, I can tell you that while my feelings were valid, my actions were really, really dumb. Don't do what I did. Rage in private if you must, but take the high road. You'll be perceived as totally badass, which at the very least will make you attractive to new dudes. European dudes! Or ladies, even. You're studying abroad! Now is the time to experiment!
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:38 AM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Find a way to channel your anger and hurt into something else ...
When you feel it, do something active to let off some steam .. like go to a gym, run, do some martial arts, stick needles in voodoo dolls,
Whatever it is do it until your feel your anger subsiding (that's important) .. eventually your anger will diminish and dissipate of its own accord.

It's a crappy situation.. that unfortunately is life though .. accept it .. don't fight it.
posted by blueyellow at 6:00 AM on October 6, 2010

allkindsoftime: The psychological principle underlying your advice is Cognitive Dissonance. Basically, if you do someone a 'kindness' you have to adjust your feelings towards them so that they are consistent with your behaviour. It's fun stuff..and it also points out that if you want someone to like you a step you could take is to ask them for a favour.

Be careful about over applying cognitive dissonance though, lest you become Jonah Lehrer and start writing for wired magazine about how global conflicts reduce down to introductory psychology textbook chapters.
posted by srboisvert at 6:04 AM on October 6, 2010

do not turn your life into a crappy TV drama or soap opera

This exactly sums up what I came to say. Brilliant.
posted by Frasermoo at 6:12 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the opportunity presents itself (you could even arrange this) it might smooth the way for everyone if you said to the girl or the ex, "I see you and Chris are kind of a couple now. I know that our relationship is done and that's as it should be, but if you see me acting a bit odd around you guys, just ignore it. It's just me getting used it all, so please don't take it personally."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:38 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be a messy trainwreck in private. Be classy as fuck in public. Fake it 'till you make it. You can do this. Give them no information. You are a mystery. You are unaffected. You are cool and classy. They might wonder how you do it. You will look too busy and awesome to care. And soon enough, you will be. Go be that person. The best version of yourself. This is your time to shine. Go, classy badass!

srbiosvert's response is fantastic, btw.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:40 AM on October 6, 2010 [22 favorites]

Bluntly, you can spend the next year angsting about this and then the next twenty regretting that you did and wondering when you'll be able to afford to try living abroad again, or you can focus on yourself, your experience and exploring the culture you've found yourself in.

While I learned a lot from agonising over relationships in my late teens and early twenties, when I was doing a lot of travelling etc, mostly I just learned that it was kind of a waste of energy and time. Focus on developing friendships in your study abroad group, for sure, but also explore! Meet locals! Drink copious amounts of very strong lager!

I promise you in six months, if you make a conscious commitment to not focusing on this apparent betrayal (although how betrayed are you, really, if you've only known the girl properly for a month?), you will be astonished at how much fun you can really have.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:42 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

The ex is not "your" anything now. Realize that it's not about you. They are dating each other; they aren't dating at you. Follow srboisvert's advice.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:01 AM on October 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

karminai did not identify the gender of the friend, so let's not assume.
posted by freshwater at 7:25 AM on October 6, 2010

freshwater, he did. The friend is a "he". The gender of the ex is not specified.

Regardless, be friendly whether you feel it or not. Unless she stabbed you or killed your children or stole all your money. I get along with an ex that I see from time to time. Also get along with her husband and think he's a great guy.

I assume you are angry because you feel wronged or feel that she should still be yours. Dunno what to say about that except nobody belongs to anyone. Even if you are married you do not control the partner in a healthy relationship. Relationships are mutual cooperation and friendship with endless love to add some extra glue. Take away those and there is nothing. Feel the pain of the loss and bury it. Bury it deep enough so that it doesn't grow and whatever you do, don't feed it.
posted by JJ86 at 7:45 AM on October 6, 2010

This resonates so closely with my experience that reading your question gave me chills.

Don't do what I did, namely:

Don't get drunk the whole time and cry in public
Don't go ON AND ON about how betrayed you've been to anyone that will listen
Don't throw pictures of (him/her) into Venetian canals
Don't plead with the couple to break up

Wow. That was a fun time. I wish AskMeFi had been invented then.

Keep your head up, immerse yourself in learning about culture and people. Avoid the couple where possible, where not possible be polite and kind. It will fill people with admiration for you.
posted by Conductor71 at 8:08 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bluntly, you can spend the next year angsting about this and then the next twenty regretting that you did and wondering when you'll be able to afford to try living abroad again, or you can focus on yourself, your experience and exploring the culture you've found yourself in.

Yes. A few years from now you will remember this as the year you lived abroad, not the year you had the relationship problem. You can't completely control how you feel about all this, but you absolutely can control how you spend your time. I got to go to school in Italy, and I wasn't having a breakup but I was having all kinds of weird personal problems. But now when people say, "Wow! You went to school in Italy! That must have been awesome!" I can honestly agree that is was awesome.

Take pictures! Keep a diary!
posted by BibiRose at 8:26 AM on October 6, 2010

What iamkimiam said. Also, you'd be so pissed one/five/ten/twenty years from now if you let this guy take away from your Big European Experience. Focus on the bigger picture.
posted by December at 9:36 AM on October 6, 2010

I'm only chiming in here because I lived through one of those "Peyton Place-esque" situations where my husband (at the time) was seeing my (divorced) best friend (and everyone knew but me).

Yeah, of course I wanted to kill them both.

However, you have to tell yourself this: anyone who is such a skanky scuzzball who would choose to begin dating (of ALL the people in the world) someone already in your social circle is just that...a real skanky scuzzball and NOT someone wasting any time stressing about.

Seriously, pat yourself on the back for discovering the true colors of your ex and your friend.
posted by dzaz at 10:04 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Firstly, spend as little time around the pair of them as possible. It's easy to rely on this group of people for social interaction simply because you know them, but they aren't the only friendly, nice people nearby. You might have to get a bit inventive in the manner in which you avoid them, but simply not looking at them together in class will help. You being in the same room as them doesn't mean you have to pay them any mind.

Make some new friends, maybe out of the group of people you're with, maybe some people who aren't in the group. Find some new people that you can turn to for social interaction.

Quit telling yourself that there is no way to avoid seeing them together. I doubt that they are following you around all day, being obvious about their relationship. They probably don't care anywhere near as much about you as you do about them. If they're going to be somewhere, then simply don't go there (unless it's a class of some description). Go somewhere else. The only way you couldn't avoid seeing them would be if you were deliberately following them or they were following you. That's not happening, is it?

You don't specify where in Europe you are, but I'd suggest finding someone professional to talk to, if that is possible. Wanting to stab things is Not Good and it's certainly not a healthy way to live. It's OK to ask for help with something like that. The cause of that kind of anger is far less relevant than the extent of the feeling.
posted by Solomon at 10:20 AM on October 6, 2010

Man, if you're abroad studying, probably in Europe or somewhere similar with a massive amount of new people to meet, there are bigger fish to fry besides that dude.

I've found in most foreign countries, you can just walk around, be like "I'm from (countryoforigin), what's great to do/eat/see/watch/listen to around here?" Instant winner, you'll have friends in no time, leading to new female aquaintances
posted by soss at 1:34 PM on October 6, 2010

The friend is a "he". The gender of the ex is not specified.

Actually, it's not entirely clear in the original text, but to my mind indicates the ex is male and doesn't state the friend's gender: "The plot thickens when I see my friend (casual acquaintance of about a year, very friendly for about a month) coming out of his bedroom early one morning"

If the friend were coming out of the friend's own bedroom early in the morning, the plot would not thicken, would it? It's only if the friend is coming out of the ex's bedroom early in the morning.

Anyway, I'm nthing the suggestions to focus more on your year abroad and less on the emotional rollercoaster drama you're feeling. Speaking from the dusty and decrepit perspective of age 40 (that's a joke, son </Foghorn Leghorn>) when I think back to the guys who were the source of emotional turmoil and heartbreak when I was in my early twenties, for the most part I can't even remember their names. I remember disliking my roommate and why, I remember [amusing anecdote A] and [deeply meaningful anecdote B], but the guys I was eating my heart out over? Um... I think one of them was named Steve. Or was it Dave?
posted by Lexica at 1:55 PM on October 6, 2010

Oh, study abroad programs do turn into soap operas, don't they? (Something about putting all those people in that kind of situation away from home--people's ids come out and go on the rampage, everyone is sleep-deprived and emotional, there's hedonism and idealism and and indulgence and deprivation and infatuation and disassociation and loneliness and homesickness all making this bizarre stew.) And I agree, give yourself a big "Better Person!" pep talk, check into (it's international), check bulletin boards, hang around local student areas--get to know OTHER people. I know it really hurts and it'll take time to get over, but concentrating on your studies and other people will help a lot. Good luck.
posted by wintersweet at 6:34 PM on October 6, 2010

One of the things that annoyed me terribly about my study abroad program is that they put all 40 of us in one house, had us have classes mostly with only each other, and gave us only a 3-meal-a-week meal plan at the colleges we were supposed to be associated with.

I am shy, I only met one local person, and I regret it terribly. Don't be me.

You have a perfect excuse to get the heck out, and meet locals/other visitors from other countries/schools/whatever. Do so. Having a reason to get out is a great thing; take full advantage!
posted by nat at 8:34 PM on October 6, 2010

There's a quote I read a while back that comes to mind in situations like these, I can't attribute it and I'll probably butcher it, but it has saved my ass more than once:

"If you are in a situation where everybody expects you to freak out, and you don't freak out but instead remain cool-headed, everybody will always remember that about you."

Meditate upon it.
posted by chaff at 11:54 AM on October 7, 2010

You are in an amazingly unique environment (abroad, with lots of peers, and you're young).

In a few years, do you want to look back at this time as "one of the most amazing times of my life" or "the year I was given an amazing opportunity but I spent it wallowing over my ex?"

Not a lot of people get the chance you have right now. Basically you have a banquet in front of you, prepared by an excellent chef, and you're paying a lot of attention to two dinner guests, who in all probability, will be rarely thinking of you as they eat their meal.

It may take a little while, but take a deep breath, wish them both the best, change seats if you have to, and then proceed to have a blast.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:44 PM on October 7, 2010

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