Is it possible to refurbish this mess into a more reasonable friendship? If so, how?
November 9, 2010 2:58 PM   Subscribe

At baseline, I'm terrible with keeping in touch even with uncomplicatedly good friends. This situation is far from uncomplicated, though.

Most people have a relationship that, in retrospect, was a total clusterfuck, right?
Back in early 2007, I got involved with someone we'll call Tom. Over the period of about 4 months that we "dated,"(see: Titles Guy!) I came to realize that interactions with him necessarily featured his frequent intentional or unintentional vagueness, and avoidance of certain personal topics that to this day I can't concretely name, because anytime we hedged infinitesimally close to them he'd redirect or toss out some cryptic quasi-aphorism that I soon learned not to press him on. We did have several comparatively forthright conversations defining how involved we were going to be with each other.

To cloud matters further, although I was unaware of it at the time, I was experiencing a pretty severe bout of depression, and wasn't interacting or making decisions in a healthy, self-supportive manner. I came into interactions with Tom from a position of idolizing him as this near-perfect godlike being of hilarity, hotness, intellect, and honorable life goals.

In May, a month before he was supposed to move out of the city (which we both knew of), he ambiguously broke things off via email and tapered off his responses to my romantic initiations, without ever actually saying, "Well, this has been fun, but this is it," or anything approximating that. The closest he got was the email where he said he hoped we'd "stay friends" after he left, as I was a "gentlewoman and a scholar." But that email came like a month before he moved away, in the midst of us still hanging out and sleeping over at each others' places, spooning and half-clothed. I was confounded and a little insulted, but I was afraid of stirring the pot and really committed to convincing myself that I was able to be in a "casual" relationship, so I just sat on my bewilderment.

Anyway, fast forward past his moving, my being hung up on him, realizing that I felt manipulated by him and resentful towards his kind of off-hand treatment of the dissoultion to our dating, and slowly realizing he's kind of wacko (like, sincerely claiming he tried to burn his piano down while frustrated with learning a Chopin etude wacko). In the past several years, we've kept in touch through erratic barrages of music exchange emails and the occasional meet-up for a drink, almost always initiated by Tom. He would pop in and out of my radar, going for months at a time without any contact and then sending 4 or 5 emails in one week, or I'd get a text out of nowhere asking when I'd be in the area for a visit. I became accustomed to having only sporadic contact with him. Until....

Last December, while in a (monogamous) relationship I knew I wanted out of, I fucked up royally by fucking Tom. Since "frustratingly ambiguous" is the name of the game when having most personal discussions with him, and I was more concerned at that point with finally ending my relationship with my then-boyfriend as soon as possible to keep from making matters worse, I avoided discussing what had happened with Tom (of note: I'm unclear on whether he knew our hookup was cheating, and still undecided on whether he's entitled to know that it was.)

However, Tom and I were back in each others' pants a few months after that, subsequent to some porny email exchanges and a little planning (since at this point we live in different cities).

Shortly afterwards, I dropped out of contact with Tom because I'd met someone who is totally great, and who I'm still dating at present. I figured: Tom has dropped out of contact with me extensively in the past, without warning. And, I wasn't sure how to address my reasons for ceasing all porny communication. At the time, depressive thinking may have been a factor here ("this is so confusing and exhausting; I'm just going to avoid it"), but I ended up just not giving him a reason, and then not responding, or in one case minimally responding, to various attempts he's made to contact me in the interim.

On the one hand, I think my avoidance is partially out of a "fuck you!" vindication reflex, in retaliation to his having been so confusing when we "dated," and for apparently forgetting we ever did date, or drastically minimizing our involvement in his own mind, as evidenced by remarks he's made in conversation with me since then. I feel like he treated me very lackadaisically, and so now in a sense I'm exacting revenge by proving that he's not especially crucial to my life either.

But, I know this is shitty, and I've reached a point where I would like to clear the air. Actually, I replied to one of his emails the other day, and he's asked what my deal is in response.
Ideally, I would like to stay in touch with Tom a few times a year, and you know, casually comment on each other's Facebook updates, but I have no interest in keeping up a constant interaction, or resuming porn-laden email exchanges, or being best buddies. I do value some things about him - he's a fantastic storyteller, and remains hilarious, and has alerted me to some excellent bands. And I care about his wellbeing, and do have good will towards him. I just don't know how to take the mess of background I've just laid out, and rectify what needs rectifying, to get things back to neutral ground.

Is that even possible? How does that conversation go?
Should I lay out the entire history and inform him that I've always been confused about how to communicate with him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds as if Tom needs to hear some tactful version of this:

Ideally, I would like to stay in touch with [you] a few times a year, and you know, casually comment on each other's Facebook updates, but I have no interest in keeping up a constant interaction, or resuming porn-laden email exchanges, or being best buddies.

It's not hard to communicate such thoughts; just say it. You can't predict how the conversation will go because you don't know whether what you want is compatible with what he wants. It's a conversation because you say something, then he says something in response. You can't and don't need to manage the whole exchange. Just do your part.

Obviously, this boils down to the fact that you need to be done with the noncommittal vagueness. If there's no communication, then there's no relationship.
posted by jon1270 at 3:11 PM on November 9, 2010

You don't have to "clear the air" with Tom. It's clear that he brings turmoil and strife to your life, and that you make questionable decisions when you're in contact with him. You don't need to lay that out for him; you don't owe him anything. It's possible to wish someone well but still not want to be friends with them.

You're dating someone else, your life now sounds good, and you know you don't want a personal connection with Tom. So the way seems crystal clear: Tell him you wish him well but that you don't want contact. Don't be his Facebook friend, and make your settings so that he can't see your wall/updates/info. This way sanity lies.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:14 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Most people have a relationship that, in retrospect, was a total clusterfuck, right?

You know what the key word in that is? Retrospect. Tom seems to do nothing but complicate your life. I can assure you that there are plenty fantastic hilarious storytellers out there with great taste in music with whom you do not have a sordid history and have repeatedly proven yourself to be incapable of not fucking.

Cauterize this relationship. No occasional chats. No Facebook comments. Put him in the past.

Unless, of course, you're enjoying the epic drama you've just laid out for us.
posted by griphus at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Um, what about this great guy - are you still dating him?

If so, gracefully fade out with Tom. Tom is not adding anything significant to your life, and there is enough negativity surrounding your interactions with him to make continued contact incompatible with any healthy relationships you are now enjoying.

I know people think they can maintain loose relations to negative people and situations, but long term, that usually doesn't work out well.
posted by jbenben at 3:16 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

.....okay, having read all of this? You maybe need to stop talking to this Tom guy AT ALL. For a WHILE. Especially if you're dating someone new but still having all of these convoluted thoughts and feelings regarding Tom.

The fact that you're still overthinking your ambiguous, ongoing relationship with him to the degree that it resulted in a long and detailed askme question about the situation means you probably need a little distance. Someone you kinda casually dated sort of for a while -- and who has been flaky and disrespectful of your need to know what's going on and where you stand -- shouldn't be taking up this much of your mental space. It's not helpful or healthy for you, and it's not fair to the person you're currently dating.

You don't owe Tom anything. If you want to be polite, drop him an email letting him know you need some space. But leave it at that. There are other funny people with good taste in music for you to talk to who you DON'T have possibly destructive dynamics with.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:19 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

I just don't know how to take the mess of background I've just laid out, and rectify what needs rectifying, to get things back to neutral ground.

Nothing, to my mind, needs rectifying. Tom is not in your life except with occasional email. You are not in a relationship with him which means you don't need to have those "What does it all mean?" conversations with him. He's in take it or leave it land, or should be. You are dating someone you like. I think maybe you are hoping you can have some sort of closure discussion with Tom at which point you can rest easy knowing

1. he will not start giving you the hot and heavy attention that started the wheels spinning towards you fucking him back in the day
2. you will not pick up on that energy and somehow screw up your current relationship by sleeping with him

However, as someone who has known and adored their share of terribly flakey flirts, I'm here to tell you it won't happen. Getting hung up on The Conversation you want to have with Tom is, in some way continuing to have a relationship with him.

When he asks "What's your deal" the best answer is "Oh I'm in a relationship with someone terrific. Next time you're in town maybe we can all meet up" or something that is friendly and clearly not "let's hook up." Tom doesn't really seem like someone who you need to work to maintain a friendship with and does not really deserve explanations other than you're with someone else.
posted by jessamyn at 3:22 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just say exactly what you said.

You don't even have to make it more polite. I think tactfulness works against you.

Seriously. Tell him exactly what you want. Don't fall back into the pattern of non-communication that you all have been in. Break the cycle. Move on.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:42 PM on November 9, 2010

Why bother?

Really, why bother with this at all? What good is going to come of this for either of you.

Personally, I'd drop the Facebook and emails and friendly chats. There's too much weird water under the funky bridge. That would be worth traversing for a great friendship, but this isn't worth the effort. You want to be Facebook buddies? Then just start doing that. You don't need a big postmortem. Just start treating him like an friendly acquaintance.
posted by 26.2 at 4:01 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tell him he's a "gentleman and a scholar," but you need to move on with your life. Wish him well, and break all contact. Tom is trouble. He boinks you when he feels like it, otherwise you don't really exist in his world. You know it and he probably does too. He won't be surprised, but be prepared for some half-hearted claims of hurt feelings on his part before he exits.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:18 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Titles Guy sucks, even years later after he stops being Titles Guy and turns into Porn Email Fuck guy. So I don't feel a lot of pity for him.

"Dear Tom. I'm now dating someone I like a lot, so I can't fuck you anymore. We can still be facebook friends, and we can still email about music sometimes. No hard feelings? Sincerely, Anonymous."

Then again, maybe don't listen to what I say, because once when I broke up with a guy, I told him I hoped he'd marry Chef Boyardee.
posted by millipede at 5:05 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Cliché alert: I could have written this. I have spoken to my version of Tom maybe twice since then, today being the second time. You know what talking to him brought me? Nothing good. Know how much I missed him in between the last time we talked and today? Almost none. I've thought of him often, even fondly, but I realize that our relationship was pretty toxic and he always had to be the one in control. I deserve better people than that in my life, and so do you. There's no real bad blood, just an understanding that my life is generally better without him. There was no grand "this is goodbye" email or chat or anything like that, I just let things fade like he did so many times, and he eventually got over it.

P.S. My version of great guy is still around, has never once treated me as poorly as my Tom consistently treated me, and being with him has just shown me over and over how silly I was to have wasted so much time and energy on my Tom.
posted by SugarAndSass at 5:17 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm trying to see why this is Toms issue. I can't.

You guys had a relationship. Clearly, it wasn't that serious on his part; that's what "vagueness" means. It had an end date coincident with his, you know, leaving. Apparently you were looking for "hey, I'm, you know, leaving, so we're done, so I'm going to proactively provide you with the closure you need", and you didn't get that, so you didn't let him not actually being around give you a clue to move on. Or something...I can't figure what exactly you expected. But you aren't happy.

Fast forward, no closure and you use Tom as an escape valve for a relationship you "wanted out of" by sleeping with him. And you end that relationship. And...fuck him some more. Everybody wins...or something. And then get in another relationship. And you're still wrapped around the axle with Tom.

Let me be blunt: Consider the possibility that comments like "[he] drastically minimiz[ed] our involvement in his own mind" probably mean you have drastically maximized your involvement in your own mind. He clearly wasn't committed to the same relationship you were. Tom is still nosing around because you're still a fuckable prospect. He thinks that because you are using him for things like "sex to justify ending other relationships". He wasn't going to give you what you were looking for before; why would he do it now.

Get help for your depression. Do whatever it is you need to get your head straight. And while you get your head straight, end the relationship with Tom, completely & permanently. But really, quit making this other peoples issue.
posted by kjs3 at 7:06 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

DTMFA. By which I mean, Tom. Having him in your life isn't good for you. No opinion on your new guy, who is apparently great. It's not clear how much you like the new guy, but Tom's a jerk and you don't owe him anything.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:50 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ideally, I would like to stay in touch with Tom a few times a year, and you know, casually comment on each other's Facebook updates

Why? That sounds like such a minor friendship that it's hard to imagine it being worth the drama of keeping this guy in your life - especially since he has not treated you well in the past, and has shown no qualms about manipulating you. He's going to create trouble for you if you keep him around, and what do you get in return?

he's a fantastic storyteller, and remains hilarious, and has alerted me to some excellent bands

This is a guy who, for all he's bringing to the table in your life, could be replaced by the This American Life Podcast. Get rid of him.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:52 PM on November 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

This is not about you being "bad at keeping in touch with friends" and you know that's disengenous if you're honest with yourself. This is about you not knowing the difference between a friend and an enemy.

Tom is at best an immature idiot, at worst a sociopath. He was never your boyfriend. It takes two to tango, and he clearly never thought he was dating you. Whether or not it would appear that way to the outside world or to you is irrelevant. Tom is also not your friend and was never your friend. He has no concern for your feelings and is treating you as an easily guiltable, available, validation-dispensing object. Yeah, you know how you say things like “He has good qualities, he’s a good storyteller and he’s brilliant and witty?” He’s fucking with you because you are willing to think and say things like that about him. It probably gives his ego a boost, yes indeed, gives him a nice, throbbing, swelling ego. Tom is a jackass. He doesn’t know himself, he certainly doesn’t know or care to understand you, and he’s a waste of your time, attention, and admiration. Delete his number, block his facebook, don’t worry about hurting his feelings (he’ll get over it – don’t assume that you should treat others how you’d want to be treated in this case: he clearly doesn’t care as much about you as you would care about him were the tables turned, so there’s no need to feel guilty) Resist the impulse to wonder about him, imagine him, or feel guilty. Focus on your boyfriend. When you run into Tom three years from now on the street, I hope you haven’t thought of him in months, he’s still a single jackass, only older, more worn, and less charming, and you’re happily committed with a fulfilling life. Then you can laugh and thank your past self for following this advice.
posted by Nixy at 11:05 PM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Um, just as your post is not really about your ability to keep in touch with friends, I think you do not really want to keep in touch with Tom for occasional innocuous contact.

Slam him shut, and in a while, you will have lost your taste for him (to mix metaphors).
posted by tel3path at 12:12 AM on November 10, 2010

I don;t think this person is a very good presence in your life. I'd be more blunt but I think the word is frowned upon on here.
posted by mippy at 4:58 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Downgrading to casual friends after having a relationship with a Tom (vagueness, noncommittal, fun times, bad decisions) is pretty much impossible. You can have as many "I don't hate you but I am in a great relationship and want little/no contact" conversations as you want, but until you cut it off you will stay attached and always think of him as an option in some back corner of your mind. I say this from personal experience. Tell him nothing or tell him you want no further contact, it's up to you. Do what you think is best, don't base it on "not hurting his feelings" or something, you certainly don't owe him that.
posted by coupdefoudre at 5:07 AM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with most the others here, and not seeing any benefits to continuing to be "friends" with Tom. I'm not sure at all why it's worth your time or energy, but somehow you seem to have convinced yourself that it would be the 'right' thing to do, or that you have a positive impact at all on each others' lives.

I'd venture to say your problem is not actually that you don't know how to say this to Tom, but that you don't know how to deal with the fact mentally that you will be happier to live in a world without interactions with Tom- and that means you have to give up the backburner spot he's held in your head.

The thing about entanglements like this is after awhile, they've taken up so much time and mental energy wondering what the hell was going on, that eventually we have a hard time conceiving of our life without this person. Additionally, the Final Conversation Where The Truth Is Explained seems like it would be such a freeing experience and tie everything up nice and neat. It won't.

This isn't about your depression. This isn't about how you are as a friend. This is about how you need to let go, and continue on with your new relationship and let yourself be happy.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:05 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

You need to ask yourself why you would possibly want to refurbish this weird dramatic non-relationship into a friendship? I'm assuming because on some level you still have feelings for Tom and/or love drama in your life. I also imagine that behind the part of the brain where you think this is a question about being in touch with old friends, you are also hoping that this friendship might lead into the relationship you really want with Tom someday.

Face the facts - someone like Tom will never be a good boyfriend, and will never fulfill you in the way you would like. If you are honest about that with yourself, do you still want to be friends?

Personally I would go cold turkey on someone like this and probably never speak to him again if possible. Once you do that I think you will come to realize that being facebook friends isn't very appealing.

This is a guy who, for all he's bringing to the table in your life, could be replaced by the This American Life Podcast. Get rid of him.

posted by rainydayfilms at 8:18 AM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't think you can refurbish this relationship. He's the kind of person who is constantly re-writing his personal narrative and history to suit his ego. In his mind you are the easygoing fuck buddy who thinks he is super awesome and can't resist. In something more like reality, you'd like your romantic partners to treat you with respect, and the people you let get close to you should have your best interests at heart.

You probably want to think you're still the funny, cool, easy going, relaxed person who knows really awesome music like you were when you were with him. I think all along, you are really a bit more discriminating than that, a bit more "uptight" which I mean in the most flattering way possible. Uptight and discriminating are good things, they keep you away from creeps like him— embrace it.

He is probably not capable of understanding this, and unable to view you differently. I can't imagine this guy being able to reframe this relationship into the polite, coffee-date every odd month, facebook link sharing, old buddy kind of relationship.

also Ragged Richard wins at the internets.
posted by fontophilic at 9:48 AM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

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