Friendly? Sure. Friends? No thanks.
November 13, 2010 9:48 AM   Subscribe

My ex wants to be friends. I don't really.

She broke up with me, and treated me pretty bad. I was pretty torn up for a long time afterwards. I was angry, hurt, and depressed for months, and I'm still dealing with some of the financial fallout.

I've moved on, dated several people since then, got a nice happy life. I don't really care if I ever see her or talk to her again. I've seen her out and we are friendly in the way that casual acquaintances are friendly.

But she's been making overtures lately, saying she wants to be friends and asking questions about my life. I'm not really comfortable with this. A naturally arising friendship, if we happened to find ourselves in the same circles and doing the same things again, might be fine, but I don't really like the idea of spending time maintaining a relationship of any sort with her.

But I don't want to tell her to sod off either.

So what's a friendly (but not too friendly) way to say: "hey, I'm not really interested in maintaining a friendship with you right now" without burning bridges?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (41 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"hey, I'm not really interested in maintaining a friendship with you right now"
posted by TheOtherGuy at 9:50 AM on November 13, 2010 [10 favorites]

Tell her it is still too painful now, but maybe after some more time has passed you can be friends.
posted by meepmeow at 9:52 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Nothing personal, but I've moved on and I'm happy with where I am right now and I don't want to maintain a friendship with you at this time. I wish you the best." Most decent people will be accepting of this. If she argues, it's pretty easy to make that a decent breaking point. There's some chance she feels guilty and wants to make amends, but it's really up to you whether that's something you want to participate in. It's totally okay for it not to be.
posted by jessamyn at 9:54 AM on November 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

You could just say

Hey, I'm not really interested in maintaining a friendship with you right now

That seems pretty good. You could also set up an email filter to drop all their email into the spam bucket and not answer phone calls when it's them. If you want my permission to do that they you have my permission. Neither of these is what I'd call rude.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:54 AM on November 13, 2010

Personally, my ex strategy has always been to ignore all modes of telecommunication and carefully keep in-person communication brief, light, and vague. "Yeah, we should really hang out sometime!" and "Yeah, I can never hear my phone/ I always leave my chat up/ I'm so bad at responding to e-mail". I haven't ever been pressed too hard, not a lot of advice if she's persistent.
posted by EtzHadaat at 9:55 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your ex treated you poorly and caused you financial hardship? Tell them! You're not dating anymore so there's no need to spare feelings. I think being honest about this will make you feel better, clear the air a bit and, who knows, maybe the ex will do something to try to make amends which eventually may lead to a friendship.

But, yeah, you owe them nothing.
posted by amanda at 9:57 AM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Just ignore, she'll get the picture eventually.
posted by Neekee at 10:03 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't tell her anything--it makes you vulnerable and exposed and gives her power via information.

But I like the idea of being straight about it, so you won't keep making overtures.

"I'm not really interested in being friends right now. I wish you the best."
posted by bluedaisy at 10:04 AM on November 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

So what's a friendly (but not too friendly) way to say: "hey, I'm not really interested in maintaining a friendship with you right now" without burning bridges?

You just answered your own question. "Hey, I'm not really interested in maintaining a friendship with you right now."
posted by John Cohen at 10:05 AM on November 13, 2010

I am sorry, you know I wish the best for you, but I think its best we keep our distance for now.
posted by Felex at 10:06 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

You cant have it both ways - you either tell her to sod off, and accept the consequences, or keep things as they are.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:10 AM on November 13, 2010

Sometimes, telling someone to sod off is the best thing for them - you're sparing them from any additional eneegy they may expend on hoping for more with you.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:12 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know this may seem passive aggressive, but ignoring her is fine. She treated you badly and you don't owe her anything. I think even saying, "I don't like you as a person" is fine.
posted by anniecat at 10:17 AM on November 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is a move im not really comfortable with, but i feel i would use it in your situation.

The next time she tries to make friends with you by asking questions, tell her u want to talk in private. Set up coffee or lunch together.

Dont show up. If she calls, say you forgot, make it look low priority.

Repeat, until she realizes that this relationship is not about her wants.

Total dick move...but i feel its necessary in your situation.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:21 AM on November 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

"hey, I'm not really interested in maintaining a friendship with you right now" has a lot of merit - its main advantage is saying exactly what you mean, simply. I think it's best not to say anything that isn't exactly what you mean like "maybe later", or anything purposefully vague, because she will interpret that as a cue to keep badgering you.
If it doesn't cause problems with mutual friends, you might want to pluck up some courage and tell her in no uncertain terms that you would rather never hear from her ever again. That way she will know to cut her losses and just get on with her life and you don't need to worry that you might be stringing her along. People often say "maybe" when they mean "no", because it's easier at the time, but it's kinder in the long run to say what you mean.
posted by nowonmai at 10:26 AM on November 13, 2010

Just as data points, my breakup proper took about a year to heal on the surface. That took care of "depressed", and some "angry". "Hurt", however, takes considerably longer, even though I know that nobody is looking. [I actually put some lingering "hurt" in two sentences I needed to write, and then deleted]
Last May, eleven years later, I've had the first opportunity to sit and drink tea with my ex without any stress and strife going on and without the now grown-up kids around. It was unexpectedly okay for the time being, but left me with a total "yeah, that's my past" kind of feeling.

So, bottom line, if you need time for yourself, you are entitled to claim it, just simply and matter-of-fact. "Sorry, this doesn't work for me right now" would be a great thing to say, for example.
posted by Namlit at 10:32 AM on November 13, 2010

if we happened to find ourselves in the same circles and doing the same things again, [that would be cool]

I'd say that. Hey, no ultra-hard feelings or anything, but uh, "FRIENDS-friends?" Why would I want that with you after what happened?
posted by ctmf at 10:33 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

You may not want to get dragged into a dialogue about this, in which case EtzHadaat advice works well. I wouldn't say "Let's get together" unless you mean it. Filter her email into a folder, and reply only occasionally. After a couple months, tell her you're you just aren't ready for a friendship.
posted by theora55 at 10:40 AM on November 13, 2010

I'd drop the "right now" or "at this time" part because it may be interpreted as "maybe later!" Even though you say this is true, it keeps the door open to her interpreting "later" as next week or next month, and thus continuing to make overtures. Keep it to "Sorry, this doesn't work for me. I am not interested in being friends." Add a "best of luck!" for added finality.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:44 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Where have you seen her? You've said "out"/
She could just be making awkward conversation and not know what else to say.
If it's at bars, she could just be doing that overly friendly drunk thing.

Maybe it's not something to look into so much. Could be nothing.

Until she starts emailing you or asking for your phone number - that's when you pretty much have to say, "I'm not ready for a friendship yet".
posted by KogeLiz at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2010

I came back to re-read your question because I wasn't clear how the "overtures" were being delivered.

The main issue is that someone who treats you badly + dumps you + leaves you with a financial mess to clean up on your own, sadly, is not your friend and can't be trusted. She may tell herself (and you) that she has good intentions towards you by trying to re-establish something, but that doesn't make it so. In fact, past behavior proves this is a negative influence that will bite you if you let it. Thankfully, your instincts and desires are not at odds with reality here.

Any response is just fine. If she calls or emails... you know you are free to ignore, delete, filter, etc. etc.... right?

I agree you should not give out any information about yourself, regardless of how you handle this. An overblown explanation of "why" you decline further friendship is not necessary. The simple statement you provided and repeated by other answerers is just fine as a response to any email overture.

Speedbump this distraction and get back to your real life. Embrace the Happy. Don't let this trouble or confuse you one more minute. You know what you want to do here. It's OK to do that!
posted by jbenben at 10:46 AM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

This ex doesn't deserve your friendship.
Several years ago I was in a similar situation.
Bad break up, hurt feelings and yet she still wanted to be my friend.
What finally cemented never hearing from her again was when she decided to attempt to approach me after a class. Looking back now, I probably could have handled the situation with a bit more class, but I told her to fuck off.
Let me tell you, it was the most wonderful thing I could have done for myself during that time.
It felt great and I haven't talked to her since.
The act of telling her off was certainly a healing one, and I got to take care of two birds with one stone. 1.) telling her how I felt about her, 2.)Squashing any future attempts of communication.

Best of luck to you!
posted by handbanana at 11:03 AM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

I don't think you need help with how to say it; I think you need permission to ignore or actively discourage someone you don't want to hang out with. This probably means you're basically a generous person (a dickhead would just have told her to sod off without any debates about technique).

Let's take the baggage out of the equation for a bit - knowing what you now know, would you want to be friends with her even if you weren't the injured party? If the answer is no, then there's really nothing to sort out.

Let's take my "friend" "Fred" as a similar instance. Fred has invited me to lunch on several recent occasions (I went with him twice), is a member of a civic club I'm in, and we have a mutual friend. Fred keeps wanting to discuss certain things about my life that I don't really want to discuss. I think he fancies himself as some kind of "life coach" or consultant, and I think he calls himself giving me some kind of free sample of enlightenment and then maybe start dropping me a bill every now and then. I'm not sure, but I don't really want to spend any more time with Fred to find out. Now, this doesn't mean that I can't work with Fred on a club project, and if he sits next to me at the club meetings I'm not going to move, but it does mean that I am within my rights to decline lunch invites, etc. I'm just not that into him, so to speak, and I don't think I owe him the right to get any closer. Plenty of people have done the same to me, and I'm not mad at them, nor would I have a right to be if I was.

Hope I haven't belabored that example, but it's okay to be "friendly" to people without being "friends." It doesn't make us shallow people - on the contrary I think it makes us selective and better friends with more time to spend with those we've really clicked with us. If I saw Fred on the side of the road with a flat tire, I'd be glad to help him, but that doesn't mean I want to start commuting to work with him.

This seems unlikely to be a good idea, but let's say you see potential for a great relationship, but this past baggage needs to be sorted out. Then that would be the conversation, BEFORE any hanging out or being friendly took place. "Yeah, I'd be willing to be friends with you. But there's the fact that I'm paying off your $30,000 student loan that I signed on/credit card bill/car payment/whatever to avoid ruining my credit. I think you need to tell me how you're going to help clean up that mess." Odds are good that starting the conversation that way would guarantee a rapid cooling of the detente (IOW, you'll never hear from her again).

Most ex-s are 'friends' the way me and Fred are 'friends.' If two people who were once lovers get to where they really, really enjoy one another's company, we typically call that a "reconcilation," which is fine if it's mutually agreeable and the things that caused the breakup are resolved.

But I think most ex's who associate with each other are either 'doing it for the children,' which I approve of if it makes the children's lives easier, somewhat forced together (ex. they work at the same place), or at least one of them is playing some kind of a game. In her case, I suspect the latter. As your subtitle suggests, there's a difference between being 'friendly' (i.e. courteous) and being 'friends.'
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:32 AM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

"those we've really with us."
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:34 AM on November 13, 2010

Why don't you want to tell her to sod off? Why don't you want to burn bridges?

She treated you badly and broke up with you. As the injured party, your need for space and to move on outweighs her need for... whatever it is she's doing (my top guesses: 1. assuaging her guilt; 2. manipulating you because she gets off on that).

My recommendation is to just say, "I don't want to maintain a friendship with you."

That said, if you want to maintain the option of being friends in the future - and I'm not sure why you would, but that's how I interpret your "burning bridges" comment - then I'd go with, "I need more time."
posted by J. Wilson at 12:02 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My experience with this went something like: ex broke my heart, then would occasionally make overtures, which I jumped at, since I was still in love with her. Each episode ended more painfully than the last and took longer for me to get back to normal after. I'd say be straight up with her and find out what she's getting at. If she really just wants to be friends, say goodbye, change your number, and never ever talk to her again, ever. My 2 centavos.
posted by Astragalus at 12:03 PM on November 13, 2010

You know, here's a thought. Rather than just say "I don't really want to be friends with you right now", which is normally what I'd suggest, return her interest with your own: "I understand that you're prepared emotionally to be friends with me, and that you've put our relationship issues behind you. However, I've been dealing with the financial issues that you left behind for me; are you sincere enough in your desire to be friends to make those things right?"

If her response is yes, and she follows up and fulfills her part of things, then perhaps it will help you maintain a friendship with her that you actually want. And, of course, if she says no, or says yes and then blows it off, you should be fully prepared to burn this bridge down -- after all, why should you continue to take on an emotional and financial burden, just so she can have the friendship that she wants?
posted by davejay at 12:43 PM on November 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

Several girls I've known have had a weird compulsion to make sure they're friends with all of their exes. I'll warn you now that this is likely to take more than one "no" before she gives up. I think your best bet is to respond as minimally as possible to her overtures.

The best way to say "I don't want to maintain a friendship with you" is to not make it about her, and if possible, not even make it about maintaining a friendship, but instead make it about you. "Hey Mary, sorry to respond to your e-mail a week later; crazy busy with things right now. Glad to hear you're doing well and want to be friends -- I'm in a good spot too. Happy to chat more when I next run into you. Until then, hope you stay well."
posted by ElfWord at 12:58 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I will let you know when I am comfortable with something like that." If pressed "that did not end well. I'm not ready or comfortable with anything now."

All topics she would love to avoid.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:00 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I could be in your ex's shoes. There is a boyfriend I dumped a few years back that I really would've liked to stay in communication with because I think he's an interesting person and I enjoy talking to him, but I know I hurt him and I know there were a couple times when I unintentionally treated him badly. (I know this question isn't about me because I did not do anything to hurt him financially, at least.)

I've tried since then to be friendly with him, as I know he's moved on and is happy with someone else, but he only gives me sort of curt/polite responses to my emails and ignored a happy birthday message I sent him. While I'm basically taking this all as a hint to drop it, he hasn't come right out and said he doesn't want to be friends with me. I sort of wish he would, but he's only ever been nice to me, which is just confusing.

So basically, if you don't want to be friends with her, just politely tell her that and genuinely wish her well.
posted by wondermouse at 1:15 PM on November 13, 2010

wondermouse: How is a situation in which you hurt your ex and treated him badly, and now he gives you only curt but polite responses to emails or else ignores you confusing? Because he hasn't come out and said "piss off" even though you haven't said "can we still be friends?"

OP: That example actually illustrates the point that if you want her to leave you alone, your best bet is going to be to tell her "I don't want to be friends. I wish you well." or something along those lines.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the curt and polite messages, a la wondermouse's ex, are exactly the right move.

I think, weirdly, saying to someone "you hurt me so much I can't talk to you" gives them the upper hand at the end of the relationship. It sort of is admitting that they still have some power over you or your emotions. By being curt and polite and nothing more, you don't ever give them that power. You're not the psycho ex or the pathetic ex they can blab about to their friends. You're just the ex, polite, level-headed, and moving on. You're in control of your life, and how they feel is no longer relevant to you. Act that way long enough, and it becomes true.

Wondermouse, I hazard a guess that this what is happening with your ex -- he is explicitly being extra-nice to you but in a curt manner precisely because he has achieved closure with your relationship. Re-opening it by saying "oh I can't be friends with you" would contradict his entire goal, which is to demonstrate that you no longer matter to him, because saying it would indicate that he still has some emotional reaction to you.
posted by modernnomad at 2:02 PM on November 13, 2010

Most everyone has it right, you don't owe her anything. It's nice that you seem to be concerned about doing the polite/classy thing--but don't let that come at the expense of your feelings. It's more important that you deliver the message: "not interested" than trying to tip toe around it with a polite delivery. You can be blunt and to the point without being rude or mean.
posted by the foreground at 3:07 PM on November 13, 2010

Looking over the responses...

If she tries to make things right like davejay says (by "make things right" I mean financial restitution), then maybe you can give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she fucked up, feels bad about it, wants to make things right. Hey...take the money. Then maybe you would see her in a different light.

But yeah, fucking someone up financially who put their trust in you, and not wanting to make things right...thats not someone I would want to be friends with.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:19 PM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Burn the bridge.

"I wish you the best, but I don't want to be friends with you. Good bye."
posted by phoebus at 9:32 PM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

nthing the "Hey, I'm not really interested in maintaining a friendship with you right now" approach. However, I would not preface that with "I'm sorry" or any other apology. It's not your fault you don't want to be friendly; it's hers.
posted by catlet at 7:52 AM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

How is a situation in which you hurt your ex and treated him badly, and now he gives you only curt but polite responses to emails or else ignores you confusing? Because he hasn't come out and said "piss off" even though you haven't said "can we still be friends?"

Because this happened a few years ago, he has still been nice, and the times we have been in social situations he's still nothing but nice to me. I could get the impression he's busy and just isn't on the computer very often, not that he doesn't want to know me at all anymore.

My point in saying any of this is that I'm just trying to illustrate how she could be feeling, if maybe his responses could also be read either way. That is to say that he should just be clear to her that he doesn't want to pursue a friendship with her, and he's okay with that. Arguing with my responses to my ex-boyfriend's short communications doesn't help the OP, because you aren't talking to his actual ex-girlfriend.
posted by wondermouse at 9:37 AM on November 14, 2010

Ignore her. You owe her nothing.
posted by zenm at 3:31 PM on November 14, 2010

hmm. i would just ignore.

here's the thing about even short, direct replies about not wanting to be friends- it keeps the lines of communication open. if i had an ex trying to contact me and i didnt want to talk to him, i would ignore. i would not WANT to tell him to leave me alone for fear of it turning into a conversation about why. and shit, i do NOT want to rehash any of that. i would just ignore until he stopped. (so for those of you who say you wouldn't stop talking to an ex unless they specifically tell you to leave you alone- maybe that's the hint they are trying to give.) but some people just wreck you so much that just seeing their name in your inbox or caller id makes you sort of feel like throwing up.

but . . . yeah. by saying you aren't comfortable being friends now, she might think that you might be friends later. and maybe she will think that a month later is later, start trying to contact you again. i'd just ignore completely and if at some point you do want to be friends, then you can contact her.
posted by lblair at 3:37 PM on November 14, 2010

"You know, I wish you all the best and the past is in the past, but honestly you treated me pretty shittily and I'm not ok with that. If we happen to see each other around, great. If we don't, well that's fine too."
posted by whoaali at 5:13 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

One final thought about this - people aren't mind readers. As much as people might think that someone should just "get the hint," the fact is a lot of times that hint isn't nearly as clear as you think it should be, especially when interacting in any way other than in person. Unless you come right out and tell her that you're not interested in being friends with her, she might always entertain the possibility and might keep trying again at later times. Hell, she might even think you'd appreciate talking to her again.

So if you like the idea of that happening by leaving things ambiguous, do that. If not, next time she starts trying to be your friend, just tell her the truth as unemotionally and politely as possible, as people have stated above. If she starts questioning you after that or gets upset, you've already spoken your piece and have no need to respond to her further. But hopefully she'd understand and respect your boundaries. You know her better than we do to know the most likely outcome of saying anything like that.
posted by wondermouse at 8:31 PM on November 14, 2010

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