Ex-fiance, mutual interests, awkward interactions
November 9, 2011 7:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with seeing and interacting with my ex at this event? And, actually, how do I deal with the breakup in general?

Two months ago my ex-fiance, John, ended our relationship. He and I had been dating seriously for five years.

John and I had been having issues in our relationship for the last year, which I thought were largely due to temporary problems. I was finishing graduate school, and we were living in a group house with two of our friends -- Emily and Katie. In addition to just the stress of living in a group house in an expensive city, Katie (my best friend at the time) was creating a lot of tension in the living situation, because she was picking fights with John, but also she and John were having lengthy emotional conversations. In late-August, I had finished grad school and John and I moved to a new place; I assumed that that would lift the stress on the relationship.

John broke up with me a week after we moved in to the new apartment. John then immediately started dating my former best friend, Katie. This is shitty for multiple reasons (even aside from the obvious!): I lost two of my closest friends, and I was basically supporting John for the last year and am in credit card debt because of that. Also, John has written me emails trying to make me feel guilty that I don't want to be friends with him, and is contacting my friends (who were never our mutual friends!) to try to have conversations with them.

I am not really emotional about the breakup because we were having problems, and ultimately he and I were not good together. I am emotional (specifically: angry) about my ex-fiance breaking up with me to date my ex-best friend.

Recently, John saw through social media that I was going to attend an event that fell into our mutual interests. He also RSVPed to the event. I think it is poor etiquette on his part to do so because 1. it is creepy that he poached the event off of my social media profile! and 2. I don't want to see him, and he knows it. I already paid to go to the event and I do not want to cancel. At this event, I don't know if I should ignore him, talk to him, or run away if I see him approaching.

What should I do, metafilter? Also, how do I mentally deal with this? Most relationship-filter questions have answers that seem to concern being functional, taking time off, and "taking it one day at a time." I don't think I'm having trouble with those things -- I am generally happy, have a full life with great friends, and am getting everything done and moving forward. But I am still furious about this whole situation. Aside from this specific event, John, Katie, and I live in a smallish city and our interests/hobbies do overlap, and there is high likelihood that there will be other events (that he may or may not poach from my social media profiles!) that we overlap on. How can I deal with this maturely? (with the sidenote that I don't think that I have it in me yet to be 100% civil if they try to talk to me)

If relevant: We are all in our late-20s. I am not having any contact with John or Katie, but we do have mutual friends.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the event. Don't ignore him, but keep any conversations he initiates on the short side (even if it means you have to pretend that you really have to pee or something).

I don't think that I have it in me yet to be 100% civil if they try to talk to me

Then don't be you when they talk to you. ACT. Be someone else in that moment. Come prepared with a script. Have bland, uninteresting things to say. If they seem to want to talk longer, abort with the bathroom excuse.

Don't start any drama. Believe me, it will just entangle you in their lives more and make things worse.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:12 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Start by unfriending him so he can't see your profile. Send him one email saying you don't want to see him for the foreseeable future and need your space.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:14 PM on November 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

You RSVPed to an event that you paid for -- go to it. If he tries to talk to you, refuse to speak to him. And block him on all forms of social media.

He sounds a LOT like my ex-fiance (except for the dating my best friend part). But my ex wanted to be friends after he broke my heart and destroyed my faith in humanity. He didn't understand why I didn't (couldn't) be friends with him. This is something you probably need to make clear to your ex. I did this by blocking my ex on Facebook. He texted me as soon as I saw and basically said he'd been FB-stalking me (commenting on EVERY SINGLE post I made, and had already said he used my FB wall to "check up on me and make sure I was okay"). My ex did feel guilty, and that "staying friends" was his way of alleviating his guilt. Well, he, like your ex, is a douche, and deserves to feel guilty. So make it excruciatingly clear that you want absolutely nothing to do with him by your actions, and he'll get the point. You can also ask him for that money back. Send him an itemized bill. Don't expect him to pay it, of course.

And I'm sorry he's such an asshole. That sucks, especially when it's someone you really care about and think you can trust.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:19 PM on November 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah.....go to the event. It could kind of suck, but you have to start somewhere. Just be cordial and cut the conversation short.

The whole "let's stay friends" thing sounds to me like he knows he did a crappy thing and is trying to make himself feel better. Eventually you two may end up being friends, but that will take time. Maybe if he talks to you at the event, it could be what you two talk about.
posted by lampshade at 7:22 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

How can I deal with this maturely? (with the sidenote that I don't think that I have it in me yet to be 100% civil if they try to talk to me)

What your ex is doing strikes me as bizarrely warped, callous, and selfish. I don't think it is at all outside the bounds of maturity to tell him the following:

-That you are extremely hurt and angry, and betrayed over all the circumstances surrounding the breakup.
-That his continuing to push contact on you is causing you a not-insignificant amount of distress.
-That you very seriously need him to respect that you do not want contact with him.
-That you do not want him contacting your friends.

If he shows up to this event, if I were you, I would do my best to just ignore him. If he approached me, I would take him aside and tell him with dead seriousness that I needed him to respect my wish for no contact.
posted by cairdeas at 7:22 PM on November 9, 2011 [12 favorites]

This situation is what the cut indirect was invented to solve. Go to the event, and pretend John and Katie are folks that you've never seen before, do not recognize, and have no wish to know. Keep an eye on him throughout, subtly, and maneuver such that he isn't able to corner you and force an interaction. You do not owe him one bit of interaction. The beauty of the cut direct is that it makes your intentions clear to him while maintaining an unimpeachable propriety with others.

Yes, the cut direct is intensely rude when misapplied or poorly executed. However, this is truly precisely the type of situation in which it is appropriate, adult behavior that doesn't draw others into your emotional business. Just do it, don't talk about doing it. Wave off any questions from outsiders, breezily if possible.
posted by amelioration at 7:24 PM on November 9, 2011 [17 favorites]

Oh. Oh no.

This guy is not the guy you thought you were planning to marry. At ALL.


That's a big revelation and it has only been two months. Process for a moment. Reprocess as much as possible. He is not who you think he was.


It's a sign of his character if he is (basically) stalking you. Wait! He's reaching out to friends that were never his AND he's signed on to this expensive event? He is stalking you.

Do Not Go. (sorry)

Do block him from your social media.

If this at all escalates, read that book we all link to for this, some one else will provide the title - I can't remember it!

Nip this DRAMA in the bud now by disavowing and walking away from every connection.

WOW. I just don't know what is going on with this person, but you might figure it out if you put this whole thing off for a year or two. DO NOT ENGAGE.


This isn't going anywhere you want to follow. I have a stalker that is an ex. Your narrative is absolutely indicative of something that can linger for years if you don't stop and cease right now.
posted by jbenben at 7:26 PM on November 9, 2011

Definitely unfriend, or block him if you can, so he cannot see your social calendar.

I dislike drama but I would ignore the hell out of him unless he approaches you. Pretend he is not there. If he approaches say hello and remove yourself from his immediate area. It sounds like he will go crazy if you ignore him. Let him get panicky.

It sounds like you are in a place of reason and moving forward. This is good because the last thing you want to do is unleash on him, or tell him, or the ex-friend, how hurt you are. What is that supposed to accomplish? Cry on the shoulders of people who actually care about you. With these people, act as if you are not phased. Do not engage and don't feel guilty about blocking or unfriending.
posted by Fairchild at 7:28 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ha! I don't mean you should walk away from your friends!

Just create absolutely as big of a buffer as possible. Done correctly, it should take a few months (I hope.)

Your ex is attempting to stir up shit. Don't fall for it and he will move on to more available avenues of drama. Like Katie's other best friend. Or whoever.

Just make sure it is not you.
posted by jbenben at 7:31 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're going to have to make it uncomfortable for him to be around you.

Have you thought about asking for your money back?
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:57 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Unfriend him right now. Go to the event and ignore him. It's ok: as was said above, you *don't* really know the person he is now. The man you thought you knew was not this guy. Ditto Katie. No drama, no conversation. If he comes over to say hi, tell him "I'm not interested in talking to you" quietly (keep your expression and tone neutral so nobody can notice and gossip) and move away.

More broadly: that thing about pressuring someone you dumped to be happy for you in your new life is the rankest sort of bullshit. Good for you for smelling it and failing to fall for it. Stay away.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:03 PM on November 9, 2011

I've had awkward encounters with ex's and when they've been obtusely interested in making conversation, my manner has been that of a cooly detached obviously uninterested person. I put up a wall of cold, detached civility -- the kind of response I'd give to a stranger on the street who's giving unwanted attention. I give a "fake" smile, a little nod and just walk away. Just walk away..
posted by loquat at 8:18 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to the event, and if he approaches you, I would ask him directly, but with a big smile on my face, if he plans on paying me back. And then I wouldn't talk to him again for the rest of the evening. I wouldn't necessarily endorse someone else behaving as poorly as I do, but I'd definitely make damn clear that he is in YOUR space, you two are NOT friends, and the only thing you want from him is the money he owes you.
posted by mornie_alantie at 8:20 PM on November 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do you have a friend who plans to attend who can support you and/or run interference? When my ex-husband turned up in certain spaces/at certain events of mutual interest, it was always very helpful to me to have someone to buffer/rescue me/etc.

Nthing that you should unfriend him/remove his access on all social networks so he doesn't continue to catch events off your profile. He may still turn up places--mine did--but at least you won't be giving the pointer that gets him there.
posted by immlass at 8:21 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yikes. I feel for you, and I concur with jbenben that he is stalking you - probably because he knows he did a bad thing (re Katie) but also because he's getting no jollies from the fact that you are taking your breakup so well! Good on you!

I was once in a similar situation. He too pressured me to be 'friends' but by then I'd realised he was toxic. Your ex also sounds toxic.

My opinion:
YOU OWE HIM NOTHING, not goodwill, not politeness, nothing. Go to the event and ignore him. If he corners you or makes a scene, ignore him. Walk away, don't engage, just ignore ignore ignore.

Remove him from all social media.

Any time your friends mention that he has contacted them, laugh. "Oh dear, not again! You can ignore him if you like, I do. He is not friend material." and then forget about it. Repeat as required. Do not engage.

Don't play nice, don't play nasty, just don't play.
posted by Kerasia at 8:29 PM on November 9, 2011 [11 favorites]

Oh, forgot to add: Go to the event! Not going would mean he has won, somehow.
posted by Kerasia at 8:33 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

These people are nothing to you. There will be plenty of strangers at the event; these are just two more strangers. No reason to skip the event. Go and enjoy it.

If you run into them, it's always good to remember that they deserve each other. Give them a detached hello and walk away.
posted by 26.2 at 8:44 PM on November 9, 2011

I say go to the event. I agree with suggestions to act like he's a stranger and not engage either one.

To me, it sound like he's a bit demented. He broke up with you, started dating your ex-BFF, and is now following your moves through FB. I would think that maybe he wants to see what kind of reaction you have to all this. Almost like satisfying his curiosity. Maybe he wants to see if you look hurt when you see him/her, if you cause dramatics or trying to get some sort of rise out of you. It could be a jealousy type plan, and if that's the case go with your best poker face. Never show any emotion towards them and avoid avoid avoid!
posted by Sweetmag at 9:11 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Unfriend him immediately and do not send a note explaining anything. He's not an idiot and knows exactly why you're doing it. (And why didn't you do this already? I mean really.)

Ignore him at the event but if he does manage to speak to you, tell him it's great to see him and ask him if he has the money he owes you. "Hello, John, good to see you. I'm glad I ran into you because I wanted to ask you if you have the money you owe me. No? Well, when you do could you put a check in the mail. Enjoy your evening." Walk away.

If Katie is there, don't speak to her at all, just a small tight smile and a slight head nod. No drama, just ice cold politeness. And if you haven't unfriended her already, please do so.

Look great but not like you're trying too hard.

For any future emails, if they come from outside Facebook, should be met with a reply email containing an itemization of money owed. Nothing else. Every time.
posted by shoesietart at 10:58 PM on November 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Practice saying, "Get away from me and go fuck yourself" with a smile on your face. Reserve this to use only if you are cornered. Ignore him as best you can but go and have the rewarding time that YOU deserve to have.

Otherwise, unfriend him online and at this social event -- you do not owe him friendship and he doesn't deserve it.
posted by motsque at 11:02 PM on November 9, 2011

If you see him, only speak if he acknowledges you. Give him a brief, tight smile, then explain you have something else to do and walk away.

If he approaches you again, say something along the lines of "I do not wish to speak to you nor continue to be your friend. Please remove me from social media/telephone/e-mail/communication, as I have done the same with you."
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:07 AM on November 10, 2011

As everyone else is saying, totally block him off. Unfriend him on facebook, don't accept his text messages or phone calls, send his emails to the trash. (Ditto for Katie, by the way.) Delete him from your life. But go to your event, preferably with a friend; if John tries to corner you, it'll be harder with a friend to support you and maybe even run interference.

Go, and use the 'cut direct' that amelioration mentions; if he DOES force you to interact with him, maintain a facade of bland civility towards him --- remember that NOT getting a big reaction from you, whether yelling or tears, will drive him NUTS. And extra points to you if the friend you take to the event is a major GQ-type hunk your ex doesn't know!

Finally, keep telling yourself that the good news in all this is that he's your ex-FIANCE: you've been fortunate to find out precisely what kind of person he really is BEFORE you married him.
posted by easily confused at 1:33 AM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with jbenben that he has crossed the line into stalking and you need to take that seriously.

It's great that you don't have a strong emotional attachment to him and are pretty much okay on that front.

My inclination would be to not pursue him for the money he owes you but to write it off instead. Partly because I think he is going to use keepaway games to make it harder for you to disengage, and he may even turn it around on you (through overpayment which he then has to pursue you for, or some such). But also because I think you may not have fully picked up on what part the money plays in why you have a problem.

John is systematically stripping you of every resource you have, and this started with the money. First he took your money, then he took your best friend, and now he is trying to take over your friends and your social life (if this is a professional interest, it's even more serious).

As has already been pointed out, his attendance at the event crosses the line into stalking. If he hadn't crossed this line I'd say the cut indirect would be enough. But I think you have to not go.

Again, if he hadn't crossed the line by contacting your friends, I would do the "oh, that weirdo, just ignore him" thing, but since he has crossed the line I think you need to be firmer than that. You should know that it's quite common for sociopathic types to try to take over your social circle in this exact way in order to discredit you. I would therefore not delay in telling your friends, and any other contacts you think need to know, in a matter-of-fact way, "If a man called 'John Stalker' contacts you, please do not let him have any information about me, and please do not mention me on any social media where he could see it." I would also suggest that you send a brief message to John saying "I do not want you to contact me in any way, ever again, and if you do I will view it as harassment and I will escalate this." This is as much for courtesy's sake as for legality - he may be a filthy horrible stalker, but if you're going to tell everyone else that, you don't want him to have the ultra-humiliation of being the last to know; that would be bad tactics as well as bad manners.

And then once you've done this, don't waver. People should take a request like that seriously, and anyone who doesn't - cut 'em off.

You want a success story about drawing lines like this? When I was in college I saw this note taped next to my friend's front door: "If a man called 'Joe Pseudonym' asks for me, do not let him in, don't engage him in discussion, and don't give him any information about me." When I asked my friend about this he said, "Well he told me X, Y, and Z, but his behaviour contradicts it, and I know that not-X, not-Y, probably not-Z, and I also know that his name isn't 'Joe Pseudonym'."

A couple of years later I read in the national news about the antics of a con artist and grifter named 'Joe Pseudonym' so my friend's instincts were absolutely right. He took action in a straightforward and factual way and he did it before any damage was done, while he was still suspicious.
posted by tel3path at 3:51 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

read that book we all link to for this

I suspect The Gift of Fear is what is meant there. I have it out of the library myself due to the Hive Mind's influence, and it has some very useful material.
posted by endless_forms at 5:52 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to event. Ask for your money back. If he pushes on "Why can't we be civil/friends/whatever" ask him point blank - "So, how long were you and Katie sleeping together while we were all living in the same house?"

Because, from the description you gave, he was. Hence Katie picking fights with him and the long emotional talks. Once you moved out, he couldn't keep up the pace of seeing her and you without you under the same roof, which is why it ended so quickly.

I'd ask the question in front of a big group of mutual friends for added effect.
posted by rich at 6:39 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

(oh, when I said "ask for you money back" I mean from John, the jackass.. not from the event. Go to the event. Have fun. Make him look like an asshat.)
posted by rich at 6:40 AM on November 10, 2011

Do not engage. Although I think asking about being payed back counts a brief, polite conversation in this case. But don't wait around for an answer, just say something like " if you can, send a check" and then wander off to talk to real people.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:32 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been through a breakup that was not at all antagonistic, but it was still difficult to go to events where I knew/expected that my ex would also be there. Sometimes I would have to leave early because it was just difficult. And that's OK.

What John has done in this particular instance is shitty (along with being shitty in the bigger picture), but as you note, you've got to be prepared to run into him at other events even if he isn't snooping your social-media activity. You obviously can't let his potential presence at these events keep you away. So go, be prepared for the fact that it may be emotionally difficult, and if you're really not having a good time, leave.

If he approaches you, be direct and say "No, we're not cool, and I'm not interested in being friends. Excuse me." Then find something more interesting to do without engaging him further.

And remember, as they say, living well is the best revenge.
posted by adamrice at 7:46 AM on November 10, 2011

John has a supremely guilty conscience. John also believes that he can rehabilitate his image in his own mind and in the minds of others by pretending that the two of you are still on friendly terms even though he did something really hurtful, and you suffered as a result. He might also be trying to rationalize his actions as being not really all that awful by hurrying up and strong-arming you into friendship.

I also wouldn't be surprised if John and Katie aren't all John thought they'd be, and that he is laying the ground work for a possible reconciliation attempt. All those "emotional" conversations he was having with Katie while still with you have probably turned into extremely emotional conversations, all colored now by their collective guilt over massively screwing you over. That's probably not what John bargained for when he was wallowing in all that intense, sexually charged "emotion" with Katie.

Go to the party. Look fantastic. Take a good friend with you as your date, somebody who makes you feel great and who'll have your back. Hold your head up high and deflect any conversation with John by being cool, polite, and unavailable, pretty much the "cut-indirect" linked above but with the faintest, briefest whiff of recognition, which says, "Yes, I see you and that is the end of it. Good evening." You don't owe John anything. He made his choice and now he's going to have to live with it. De-friend him in life and on the internets.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:06 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thank you all for your advice! It seems like the consensus is that I should be cold but polite, but if pressed to act a bit mean. I will try to do that. Judging from the email exchange we had while in the process of breaking up and sorting out administrative stuff, I definitely agree that he wants a reaction from me (and that giving him that would bring him satisfaction in some weird way).

Some clarification notes: At the end of the relationship I did an income-proportional calculation of the credit card debt, and asked John for his share of it. He said that he would do his best to pay it but that it would be in "fits and starts." I don't expect to ever see any of that money because he does not really have his shit together, makes less than I do, and is bad with money.

John is not a sociopath or a stalker. It's definitely more about him feeling guilty about this, and trying to feel better about himself. I'm pretty sure that the reaching out to my friends thing is in search of a sign that what he did was okay. It isn't, and they don't respond to him.
posted by jessamyn at 11:55 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

John is not a sociopath or a stalker. So we hope. If there's any more of this, I would give serious thought to telling him that he's starting to come across like a stalker and that if he keeps it up, you will give serious thought to relating as much to the relevant authorities.

That aside, another vote for going to the event, being cool-icy.
posted by ambient2 at 12:12 PM on November 10, 2011

Hopefully not to derail, but people aren't always sociopaths or stalkers; He clearly feels bad about what he did, and is doing all he can to think that he can make it better. Which he cannot. I feel that this is pretty normal human behaviour. Hopefully he gets the picture sooner rather than later. When the forbidden fruit goes rotten because it was based on fantasy he will find himself very alone and hopefully realize why.

Good luck OP. Sounds like you're pretty shit together and awesome.
posted by dobie at 9:19 AM on November 16, 2011

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