Should I attend a close friend's party knowing that a certain foe will be in attendance?
November 14, 2011 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Some of my friends are having a party and have invited an emotionally unstable individual with whom I've had some stressful clashes. Should I attend knowing there's a good chance I'll get in a fight, or should I say I can't make it to spare my friends the drama?

These types of posts are notorious for offering sided explanations of the problem, so I'll try to be objective in my explanation.

Roughly a year ago, I had a strange falling out with a mutual friend. We had vague plans for a road trip and were trying to iron out the details on when we would leave, etc. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I suddenly had to drop plans for the road trip and asked if we could reschedule.

I got no response for more than a week and went on with life. After a few days, though, I realized I was being ignored.

One day, out of the blue, I received a long email from him. Inside he outlined in excruciating and disturbing detail everything that I had done to upset him over our entire friendship. He listed everything from jokes that he found offensive to a night I had to leave a party early because my girlfriend was sick. Mind you, these were not recent events. They happened months ago, and I heard nothing from him until after the road trip fiasco. Apparently he'd been keeping a record of slights and making no effort to communicate them until now.

I was completely floored, as this seemed like an enormous over-reaction to canceling a road trip, and clearly there was some bigger personal issue at play. So I took a few days to think about how or if to respond. Eventually I decided to send a simple email saying that I was sorry for canceling the trip (which presumably what he was angry about in the first place) and offering an olive branch by suggesting that we meet sometime to discuss it.

I expected some kind of response and a quick lowering of tempers but instead I got another shitty, angry email, even longer than the first. Upon reading I realized it was basically a "friend breakup" email, telling me that my sins were beyond forgiveness and we couldn't be friends anymore. I didn't respond to this one and instead let it go.

I sort of expect it to end there. I decided to take him at his word and assume that, for whatever reason, this road trip thing had really set him off. But I still had a situation once a month or so where I might see him in the company of our mutual friends. In those cases, I usually ignored him or kept conversation very light. The last time, though, he made a point of taking me aside in a bar and telling me that I was a "fucking asshole". I really have a hard time understanding this sort of behavior. It had been almost six months since that stupid road trip, and he was still as irrationally angry as he was in his email.

Despite the time since the initial incident, my opinion of this guy has fallen sharply over time. I now see him as a childish person who is unable to deal with conflict in an adult manner.

Now I'm faced with a looming social event where he will most certainly be in attendance, and I'm uncertain how best to handle this situation. I definitely don't want to be around him, but I also don't want to let the conflict spread to my friends by telling them I don't go if he's there. I don't think it's possible to resolve the initial conflict at this point, so I've just chosen to avoid him, but in this case avoiding him means letting him interfere with my personal life. What is the most civil way to handle this awful and awkward situation?
posted by deathpanels to Human Relations (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If the only thing you have to worry about is this person taking you aside and telling you that you're a fucking asshole, you need to decide whether the other potential positives of the party are worth that downer.

If you're worried he's going to start some deeper drama, you might ask your friend who's throwing the party "hey, is my being there going to be an issue for Person X? A while back, he wrote me some really nasty emails, and has taken me aside and told me I was a fucking asshole the last 3 times I've seen him."
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:32 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You do have some control here- a fight with this person is not a certainty. Go to the party, but avoid, avoid, avoid. If this guy enters a room you are in, find the nearest exit to another room and use it. You aren't locked into a confrontation with him- just ignore him. If he tries to speak to your start something, just walk away- let him cause the scene, not you.
posted by LyndsayMW at 1:33 PM on November 14, 2011

Personally, that kind of shit stresses me right out even in abstract, and I would be unable to enjoy myself before, during, or after the event knowing this level of resentment, anger and possible confrontation would be brewing, and I would be constantly agonising about it and running scenarios in my head all the time leading up to and after.

If you sound like me, and you see your friends pretty regularly anyway, then don't show up. No one needs that kind of tension.

If you're more courageous than I, by all means go, but if you're not gonna enjoy yourself, what's the point?
posted by smoke at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you don't want to be around him, but you don't want to talk to your friends about it, then you don't have any option but staying home and not telling anyone.

With that said, I would rather my friends let me know what's going on and why they're staying home. You don't have to present it as anything other than a heads up.
posted by Jairus at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to the party, avoid, be polite if you can't avoid him, if he tries to fight don't engage, if he makes it so that it's interfering with the party or you just can't ignore it, then leave.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't go, and don't tell your friends.

If anyone asks why you're not going, say "well I'd appreciate it if we could keep this between ourselves, but Sy Coe and I had a falling out some time ago, and even now he expresses hostility towards me when he sees me - name-calling, that sort of thing. I really don't feel comfortable being anywhere that he's going to be, so I'm just staying out of his way altogether from now on."

It may come out that a number of your friends have had similar experiences. They may be more sympathetic than you expect.
posted by tel3path at 1:36 PM on November 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Unless you expect a blow-up, it's okay to go to the party, and if he confronts you, calmly say, "I know that you and I are not friends anymore, but we are both separately friends with Julie. So let's just enjoy this party separately, okay?"

If anyone asks, it's okay to say you had a falling out, but how 'bout that local sports team/those awesome shoes/the latest album by your local band? Acknowledge and deflect. Just because he doesn't act like an adult when it comes to conflict doesn't mean you can't.
posted by juniperesque at 1:45 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Go. Enjoy yourself. Don't deliberately put yourself in his path. If he decides to confront you, look him in the eye and tell him this isn't the time or place to air his dirty laundry. If you don't engage, and he has no traction, he'll either give up or out himself as childish and petty.

This isn't about you; you're over it. He isn't. Be above it and don't let it control your actions.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 1:46 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I couldn't possibly enjoy myself knowing my nemesis was there, and I cannot believe the people suggesting you go and "enjoy yourself" would either. I guess some folks haven't had somebody like this in their lives. I have, and I'd skip the party. It will go on fine without you. Get together with your friends someplace else.

I'd absolutely tell every person with ears about this nemesis, btw, but that's me.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:49 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you want to go, since you said he would be interfering with your social life if you stayed home.

I would go, ignore him, and if he pulls you aside again, say, "Hey, I get it, we're not friends anymore. Let's not ruin the party," and then join a different conversation as soon as possible so he can't engage you further.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:50 PM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]

I had a guy do this to me. My mistake was mutually breaking up with my fiance which apparently really upset him... somehow. So much so that he had to pull me aside at a party and call me an asshole for 20 minutes.

Turns out he had major depressive issues and had been systematically alienating everyone over the tiniest of slights. I found this out when a few days later I mentioned him blowing up on me out of nowhere.

So maybe it isn't so much about you but about misplaced anger. I wouldn't want to be his friend anyway, but you did seem confused about where it was coming from.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:52 PM on November 14, 2011

Don't skip going to the party though.

Here are the possible scenarios:
#1 he doesn't engage you, you win
#2 he does engage you, you disengage immediately and that's that, you win
#3 he does engage you, you disengage but he makes a huge scene; it's awkward but he is clearly the one ruining the party

#3 is the worst case scenario but you come out of it well and he doesn't.

Don't let shitty people ruin fun things for you.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:58 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

You don't have to attend every fight you are invited to.

Remember that.
posted by bilabial at 2:02 PM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

Oh, you totally flaked on him about the road trip, didn't you.

Whether you go or not is kind of a facet of character. I wouldn't go if it was just one thing, but it sounds like this is pretty much an issue of inheriting the friends, so you might want to either chin-up and endure the moment of punishment you get with the view that it'll probably abate with time, or start working to patch things up.
posted by rhizome at 2:07 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's a lot of trouble for you to get to/from this party, or it's a fancy affair, or a sit-down event, I'd recommend skipping it. If it's something you can just pop over to (i.e. no drive time, no dressing up), chill out on the opposite side of the room from him, moving away as necessary (i.e. not a sit-down thing), leave if it's turning bad and you're in a part of town with a good pub you can go enjoy yourself at instead, then heck yeah, go to the party, and if it's not working out, just leave.

Also, to add to OnTheLastCastle, beware of #4: he does engage you, you attempt to disengage, but he pushes your buttons, and you accidentally say something hurtful (4a) to him in the moment, or (4b) about him afterwards (to mutual friend, who decides from your tone of voice that the other guy must be the kicked underdog). It is in fact very possible to have the best of intentions yet manage to make yourself look bad in the heat of the moment.
posted by aimedwander at 2:08 PM on November 14, 2011

I'd go. If he engaged me, I'd ask him "did you come to this party to have a good time, or did you come just to rag on me?" I'd leave unstated the possibility that the two are the same for him.
posted by adamrice at 2:13 PM on November 14, 2011

I'd go to the party because I don't cower to bullies. Not everyone needs to like you and this dude doesn't. It's his thing and there's really no reason for his grudge carrying to impact you at all.

Go. Have fun. Don't let the guy get you alone because it's a big waste of time.

But definitely go. Otherwise you're letting someone bully you out of your friendships. He's just not worth it.
posted by 26.2 at 2:25 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I hate to mention it, but if you don't go there is a possibility he still says the nasty things about you - to everyone else in attendance:

"Yeah, deathpanels has been a real fucking asshole lately. Let me tell you what he did to me..."

How would your friends react to that kind of situation? Keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to go. There's a lot of AskMes that start "My ex-friend said some things about me at a party, and now the whole group has ostracized me".
posted by I am the Walrus at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should go. Don't let him decide who gets to socialize with your friends. I would have to agree with I am the Walrus on this one.

Others have suggested you be prepared with varying strategies depending on his behaviour. This, many times over, is a great idea. It's much harder to get thrown for a loop by other's actions if you have prepared yourself mentally.

You have no control over what this guy does, but you are in control of what you do about it. What will make you feel better in the long run? For me, confronting problems allows me to move past them.
posted by annsunny at 3:07 PM on November 14, 2011

Go to the party, but rather than this...

"I know that you and I are not friends anymore, but we are both separately friends with Julie. So let's just enjoy this party separately, okay?"

If you go and he attempts to talk to you, I wouldn't ask his permission. I'd just say "This party isn't about us, it is about [the person who threw it], and I am going to go be a good guest now." Then walk away.

Of course, if he follows you or starts shouting, walk over to the person whose party it is, or some other important figure in the group, and ask them how they're enjoying the party. Now he'll have to make a scene that involves them, too, and that should derail him.

And if that doesn't derail him, and he's set on making a scene, don't run. Just stand with the important party figure, watch him freak out, and generally take the high road. No taunting, no anything, and no attempting to explain the situation. If pressed, a simple "I honestly don't understand what's going on with him" will do nicely.
posted by davejay at 3:17 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd absolutely tell every person with ears about this nemesis, btw, but that's me.

This sounds like a really bad idea to me. That would be increasing unnecessary drama, not reducing it, not to mention acting just as childishly as the foe in question. The foe is not a "nemesis". They are an ex-friend whose drama doesn't need any encouraging.

Go to the party. You're there to spend time with your close friends, and not to engage in clashes with someone whose company you no longer enjoy.

It takes two to have an argument. Don't be the second person.
posted by talitha_kumi at 3:36 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

It sounds like he only strikes out at you when other people are not present. Engage in a pact with your girlfriend or friend that you came with that you will be "rescued" if it looks like he's trying to get you alone. Don't put that pressure on one of the hosts, though; they'll be busy.
posted by Morrigan at 4:52 PM on November 14, 2011

If anyone asks why you're not going, say "well I'd appreciate it if we could keep this between ourselves, but Sy Coe and I had a falling out some time ago, and even now he expresses hostility towards me when he sees me - name-calling, that sort of thing. I really don't feel comfortable being anywhere that he's going to be, so I'm just staying out of his way altogether from now on."

This is known in common parlance as spreading gossip and being a drama queen.

You can't make it, you have a family commitment or somesuch. Hopefully next time! Etc.
posted by hermitosis at 4:55 PM on November 14, 2011

It isn't spreading gossip if you're unable to deflect the question with "terriblysorrycan'tmakeit".

The odds of anybody pressing you with that much questioning are, frankly, remote. I can imagine very few scenarios in which you would get that much questioning - perhaps for or on behalf of a puzzled host who wonders whether to take it personally, and your relationship with the host is probably good enough that the question wouldn't arise.

But if someone were to corner you and interrogate you, I don't see what is wrong with telling the truth. You can't count on people's keeping confidences, so you have to use your judgement.

All this scenario planning is mainly to set your mind at rest so that you can, as you say you want to "not go, and not tell your friends". Most likely you will be able to do that without anyone's turning a hair.
posted by tel3path at 5:14 PM on November 14, 2011

emotionally unstable individual with whom I've had some stressful clashes. Should I attend knowing there's a good chance I'll get in a fight
Are you prepared to miss every event where this person will be present? Do you want to go to the party? Part of being emotionally stable is being able to keep your cool when somebody's being a jerk to you. If you can behave civilly to another guest, then go, and be civil. IF Nutso tries to make a scene, walk away. Go freshen your drink, or go to the bathroom, whatever.
posted by theora55 at 7:02 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going through this EXACTLY at the moment. I had to double-check you weren't a chick called Josie and the event wasn't a baby-shower.

I opted not to go. In fact, I've opted to always dip out if she's there. She thinks I'm the dreadful person and I just don't want the tension. All our mutual friends are really glad that I've made this decision as it saves everyone heaps of stress.

My resolve is that she can have first dibs on all joint activities and if she doesn't want to go and I'm free, I might go.

But I also host a shitload of events that she is obviously not invited to. I think it's a win for us both. Sort of. But more importantly, it's a win for our poor friends caught in the middle of essentially teenage melodrama.
posted by taff at 7:59 PM on November 14, 2011

Eventually you're going to cool down, and not feel so worried about this person. Staying away until then means you're less likely to shoot yourself in the foot. It doesn't have to be forever.
posted by tel3path at 4:58 AM on November 15, 2011

If you think you have enough self control not to say or do something stupid, I say go. Given that his behavior seems so odd, I'd feel more puzzlement at the guy than anger, and it sounds like you may, too.

That said, if he's really as crazy as he sounds, there's some chance that your politely declining his insistent confrontations will enrage him further. If there's a chance of violence, or even just an ugly one-sided spectacle, then probably worth skipping.

(I wouldn't try to hide the situation from your friends though. You can express your surprise at his nasty lash-outs without slandering him. This may actually be of value to them, as others have pointed out.)
posted by Talisman at 12:05 AM on November 17, 2011

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