How to stop being friends with an ex
April 25, 2012 5:32 PM   Subscribe

I need to stop being friends with my ex. How?

My ex and I only dated for a short time, but I fell for him. We also didn't work. I ended the relationship because I kept getting hurt (read: I cared for him a lot more than he cared for me). Doing this took every ounce of strength I had. He was the one who asked if we could still be friends. At the time, I said I needed a significant amount of time in order for that to be feasible.

But he emailed me a few weeks later -- just sending me some music I’d like -- and I caved and wrote back. This began a sporadic friendly if lazy correspondence between us (usually only a few sentences and a link to some music/art/writing we knew the other person would appreciate), which renewed my feelings, led to my acting on dubious advice from a friend and initiating a meetup with him, which turned out to be just a “friends hanging out” thing. Problem is: every time I heard from him, even though I enjoyed him and the content of his emails or our conversations, I'd feel like dying for days/weeks afterward. About a month ago, after sending another email, I realized that this was a horrible, unhealthy pattern that I'd established. I decided to stop contacting him.

Only, now he really believes we're friends. Last week he sent me another email and an invitation to a get-together at a pub before he goes on an extended vacation. I haven't responded, but the mere existence of these emails has once again made me feel awful.

Just to be clear: I think we could be great friends if these feelings weren’t there. And, yes, I fully realize that I stuck my hand in the fire and not only got burned, but got a cheaper, piddlier version of a relationship that didn't work in the first place.

My counselor suggests that I call him and tell him that, though I enjoy his company and would ideally like to be friends eventually, I’m pained every time I hear from him and need a break from our friendship at least until he gets back…and that I request that he doesn’t contact me until then. Here’s my problem: I kind of feel like a tool doing this, because I ended up initiating contact with him just as much as he did me. In fact, I’m kind of more at fault because I didn’t ignore or put a stop to it. Plus, he’s going to be away and probably won’t even think of contacting me, anyway, and this could be construed as some kind of cry for attention. But it’d also be jerky to say nothing and just defriend him on facebook (which, yes, I should have done originally) and block his emails, right? The other thing is, though we discussed our issues while we were together and knew we were having problems, I broke up with him quite suddenly, because I was hurt. Phoning him would mean doing that again.

Should I make this phone call? How should I phrase it so as not to sound like the insane ex, after I’m just as responsible for this correspondence as he is, if not more responsible for it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Don't worry about your responsibility. You gave it a try and it didn't work for you. The only way you would know that is if you gave it a try.

Don't make a phone call. Too emotional and intimate. You don't want to go there.

Just simply write him an email saying that you think he's a really nice guy and maybe eventually you can be friends, but, once you gave it a try, you realized that you are still not ready. Tell him good luck, have a great trip, and if you ever feel ready you will give him a call.

That's it.

Don't over think it, as the more thinking you do, the more you are staying connected with him.

Short and fast. You will again go through some of the loss, as so much of it can be a chemical attraction that is difficult to control, but it WILL get easier.
posted by Vaike at 5:41 PM on April 25, 2012 [21 favorites]

Just because you resumed contact, you aren't "at fault" for needing to take a step back. Ask for what you need.
posted by freshwater at 5:41 PM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

At this point the least dramatic thing you could do is block him wordlessly and go on about your business.

Because you know what? He's not going to sit there going, "Boy, I wonder why THAT happened??" He'll know why. Anyone with even the slightest amount of imagination would. And if he does play that game and dance around trying to get you to notice or acknowledge him, then you'll realize how lucky you were to step away when you did.
posted by hermitosis at 5:42 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should call him, just let him go on his extended vacation and hope you get over him by the time he comes back.

If he comes back and you still feel the same, then maybe a conversation is warranted, but the less communication the better.
posted by katypickle at 5:45 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can just send him an email that says "Hey, thanks for the invite. I won't be able to make it to the pub. I think reconnecting as friends has been a little more uncomfortable than I'd anticipated, and I think it'd be best for me to take a step back now. I hope you have a great trip, and a great summer, and I look forward to our paths crossing again somewhere down the line. Take care, Anon." The unfriend him right away. You'll be fine (as will he).
posted by argonauta at 5:46 PM on April 25, 2012 [23 favorites]

Just make up an excuse for the last get-together. Hide him on facebook, don't defriend him. Don't email him or really respond to his emails. Then time will pass before he gets back and hopefully everything will die down on your end over time. That's the ostrich in the sand approach I'm recommending!
posted by bquarters at 5:46 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have done the cutting the ex/friend out of my life with no explanation bit, and it did work. However, I think I'd feel more comfortable and proud of myself now if I had explained why to her at the time. My situation wasn't an exact parallel, but a short emailed explanation would have been polite, and I think it probably would be here too. I don't think you owe him anything, but you might feel better for it.

After that you unfriend, block/delete his email etc.
posted by howfar at 5:54 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Last week he sent me another email and an invitation to a get-together at a pub before he goes on an extended vacation.

Email - "Thanks for the invite but I won't be able to make it. I hope you enjoy your vacation."

I kind of feel that what your counselor wants you to say is a little bit emotional - the point is that you're trying to disconnect from this person and being emotional keeps you connected. There is no harm in being polite but not engaging in anything beyond the basics.

I think you're right, he won't contact you while he's away, and when he gets back he will probably have moved on and you may have too. But I think you can disengage without being hardcore about it.
posted by mleigh at 5:56 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's no need to lay blame or take any for this. It's just not working for you, and that's okay. I think a brief email that you can't make it to this get together is enough - it disengages you, doesn't commit you to anything, isn't rudely shutting him down, and doesn't suggest the depth of your emotional fallout regarding him. It says, actually, I'm busy with my own life. Which is a good thing to say. And do. Defriend, or hide, whichever you wish, but get to the business of living your life.

Honestly, I think that if you say what your counselor says, it's going to weird him out and probably preclude a friendship down the line, and possibly make you feel worse about the situation by giving it so much power. The first two may not be so bad in the end, but the last one is the one I'd be the most concerned about. I think a much cooler approach would be more beneficial.
posted by sm1tten at 6:28 PM on April 25, 2012

Agree with what everyone is saying, but it might help if you filtered his mail to trash so you never see it come in! I've done this; it's effective for sanity-keeping.
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:30 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just tell him to screw off. You don't owe him anything.
posted by lalala1234 at 9:39 PM on April 25, 2012

You might be interested in this question I asked nearly a year ago.

I never formally told him that we would no longer be speaking. You really do not need to have an emotional phone conversation with someone who affects you this much. Just stop responding. I have filters set up for his mail to go to trash, and I believe he deleted my cell number at some point so he no longer texts me. There are apps for smartphones where you can blacklist texts from certain numbers if he still tries that.

I did speak with him a few weeks ago for some professional advice, and within a few e-mails, he started asking me personal questions, which got so overwhelming it was like I was right back in the thick of things. I ignored him again and he sent another e-mail after a day or two, but hasn't since.
posted by anotheraccount at 4:52 AM on April 26, 2012

I think it's mean to just stop responding. He hasn't done anything wrong.

A brief email should be enough. Any reasonable person would understand.
posted by tel3path at 6:55 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time, I tried to be friends with an ex too soon after a breakup. When I realized the mistake, I wrote to him and told him I needed more time with no contact, but I didn't know how much time. Months went by and I met my now husband. Even more months went by and I was happy and in love. I wrote to my ex and told him we could be friends (and I told him about my new guy so there was no confusion about my intentions). This worked out well. I just needed to wait until my feelings for him had faded, which took time.
posted by bananafish at 7:11 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are not in a relationship with him anymore and you don't need to follow any particular etiquette as a result. Email him back on the invitation and say that even though you've tried to be okay with the friendship, you simply aren't over the relationship and it is causing you pain to be in contact with him, and ask him to please not contact you. Then break the obvious links of communication and don't read or respond if he actively contacts you (which would frankly be a sign that he's either not very nice or completely clueless).

None of the objections you've raised are really relevant. It's not about responsibility or what's reasonable from some imaginary objective perspective on your relationship, it's about you very obviously needing real closure which is something that he, as a person who is clearly fine with your relationship turning into nothing more than a friendship, does not need. His feelings do not need to be particularly taken into consideration. He is not going to be hurt or dismayed by this turn of events. Take an honest look at whether you are resisting this obvious necessity basically because you are hanging on to the relationship even though you know it doesn't have a future. The way to get over it is to get away from it.
posted by nanojath at 8:33 AM on April 26, 2012

A brief, non-accusatory email explaining. Reasonable people understand this scenario. You tried something, it's not working emotionally, you need to try something else: no contact for an extended period.

Maybe you'll be friends again in some number of years. Way off in the vague future. You'll get back to him again if you ever feel like that's likely to work. Not now.
posted by ead at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2012

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