Let's not be friends
July 29, 2005 9:12 PM   Subscribe

My ex-boyfriend wants to be friends. I don't.

After a long period of not speaking, my ex is being all normal and friendly towards me. I'm pretty sure that in his mind, our interaction == we're friends. I do not consider us so, and I admit this is partly out of my own bitterness at how things ended.

I still have feelings for him, so a real friendship would be difficult. Right now, I deal with him by being civil. But frankly? I don't want to know how he is. I don't want to know about his interactions with other girls, or if he point-blank has somebody new. I don't want to hear about his life or any part of it. I just want him to leave me alone. (Or beg me to take him back, hee!)

Either way, each interaction now makes me uncomfortable and at a loss as to how to respond without giving the wrong message. Online, I'm already invisible in all ways one can be invisible, but it's not like I can ban him from commenting in my journal or block his e-mail addresses without expecting some kind of a puzzled follow-up. I don't want to be cold, or a bitch. We are both docile introverts, too sensitive for our own good.

While I don't want to be pretend-friends, I don't want to burn bridges either. How do I handle this delicate balancing act?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Be nice but be firm and be candid.

Don't go into too much detail, but basically tell him that you are not comfortable interacting with him on any level right now, and you need complete separation. If he is a decent, mature person, he will respect this and give you your space. If he's not, then you need to take a harsher tone and you should not spare his feelings at the cost of your own.

Let me emphasize again that you shouldn't go into too much detail. He doesn't have a right to know, and it's counterproductive (and, indeed, contradictory) for you to bare your soul as to why you need the separation.
posted by randomstriker at 9:31 PM on July 29, 2005

It sounds like the main reason you want to keep talking to him is because you think there might be a slim chance of getting back together, otherwise you'd just tell him to fuck off.

The best thing to do would be to avoid him as much as possible, but still be polite, I think. Basicaly what you are doing now.

Might be better to just avoid him entirely.
posted by delmoi at 9:47 PM on July 29, 2005

Not to be a complete dumbass, but I'd suggest telling him where you stand. No need to make a production out of it or anything... just that your feelings are such that friendship doesn't really work.

I've had a similar conversation, and I wasn't offended by it.
posted by mosch at 9:48 PM on July 29, 2005

I recently did this (much to my pain) with an ex-gf. We'd have dinner, movies...and this shitty moment after. I got tired of it. And realize I couldn't just be friends.

So, I said exactly that. I moped. I was very upset. But I was clear. There was only one reason she should be trying to contact me.

Do the same. Be strong. Say, please, if you respect me. Don't read about my life. Don't email me. Don't comment in my blog Don't call. This doesn't work for me and all you bring to me as a friend is pain. You're not being cold. Or a bitch. You're just saying that your conflict (the views of what each of you want out of your interaction) are at cross purposes.
posted by filmgeek at 9:52 PM on July 29, 2005

If you want me to beat his ass for you, the e-mail is in my profile.
posted by banished at 10:25 PM on July 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

Seriously, if he is a sensitive, docile introvert, he'll understand that you need space for a while. He'll be happy to hear that you hope you can be friends in the future, and he'll be willing to wait.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 10:37 PM on July 29, 2005

If you are no longer interested in a relationship or a friendship with him, you should tell him in no uncertain terms. You should be polite/empathetic, but firm.

This is for you and for him.

For you, these awkward situations will hopefully cease, and should your current state of affairs take a turn for the worse, you will be able to say that you told him clearly that you wished to avoid further association.

But it's important for him to hear, too.

See, us dudes are dumb. Lots of us (and oh boy, am I one of these) will attempt to stay in a relationship, or some semblance of a relationship, far longer than is prudent or healthy, because we think that deep down, there is some chance that it might work out (in most cases read: we might get in your pants again.) It's often important to make it absolutely clear to us what the situation is; don't rely on us to take the hint.

Again, you should be as nice in telling him this as you feel the need to be, but you need to be clear, unequivocal, and firm. Otherwise you are inviting further problems.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 11:02 PM on July 29, 2005

"i don't want to talk to you anymore" ... that's all you really need to say

i can appreciate that you don't want to be cold or a bitch ... but there are times in life where it's the best option you have
posted by pyramid termite at 11:28 PM on July 29, 2005

I agree with the advice of the people who've said that you should be frank. I disagree with the advice of the people who've said that you should not explain why, and thoroughly so.

I've been on both sides of this. I've done it the way where you (or they) just exit without explanation -- but when it's happened that way, I found that if I had something left to explain that I didn't, that stayed frozen in me for months or years without reprief. And if I just got left, I was left wondering what the hell happened and trying in vain to have a conversation inside of myself that should have happened (and can only *really* happen) with two people.

By contrast, I've also been direct with a few women, and been the subject of similar directness. It's often uncomfortable until 5 minutes after you get into doing it. But I can also say that in those cases, after the inevitable pain and suckitude faded with the passage of time -- what I was left with was a small core of respect and affection that allows me to think of these women fondly, and in a case or two, think of them as friends. And sure, I don't get anything out of it now -- except the memories of the parts of my life they touched being happier places to revisit.

So hooray for people who are direct and do what's right to move their life along -- including telling others that they may have to exit for a while. But an extra hooray for those who take a degree of care in taking things apart, as they do in putting things together. Life is cleaner and happier that way.

Tell him you can't see him or have contact with him. Tell him why. Tell him you'd love to have him back, but that if you can't, this is what you need to do to move on build the life you want. Then, when you're done with the telling (and only then), do it.
posted by weston at 12:45 AM on July 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

What randomstriker said. Perhaps with a rider that he should give you say 6 months breathing space and then see how you feel - if that's what you want. But I would be firm and state it plainly and mention you want no contact via any medium. We boys are dumb but we are capable of understanding plain english when it contains no ambiguities.
posted by peacay at 3:09 AM on July 30, 2005

I still have regrets about the way I've broken up with people from college, 13 years ago. So there's something to be said about having the talk. Also, if you get a boyfriend, you won't have time to play with him.
posted by craniac at 5:20 AM on July 30, 2005

"It's still too soon for me to act like everything's just normal between us."

Clearly you both had a cooling-off period and his wrapped up sooner than yours did. If you want to keep this guy in your life as a friend eventually but it's still too soon, you may need to go about this differently than if you want him just to be gone for good. I've dealt with this in the past, a number of different ways. I found that for some exes, once the attraction had worn off I didn't want to hang out with them at all any more. For others, once I was less attracted to them, it made it easier to be friends with them. It seems like you may not even be sure which type of future relationship you're going to have with this guy but right now you need more space than he is giving you.

"I really need to move on and having you still wrapped up in parts of my life is making that difficult for me."

I don't think you need to say "I'm still attracted to you" any more than you need to say "fuck off please" but getting the message across that you harbor no ill will towards the guy but still really just need more of a break from him seems like an okay way to move forward.
posted by jessamyn at 6:14 AM on July 30, 2005

"I don't want to burn bridges either."

Bah. Tell him to fuck off. Move along, and don't look back. Anything short of that and you're just clinging to the past. Burn that bridge and get on with your life.
posted by spilon at 7:41 AM on July 30, 2005

I recently had to have a "I don't hate you, but I don't want to be friends either" conversation. He didn't take it well and it wasn't fun, but in the end, I'm glad I did it. I did not want to be his friend. I did not want to receive e-mails from him. I didn't want anything to do with him. Our conversation put a stop to all the e-mails. He stopped reading my blog. I got what I wanted and needed.

So be honest with him. Expect that he may get angry, but hold your ground. You're doing what's best for you and there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by whatideserve at 8:04 AM on July 30, 2005

It doesn't make you cold or a bitch. You have to get to a point where what he thinks of you does.not.matter, so if the best way to get him to leave you alone is to just, uh, block him/ignore him/tell him to bugger off because you don't want to know about him anymore, then do it. "Seat warming" approaches to exes are really annoying, regardless of who's doing it. If he's moved on, he needs to let you move on too. Anything else is just cruel and frankly reeks of a need to still exert some power over your heart.
posted by ifjuly at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2005

You don't want to maintain a relationship -- either romantic or friendly -- but you "don't want to burn bridges?" Bullshit. You want to burn the bridge, otherwise you wouldn't be so hostile towards having a distant civility with him.

Either get over your bitterness or burn the bridge. There is only so much cake you'll be able to both have and eat.
posted by majick at 8:23 AM on July 30, 2005

This whole idea of making friendship out of romances is an odd one to me. You never were friends. Even if you were friends first, you were then only a couple that hadn't become a couple yet.

Yes, friendship is a component of a romantic relationship. Water is a componenet of beer. Would you go through a lengthy, painstaking process to extract water from beer?

Also, while I'm being Mr. Tough -- I'm of the mind that it's-over speeches never amount to a damned thing. Someone always wants to last word, or the chance to clarify something -- so there has to be another Conversation -- yecch. Burn the bridge, move on entirely.
posted by argybarg at 8:33 AM on July 30, 2005

Burning bridges is imprudent if you live in a small town or if you both work in a small industry (and they're all small). Just saying.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:31 AM on July 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

This whole idea of making friendship out of romances is an odd one to me. You never were friends. Even if you were friends first, you were then only a couple that hadn't become a couple yet.

As elegant as your beer metaphor is, argybarg, I must respectfully disagree. I've remained on friendly terms with several exes. One of them has become a very cherished friend; that's how our romance started, and I'm grateful that's how it's finished. We were together for years and know each other so well, and as I grow older, that's something I don't take for granted. There is something deeply rewarding about friendship with someone who has seen the absolute best and worst you have on offer. When it works, it's very honest. It's not beer into water; it's more like a changing wine. Some bottles are meant to go to vinegar. Some deepen and become more complex with the passage of time.

However, there was definitely a period where we were best off completely apart. What jessamyn said is perfect: "I really need to move on and having you still wrapped up in parts of my life is making that difficult for me." If you leave it like that, it's the equivalent to putting a bottle on the shelf for a while to see what happens. If you are meant for friendship, one will develop. My ex and I found serious new partners almost simultaneously, and that's what really helped us move securely into friendship. However, you absolutely do need that distance first to be able to have that, so take it -- as much as you need. That's not coldness, it's self-protection and good sense.
posted by melissa may at 12:03 PM on July 30, 2005

This happened to me when I started seriously dating my current boyfriend.

I told the ex to meet me for coffee to talk. I just told him very politely that I'm at a point in my life where it's best for the both of us to just cut communication off and move on. I don't think he was thrilled to hear it, but at least we stopped talking to each other on positive terms. I think we ended on positive terms because I was honest and to the point which is what most people need in an awkward situation.
posted by echolex at 1:17 PM on July 30, 2005

How intertwined are your friends groups?

Many of the replies are on the side of being able to ditch him and never see him again, but if that's not possible due to common friends/social circles, then you're in a sticky spot.

If you're still in to him and still see him socially, let him know of said fact and that he will have a really hard time with any other girl he brings 'round to the group. This may look like Heaven to a guy, but it will turn into a Twilight Zone-ish Hell sooner or later. "Meet my friend Anne Nonymous" can turn into Awkward Time Theatre with a reply of "Hey! Has he [Insert signature sexy move here] with you yet? That always got me [insert steamy reaction here]."

Don't be bitter, don't tell lies or anything, but be honest about who you are: Someone who has not given up. In time, you will come to the crossroads of either letting him go or becoming a stalker, but hey, that's then and this is now.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:39 PM on July 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

I wish I had followed the advice in this thread before I cut it off with an ex who wanted to be friends. Instead, I didn't say a word for months, he kept calling and calling and needing me as a friend, I got more and more angry and annoyed and finally yelled at him on the phone that I couldn't handle it anymore, and hung up on him. I never spoke with him again, and have felt like a complete and utter asshole ever since. Have the talk now before you grow resentful.
posted by tristeza at 12:50 PM on July 31, 2005

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