How did I lose all these friends?
July 4, 2012 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Does time heal all wounds? My recent ex took a lot of formerly mutual friends with her. They won't talk to me let alone about why and I think I'm in the dog house simply for asking the question, "why?" Is there a practical way to recover these friendships? Should I even try? Would it be better for me to just walk away and shrug it off? Given time will some of them talk to me again or is it just over?

I'd like to be on speaking terms or better with some of these formerly mutual friends, but it feels like maybe she and they thought that she did all the heavy lifting in friendships with them.

Or maybe there's more to it? I don't know what my ex may of said or not; I don't know whether it's all motivated just by sympathy for her and her suffering or if there's more than that being said about me and why people should stay away from me. The weird part for me is that most of the people who left are people I admire because they're generally such good communicators.

I'm cut off. Most of those gone won't respond to me and I don't want to force it. And I just have no idea what happened.

This is the first time I've had to deal with losing such numbers of friends post-breakup. Not only is it my pattern to get in long term relationships but before this I've never had to deal with so many leaving my company. Never so obviously, never so abruptly.

I still have all the friends I made myself, all my family and some new friends I've made anyhow. This is not a desperate situation. I'm not in some self-destructive, forlorn spiral. I just miss these former friends and am bewildered and would like to know what's going on. I'm sort of shell shocked by the whole situation. Some of these ex-friends were people I considered good friends until they left, and now I do not know what to think.

Is it too drama queeny to even feel badly about this? I think probably not, but I feel so knocked sideways that I don't know if my own responses are reasonable.

Finally, I'm worried about being some sort of crypto douchebag (unbeknownst even to myself) but have asked people I know and trust to seriously let me know if I drift into the douchebag zone.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
People who wont even hear your side of it are not friends. People who cut you off/friend-dump you without even giving you a reason are not friends. Forget about them and move on.
posted by missmagenta at 6:19 AM on July 4, 2012 [32 favorites]

Right, they're not friends. Concentrate on your real friends.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:22 AM on July 4, 2012

This is the part that sucks. There's really nothing you can do about it, either. There's basically three options here:
1 -- You know what you did wrong but don't want to admit it: "I only cheated a little." There's really nothing you can do in this circumstance.
2 -- She poisoned these friends against you, either via lies or spin: "I felt like OP was an emotional terrorist." All you can do here is wait it out. Eventually, these people will realize that she does this when every relationship ends. Maybe they'll become friends with you again, maybe not. There's ot a lot you can do here either.
3 -- These friends have decided that they are on her side (or possibly even on no one's side and they've cut your ex off as well), regardless of what you did or didn't do. There's nothing you can do to convince these people that you deserve their friendship.

You'll notice a theme here.

It sucks. It really does. And we all define ourselves in terms of our relationships. No one has the right to tell you that you can't feel bad. But don't let yourself act bad. You're on the right track and you appear to be self-aware enough to avoid that.
posted by Etrigan at 6:24 AM on July 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

In my mid-40s, I'm far enough out from breakups and divorces (15 years out from my own) that I can tell you some (ex-) friends will come back on their own but most will move on in different directions. It sucks, but there's nothing you can do if people are determined to not be friends or decline your overtures.

Having said that, it's a horrible feeling and even though I'd advise you to look to other friends for social interaction, it's not at all drama queeny to feel bad about friend breakups and drops, never mind breakups and drops en masse stemming from a failed relationship. Mourn them in private, though.
posted by immlass at 6:28 AM on July 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

This happened to me once; later on I found out (at a distance, so I may not have received all the information) that it hadn't very much to do with the ex but more with one drama nut who had spread a pretty bizarre lie about me.

Had I heard the lie I'm sure I would've thought I was pretty scummy too, and nobody, including myself, was aware of her having any axe to grind with me, so she was probably credible as why would somebody, purportedly a friend, make something like that up? (Theory: it was exciting for her; lots of attention, and it made the ex feel better to participate in this new narrative, and as such she could rationalise that she was acting as a good friend to at least one person)

It was painful and strange and you are not 'drama queeny' to feel badly. However, the lesson is: better friends in the future. Sort these folk out of the 'friends' box and into the 'people I hung out with' one.

Given 'won't talk to you at all' and not, say, 'I need a little space for now' I would write them off. Cordial but not familiar-friendly if you bump into them down the road. You are responding well (not pushing it, mourning, remembering that you have others, little self-checks, etc) and I don't think there's anything more to be done.
posted by kmennie at 6:35 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

They weren't your friends. They like/prefer her to you.
posted by discopolo at 7:04 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe they were really her friends, not your mutual friends? Regardless of why, if they won't even talk to you, there's nothing you can do and you should just leave them alone.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:10 AM on July 4, 2012

Even if they were/are your friends, it can take people a while to get used to the idea of being close with both people separately.

Don't rush them. Some of them may come around later on. Take care of yourself in the meantime and try not to hold a grudge if they do.
posted by hermitosis at 7:14 AM on July 4, 2012

It's not unreasonable for you to be upset about this, but it's a thing that happens sometimes in breakups, and I don't think there's really much you can do about it. She may be lying about you, she may just seems really upset and like she needs them more, they could have been slightly more her friends than yours, or they could be cutting both of you off. It doesn't really matter what the reason is, because you'll never know, and in any case, the solution is the same: hang out with your other friends.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:16 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't confuse the word "friends" with the word "acquaintances".
REAL friends will help you move, will let you move in if your house burns down, will bail your drunken ass out of jail, perhaps bury a dead body - you get the drift.

In this world of LiveJournal and Facebook, the word "friend" has become bastardized and watered down to mean "pretty much anyone I've met face to face, even once" and that's incorrect.

You have true friends.
You had superficial acquaintances.

Count your blessings, and move on.
posted by THAT William Mize at 7:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

You can't make people be your friends, so you have to move on. Chalk it up to circumstance. For whatever reason, they've decided to break ties with you. Luckily, you have other folks in your life.

Appreciate the folks who are there for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:02 AM on July 4, 2012

In bad breakup situations, when a friend serves as a confidante to one of the breaker-uppers, it's awkward and bad form for that friend to turn around and convey information to the other one.

It sucks, and it may be unfair, but if they've been hearing intimate details about you / your life together / your breakup; then they are doing both of you a favor by not acting as your friend too, especially if you're trying to use them as an information source. If your girlfriend didn't tell you "why" when she broke up with you, you really can't expect other people to do so. They either don't know or have been asked not to tell you.

I'm sorry, it sucks, I'm glad you have other friends to turn to. It's worse when all of a couple's friends were shared and then have to choose.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:05 AM on July 4, 2012

I think I'm in the dog house simply for asking the question, "why?"

It sounds like after the break-up you were pumping mutual friends for information about their friend. That is a very uncomfortable situation to be in. For one thing, it is asking them to choose sides, it is asking them to break confidences she has shared with them and potentially puts them in a situation where you say "she sucks for breaking up with me for such a petty reason!" and then they feel have to either agree with you or take her side. Secondly, although wallowing in the drama of the current situation is necessary for you to process it before moving; on it reduces your mutual friends to an audience. It short, it is not a fun thing to be valued as a friend not for genuine and flattering reasons but only if the mutual friends act as free therapists/P.I.'s.

Give them some time, then invite them to some kind of group event that is happy and don't involves them in your dramaz - maybe even explicitly apologise for putting them in an uncomfortable and miserable place.
posted by saucysault at 8:07 AM on July 4, 2012

You don't say what happened in your relationship or how you broke up or whose friends they were first or who spent the most time with them.

This line:

It feels like maybe she and they thought that she did all the heavy lifting in friendships with them.

leads me to believe that she was really friends with them and invested in the relationships, while you came to be friends by being her SO.
posted by seesom at 8:31 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

The "heavy lifting" part does make it sound like these were her friends whom you also knew. You mentioned her "suffering", do they think you did something wrong which they are making a judgement upon? Whatever, they have chosen their side in the breakup, all you can do is move on and get a new social circle of your own. And in the next relationshop don't neglect your own friends for hers or for new joint friends.
posted by epo at 8:41 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Examine the breakup to understand the "why."

Your ex deserves friends and emotional support during a breakup. She may be telling them truthful things about the breakup, or about you, that make them not like you, but she deserves to be able to talk through this with her friends. For example, I recently got dumped, but I had no intention of trashing my ex to our mutual friends. Then I found out he'd been cheating on me for months. Did I tell the friends I made during my relationship with him? Hell yes -- I needed some damn sympathy and I needed some girlfriends to hold my hair back while I cried and cried and dry heaved. Did this get him immediately uninvited to their cookouts and camping trips? It certainly did -- but I don't think they're "choosing" me so much as they don't want to be around an asshole who lies about everything.

I'm not saying you're an asshole -- we aren't seeing the details of the breakup here -- but it's possible that the things your ex is saying (if they're true) are just the things she needs to talk through with friends after a breakup. She's entitled to support, especially if she's "suffering" like you say.

Maybe they're complete lies and she's just a crazy bitch, in which case you don't need friends who believe crazy bitches. Focus on the friends you made your own and write the rest off as a consequences of ending a long-term relationship.

If the breakup was at her instigation and you need some serious emotional support to deal with it, rely on the friends you made yourself and on the new friends you'll make. If this is the case, then you don't need the drama of pursuing these friends because then you look like the one who's forcing people to choose.
posted by mibo at 9:02 AM on July 4, 2012

I don't know whether it's all motivated just by sympathy for her and her suffering...

You might be on to something with the sympathy thing, but it might be a bit more complicated than just that. Approaching this from a neutral break-up stance (i.e. no one necessarily did anything wrong, like cheating), I ask these questions: Do you tend to reach out when you're sad, or are you more stoic and inward with your emotions? Maybe your ex is sharing her feelings with these friends and they assume that you don't need extra support? Are you and the ex not talking anymore, or at least on a hiatus? That makes event planning tricky, with the whole I-can't-go-if-I-know-that-EX-will-be-there drama (which seems unreasonable until you're heartbroken and need time to heal).

It's hard to advise not knowing the specifics of your break-up, your interactions/history with these friends, and your ex, but if you really miss them, why not send them a message that's honest, but neutral and placing more emphasis on them than your break-up? Something like,

"Hey friend, I know that things have been a bit weird since EX and I broke up. It has been really hard to adjust. But I miss your friendship and hope we could go for coffee sometime soon and catch up on your life/our common interest/etc."

Also, I feel like I'm on the other side of this question right now, in some respects. If you want to hash out things some more, memail me (it's a bit too much my-life-blah-blah to post as a response here).
posted by Paper rabies at 9:20 AM on July 4, 2012

They weren't actually your friends. Either they prefer her, or she has poisoned the well. Thing is, in the latter case if they really were your friends it wouldn't be possible to poison the well because they'd give you the benefit of the doubt. It really sucks to find that out in this way but maybe you can be grateful people who did not actually care for you were culled from your social circle.
posted by schroedinger at 9:24 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had this happen about 2 years ago, and over the last 6-9 months quite a few of them have got back in touch, usually following break ups of their own. I used the time after the break up to build relationships with people outside that circle of friends so as not to be constantly reminded of the relationship, or accidentally updated when I didn't want to know details of my ex.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:48 AM on July 4, 2012

Is there a practical way to recover these friendships? Should I even try?

Maybe, but I don't really see why you would want to win such "friends" back.
posted by MinusCelsius at 10:29 AM on July 4, 2012

From my own experience, you should never rule out the possibility that your ex is either lying about you, or unintentionally viewing things through her perspective such that the friends who hear the story are shocked and want little to do with you.

Personally, I've had:
1) Someone who begged and nagged me to let them sacrifice for me then turned around and told all our friends that I pressured them to do it.

2) Someone that I was absolutely in no way cheating on, decided that I must have broken up with them because I was cheating on them and so told everyone I had.

3) Having moved on to a new relationship, the ex told people I had left them for that person.

All of these are perception-based, but are hard to counter, especially since you don't know.

I would personally reach out to these people and be really frank. "Hey, it seems like we've been spending less time together since Cindy McSorrow and I broke up. Is it because of Cindy? I completely understand if so, but would just appreciate a heads up so I'm not intruding on anything."
posted by corb at 10:31 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could probably improve the answers here by telling us more details about the relationship, her, the breakup, and your and her friendships with these people.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:36 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you sure they weren't actually just her friends, who hung out with the two of you together in your context as a couple?

I had an ex who realllly wanted to "tell his side of the story" to my friends after we broke up, and hang out with them. I don't know if he thought that I was telling them horrible things or something and that that was the reason they didn't want his friendship (I wasn't!), but the truth was that they were really just my friends, had always been my friends, and were not his friends.

Please don't try to force this -- it comes off as creepy. Focus on fostering and appreciating your personal friends and family.
posted by aaanastasia at 10:53 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I went through a divorce, I lost nearly all of our mutual friends. Not just those who he "took" but pretty much anyone who knew both of us... by the end of it, we weren't on speaking terms. A lot of it had to do with just the insane amount of emotional energy floating around that there was plenty of hurt feeling to spare. By the end, I'd lost my husband and my three closest friends - though the friends didn't stay in touch with *him* either.

My point being that this is just a thing that happens with break-ups sometimes. Your whole social circle changes for whatever reason. It's best not to try to force it. Sure, I lost friends but I refocused that energy on other people and had just as many truly close friends when it ended as I'd had before - they were just different people.

In any case, the worst thing you can do is try to push this. If these former friends want to reconnect, they will. Any effort you put in into figuring it out or trying to resolve it will probably only make things more difficult at this point. Just leave it as it is and focus your energy into your other friends. Accept that this is just a side effect of some break-ups and there's really nothing you can do to change that.
posted by sonika at 11:38 AM on July 4, 2012

Poor you, that really sucks. I guess it could be because she 'got to them first' and gave them her version of the breakup which may have painted you in an unflattering light, causing them to choose sides or they were never actually your friends and just reverted back to being friends with her. It's really rough though when it happens. Hang with the friends you do have and let it go. Breakups are a great way of finding out who your true buddies are. Best of luck.
posted by Jubey at 4:27 PM on July 4, 2012

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Thank you all for your help moving me from feeling like these ex-friends were mine to begin with. You're right. For whatever reason they weren't mine, and I was silly for thinking they were.

People have asked for details of my relationship and breakup. I can't go into all of it, but:
+ Decades long relationship, founded on communication, love, friendship & trust.
+ It's hard to say what triggered the breakup. For me, it was her emotionally cheating on me (getting into an outside love relationship while in a monogamous relationship with me). For her, she felt like I had abandoned the trust we shared and didn't respect her contributions to the relationship. No, I didn't cheat, but the depths of her pain made her feel like I might as well have and made her feel justified in what she did.
+ We were mutually codependent. At the same time we were both dealing with old people care issues. My father came to live with us, had dementea at us and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. When our parents started really demanding our time, we stopped being able to be as constant and loving with each other as we were used to, let along getting enough sleep.
+ It seems that she felt I had abandoned her trust years ago. For my part, about the same time was when I started morning my father's dementia and the fact that he no longer recognized me, started dealing with important career stuff and started dealing with serious old people care issues.
+ There were financial aspects to the split-up too. I supported her and the household as primary earner for most of our time together, earning 5 or more times what she earned. She felt I didn't value her non-monetary contributions to the household (housekeeping, taking care of my father, cooking, menue planning, etc.) as much as I valued my monetary ones. I felt like she kept pushing for a higher standard of living even though only I could afford it, which kept me away from doing relationship maintenance stuff and in the office all the time. She felt I didn't value her time and energy put into caring for my father (who came to live with us, at our mutual insistance, for a few months before we threw in the towel and got him a spot at a nurshing home).
+ In the final days our fights got pretty ugly and if she took things I said out of context and painted herself as instead reasonable (she wasn't, I assure you), I could see how that would poison the well with these ex-friends (if they took her at her word). That seriously bothers me, but you are all right - I can't really do anything about it.

There are two hardest parts for me regarding these people I thought were friends. The first part is the children who were important to me in these families. I'm probably forever cut off from them too. The second part is that the majority of these folks are high-functioning communicators. Many of them are public speakers, professors, health professionals, political figures, people in activism circles that are near to my heart. I'm not afraid of seeing them in public because I can deal with it as an adult, but what bothers me is seeing this side of them and being so disappointed in them for not COMMUNICATING. And feeling betrayed by that and having a very hard time not taking that personally.

Anyway, I will move on and if ex-friends come back, deal with it then. Thank you all.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:41 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Overall, just as you maybe let the relationship maintenance go to focus on other things (some very understandable, some probably could have been handled differently), I think you probably let the friend maintenance go with this particular group of friends.

So, just as the relationship slowly eroded, and you might not have been fully aware of it that whole time, the friendships were probably eroding from lack of maintenance as well.

During the same period of time, it sounds like your partner was still doing friend maintenance with those friends. Possibly to you at the time it seemed like her maintenance counted for both of you, but I think it didn't.

So, I think it's possible that by the time you broke up there was little or no actual friendship left between you and those friends anyhow, because you had neglected the maintenance.

In response to your update... Ay yi yi. Here are my thoughts.

In the final days our fights got pretty ugly and if she took things I said out of context and painted herself as instead reasonable (she wasn't, I assure you), I could see how that would poison the well with these ex-friends (if they took her at her word).

My inkling is that whatever you said in these ugly fights probably does have a lot to do with why they won't even speak to you anymore. You didn't tell us exactly what you said and what the context was, so all I can do is speculate. Here's the thing though, no matter how unreasonable the other person is being, saying something really ugly to your partner is still saying something really ugly to your partner. It could still be very off-putting to a great many people depending on how bad it was. I'm not trying to say your partner was some kind of perfect blameless angel. I'm just saying, people might still be put off by whatever you said even if they knew the full context of how unreasonable she was being.

Another thing:

There are two hardest parts for me regarding these people I thought were friends. The first part is the children who were important to me in these families. I'm probably forever cut off from them too.

Are you certain the parents were 100% comfortable with your friendship with their kids? You don't go into any detail about this so there would be no way for us to be able to tell one way or the other. But I this this is something that could be a possibility for anyone given the hypervigilant day and age we live in.
posted by cairdeas at 1:55 AM on July 7, 2012

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