Help! I have to interact with my ex while I'm still hurt and angry.
October 22, 2012 1:11 AM   Subscribe

One week after our (non-mutual) breakup, I have to work with my ex at an event. How should I carry myself?

My ex broke up with me a week ago. It was not mutual so I am still very angry at her decision. I want us to get back together. The last week I have been crying everyday and wondering how I will ever love again (yes I realize it's dramatic but the would is still raw)

Before our break up we volunteered to help out at a charity event which takes place this week. We have been assigned to the same (small) team so there will no doubt be interactions between us. (No we cannot ask to switch teams at this point)

Obviously I will not initiate unnecessary conversations with her, but when communication is unavoidable how should I handle myself?

I can either act like I'm not affected by the break up at all, that I'm not the emotional and unstable wreck I am. This way I don't appear needy and opens up the possibility of reconciling in the future? (But this will take quite a bit of effort)

Or I can be truthful with my feelings, which are anger and resentment right now, and respond accordingly, while remaining civil of course. (So no smiles, short sentences, little eye contact etc)

There's probably a middle ground but my traumatized irrational brain refuses to go there.

What should I do?
posted by feastorfamine to Human Relations (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The middle ground is to act professional? I assume you didn't volunteer because of each other, you volunteered because of the charity itself. So keep in mind that that's the focus here. Work out your issues another time, and if you think they might interfere with the charity, unvolunteer.
posted by mannequito at 1:20 AM on October 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

Just be civil. Don't play out your break up drama at a charity event. If you can't handle that, then bow out.
posted by violetk at 1:22 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

At a charity event, you should conduct yourself with the professionalism it deserves. Those attending shouldn't have to be subjected to your personal issues with another volunteer. (Talk about awkward.) In a public space that requires quality work, your ex should be able to focus on that work, not what's gone on between the two of you behind closed doors. Do not air your dirty laundry, just so you will personally feel better; there are times and places for that, but a public event where people are depending on you is not one of them.

As an aside, as much as I realize it's sad to have a partner break up with you and that you maybe even feel angry in the aftermath, being angry at your ex is hardly going to make her want to get jump back into a relationship with you, which you say you want, because it suggests you can't respect the choices she makes for herself regarding her own life.

If you really are an "emotional and unstable wreck" with a "traumatized irrational brain" filled with "anger and resentment," I also suggest you consider talking to a therapist.
posted by iamfantastikate at 1:26 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just want to clarify, my second option above is acting professionally (remaining civil). I would never think to air out our drama in public.

I guess what I mean is, should I act above and beyond (ie option 1) because it's a charity event and because I still want a second chance?
posted by feastorfamine at 1:27 AM on October 22, 2012

OP, is this the same person you asked a question about here? If so, I think you dodged a bullet with this woman, imho.

Don't over-think the charity event. Just be professional. Trying to be chipper will probably not come off so well if you're not actually feeling it. Just do your thing, then go your separate ways.
posted by iamfantastikate at 1:33 AM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Your ex was the one who would ignore you for months on end? Keep your interactions minimal, be civil when you have to interact, and then ignore her for the rest of your life. And for godssakes don't try to get back together with her. Jesus.
posted by violetk at 1:36 AM on October 22, 2012 [16 favorites]

The effort of being civil will certainly be worth it - because of the charity event and the fact that it's the only way others will see you as professional - creating (or allowing yourself to be sucked into) drama at an event like that is a sure way to damage your reputation with the other people that you'll be working with.

And, referring to your previous question mentioned above, that second chance you talk about in your followup: this is not the second chance, it would be the sixth or so? Good relationships are worth fighting for, but at some point you have to realise that no matter how splendidly you get along when you're not fighting: the bad times and the fights have to be taken into account as well, and if the overall effect is that you're being damaged, it's NOT a good relationship and thus, it's NOT worth fighting for.
posted by Ms. Next at 1:41 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The middle ground is don't go, life's too short and you don't need the drama.
posted by biffa at 1:44 AM on October 22, 2012 [19 favorites]

If you absolutely cannot get out of going, just be as civil as you can possibly be - you're there for a higher purpose.
posted by heyjude at 1:48 AM on October 22, 2012

Wait, you no longer need to deal with this? THAT IS AWESOME! YOU'RE FREE, AND SHE NO LONGER GETS TO PULL THAT SHIT ON YOU. She sounds like she was a terrible fit with you, the relationship was horrible, and there wasn't anything that could be done to make it better. That it is over is great, it leaves you able to find love in places that can actually provide it without the shittiness.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:51 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

I know it's foolish that I still want to get back together but I'm still going through the stages and haven't reached acceptance yet. And I'm not necessarily talking about getting back together now but I want to keep the possibility open for the future..?

Let's ignore whether I SHOULD get back with her, just that I WANT to so we don't skew the answer?
posted by feastorfamine at 1:53 AM on October 22, 2012

(No we cannot ask to switch teams at this point)

You can ask. You do not want to ask. This I find interesting because you are putting yourself in a potentially highly uncomfortable situation, and trying to convince me that you have no choice about the matter.

The things I wonder:

1) Do you want to see her again? You sound like you feel alone and angry, and perhaps you're seeking relief by being in the same place with her for a short time. Regardless of the quality of the interaction, you will share space, which may well feel wonderfully familiar.

2) Is your pride getting in the way? I don't know why you can't switch teams. It's a volunteer event. I run volunteer events, and people drop out all the time. Or make requests for accommodations to be made for all number of reasons.

So you have said to me that you cannot switch teams at the same time you are saying you want to get back together.

It sounds very much like you want to be in this situation with her. And you're going to bring a drama train with you, with your short sentences and avoidance behaviours. To a charity event.

Maybe you don't really care about the event at all, you just can't let her win. You're hurt and you're in mourning.

As an event organiser, I might want you to drop out of the event graciously ("I'm quite ill, you understand") at this point since it seems like what you're going to bring (in terms of effort), versus what you're going to take (in terms of energy).

You lost this round. It's over (for the moment, at least). Putting yourself in a situation like this seems to be a bigger statement that you cannot accept what's happened. When you can call in sick and maybe go fishing or something.

That little word "cannot". You "cannot" fly to the moon unassisted. You "cannot" turn back time. You "cannot" effectively stop a bullet with your human flesh.

You can either switch teams or not attend the event. So let's take "cannot" out and work with "will not". You "will not" ask for a switch to another team. You "will not" bow out gracefully. You "will" put yourself in a highly-charged emotional situation, potentially distracting for the purpose, which is benefitting a charity.

Be charitable to yourself, man, and give some consideration to the real reasons you have (wilfully) conflated "cannot" and "will not".

In the words of Badger, "I think you gotta just not do it man."

There is the other option of accepting the breakup and being in a comfortable place by the time you have to see her, but from what you've written, I'm not seeing that. You sound like you need more time. Part of a break up can be depression, and in depression, all we see is how the events around us affect us negatively. Me me me time. Charity event. Volunteer event. Recent ex. Lots of sadness. Take the big picture into account.

Good luck chap.
posted by nickrussell at 2:01 AM on October 22, 2012 [37 favorites]

Don't go to the charity event - cancel. Based on your email, it is way too early for you. Don't put yourself through this drama. Give yourself lots of time away from your x.
It is not nice to cancel commitments, but you need to look out for yourself and do the best thing for you which is cutting off all contact. If you feel like it, donate some money or volunteer for them some other time in the future, but don't go now.
posted by jazh at 2:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

If you're even thinking that there's any option other than "civil and strictly professional", then I agree that there's no way you should go to this thing.
posted by ftm at 3:29 AM on October 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

I have coordinated a number of charity events. People ask to switch assignments even at the event, certainly a week in advance is plenty of time. The volunteer coordinator will be switching people around even if they don't ask, as needs tend to change at the last minute too, volunteers are no-shows, etc.

You don't have to attend this event or spend it in close quarters with your ex.
posted by headnsouth at 3:35 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Don't go. The charity will understand if you bail. They don't want potential ex relationship drama going on during their event either. Also, this is voluntary, right? Nobody's forcing you to do this for a living.

Don't go. If you don't see her that night, it won't help you get back together any faster (not that you should anyway).
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:01 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Nth'ing "don't go." Even if you think you can handle it, there is zero way you can guarantee that your ex won't flip the hell out, because people are weird after breakups, even ones they initiate. If I were the person organizing/managing this event for the charity, I would rather have both people cancel than take the risk of one of them getting dramatastic. Arrange to help out the charity some other way. Give them twice as much time as this event would have taken if you feel guilty about it.
posted by Etrigan at 4:16 AM on October 22, 2012

If you want to stop being angry, then either time or therapy or both will probably help. If time doesn't help, then therapy likely will.

If you want to get through this volunteer event, do not be near her.

If you want to make yourself be civil in her presence, you must simply decide to exercise some self-control and do it. If you get agitated and out of control, walk away. Note that this is not ideal, because you're feeding into the drama if you lose self-control and get agitated, which probably means you shouldn't be near her. See above.

If you want to get back together with her, despite all the many details in your previous question that made it plain she treats you TERRIBLY and doesn't want to be with you, then you might be asking the wrong question.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:18 AM on October 22, 2012

This is a nonsense question. If you're going to go, be professional and courteous. Do you really need to ask this? Really? You're already being a drama queen and immature. Don't go. Call the charity and cancel now so they can plan accordingly.

People break up. Being angry serves no purpose, and while you feel what you feel, moving on is the best way to open the door to future relationships, whether with her at some point in the future or with someone else.

That you're even asking this question means you should stay home.
posted by shoesietart at 4:24 AM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with the suggestions not to go. I was a volunteer at an event while I will still aching over a break up - my ex ended up volunteering at the table right next to mine.

It was not good timing and set my personal healing back. It also really took me out of the event, so my attempt to get over things by getting out there and meeting people was thwarted. And I didn't even really talk to her, it was just her presence that threw my off my track.

Given your ex's history, who knows if she will actually show up to volunteer. Still, you should not go. Apologize to the organizer, offer to help in the future, but don't go. If you still want to volunteer, I'm sure there are other events that same day.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:24 AM on October 22, 2012

Yeah. People flake out of these kinds of functions all the time. Avoid it- and her- until you are ready to deal.
posted by windykites at 4:32 AM on October 22, 2012

Listen to this song about a million times, then ask to be placed on another team or excused.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:46 AM on October 22, 2012

I work for a charity and I coordinate volunteers; ask to be moved. It's not that big of a deal to the coordinator and they'd most likely rather have your help on another team then not at all.

I asked a question similar to this a about a week ago here on the green and the responses were great. I had an event this past weekend I felt I couldn't skip and I knew my ex would be there. Granted, he left me nearly a year ago but we have a lot of unresolved issues and I was just as wary about the whole thing as you seem to be. If you cannot get on another team, AWAY FROM HER, I highly recommend not going at all. As someone else mentioned, doing so will set your healing back immensely. Fwiw, I took the advice offered to me and came away the winner, if you will, in everyone's eyes and most importantly, I walked away happy and proud of my above the bar behavior. I didn't stoop and curse him out, which was my urge. I rose above it. It was hard but I left that event feeling like a goddamn rockstar.

This will take an immense amount of time to heal, especially because you've been through what you have with this woman. I'll ignore your "I want her back!" comments because you've asked that we do but I'd really work on figuring out why it is that you want someone back who, frankly, treated you no better than some annoying dog shit on her favorite shoe.

If you feel you must go, go. But it's obvious, as was also said above, that you really don't want to switch teams, that you really want to be close to her for whatever reason. This is unhealthy and I don't think you need us here to tell you that. Go to the event if you can't talk yourself out of it but for goddsakes, control your emotions, be professional should you run into her, and work on getting over this in therapy when it's all done and you've performed your stated duty as a volunteer.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:22 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Having watched my father trying to make nice with my mother (who hates him a LOT) at weddings, funerals & graduations over the years: Keep the contact minimal. Do not try to make conversation, do not engage past Hello. It isn't wanted, it doesn't score you any points towards a second chance/spring thaw/whatever, and attempting to engage further just makes the other person more angry. Go. Do your job. Say "pass the ketchup" without rancor. And keep the Hell to yourself when job function does not require interaction.
posted by Ys at 5:23 AM on October 22, 2012

What should I do?


This isn't your ex-wife with whom you built a family, and need to learn to be civil around for the rest of your years -- it's an ex-GF where things didn't work out. There is no upside for you here.
posted by ellF at 5:55 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sometimes you have to be selfish, this is one of those times.

Going will only cause you stress and grief and I'm sure that no mitzvah is worth it. Volunteer in another capacity, or another time.

You are not irreplaceable. Don't even worry about it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:28 AM on October 22, 2012

I suspect that in the place you're at, a part of you is wanting the chance to be around her, half thinking you might get her back if you can talk to her, half wanting the chance to hurt her and show your anger. And therefore you might be rationalizing to yourself that you have to go, it's too late to change the team arrangements etc.

This is a charity event, it's not about you. Either let them know that this is not going to work for you given the recent break-up and don't go, or go and be super-professional, keep your mind on serving the charity and its mission, and avoid all drama with your ex.
posted by philipy at 7:30 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with many of the other comments - cancel. I think you'll actually be helping the charity event by not being there, considering your current emotional state. I also think that this is a way for you to take care of yourself. It's not a crime to put yourself and your healing first in a situation like this.

Hang in there - this too shall pass. You WILL get through this!
posted by Nutritionista at 7:43 AM on October 22, 2012

If it were me, I would cancel. There is no upside to this encounter. Shoot an email to your ex that says something like, "Sorry, but I had to cancel for Saturday, but maybe we can see each other some other time. Enjoy the event, it is for a great cause." This will preserve a small window of reconciliation in the future.
posted by AugustWest at 7:44 AM on October 22, 2012

Please do not contact your ex to tell her you won't be there. It makes you look like you're fishing for a reason to contact her and it lets her know that she's got you so upset you can't come. Only contact the charity.

She doesn't want to see you some other time; that's why she broke up with you. You need space and distance instead of picking at a new scab.
posted by shoesietart at 8:00 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Cancel gracefully. These things happen all the time. Do not tell the person from the charity your reason; just say that personal circumstances have arisen that make it impossible for you to be there, and that you'll be happy to volunteer another time.

Do not contact your ex. NO GOOD WILL COME OF IT. You will not feel better after any interaction with her at this point. She will not be nice to you. You will not get any answers, satisfaction, comfort, or hope. I know you want those things -- it's perfectly natural -- but contacting her will not provide them.

Be gentle with yourself, and make gentle choices for yourself. It's what you would do if you had a new physical wound, so be sure to behave the same way with a new emotional one.
posted by scody at 8:55 AM on October 22, 2012

Treat yourself kindly and cancel.
posted by parakeetdog at 9:35 AM on October 22, 2012

Play it cool. Act like it is no biggie.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:36 AM on October 22, 2012

This is a volunteer gig. Your livelihood does not depend on taking part in this event. People cancel all the time. It's not a big deal. You are not irreplaceable.

Is your insistence that you have to go and cannot cancel just a way to see your ex? That's sure what it seems like to me.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:05 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm another guy who works at and organizes these sorts of events. As others have said, if I were the organizer here I would much rather swap two people than deal with what will be the inevitable fallout from this.

I once refereed knee hockey for 9 hours straight because four volunteers just didn't show up. People cancel ALL THE TIME. Cancel if you think you have to, but ask the organizer to change teams at a minimum.

My prediction:
"Sue and I have got some unpleasant recent personal history, and I'm uncomfortable working so closely with her. Can I switch to another team?"
"Oh, man, sure. I'll put you on cotton candy and move Phil over there to registration."

Unless this charity event features free MRIs or something and you and your ex are the two MRI operators, I can't imagine that a team change is truly out of the question.
posted by chazlarson at 10:15 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing that secretly you are thrilled to be on that same team and hoping things will go well.

I think you should either not go or ask to be put on a different team.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:10 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

PS. Probably she has already asked to be reassigned herself or is planning on bailing herself, so really, what's the point?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:11 PM on October 22, 2012

Thank you internet strangers for your kind wisdom.

An update..

I didn't back out of the event and I didn't switch teams. It turned out that someone in our team called in sick so I was needed more than ever and I was glad I didn't let my team or the organization down. She gave me a hug at the beginning which broke the ice and made me feel a lot better. We were both cordial and professional to each other for the rest of the event, despite being slightly awkward. I am really happy I went because we had left things in a bitter mess after our fight/breakup and working with her gave us a chance to patch things up a bit and let us end off on a better note.

However, it does set back my healing and recovery because now all those loving feelings I have for her came rushing back and I spent the day knocking myself back to reality.
posted by feastorfamine at 12:11 PM on October 24, 2012

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