Help me deal with a (crazy?) ex.
January 13, 2013 9:48 PM   Subscribe

LTR ended without a word. We're going to have to see each other a lot. How should I handle this?

I'm a grad student in my late twenties. About two months ago, my year-long relationship ended abruptly. As in one morning, I got out of his bed and left to start a normal day, and after I left that morning he never spoke to me again.

Prior to that he had been telling me he loved me and we had plans to move in together. While at that time, we were going through a rough patch due to lots of stress brought on by external circumstances, I in no way saw that coming. There were no conversations or explanations of any kind (not even a text). I wrote him a short email a week of total silence later (I sent him a single text during that week and received no reply) letting him know that I wanted to come and get my things; no response. He dropped my things off with one of my friends a few days later.

Obviously, this has been very difficult for me but I've picked myself up, come to grips with this as best I can, and have begun moving on with my life. The problem is that we're in the same graduate program (I know) and we participate in a major student activity together (I know). Over the next several months we are going to have to see each other very frequently in connection with that activity, starting in the next few days.

How do I handle this? I've never dealt with a person like this before and I'm kind of at a loss as to what to do. We will be in a relatively small group when we see each other - less than 20 people - so it isn't as though we'll be able to ignore one another. I've never been through something like this before, and all of my girlfriends are shaking their heads. All agree that his behavior has been bizarre and unbelievably cold. No one seems to have seen anything like it before.

I'd be willing to bet that a good portion of our grad-program social circle doesn't even currently know that we are broken up, as his own, personal friends didn't seem to know even weeks later (were texting me, contacting me on social media, asking me questions about him). I've been living a normal single life - going out on my own with friends, telling people I was no longer dating him when it came up, etc - but since all of this happened just before final exams, people have been focused on work and then on the holidays, so I'm sure the grapevine has been a bit slower than usual.

I'm also a little afraid of what my reaction to seeing him will be, as all of this did quite a number on me. I feel much stronger than I did a month ago, and am hopeful and happy about moving into my future without a person I now understand to be toxic, but I'm still licking my wounds. Any advice on how to prepare and comport myself going forward would be welcomed.
posted by sevensnowflakes to Human Relations (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am a bit confused--did you try to contact him other than the single text? Is it possible that he believes you abruptly dumped him with instructions on how to handle your belongings? I think my response will differ depending on that.
posted by studioaudience at 9:54 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

Did he leave you a breakup note of any kind, or was he just gone? It sounds like he decided to go no contact, but doing so without officially breaking up with you is incredibly strange.

As for how to handle it, just treat him like a colleague. In all these situations you describe, he's a professional contact. Be professional, be extra kind to yourself on the days you have to see him, make sure you're engaging in hobbies and spending time with friends. Do all the things you're doing to get over him; lick your wounds in private, and be cordial, polite, and professional during all of your future interactions with the guy.
posted by k8lin at 10:01 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm a bit confused as well. How do you know he dumped you if he never said so? This almost sounds like miscommunication gone haywire...

Anyhow. I once dated a co-worker. When he dumped me, I dealt with the face to face interactions professionally. You talk to him if you must, otherwise keep things professional and no more attention than you would to a casual acquaintance in your group.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:01 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

The question here seems less "how do I handle this?" and more "how will I ever handle this???"

I don't think we can tell you exactly how to act or what to say, because it'll depend on how he acts and your interpersonal style.

But I'm confident you'll know how to handle it when it happens. You seem quite strong and competent. You'll be able to handle it.
posted by salvia at 10:10 PM on January 13, 2013

Response by poster: Without getting into an avalanche of snowflake details: he was just gone, and there's no way he interpreted it as me dumping him. I saw him at school once after he stopped speaking to me; he looked me straight in the eyes and then walked right by without saying a word.

I think my point is that I'm not sure if he's going to let me deal with him professionally. As in, his reactions to my professional overtures will be unprofessional and will raise eyebrows. I don't want to become embroiled in a big drama he has created by scorching the earth and being unable to interact with me in any normal fashion.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:11 PM on January 13, 2013

Well if you're sure he dumped you in this weird way and is now treating you like a stranger, I guess that it won't be that hard to treat him like a stranger too, especially since I think it will feel to you as if you never really knew him, or at least don't know the current version of him.

Good luck. What a weird situation.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:23 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

...his reactions to my professional overtures will be unprofessional and will raise eyebrows.

That's his problem (which sounds a bit harsh, but it's true). It is going to make him look unprofessional, but just keep being professional and acting like he's just a difficult person that you have to work with. That's what he's decided to be, which is sad, but it is what it is. If he wants to look unprofessional, let him. Don't let him take you down with him. Just be cordial, talk to him as little as possible, and be pleasant.

Not being embroiled in a drama is a little tricky, but you just have to remember to say "I don't want to discuss it" when people try to ask you about it. People will figure out that you broke up based on the way he's treating you, and all you have to say when people ask what is going on is those six words (or a variant thereof). If they press, just keep saying that you don't want to talk about it in a level and kind voice.

Processing something like this is hard. Do you have a trusted friend or group of friends you can talk with? Keep taking good care of yourself and being kind to yourself.
posted by k8lin at 10:27 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I know you said you can't ignore him, but I think you're wrong. After all , he's ignoring you pretty successfully.
posted by Kololo at 10:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yikes. Sounds dicey. Take extra care to think before you speak/act when it comes to him, even though it might seem unfair that you should have to. This includes limiting discussing him/ your relationship with any mutual acquaintances because it could get back to him and fan his flames. It sounds like he's feeling very raw for whatever reason and is having a hard time; what you want to do is avoid exacerbating his negative emotions until some time can pass and he cools.

If it were me, I'd try to limit my interactions with him-- like, talk privately to the organizer of your mutual activity and ask to be put in separate workgroups and that kind of thing. You don't have to explain why. Just find ways to not be face to face with him more than necessary.

Have an exit plan in mind for if you find him acting in an unprofessional way toward you. Because you know him well, you probably already have some words in mind that you could use to extricate yourself from Drama in a classy way without making him more upset.
posted by (F)utility at 10:31 PM on January 13, 2013

You can probably force civil behavior on his part by never being alone with him. As long as there is a third person there you both can just engage the third person in small talk and even if he says nothing it won't be that obvious as long as you are keeping things nice and normal with the third person. Also if he is crazy, you'll look like the mature one if are there chatting politely to him and third person (even if you are barely engaging him, you can still broadly talk to both people "so how is everyone doing.... Some weather we're having...). Once you've gone through the motions you can politely excuse yourself and leave him with the third person.
posted by whoaali at 10:51 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How incredibly bizarre and inhuman. Well anyway, just treat him the same way, with coldness.
posted by Dansaman at 11:02 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

The individual who is Being Dramatic is the one who people will be looking at. They won't be paying attention to the person standing quietly. Carry yourself with class and grace and people will view him as being the one who is causing a problem. If you handle the situation well, people will most likely admire you for being so adult in the face of such odd behaviour.
posted by Solomon at 11:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [45 favorites]

Are you a girl? If so, let me tell you, men are dumb. There, I let the cat out of the bag.

If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, just remember there is going to be an after. So, if you know you're going to an event where you might see him, then you should have already made plans to go to the movies afterwards with some friends. Bookend the suffocating situation with some prezzies. Treat yourself. Kill yourself with kindness.

It's a little unclear from your post if - in terms of your relationship with him - there is junk on your side of the street left to clean. Whether or not that's the case, just be super cordial and don't say a bad thing about him. This will keep you from feeling bad. If you see him gearing up to address you about something deeply personal in public, just tell him you don't feel ready to talk about that yet. Maybe some other time.

Intense relationships are weird. They can end weird, and they can make us think all kinds of stupid things. If intensity was a fundamental aspect of your relationship, just remember how easily that intensity faded. In fact, got shut down over night. Don't accidentally invite that type of dynamic into your life anymore. Be in control of your emotions, and be polite. Nobody will ever fault you for that. And keep an eye out for someone a lot better than this douchenozzle.
posted by phaedon at 12:01 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

his reactions to my professional overtures will be unprofessional and will raise eyebrows

The more unprofessional he gets, the more professional you get. Then those raised eyebrows will be his problem, and you'll get a reputation for staying professional and unflappable in difficult circumstances.
posted by yohko at 12:17 AM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Check your memail. Either I know this guy, or I know his twin in absurd behavior.
posted by Cygnet at 12:31 AM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure if he's going to let me deal with him professionally. As in, his reactions to my professional overtures will be unprofessional and will raise eyebrows.

Irrelevant. You are no longer a couple – soon everyone will know that. You revert to being two individual people, each responsible for your own self. If he acts unprofessionally, that is squarely on him.

If you're concerned about being pulled into a mess with him, you must walk away if things start going that direction. It doesn't have to be difficult. You do not have to entertain any drama. Take the high road.

If you're concerned that he will get to you, the only advice I have there is that there are no additional answers to be had here. You have all the answers you need, and it's over now. You may have unresolved feelings – those are yours alone to deal with. Granted in the close association of a graduate programme, you will be in situations with him, however that does not mean anything about your behaviour.

Chances are he's having a quite a difficult time with it, so it's probably best not to think about it as an adversarial problem. You're two people that made a mess together, and now have to clean it up. Set yourself time and space to grieve each day in private or in a protected space – with friends, at the gym, etc. You simultaneously need to mourn the relationship and get on with it.

The most important aspect of all of this – the only thing I would ask that you take away – is that you do not let it impact your graduate school goals and ambitions. You have probably worked very hard to get where you are, and this is your shot. The relationship is now background noise, and any time you spend entertaining it or dealing with it is time that you are not spending focused on your ambition. You don't get another shot at this, and there are plenty of people ready to pick up what is rightfully yours if you stumble.

Thus, get him out of your head. It's over and gone. There are no more answers. He opted out. End of story. Any further time you spend thinking about or entertaining this relationship is time you are not Becoming Fucking Amazing.

What I say is true. If you want to discuss further, give me a shout.
posted by nickrussell at 3:13 AM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Whoa. My most recent ex left me in just the same manner. We'd picked out a spot on a farm to build a house and one day, he was just gone. He would not return my calls, texts, or letters. It sucked royally. He's a dick.

I posed this question about having to see / interact with him -- maybe the answers there will help you, too?

Good luck to you. Be the bigger person here, if you can, when you can. He's a douche and doesn't deserve another thought or courtesy from you, if you can manage it.
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:00 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I actually know at least two people who end friendships in a very similar way. They just cut off all interaction with the person.

It's very likely that he doesn't want any drama either (thus the cold, emotionless break-up). I'd bet a lot of money that if you treat him like a stranger, he'll do the same.

Be polite, talk to him when you have to (i.e. if you are coordinating something and he has the information, don't ask someone to ask him for you), and leave it at that. When anyone asks why you broke-up say something like "I honestly do not know, you'd have to ask him."

Everyone will think you're taking the high-road and respond well to you.
posted by oddman at 5:17 AM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is really, really weird. I think you should do the opposite of the advice here and engage with him to try to figure out what the hell happened here.

Women have this weird idea that we're being "needy" or "desperate" or something, just to want a basic human modicum of communication and decency. If you were his friend, wouldn't you find it really strange if he suddenly didn't want to talk to you anymore, with no reason at all. Does he have a brain tumor? Is there a huge misunderstanding where he thinks that you are the long-lost murderer of his favorite grandmother?

I think you should approach him and ask him if he'd mind having a little discussion with you about what happened. You're not trying to get together, you understand he doesn't want to talk with you, but you just want to know what the hell is going on.

I did this once with an ex who had dumped me with a one-line email after a six month relationship (and at least there I knew definitively that I'd been dumped!) We had a long conversation and it basically came out that he didn't feel like I was The One, and in his last relationship he'd dragged out discussions about that for over a year, so this time he overcompensated and did it in a one-line email. It's very immature and silly of him to think of women as interchangeable fixtures in his mental world like that, but whatever. At least I knew what happened.
posted by 3491again at 5:37 AM on January 14, 2013 [17 favorites]

I agree with 3491again. I personally think that after a year of dating, this guy owes you an explanation. Hell, at the very least he owes you confirmation that he does in fact want to end the relationship! I'm not talking about a long, drawn-out discussion necessarily, but at least a brief reason for the radio silence. That is not an acceptable way to end a relationship.
posted by whitelily at 6:06 AM on January 14, 2013

Any advice on how to prepare and comport myself going forward would be welcomed.

You need to mentally and emotionally place him in the "distant professional acquaintance" column. Even if you haven't completely done that, you need to act as though you have, for your own professional and personal reasons.

No question that this is weird and bizarre and it sounds like he's being a dick and this has hurt you a lot. But he's a distant professional acquaintance at this point, so treat him as such. There's no reason for you to seek him out or interact with him other than social niceties and brief professional contact.

Are you a girl? If so, let me tell you, men are dumb.

This is a bizarre statement and feel free to ignore it.

...after a year of dating, this guy owes you an explanation

The guy clearly thinks differently and there's no way she can force him to do anything without spending more emotional and mental energy on him, which doesn't sound worth it in this situation.

Continue moving on and she should be professional and civil in any interactions with him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:21 AM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Wow. I'm with 3491again: this is bizarre. I don't think it is unreasonable to ask him to have coffee and just ask what happened so you can clear the air and work together. "We don't have to be friends, but I can't just walk around campus pretending I don't know you. I want to understand what happened"

But: you can't do this without putting him on the spot. Expect defensiveness and whatever emotions come with that (hostile? bitter? mean?) and don't take those personally. Know that those are just human reactions for being called out for non communication.

Be prepared for any number of hurtful answers, and don't take those personally either. Find the space to say "okay." and process them later. You don't want the relationship back, you just want to clear the air.
posted by amandabee at 6:24 AM on January 14, 2013

As in, his reactions to my professional overtures will be unprofessional and will raise eyebrows

He's ignoring you? I hate to say it, but that's not that unprofessional. Treat him with basic politeness, nothing more, and so long as you do so, he'll look like the loopy one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:08 AM on January 14, 2013

It sounds like you're doing a great job of moving forward. Congrats to you.

No matter what happens, I don't think he's ever going to be able to put into words why he did what he did, or why he chose to do it in this amazingly bizzare way. Clearly he was unhappy, and he fled. No matter, at the end of it, it's his problem, not yours.

Continue to be the classy person you're being. Be open to discussion, if it goes that way, but don't press for it. Don't contact him, don't make a big deal among your mutual acquaintances (among your close friends, totally different story).

As for mixing and mingling in your program. Be polite and kind, and rise above your feelings. If he chooses to be cold, or pointedly ignore you, oh well, that's him. You're you, you're a better person than that.

It hurts a lot to have to put up with this nonsense. Some people don't know how to confront issues in a relationship and they don't know how to handle ending a relationship, your ex is one of these people. Forgive him his flaws, treat him kindly and with respect. And in the end you'll be the one who gains the most from this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

If there are 20 other people in your group, there are 19 other people to interact with. Try to have as little interaction with him as possible while remaining polite and professional.

Wanting to force a communication sounds good but to what end? He doesn't want to be with you anymore, does it really matter why? Do you really need to be told that you were too this and not enough that. He's an immature asshole who didn't have the balls to tell you that he no longer wanted to be in a relationship. Don't start any drama with him and extend the breakup.

You've made headway moving on, keep it up. Don't look back.
posted by shoesietart at 7:15 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ugh, so sorry for you...this sucks. Personally, I think people who behave this way should have a special place in Hell where their eardrums get pierced repeatedly with a rusty icepick. You'll never convince me that people who do this don't know EXACTLY the effect it has on you. It's a cruel power play they use to compensate for their own spinelessness...basically allowing them to be absolved of the discomfort of an actual confrontation while simultaneously offering them the juicy prize of knowing you are twisting in the wind. What a freak. Focus on the fact that you found this out now rather than after you had wasted even more of your life on this psycho. It always hurts to find out we've been lured in and charmed by someone capable of this kind of disturbing behavior, and I think that's half the pain. Be exquisitely professional in front of others, pretend he doesn't exist in private, and NEVER let this dickhead see you hurt.
posted by SinAesthetic at 7:20 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

You dodged a bullet. The two plausible scenarios I see are: 1. He's a merely emotionally clumsy person who took the "no drama" thing to its extreme, nonsensical limit. Or, 2. He's a borderline mentally-ill person. Either way, you are seriously lucky to be rid of him. This is not a reflection on you; plenty of emotionally clumsy and/or mentally ill people are fun to be around.

The good news is that there is bad blood in any workplace; just use the normal mechanisms that you would with anyone you didn't care for. If this guy was merely a garden-variety douche, would you be able to minimize your contact, grit your teeth through brief, polite encounters, etc.? Then do that.

The only caveat is that it's extremely hard from the outside to tell which of two people in a conflict is the "difficult person." The only way to win an argument with an idiot is not to argue with him at all.
posted by wnissen at 8:01 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Without direct evidence we should likely avoid the "mentally ill" moniker.
posted by edgeways at 9:01 AM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

If his friends were texting you weeks later asking questions about him, does that mean he withdrew from them in a similarly abrupt manner? If so, that is a troublesome sign.
posted by dersins at 9:23 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Protect yourself professionally first by working to be calm and detached around him. I wouldn't rush to go prodding him for an "explanation" any time soon, if at all -- it will only prolong your bad feelings about the situation.

You aren't the first person to bring drama right into your graduate department, either. Happens a LOT. Focus on finishing and getting out.
posted by daisystomper at 9:32 AM on January 14, 2013

A couple of additional things that haven't been focused on above:

(1) don't forget to deal (however that works for you) with the fact that you just lost a LTR. Its easy to get sidetracked into the weirdness of what happened and ignore the loss.

(2) talk about what happened with the people around you. Just because he is silent with you doesn't mean he's not talking about it with everyone else. It sounds like you share a lot of the same friends and acquaintances. Don't let you confusion stop you from discussing your side of the story.
posted by rtimmel at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2013

First of all, since you literally don't know what this is about, I think his silence is because he knows he really doesn't have a good reason and wouldn't be able to tell you one if you asked.

If he were giving you the silent treatment in the hope of being chased, I'd recommend waiting to speak until spoken to, thereby refusing to reward bad behaviour.

Instead, it seems that he just wants to wish you away. Well fuck that lack of noise! I don't think that trying to talk about this to him would satisfy you, and it would definitely make him uncomfortable by pursuing the confrontation he's trying to avoid. And he deserves to feel uncomfortable. I don't like the advice to just clam up and do everything on his terms because anything else is going to send your dignity up in flames. I doubt you'd *get* an explanation, but you would be absolutely 100% reasonable to ask for one.

If any of your mutual acquaintances ask about it, it would not be wrong to say, "I don't know, he just simply stopped speaking to me without warning or explanation. It literally came out of nowhere. I don't want to discuss it, and anyway I wouldn't know what to discuss." If they push it "please don't ask me again [I've told you all I know]." It's not undignifed to say that, doesn't reflect poorly on you, and yeah he might not like it but fuck him.

However, the First Principle to remember throughout all this is that you're in a professional situation. You can never ever do anything that's not hyper-professional at all times in any work setting or with anyone associated with your work. So there's that. You should never mix your professional and personal lives (not saying you shouldn't have dated him, just in general, don't view anyone in a professional situation as your potential or actual friend) and if you have any doubt about whether anything you might do or say is appropriate, leave it out. Your professional stance should be freezing politeness at all times which must never be broken.

Now after all that I am going to tell you what I think you should do. It will look like keeping silent but it won't actually be that. What you should do is mirror his actions back at him exactly, except where doing so might conflict with the First Principle (in which case let him be the unprofessional wazzock, not you). If he does anything actively horrible like throw a brick through your window, then obviously, don't throw a brick through his window. But do file a police report, which is an equal and opposite reaction. If he gives you the cut direct, give him the cut direct. If he smiles at you, smile at him. If he turns his back, turn your back. If he blocks you on YouTwitFace, block him on YouTwitFace. If you can't mimic an action directly, reflect it in some other way. And if he actually gasp! Shock! Deigns to speak to you, you may of course speak to him (matching his word count of course).

Mirroring can be a very effective way of showing people what they look like without saying words they won't listen to anyway. It won't require you to do anything to him that he doesn't think is OK anyway, and it doesn't quite pander to his desire to silence you in any way that will quite make him as comfortable as he wanted. In any case, he won't have cause to complain.
posted by tel3path at 3:57 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

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