To keep in touch with an ex or not?
April 27, 2013 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm sort-of friends with an ex-boyfriend who I had bad relationship with. Broke up over a year ago, get coffee to catch up every few months. Now in a new relationship, and ex has asked to meet up again. Not sure if I should end this sort-of friendship, and if I do, how? Special snowflake details inside.

The relationship with the ex:

Relationship with ex was good at first, but then turned bad about a year in when he started drinking a lot every weekend. We stayed together for 3 years (about 2 past the time when I should have ended it). I've never been good at ending things, and eventually he broke up with me.

About once a month he would get so drunk that he was verbally and emotionally abusive, he would insult me, break up with me or manipulate me into having sex. He would say he was sorry in the morning and usually forgot most of what happened. It took me a long time to realize that I couldn't excuse his behaviour and I still find it hard to reconcile the fact that I stayed with him for so long.

However when he wasn't drinking and when we do get together, things are good. I know he would still go out of his way for me if I asked, and in a way he was my best friend in the big city I live in, and I do miss his company sometimes, but not the relationship or any of the stress that came with it.

Current relationship:

Is going really well, its been a few months, and I really like the new guy, he doesn't know much about the ex and I haven't seen the ex since we've started dating. I also have no reason to think he would be mad that I might meet up with an ex.

In Summary/the Question:
Ex-bf from a relationship that turned bad messaged me today and wants to get together, I'm not sure if I should maintain this friendship, and if I decide to not see him anymore, what do I say to him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why would you waste the time?

Here's somebody whose basic approach to people is to string them along with good behavior just frequently enough that they excuse the bad. Nobody who is genuinely a good person acts like an asshole on a recreational basis; assholes act like good people intermittently for selfish reasons. Life's too short to put up with that.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:07 PM on April 27, 2013 [14 favorites]

Absolutely not worth it, but even more importantly: you know that he's manipulative, so why would you consider letting him back into your life? I an guarentee that he's not just a manipulative asshole to the people he's sleeping with — he's going to be like that to his friends. If he even actually just wants a friendship.

posted by you're a kitty! at 5:11 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't have to proclaim "this friendship is now over" or anything like that.

Just say you're busy.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:12 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't make a big thing out of it, just don't be available to get together. I think it's best if you let the friendship just kind of peter out.
posted by xingcat at 5:24 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

So.... the verbally & emotionally manipulative dude with the drinking problem has kept you stringing along for the year since you supposedly broke up..... and when he feels like it, when he's in the mood for company or sex, he calls and you come running.

PLEASE do not have anything further to do with him: do not meet him for coffee, do not answer his booty calls, *nothing* whatsoever for at least a full, no-contact year. You haven't actually broken up with him, which you really need to do so you really CAN move on. roger ackroyd has it right: when he calls, you're busy, no further explanations necessary.
posted by easily confused at 5:25 PM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

1. sort-of friends
2. with an ex-boyfriend
3. who you had a bad relationship with

It sounds like there's only a sort-of friendship here for you to consider "maintaining" and I really don't see what's in it for you other than reminders of shitty things that happened. Wouldn't you rather go to a movie or read something cool or get a massage or practice the guitar or any other million things that are a better use of your time? One of those is the thing you say to him about why you're busy and can't meet up. (even better if you actually spend the time doing that thing)
posted by iamkimiam at 5:33 PM on April 27, 2013

Why would you waste the time?

Unfortunately this comes down to motives, not time management. Namely your motives. Why are you seeing your ex-boyfriend for coffee? What is he giving you that you can't get yourself? Does it make you feel good that you can have a civil relationship with him? Does it build your self-esteem? Do you have a very latent desire to get back together with him sexually? Is he hot? Do other people like him? Do you seek attention and approval from the opposite sex? Does the normalcy of the occasional coffee offset the abuse you endured while dating him? Is this another example of you not really knowing how to end things? What is that based out of, anyway? Are you a "just go with the flow" person? Are you afraid of detaching? Does saying "no" to someone scare you? Are you afraid of being accountable for your own life? Do you feel that explicitly asking for space would involve admitting that this occasional coffee "meant something" more than it did?

I would ask yourself these questions, and be really honest. Entertain your craziest ideas, nobody's judging you. You have the right to carve out your feelings on something you're going through, and take action based on those feelings. It's not about coming from a good place or a bad place, it just is.

I think you're considering a healthy boundary and are asking how to enforce it. Start by not worrying what other people think. From personal experience I can tell you that getting in touch with your feelings (and even talking about them openly with the person in question) is, contrary to popular opinion, an incredibly powerful thing. Nobody can argue with you on that level, there's nowhere to go. Even something simple like "being unsure about wanting to see the other person anymore" is a case closed statement. Any frustrated argument coming from the outside is great, but it's not what you want right now. And that's all that matters. End of story. A very simple thing to explain, a very hard but important thing to learn how to do.

I promise you that if you have the courage to stand by your convictions, you'll walk away from any potential conflict feeling incredibly good about yourself.

As an aside, I had a talking relationship with an ex that ended when she got into a relationship. It kind of sucked that things "ended again" but I honored her new relationship and wished her the best. I think what you're looking to do is really normal.
posted by phaedon at 5:48 PM on April 27, 2013 [23 favorites]

I will disagree with the other replies here. If things were good for the first year, for me it means things may be more complex than just "he´s an asshole".

Friendship with an ex can be a really good friendship. Specially if things were bad.

I have an ex like that, we both ended up completely disappointed with each other. Trying to translate a local saying, we already saw each other´s asshole. What I mean is we know each other so well that we understand our highs and lows, but with no risk of ending up together again. We have both been there for the other in times of need.

Now, unfortunately she has some untreated hormonal problems that make her "unreliable" as a friend (emotionally unstable), and quite harmful for me, so I´ve had to mostly block her out (even if I can be compassionate with her issues I have to put myself first).

So... I don´t think you have to cut off this friendship of sorts with your ex. Just be on the lookout for the things that made you break out with him in the first place.
posted by Fermin at 5:49 PM on April 27, 2013

Friendship with an ex can be great. Friendship with someone who manipulated and abused you and who you kind of cringe to think about now? Ugh.

I also kind of feel like the fact that you posted about him here, and in comparison to your new bf, makes it sounds like somewhere down deep inside you feel as if seeing him would threaten your new relationship because... maybe you'd sleep with him? Because he's good at manipulating you into doing that?

I mean, when I have dinner (every few years) with my one friend ex, it doesn't occur to me that it might threaten my marriage. It isn't a secret, it doesn't require a big reveal or a concealment, and it isn't weird. It's just a fun evening out for mommy. It doesn't sound like that's what's going on here.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:20 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Decide whether to meet the ex or not this way: If my new guy wanted to meet up with his ex under the same circumstances, without me along, how would I feel about that?

Do you really need to set up a scene with your ex and then undo whatever misconceptions might come into your new relationship as a result?

I would vote no.
posted by aryma at 8:37 PM on April 27, 2013

Simply reply to the ex's mail with a note that, sorry, you can't make it this time because you have a date with [new guy's name.] His reaction will tell you everything you need to know about whether he's friends with you or something more complicated.
posted by davejay at 11:56 PM on April 27, 2013

Just to put it in perspective, I'm friends with several people with whom I've been involved to some degree or another (not all were quite fully-fledged "relationships" so I feel uncomfortable describing them as exes). But your description rings my alarm bells, which is partly due to a glaring example of an ex with whom I will never be friends.

I agree with phaedon's advice above - ask yourself tough questions about why you might want to do this. Do you want to prove to him that you've found someone else, someone better than him? Especially if he hasn't gotten into another relationship? Are there still lingering feelings? Did you have a history of wooing behaviour in the relationship (ie one of you blows up at the other and then woos the other person back into feeling okay about things) - and if so, might this be another example?

It's all down to what you find forgivable and unforgivable. I don't personally think that emotional/verbal abuse and sexual manipulation is forgivable, and would not want to be friends with someone who had done those things to me. But this is not about me, it's about you and maybe you can forgive that. Just think about where your lines are, what compromises you won't make, your bottom line - for friendship, not a relationship. If he doesn't fit, don't make him fit.

Also, please work on forgiving yourself, because it sounds like you haven't. We all make mistakes and do stupid things, especially when love is involved.

If you decide you don't want to see him again, just say you're busy, as others have advised. Don't make it into a dramatic discussion because that just invests more importance in a relationship that is over.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:27 AM on April 28, 2013

Hmm, i'm gonna approach this from the other side of most of the commenters here. Especially speaking as someone who still talks to the vast majority of people they've had any kind of relationship with.

First of all, how exactly did your relationship with ex end? was there a clear final breakup, dead time, and then this slowly built up from basically square one to these coffee date hangouts? or did it end, and immediately segway in to petering along with these meetups.

If it was the former, i have similar totally fine relationships with several exes. And yes, even ones that i had shitty weird, bad, and even bordering on abusive relationships with.

If it's the latter, this kind of thing would make me really uncomfortable, and make me fall in to the camp of the people above saying he's basically just stringing you along for what he can.

I think that a big important thing here is that break, the actually disconnect in communication between the two of you so you can actually properly emotionally separate.

Another thing to consider is the fact that you've grown as a person since then. Has he? By which i mean, has he actually moved on with his life and accomplished things, and maybe even dealt with his drinking problems? or is he still just getting shitfaced a couple times a month, working at pizza hut, and not really doing much else with his life.

One of my other critical pillars of feeling comfortable with this kind of thing is the person not just being stuck in a tape loop of the same behavior. I feel like a lot of people reading this are probably assuming something like my "worst case scenario" from the two things i've described. Basically that he kept a flame going and was stringing you along since the breakup, with no time in between, and is still stuck in a loop of the same exact behavior. The thing is, there isn't enough info here to really know that. He may very well have moved on and grown up to some extent in that year since you broke up. A year is a pretty long time, in human scale emotional times unless someone is completely stuck in a rut. A year is about the median amount of time i'd expect to see someone have actually gotten over something, moved on, moved forward, etc.

I would think long and hard about those points, and those types of questions. Everything phaedon said is a good starting point as to why you're doing this, but what i'm getting at is where he is approaching it from, not you. What vibes you get from his interaction with this casual relationship.

In the end though, i can really relate to this. Sometimes people are shitty partners to you, or seem like they would be shitty partners to quite a lot of people. But fuck, can they be fascinating to talk to. Some people can have a place in your life just as someone to talk to over coffee, and nothing else. Sometimes it takes having more of a relationship with them than that to realize that was where the boundary should have been set.
posted by emptythought at 4:03 AM on April 28, 2013

Put yourself in new boyfriend's shoes. Do you really want to disempower him that way?
posted by Area Control at 6:45 AM on April 28, 2013

Put yourself in new boyfriend's shoes. Do you really want to disempower him that way?

What? You're not owned by your new boyfriend. Break it off with this awful ex, but not because your new boyfriend somehow owns your time and friendships.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:59 AM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

In your shoes I'd probably cool the interactions down -- nothing super formal, just "oh I'm pretty busy at work right now, I'll call you back for a coffee when things calm down," and then not call him. It doesn't sound like there's a ton of good that can come out of your relationship with him -- but it doesn't sound like it's worth the formal drama of severing the relationship either. Just do a slow fade.
posted by feets at 12:03 PM on April 28, 2013

he was verbally and emotionally abusive, he would insult me

Do you have women friends who treat you like this? Why should a guy get special treatment in this regard? Especially one who, if anything, should've been held to an extra-high duty of care, as he was your closest intimate?

It devalues the whole notion of true friendship to pretend that someone who treated you so poorly deserves the title of friend. I know there is a lot of cultural BS out there about being cool and evolved and keeping exes as friends because it's the bigger-person thing to do, but I'm not buying it in cases where any level of abuse or disrespect took place.

Bounce him. Have a good life filled with great friends.
posted by nacho fries at 12:39 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

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