Dealing with The Ex (who isn't mine).
July 9, 2013 2:53 AM   Subscribe

Before meeting me, my boyfriend was involved in an intense LDR which ended in a dramatic and painful breakup. His ex will be visiting our city for work next week. I've just found out through the grapevine that she will also be attending a show that we have had tickets to -- and been looking forward to -- for a long time. Do I tell my boyfriend and potentially put him off from going to the show? Do I keep quiet and hope we don't run into her? HALP.

Some more possibly pertinent details:
  • Boyfriend and I have been dating for 8 months. His relationship with his ex ended 2 months before we met. They were together for 3 years and had been engaged to be married when he broke it off, realising that the distance and their dynamic wasn't healthy for either of them. She didn't take it well and attempted suicide to try and get him back. Since then she has spoken out frequently and very publicly (she is a fairly big "celebrity" within our shared lifestyle community) about the relationship, alleging that he abused her. I don't know if this is true but I do believe they brought out the very worst in each other and are better off as far apart as possible.
  • Boyfriend has (so far) undiagnosed anxiety disorders (exacerbated by his previous relationship with his ex) for which he is in the process of seeking treatment. He has taken time off work to avoid the parts of our city his ex might be moving through while she is in the country. We will be going on holiday for part of it in order to do likewise. He is terrified of her and what she might do if they run into each other, as she has a reputation for escalating situations. Think nuclear warhead strapped to the front of a speeding train and you're partway there.
  • The show we're going to has been rescheduled from last year and is the only one happening in our city. My boyfriend has been looking forward to it for months. He will be crushed if he realises he can't attend. I know that whatever happens it is going to be tarnished by his ex's presence (unless she decides not to attend) so really I'm just trying to mitigate the damage.
My options, as I see them, are:
a) I tell my boyfriend that his ex will be there and deal with the fallout now (how??).
b) I don't tell my boyfriend that his ex will be there and deal with the fallout on the night (I don't want to do this).
c) I contact the ex, hope that she sees reason and doesn't attend the show.
d) ???

Any advice, experience or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

(Please note: I am well aware that there is a lot of "drama" here, but I'm not looking for a verdict about whether or not we should stay together. Please leave the DTMFA at the door.)
posted by fight or flight to Human Relations (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: B and C are disastrous options, do not do that. One is lying and the other is... creepy and grody.

I would go with A, and given your boyfriend's anxiety disorder, assume this means you two will not be attending. I would find something else fabulous to do that night. I might even do that in advance, so you could say something like:

"Hey, I found out Andrea will be going to Wicked the same night we're booked to go. If you don't want to go anymore, I thought maybe we could do X and this really cool Y that night instead?"
posted by DarlingBri at 2:57 AM on July 9, 2013 [12 favorites]

I would tell him. You know something going into a situation, so it's only right that he know it too. As for going or not, let it be his choice, but be realistic. If this is some intimate performance at a place that seats 50, you're running into the ex. If this is like a Beyonce concert, odds are much slimmer, and even if you do there are more places to escape.
posted by GilvearSt at 3:09 AM on July 9, 2013

Do not contact the ex. If you see her out, do not make eye contact. Move to another area. This is not your crazy, this is his crazy. He handled things poorly with this woman leaving them both very damaged. You may end up being the target of this woman's wrath. Or, she may be fine and nothing will come of it.

You know that she will be at this event? How? Are you checking her fb page? If so, stop it, that is creepy and wrong. If you were told by a mutual friend then did the friend also tell her that you will be there? I think the surprise of seeing you together would exasperate the situation. If your friend is kind and not prone to stirring up mess, then perhaps friend could check in with ex and make sure that she is okay with seeing you both together.

Boyfriend must be told in a non-dramatic, not the end of the world manner. Choose a moment when he is calm. Maybe while going for a walk. Do not spend much time talking about it. Do not allow him to obsess about it. Put it simply: Either you both go or you go alone. Do not stay home because of this. You will only resent him. His past relationships should not dictate your concert going. You can be supportive of his emotional needs without sacrificing your own needs.

If you do see her there, and cannot avoid her, nod politely before moving to another part of the venue.
posted by myselfasme at 3:21 AM on July 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

He is terrified of her and what she might do if they run into each other, as she has a reputation for escalating situations. Think nuclear warhead strapped to the front of a speeding train and you're partway there.

Tell him and let him make the decision. Support whatever he decides. I'm not sure why anything else even seems like a viable option.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:21 AM on July 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Do what you can to stop the drama cycle. Go with choice A, and, let him decide if he still wants to go. What about friends, will you have allies that are drama averse with you?
posted by kellyblah at 3:33 AM on July 9, 2013

Yes, you should tell him. Remind him that he has a right to go where he wants and that confrontation isn't necessary. Depending on the size (and possible seating arrangements) of the venue it can be pretty easy to avoid people.
posted by h00py at 3:36 AM on July 9, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the sensible answers, folks. I realise I'm catastrophising and will endeavor to talk myself down from the tree.

For what it's worth, I'm not particularly tied to going to this gig, it's more my boyfriend's thing. The venue will be fairly large (1500+ people) but the nature of the event will make it more intimate.

Question, particularly for those with experience with anxiety disorders: when I tell him, should I let him think it out on his own (while remaining close if needed), or should I try to distract him/downplay it as much as possible?
posted by fight or flight at 3:42 AM on July 9, 2013

Best answer: Tell him what you know and let him make a decision like the adult that he is. Don't let his anxiety become your anxiety, and don't feed/coddle it. Encourage him to prioritize getting real help. "In the process of seeking treatment" is universes away from being treated.

And ease up on the hyperbole. People are not nuclear warheads no matter how much you don't like them.
posted by headnsouth at 3:43 AM on July 9, 2013 [16 favorites]

Best answer: He will probably be only thinking about the negative side of things, because that is how it is between him and this person. Offering up viewpoints that aren't catastrophic could only be a good thing. It's entirely possible for this not to be a big deal and I don't think it's minimizing things to remind him of that.
posted by h00py at 3:49 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ask yourself which is more important, your bf's mental health or going to the show. Tell him and let him decide, but if it were me, I would suggest not going. Do not call the ex. It will only embolden her. She now would have confirmation that she can still get his goat.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:41 AM on July 9, 2013

Best answer: If you choose to stay close and work it out with him, focus on real, actual things. Not nebulous feelings or anything else. A focus on the real (anything legally actionable or an actual social confrontation, for example) is VERY important to help ground someone with this level of anxiety (I'm a walking nightmare, I speak from personal experience :P )
A change of focus is always good, like if he starts obsessing or acting compulsive have him get a breath of fresh air. Literally even the tiniest change or alteration can put the mind at a much more rational ease. Good luck! This is difficult stuff to deal with. :) I wouldn't downplay it AT ALL, it's very serious for the person going through it. That said, humor always helps, even silly distractions are good.
posted by eparchos at 5:17 AM on July 9, 2013

Response by poster: Marking as best some things I'm going to try to keep in mind. Again, thanks for re-grounding me, folks.
posted by fight or flight at 5:19 AM on July 9, 2013

Best answer: Point out that if you decide to go to the show, you can always leave! When I'm feeling anxious it's usually because I feel trapped, like I have no options. If you get there and he starts feeling anxious, even if he hasn't actually seen her, you can walk right out the door.
posted by lyssabee at 6:24 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If my ex - who was an abusive manipulator who threatened suicide multiple times during our relationship - was going to be at an event that I was going to with my boyfriend, and my boyfriend knew and didn't tell me, I would be so sad. Seeing that man would not be good for me, and I am pretty sure my new boyfriend is aware of that - so for him to hide a potential run-in from me would really make me question how well he knew me, and how capable/interested he was in protecting me.

So, here is how I would like him to approach it, if something similar ever happens: "Hey, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I heard that your ex is going to be at that show. I thought you should know, because that may change whether or not you still want to go. Let me know if you need any help talking out that decision." And then he would drop it, unless I want to talk about it right then - I probably would need some time to think and process and do a bit of internal raging about why this man still haunts me.

FWIW, I would not be attending the show. I am trying to avoid that guy because I know when I see him that he will cause a scene and I don't want him to undo several months of trauma therapy in the process.
posted by sockermom at 6:29 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and for some reason, I pictured him telling me this as we washed dishes together. I think the suggestion to approach this non-dramatically and in a low-key, safe environment (but not in bed!) is a great one.
posted by sockermom at 6:32 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd go with A, and have an awesome alternative plan for the evening lined up for when you break the news. If he reacts poorly, then you've got an alternate to suggest to hopefully soften the blow. If he doesn't react poorly, then you still go to the event.
posted by brand-gnu at 6:36 AM on July 9, 2013

Best answer: A is your only option here.

Do no take on your boyfriend's anxiety. It's tempting because you care about him, and you probably have a lot of sympathy for the feelings that he's having, but it's not going to be helpful to either of you.

Your boyfriend needs to get out of the process of "seeking treatment" and make an appointment with someone ASAP. He is taking time off of work and leaving town just to avoid the possibility of running into her? His anxiety is severely impacting his life.
posted by inertia at 7:34 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is some excellent advice upthread!

I noticed this line: "We will be going on holiday for part of it in order to do likewise" and this "The show we're going to has been rescheduled from last year and is the only one happening in our city."

I'm not sure how set your holiday plans are, but is there a chance you could include a stop at a different city they are playing in? Not that this is a good long-term strategy for dealing with anxiety, but it might soften the blow.

I wish you both the best of luck.
posted by valoius at 7:44 AM on July 9, 2013

Best answer: Abuse survivor and anxiety sufferer here. I agree with everyone who said that you should tell him she'll be there.

I am recently out of my abusive relationship and do not have a new partner, but if I did, I would so appreciate being told! And the support given and understanding about the anxiety and trauma would ease my mind. That's all you have to do for someone with an anxiety disorder. Listening is best, rather than either making him work it out alone or trying to minimize. For some reason, feelings of anxiety do not always respond well to someone trying to logic you out of them. Anxiety has a mind of its own and often will increase if the response is anything other than simple, compassionate listening.

No concert is worth risking being re-traumatized for, no matter how much you like the band (or comedy troupe or whatever), and no matter how much you paid for tickets. I know that if I went to see my favorite band and ran into my ex there I might lose the pleasure I get from listening to the band. It's not worth the possibility of turning something he loves into a trigger. I liked the suggestion upthread of catching them on tour elsewhere.

I think it's great that you are so sensitive to what he's going through and asked this question. Have a wonderful holiday!
posted by Rainflower at 2:21 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What everyone else said. A is your only option.

Also, what others said about not taking on your BF's anxiety. However, some people have implied that because he's "in the process of" seeking treatment he's not really seeking it... in the UK, seeking treatment really is a process, because mental help is minimal and can be limited to what your GP knows how to prescribe and to the possibility of a few sessions of CBT in eight months' time. If you want more than that, or faster, you have to push hard for it.

While taking charge of the process for him would be counterproductive and offensive - you don't want to imply that he isn't doing enough when he's probably doing all he can - maybe you could do some digging on your own for (evidence-based) anxiety help in your local area, or support groups, or books. You could compile a list, and ask him if he wants to try any of these things and whether you can help him organize it. Of course not done in a coachy or preachy or "you're not doing enough" way, but a "if your anxiety is stopping you going to something you've been looking forward to for a year, let's look for more ways of dealing with that anxiety."
posted by tel3path at 4:43 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I told him this morning. He took it much better than I had feared (way to go, Captain Overreacts To Everything) and is determined to not let his ex ruin something he's been looking forward to for nearly a year. I'm super proud of him and will be supporting him every step of the way. Our plan is to dress up, look fucking awesome and have a great evening. :D

Thanks again, y'all. Wish us luck!
posted by fight or flight at 2:43 AM on July 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Good luck! For the record, I disagree with some of the advice above about not expecting it to be a big deal to him and would suggest showing empathy for the fact that it might be when you tell (told) him. Pretending you don't know about his feelings about the ex wouldn't make them go away. sockermom's script was perfect IMO.
posted by salvia at 7:21 PM on July 10, 2013

« Older I, robot...   |   scientifically grounded reasons to avoid taking... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.