What do I say?
August 9, 2013 11:22 PM   Subscribe

So my fiance and I broke up recently. While a lot of the people in our community know, I continue to encounter situations in which I'm asked, "How's your fiance?" or "What's new with you?" I want them to know so they stop asking me. But if I say, "Actually, we broke up" their face falls and we enter a very awkward conversation full of forced empathy neither of us want to be in. What can I say in a sentence or two to avoid this fate?

Specifically I want to transmit a) hey, this happened b) I'm ok enough given the circumstances c) we don't need to dwell on it d) I'm not interested in helping you process your emotions about this. Basically, I just want to be able to introduce this new information and then smoothly roll on with the conversation, but so far I keep getting stuck. (And obviously this doesn't apply to close friends and therapists, just everyone else.)
posted by ictow to Human Relations (21 answers total)
"Oh, it didn't work out. How are you doing"?
posted by jaguar at 11:25 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Followed, if necessary, by "No, really, I'm fine! It's ok! How are you?" repeated as necessary.)
posted by jaguar at 11:27 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I should probably add, we are both performers in a relatively insular group who all know both of us. And this is pretty shocking news for a lot of them. Just to help add context.
posted by ictow at 11:33 PM on August 9, 2013

I have never said this before, but the mass email was created for this situation. "Dear friend in relatively insulated performing group, I know it may surprise some of you, but we have called off our engagement. We wish each other all the best and still care for each other very much, but we have decided that marriage would be a mistake for us and we've parted as friends. We wanted to let everyone who cares about us know so it won't be awkward. With love, ictow and ictow-ex."

Then when people ask just say, "Fine, really. I mean not ideal, but I'm glad we were able to split amicably and all."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:42 PM on August 9, 2013 [29 favorites]

Knowing that you're both performers in a relatively insular group suddenly makes me want to link to this video. I'm not saying you should rip these people's idea off. But I am saying that some little creative gesture could be a way of getting the word out to your social circle all at once while also reassuring them that life will continue and the band's not breaking up.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:56 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Thanks, it was for the best for both of us. Now I am trying to focus on the next phase. BTW, are you going to [next big event]?"

All but the most clueless will get that. For those, you might have to say something like "really, let's. not dwell on it. And how about [next big event]?"
posted by rpfields at 12:01 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

"really, it's ok, I'm fine, but I honestly am sick of talking about it. So what's new with you?"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:48 AM on August 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

When a friend first told me about her divorce, her second sentence after the announcement was, "I'd rather not talk about it any more than that right now." Because I possess a bare modicum of curtesy, like most people, I said "ok" and the conversation moved onward.
posted by catch as catch can at 1:01 AM on August 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Being currently in this position, I say something like, "actually, we broke up, and it's fine. Hey, when you did X, that was really interesting" etc etc. Give them the news, deflect any unwanted attempt to discuss your situation, and turn the subject to them as quickly as possible, because no one wants to talk about you when you give them an opening to talk about themselves. Those who do anyway may actually be your friends, and opening up to them isn't the worst thing; but the people who are your friends aren't prying anyway.
posted by Errant at 1:24 AM on August 10, 2013

Yeah. It is totally fine and normal to say something like "Oh, we broke up. It's totally fine. We're friendly, we both want the best for each other, there's no drama and no problem." I would say it that way because it tells them what they need to know -- that there's no secret interesting story, and that they don't need to tapdance carefully around either of you in the future. Even if it's not entirely true they should accept it as a polite fiction and take their cue from you. It also gives them a response -- they should say something like "oh, I'm sorry about that, but glad to hear everyone's okay," at which point that topic is resolved and they can move on to something else without feeling impolite.
posted by Susan PG at 1:35 AM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Ah, I'm not with X any more. How is your fire-eating act going?"
posted by tel3path at 3:09 AM on August 10, 2013

Best answer: It's always going to be awkward, because it's an awkward event in life. So being authentic about that.

"We're not together anymore. Sometimes things just don't work out."

"Yes, I'm fine thanks."

Change subject

Even if the change of subject feels like a train derailing and is super-obvious, just accept that because it's an awkward situation.

Along with a bit of grey hair has come a lot of learning about how to communicate highly personal matters in closed communities. My lessons:

1) Have a person or two whom you are totally open and honest and share with. Ideally this person is outside that community. One needs space to grieve – and grieving is social – but it is best if it is outside the community.

2) Once you have that anchor point, there are two features of closed groups which you can use to your advantage. The first is gossip and the second is body language. You can tell a little bit more of the story to a gossipy person. The nice version of the story.

It's been a long time, we've fallen out of love. These things happen. It really sucks but I'm being strong. It means so much that you have listened.

They will tell everyone else (OMG you gotta hear this...) so that the other people have the information, but you don't have to tell them all the craziness. That way, A) they feel like they know, and B) you don't have to deal with it. If you are going to use this approach, it is strongly recommended that you say nothing bad about anyone ever, for that will be perverted and re-transmitted.

Once that has been enacted, you can manage most conversations with people by your body language. Look them in the eyes when you tell them, so that you show them you are maintaining control and you are not buckling. Keep your body language open, not guarded (so it doesn't look like you are trying to hide "the real story"), and do not do anything to perpetuate the conversation. Answer one or two questions if they have them in generalities, and then derail the conversation somewhere else.

Thus, they have been communicated with through two channels (direct and gossip), you show that you are open to discussing it, but are also choosing not to discuss it (the first step in moving on, and a show of strength that they needn't worry about your performance abilities), and finally and most importantly, you maintain your external composure, which will help you maintain your internal composure.
posted by nickrussell at 3:46 AM on August 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

As noted above, just a quick, "We're not together anymore, but I'm doing great and working on ______. And what's going on with you?" is fine because although people really do mean well, they don't really want to hear the details of your breakup.

They just want to know you're doing well.

And then they want to talk about themselves.
posted by kinetic at 4:27 AM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm seeing it in the examples above, but I'm not sure it's clear.... When you say "Actually we broke up" don't just stop there and give the conversation back to them. That's a sign that they are supposed to think of something to say about the break up and keep that conversation going.

Instead, say a sentence or two about the breakup and how you're doing, then KEEP TALKING about the next thing you want to talk about or ask a question about what they are doing. Make it breezy and light and then move on. If you don't give them an opportunity to comment on it, they are less likely to do so.
posted by CathyG at 5:37 AM on August 10, 2013 [16 favorites]

To this day - five, six years after their divorce? - my mother is still introduced to people as my father's wife at functions. She doesn't correct people. He doesn't correct people. For a long time, I think it opened the wound up again for them, and they agonized over it and had to process it and had to deal with it. It happens less and less now, but they work in the same industry, and they live in the same small town, and they were married for 26 years or so. So their Venn diagram is nearly a perfect circle. But they don't correct people who haven't heard yet for a lot of reasons.

- First, it's none of their business. It wasn't actually their business when they were married. It's not their business why or when they divorced. It isn't their business now that they're divorced. The people who need to know already know. Or they will know, over time. Those who don't need to know probably never will. And if they figure it out eventually, or they become someone who needs to know, great. They'll cross that bridge when they come to it.

- Second, and vastly more importantly, it isn't germane to the interaction at hand. The potential for this subject to derail a conversation is huge, as you well know from the conversations that you've been having. When my mother is schmoozing for her organization, the last thing she wants to do is talk about her personal life. That's not the point of what she's doing. I think that's what you're feeling. This is *not* the time and place to be talking about personal stuff. And it is distracting from the actual purpose of your interaction.

I think you should just not engage in the conversation. If someone asks you a question about your ex, answer it politely but vaguely (and with quiet/dignity/grace!). "How is EX?" Oh, great, as usual. How are you? No more. Just let it go.

You also have to find a way to disentangle this major thing that has happened to you from the rest of your life. "What's new with you?" is not actually an invitation to talk about your breakup. That is a social nicety, the equivalent of commenting on the niceness of the weather. If someone specifically asks about your wedding or your wedding planning or if you're excited to be getting married, that's a direct invitation to talk about your breakup, and you should probably follow the poster's advice above and say, "Oh, I'm sorry, of course you haven't heard, we called off the wedding. These things happen, and I'm sure it is for the best." Then when someone says "I'm sorry to hear that." you just move on with the conversation. Turn things back to talking about them, or have another positive topic on hand to discuss about yourself.

Anyway, very sorry to hear about this, and I hope the inquiries end soon.
posted by jph at 7:58 AM on August 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yep, preempt it. "Actually, we broke up. But I'm doing well, I feel like we made the right choice to end the relationship" or whatever. Then ask them a question that isn't related.
posted by capricorn at 10:12 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some people will inevitably have the "OH MY GOD! What happpppennnnnned?" reaction. Last time I was in this situation, it was usually not my closest friends asking this, so I felt free to give them a vague answer like "It wasn't a good fit" followed by a change of subject. No explanation required.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:44 AM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have some close friends that might quietly spread the word, but not gossip too much about it? Perhaps they could also mention that you are "talked out" and need distraction rather than discussion about it...
posted by calgirl at 12:23 PM on August 10, 2013

If it were me, I think I would say something like "Oh, I guess you hadn't heard: That ended (a while ago/two months back/whatever vague time reference). We don't really keep in touch, so I don't really know how he/she is." Then change the subject.

I would do that as a polite way to signal "You didn't get informed because you aren't part of the inner circle who deserved to be told. Other folks already know. No, I don't want to talk about it."
posted by Michele in California at 4:51 PM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

this happened to me. and i used several of the methods suggested above. (1) email announcement for close social friends (2) told one person (no details just that we broke up) at work and relied on the gossipers at work to spread the word quietly. over time everyone either forgot or moved on. its really fine to say that as you began to plan the wedding/future you two realized that it wasn't a good fit and that you'd prefer not to discuss it/dwell on it.
posted by dmbfan93 at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2013

You smile and say,"It's okay; it's a good thing."
posted by discopolo at 7:24 AM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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