I don't want to catch up
February 20, 2014 7:02 AM   Subscribe

How do I avoid/reject conversation with an old friend I might run in to (without feeling shitty about it)?

Someone who I considered my best friend in middle and high school recently transferred to my university. I don't want to go into the details of our relationship because it is mostly irrelevant, but she treated me very poorly and I never want to be in contact with her again. Our friendship didn't go out with a big fight or anything, I just gradually stopped talking to her as I realized how horribly she treated me (thanks, therapy!). She has made 2 or 3 attempts to contact me in the 3 years since high school ended, which I ignored (and felt very cruel for ignoring her).

Despite the huge size of my campus (which houses 30,000 students), I've already seen her twice. Both times were from behind, so she didn't see me. I'm afraid I will run into her and she will want to talk. I want absolutely nothing to do with her and I want to put that horrible part of my life behind me.

What should I do if I run into her? Ignore her, just say hi and keep walking, stop and talk? I have forgiven her and I understand she has probably grown up and changed, but I still don't want to talk to her. I am not a vengeful person and I really don't want to hurt her feelings (not to preserve her feelings, just because I would be upset with myself for being cruel).

I would love to be the bigger person and exchange pleasantries, but I'm really not in a place where I feel comfortable doing that yet. Do I need to just suck it up and do that? I would really like to hear some opinions and know what you would do if you were in this situation. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would love to be the bigger person and exchange pleasantries, but I'm really not in a place where I feel comfortable doing that yet. Do I need to just suck it up and do that?

Pretty much. Not because you want to be the bigger person, but because you want the issue to go away, with the least amount of drama. So, you rather than make a big deal of it, you try to leave it at "don't call us, we'll call you." I suggest "Hi, yeah, good to see you. Sorry, gotta go right now, maybe we can do coffee sometime, gotta run!" Pleasantries, but very minimal ones.
posted by tyllwin at 7:11 AM on February 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Go with a simple script -- "Sorry, I can't talk to you now." That's polite enough, but ends the conversation without setting up the expectation for future interaction.
posted by jeffjon at 7:13 AM on February 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

What should I do if I run into her? Ignore her, just say hi and keep walking, stop and talk?

someone in here gave me a good tip for when I was trying to do a similar avoid-a-person thing - just have my cell phone ready so when I saw them I could pretend that I just got a call I "had to take, sorry". It does put off the inevitable, but it does give you a gracious "out" for when you're caught by surprise.

As for ignoring the email - honey, do not feel "cruel" about that, especially if she was cruel to you. Fuck her if she was cruel to you, honestly. (I took that "ignore them" tactic when it came to Facebook friend requests from people I'd been to high school with and now disliked, and I gotta say that the thrill I got when I ignored their friend requests was almost sexual.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:19 AM on February 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

With these kinds of questions on AskMe, I think it's important to reflect that there's not some secret script which allows you to ignore people without the potential to hurt their feelings. Sometimes, you need to recognize that maintaining your boundaries is going to upset people. That's okay, you can't make everyone happy (and in fact shouldn't try, especially with people who have a history of making you feel bad!). It's a good thing to let go of, and may help you a lot in this situation. I also agree with Empress that there's a lot of exaggeration required to state that not talking to this person is "cruel".

With people I don't want to talk to but still want to maintain appearances, I just pull the "Oh hi, how's it going! Okay, bye!" without stopping (ie. keep on walking). I wouldn't make a fake offer to hang out or get coffee sometime, because then she may try to reach out more (plus you're sending the wrong message).

With people I have absolutely no interest in ever associating with, I just avoid eye contact wherever possible. As in, wow, that's an interesting sign over there! Or the cell-phone tip is good. That may be immature, but if I don't want to talk to them, why do I care about their opinion of me anymore?
posted by Paper rabies at 7:23 AM on February 20, 2014 [16 favorites]

When you spot her, decide that you have a place that you need to be. Always be moving. That way, when your paths cross, you can slow down very slightly (DO NOT STOP) and say "oh hi! nice to see you, gotta run!" then keep walking. As long as you always keep moving, the conversation is necessarily limited to only the briefest of pleasantries exchanged.
posted by phunniemee at 7:23 AM on February 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

First of all, don't feel bad at all about not wanting to connect with her. You both have changed considerably, but that doesn't mean you have to do anything about it.

Secondly, any tactic you use will be fine. "Oh Hi, I wish I could talk, but I'm in a rush." Or be on your phone and wave. Or pretend you don't see her.

I'm sure that she has a new circle of friends so if you're not one of them, it's cool.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:29 AM on February 20, 2014

What I'd actually do? Exchange some minimal small talk, feel horrible about myself, relive the original incidents repeatedly over the next couple of days and then continue in dread of seeing her. (Ask me how I know!)

What you should do? Practice a script. Practice it with a close friend if you have someone you can trust.

What do you want the script to do? Do you want to be direct? Do you want to be indirect?

"Hi Melissa, I'm sorry, I don't feel like talking right now." [Repeat as needed]/

"Hi Melissa, how are you? [no pause for anything but initial response] I can't talk, I'm late for class."

Also, be prepared to avoid her if you are both, say, buying books at a campus bookstore - just walk away if it looks like you'll end up behind her in line. If she ends up behind you, you need script #1.

I personally am a big fan of script #1. Melissa may have changed since junior high, she may regret what she did, but that's not your problem. You don't owe her friendship, or making her feel better about her past or any of that stuff. If what she did is so overwhelming to you that you really, truly don't want to talk to her ever ever again, it's okay to avoid her. You aren't doing her some kind of huge wrong by not making small talk. (I think you could wrong her - running her down unjustly to others, doing her any kind of bad turn that came your way, etc - but as long as you act with probity when you have power to impact her actual life, you're in the clear in not being chatty.)

You'll probably feel weird and bad after you give her the brush off - but it will be worth it because you won't have to dread talking to her again. It's just not worth wondering if you're going to have to deal with her again in the future.

There is a person - a lovely woman, now a tenured professor - who did something really bad to me out of thoughtlessness and privilege about ten years ago. (In addition to being a lovely woman, she comes from wealth, is thin, blonde, feminine-presenting and heterosexual.) What she did was so hurtful that there is exactly one person I have ever been able to tell about it. It wasn't intentional, but it was thoughtless and shitty and could have been avoided if she hadn't been anxious to tokenize me. It was particularly triggering for me due to personal history she could have inferred but did not definitely know. When I think about it, I am sure she's not a terrible person, she wasn't actually a terrible person even then (just self-absorbed and over-indulged) and yet...I have absolutely 100% no desire to speak to her ever, ever again, I still struggle with bad memories of the event and I know for a fact that the whole experience did me some harm at the time. We move in similar social circles. It isn't beyond the bounds of possibility that I will be introduced to her at a party. I plan to pretend I don't remember her and then leave, and probably cry.

My point being, only you can actually determine at what point you need to cut people off.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on February 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Sorry" comes up in a number of the suggested dialogs above. "Sorry" should be avoided unless you mean it. In many instances it can be replaced by "unfortunately."
posted by whatzit at 7:38 AM on February 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think many will go through what you go through and all of the advice will be good. Some of it will work for you, some not so much.

Keep in mind that you won't feel that you are ready for the confrontation no matter how much time passes or how much you mature.

I had a friend I thought was my best friend when I was in HS. Slowly, I realized she was not defending me to people telling awful rumors like I would with rumors about her. That wasn't so bad. She added to rumors. She got into drugs and alcohol and told her parents it was my drugs they found and that she was with me whenever she went out. None of it was true. It was terrible having her parents scream at me in the pizza shop or the supermarket or wherever else.

Her now husband is a business associate of my sister's. I have a business four doors down from my sister's. So when I see the friend, I say, "You look wonderful! I am glad you are looking so well. I must go, I was just running to XYZ. Bye!"
posted by Yellow at 7:43 AM on February 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Life will be full of these situations, I am afraid. It's important to set your own personal boundaries early on so you become used to having awkward little moments now and then.

"Hey, how are you doing? Good to see you. Listen, I have to run.."
"Oh man, I didn't even see you there. Have a nice day.."

A little acknowledgement goes a long way to defuse any potential drama. And then just walk away and continue to live your own life far away from the toxic person.
posted by kariebookish at 7:51 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's anything wrong with "sorry" as a casual word of politeness. I mean, don't go out of your way to say how sorry you are you can't talk, but I think "Hey - sorry, got to get to class/dinner/study group!" with a strained smile would be pretty good.
posted by mskyle at 7:56 AM on February 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

I wouldn’t lie with the “good to see you” or “let’s get coffee someday” stuff. I know people use those words without meaning them all the time, but she might take them as invitations.

I would ignore her as if she were a stranger unless she approaches you, in which case you can use one of the exit strategies suggested above to cut off conversation. You could also (if you can do it sincerely) say something like “Hey Melissa! I’m glad you’ve found a program that works out for you here. Good luck!” And walk away. That gives a message of goodwill but also makes it very clear that you’re not interested in having her in your life.

You might also think about whether it would cause you less stress to seek out an interaction to get it over with, so you’re not constantly stressed out by the prospect.
posted by metasarah at 8:18 AM on February 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Another thought, if you are somehow forced into a conversation, and you want to let her know that you're not intersted in pursuing your accquaintance, you can say, "I've seen you around and while I don't wish you an ill will, I think that our relationship has run it's course. Good luck to you, I simply MUST dash."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:44 AM on February 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you really believe it is OK for you to choose not to talk to her at length & catch up? I think it's definitely OK, but the important thing is whether you believe that. Maybe you will feel like you're being "cruel" when you hurry on by without stopping to chat, but you will probably only feel that way for a few moments. Later on, after thinking it through, you will probably be proud of yourself for doing what you need to do to care of yourself. Don't try to avoid that momentary feeling of "oh no, I feel like I'm being cruel" if it would mean entangling yourself with someone you actually want to be free of. You are a very busy person with places to go and people to see, and this person has no valid claim on your time or attention beyond maybe a quick "hi, gotta run" if she is actually right there in front of you saying hi.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:48 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just want to chime in that there is absolutely no reason to feel bad about not responding to her requests. You are allowed to not be friends with someone you don't like. You haven't said or done anything mean. I would keep that attitude if you run into her on campus -- you don't have to be friends with this person and she's not going to force you to be friends with her either. Just say you need to go, be friendly but curt, and it should be fine. Don't stress about it. No one can make you be friends with this person. You control all the power.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:51 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not cruel to cut off contact with someone who hurts you. Cruelty is willfully causing pain to others for the fun of it. You are not willfully causing her pain, you are protecting yourself from someone who hurts you. Her reaction or feelings about not being able to hurt you anymore are not your responsibility.

Random but, have you thought of changing your hairstyle/altering your appearance in such a way that you *feel* like a slightly different person? Sometimes if I know I'm going to be seeing someone I don't like I make sure to be wearing an outfit I like, hair done well, etc. so that I feel like I'm wearing a sort of "mask" that protects me from that person. It seems like you're anticipating an exchange with this person to be "the high school you meets the high school her." But you're not in high school. That was in the past and you are a different person now. Try seeing any interactions with her as being with someone from a distant past that you foggily remember. Save the vulnerable, authentic behavior for when you're safe and around people who treat you kindly.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:55 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you acknowledge this person in any way, you're setting yourself up to have to acknowledge this person time and again. I've thought often about how I'd handle meeting someone in the fashion you describe, and while I'd cringe at doing it, I'd just walk on. It's a quick and clean thing to do to ensure no confusion about where you both stand.

Or you could issue a cut.

You can't control another person's feelings. You can influence, certainly, but how she reacts to you is ultimately under her control. Being cruel would be leading her on.

Think on this: you have more of an obligation to not be cruel to yourself than you do to another person. Setting a boundary and letting her know what it is is actually a kindness - when she knows that you're not up for chatting she can let go of trying to forge a connection. She can move on with her life. Pretending that you care might be "socially kind", but it's not honest. You'd be deliberately misleading her at that point.

She might also have seen you from behind and be thinking the same sorts of things that you are. Once there is clarity between you, the problem is pretty much resolved.
posted by Solomon at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Above all, try to be as naturally yourself as you can, don't force a script or style of interaction that makes you uncomfortable or doesn't fit the kind of person you want to be.

To combat negative mental reactions when you see her, prepare a list of current good friends that have occupied your time and brainspace while your ex-bff was out of your life. Recite their names and the good times to remind yourself that you've moved on and your ex-friend no longer ranks as important/interesting to you. Focus on things and people that outrank her.

But if things *do* escalate to noticing each other...

1) Let yourself acknowledge her if you ever meet eyes. If your natural reaction is to smile, smile. If your natural reaction to seeing her is to scowl, scowl. If it feels right, nod at her, but keep doing what you're doing.

2) Don't initiate contact. What you were already doing is more interesting and important than talking to her because it was what *you* were doing, and you're allowed to be the center of your own universe.

2b) If she initiates, try to treat her with the same surface level politeness you'd treat a coworker that you don't know very well, and where the thing you're in the middle of (even if it's reading a magazine or playing angry birds) is way more important than whatever they have to offer.

3) If she tries to prompt more interactions, say "No, thanks, I've got other stuff going on now. See you around." and walk away.
posted by itesser at 11:06 AM on February 20, 2014

Stumble over remembering her name: "Hi, uh, uh, Jennie." Next time you can't avoid her, try, "You're Jennie, right?"
posted by Cranberry at 11:06 AM on February 20, 2014

I have a different suggestion, which might or might not work for you. In similar circumstances, my goal has (sometimes) been to avoid drama and avoid having to think about the person, including avoiding self-recrimination for having been mean or hurtful.

In those circumstances, I'd say something like "OMG [Name], how great to see you. How are you?" and chat for a few minutes. Then I'd say something like "So wonderful to have seen you. Hope [whatever] goes really great. Wonderful running into you!" and then go. Basically, be super friendly but don't leave any room for further contact. If she invites you somewhere talk about how you'd love to do it, but you really can't. Smile a lot.

This gives her nothing to work with and nothing to criticise. There's zero room for her to be upset, write you a sad e-mail, talk about it with your friends, etc. It is, however, dependent on your ability and willingness to be completely insincere. This may or may not suit your situation.
posted by Susan PG at 11:33 AM on February 20, 2014

Over a lifetime, we are all going to accumulate a short list of people we'd prefer to never see or hear about again. That guy who gave me a negative performance review at work? Someone who left a debt unpaid? A former acquaintance who was caught negatively gossiping about me? A former associate who said something untoward to my wife?

When I come face to face with those people, I simply say their first name (or full name) and make direct eye contact for two seconds or until they look at me. Then, if appropriate, a quick handshake and a brief comment (typically "take care" or "hope all is well" or "good luck").

Those might be strange things to say (in this written context), but it is my way of indicating "you did me wrong but I have moved on and do not plan to retaliate or escalate things". Many times these chance encounters happen in a semi-professional setting with other people around. And granted, this only works on people who know/remember what they did and are feeling uneasy about bumping into me. It is about offering a truce.

One time someone tried to bluff through and do the "hey, how's it going?" routine. Other people were around and some of those people might have even been aware of our history. I quietly said "no hard feelings on my end", and then a little louder said "hope everything is going well for you" and smiled and walked off.

My approach might not be for everyone, but it might resonate with someone reading this question.
posted by 99percentfake at 11:34 AM on February 20, 2014

You are probably 'really busy' anytime you're on campus. If this happens enough,she'll get the picture.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:23 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have had "the cut" happen to me plenty of times. The message was received. Ditto someone I thought was a friend suddenly being very cold and barely polite to me when I said hi to them-- I got the "go away, bitch" loud and clear. In my various "now I suddenly hate you" situations, we just scrupulously pretend we didn't see each other even though the other one is RIGHT THERE. (Which was really fun the day when we were the ONLY TWO who showed up for a workout class. I just fucking left in the end because my powers of I DON'T SEE YOU could not work that far.)

But in your case, she wants to be friends again and has been reaching out. Awkward. I think the only way to head that off if she doesn't take hints is to flat out say to her face, "I don't ever want contact with you again. You are a jerk. Goodbye." That oughta make her crawl away from now on.

Do not smile and be friendly, do not say "let's get coffee." You want her GONE from your life. Do not be nice or lead her on in any way if she approaches. If you can, "pretend" to not see her. If she forces the issue, I think you need to tell her off directly because some people don't take hints. Sometimes you just have to be the asshole, because being nice only gives some people hope and makes the situation worse.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:14 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

1-pretend to text
2-pretend to take a phone call
3-seriously you aren't cruel she was terrible

1 and 2 have apps for this specifically. Google them. They help.
posted by rideunicorns at 12:36 AM on February 21, 2014

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