Appropriate ways of coping
September 29, 2015 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Two years ago, my husband and I separated. A year ago we got divorced. Although he initiated the split, we both agreed it was probably the best thing to do. We had managed to maintain a cordial but distant relationship until a few weeks ago, when he informed me that he is dating an old friend of ours who also happens to live on my street.

Backstory: The three of us all met at the same time, and I had considered her a very close friend and confidant for many years. After the split, she seemed to do a slow fade from my life, which hurt. I then learned that she was still hanging out with my ex, which also hurt me (perhaps irrationally), so I unfriended her on social media and exchanged only polite hellos with her on the street, which is once or twice a week.

My ex was the one who informed me that they had begun dating. I don’t know for how long or how seriously. Unfortunately for me, this has coincided with the sudden death of a very close friend, the termination of my therapy (therapist closed practice and left the country; I have not gotten around to finding a new one), and a move (same building, different apartment).

It’s basically a perfect storm of emotional upheaval, and I’m having a difficult time holding everything together. Logically, I know that I don’t want to get back together with my ex and that people are allowed to date whomever they want. I also understand that the brain is a weird thing, and that we don’t control who we find attractive. But because she’s my neighbor, I have to see her all the time. And him. And them together. And it really sucks. I’m overwhelmed by feelings of anger, anxiety, humiliation, betrayal, and sadness; I feel like an utter monster at times. A lot of it is reminiscent of feelings I had in my childhood when I was bullied and ostracized by “friends,” so I understand where the feelings are coming from--but I need to do something to lessen them.

I can’t move (had already negotiated the move I just made, and the lease, prior to learning about their relationship), and I also am terrified of becoming a recluse because I’m afraid to walk around in my neighborhood.

I am working on practicing meditation (something that my therapist introduced me to). I know I won’t feel this bad forever, but because of everything going on in my life right now, I’m worried that I’m not processing things in a healthy, effective way. MeFites: I need some tools, tips, or advice for how to cope with the emotions I’m having now so that down the road, I don’t feel so awful all the time.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your ex is a total jerk. Good for you for letting him go. And the 'friend' is also a total jerk. No loss on losing her. I'm sorry that you have these jerks in your life. They should not be putting you in this situation. But, if they were good people who did polite and considerate things, you would still want them in your life, do, let's silently thank them for showing you who they are and why you are better off without them. Let them being jerks help you to move on. Find nice people to be around. People with class. You deserve better. Don't avoid them, ignore them. They are not worth your notice.
posted by myselfasme at 6:23 AM on September 29, 2015 [12 favorites]

That is really really tough that you have to live on their block. Are there any options for you to lease out or Airbnb your apartment? Can you explain the terms to the landlord?

I think your number one priority is taking care of yourself, and for me that would be removing myself from physical proximity of the situation.
posted by pando11 at 6:33 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh my goodness what ARSEHOLES. I hope it helps to have more people say that because those two SUCK BALLS and you should know that.

Anyway, strategies. If you can't get away from them (if you can, do) then I'd say it's all about being a version of you that is so great that if they ever do see you on the street (you'll be way too busy doing your exercise activity/heading to your volunteering activity/talking to one of your new friends from one of the social/activity groups you just joined to notice them) they will think damn, kinda wish we hadn't been such TOSSBAGS to her cause it would be cool to still be in her clearly awesome life.

Also, there is no shame in the fake-it-til-you-make-it approach. You have so much stress and grief to carry right now - make sure you allow time to deal with that in the comfort of your home. If dinner needs to be nutella and wine then enjoy the crap out of that with some terrible TV. But when you step out of the door, put on your "best possible version of me" persona, and rock it all day til you get home. Call friends you haven't seen in a while. Join classes and clubs and make new ones. Sit with them in cafes in your spare time, have lovely healthy food with them and unhealthy desserts. Appear to give no shits whether those two people you have grown out of and don't need or want in your life anymore stroll past. Eventually you will find it's all real, and you earned it.
posted by greenish at 6:55 AM on September 29, 2015 [20 favorites]

A perfect storm indeed. My first reaction is to say there is no reason for you to hold everything together! A lot has fallen apart, quickly and dramatically. Take care of the basics. Eat, bathe, make sure you do enough to keep your job. And give yourself time to grieve all this recent disruption and tragedy. The rest of the everything you are trying to hold together can almost certainly wait.

The pain right now is fresh, and frustrating and scary. But, you are also obviously conscious of your patterns. This won't turn you into a recluse. Do what you need to do now, even if it is a bit of avoidance and escapism. I bet you'll wake up one day ready for a new start with an energy you can't even imagine right now.

I have no idea if your ex or your past friend are good or bad people because of this. I suspect they are just trying to find their way through life too. The more you can model just not worrying about them, the more you can focus on being kind to yourself. And you deserve it.
posted by meinvt at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm thinking don't hide, get even or feel betrayed, get fabulous! Get out and run or bike A LOT. Spend several hours on exercise on your days off work, it will do wonders for your mind and body. Meditation is great but it needs to be balanced with heavy, sweaty exercise. Set your goal to bike 50 miles or run 10 - 15 L by the end of next month.
posted by waving at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2015 [26 favorites]

Fuck those guys. Seriously. If you see them on the street you are under no obligation to say anything to them.

This may sound very simplistic, but when I'm having a hard time with something, anything, I remind myself that all I have to do is keep breathing. Maybe put an affirmative statement in your head when you leave the house, and just repeat it over and over.

And, maybe don't walk around your neighborhood right now! Find fun stuff to do elsewhere. I don't know where you live, but here in the swamps of Jersey I can go from the door to the car, and not really see anyone if I don't want to.

Strength will come with time and eventually, you won't care about what they're doing because you'll have better things to think about.
posted by lyssabee at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

That sucks. Just to counter what some others said, I don't think your ex and former friend are assholes (maybe they are, but it could have just happened). The more you go out and run into them, the easier it will get.

Weird suggestion: if your building allows dogs, foster a dog for a little while. A dog is a great way to force you to regularly go for walks, whether you're feeling like it or not, and then it will get easier and easier. The dog would also a)give you someone else to focus on, helping distract from your own problems; b) cuddle with you and give you affection and loyalty; and c) you'd feel good because potentially you'd be saving its life until it could get adopted.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:41 AM on September 29, 2015 [17 favorites]

You say you can't but you need to move. You do not need to be continually exposed to their bullshit.

(I say this as someone who was married for 17 years; I made my husband leave, and within weeks he was living with our eldest kid's best friend's mother and her three kids. It was the absolute fucking WORST, although in my case, everyone in town sided with me and they were shunned by all our friends to the point where they decided to move out of town.)

Make a move happen. Why would you continually subject yourself to seeing them, higher road-taken or not?
posted by kinetic at 7:55 AM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

My experience is that it's helpful to pick an amount of time in which you get to feel victimized by this. 24 hours, say, or a month, or "until dinner." After that, then you have to tell yourself a new story. What about if you told yourself a story about how you're divorced for a while now, and now your ex is dating someone that you were once both friends with? Such is life. Half of this is par for the course with a divorce. The other half, losing a friend, is something to feel sad about. But.

* "I’m having a difficult time holding everything together."

We feel that way sometimes, but it's an emotional description of things, not a real one. Are you bathing? Are you going to work? Are you paying rent? You are holding things together then. And also, what would happen if you didn't? Maybe you'd yell, or cry, or stay up too late, or call in sick one day and stay in bed. Life—your life!—will go on.

* "I’m overwhelmed by feelings of anger, anxiety, humiliation, betrayal, and sadness"

Those feelings aren't going to capsize you like a boat. You're going to strongly feel anger and sadness and fear. Those feelings will not lessen in a nice straight decreasing line. Instead, they will sort of spiral out of existence as time goes by. Some days you will feel them intensely; other days you will feel them less intensely. Over time, in the aggregate, you will feel them less.

If I had one piece of advice, it would be: journal about this endlessly until you're sick of it, and talk about it to supportive friends endlessly until you're sick of it.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:06 AM on September 29, 2015 [21 favorites]

So I'm wondering if your ex happened to inform you about this relationship that they had managed to keep quiet about only after you had moved to a new lease and managed to make some progress, as in not needing to find a new therapist immediately and taking concrete steps forward? Because while it is hopefully just a horrible case of bad timing, it can also be that you were making solid good progress forward and that made him (probably not her - making a slow fade from your life when she was interested in your ex is the kinder way forward because she isn't pretending to be your ongoing friend or creating drama here), it's also something that an ex with a grudge will do to try and cut you down if you're "winning" the post-divorce competition that's in their head.

Cut him out of your life as much as you can. Cordial, my ass. Dating a neighbour ex-friend is not something you 'happen' to mention.

Get out of your neighbourhood by varying your routine so you go to different places for a while - six weeks? - just to give yourself some breathing space. Have breakfast at a coffeeshop near your office and change grocery shops somewhere else, and just - challenge yourself to go explore six different neighbourhoods over the next six weekends or buy tickets to six different weekend events so you have to leave the building and get out of the area.

And nutella and wine days are fine. Give yourself a deadline to get through this and then see how you feel about it. You don't have to plan six months, just a few weeks. Even one week.

And you don't owe him or her polite conversation even. They're invisible.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:06 AM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think you should throw EVERY resource you have into moving.

One way to break a lease is to find a new tenant with excellent credit and no pets, someone your landlord will easily approve. Talk to your landlord. Tell them circumstances have changed and you need to know your options.

Sell extra stuff, work extra hours - make moving your #1 priority and get it done.

Your feelings about them are ENTIRELY normal, btw, and there is zero chance their attraction isn't just a teeny tiny bit at your expense. If they were dating and decent humans, she would have moved out by now. There's pretty much no way in the back of both of their minds, part of their attraction isn't about hurting you. That's how these triangle-type things work. They're not psychologically or spiritually so elevated that this is not true for them. If they were, she would have moved. Or they would not get together at her place, ever. So, I mean, you should not indulge in energy towards them in any way because that is feeding whatever bizarre dysfunctional dynamic they have going on. You are smart to sense this is creepy and wrong. It is. You're not petty or jealous. They are pushing boundaries. It's annoying on the surface it looks like they're reasonable. Maybe they even lie to themselves they are. Who knows? It's none of your business any longer.

You don't want to participate in whatever weird dynamic they've got going on. I know you do not. Don't think about them, see this as an opportunity to unstick your life. Move apartments and neighborhoods. Work, exercise, move house.

You can do it. On to better and brighter things. You can do it!
posted by jbenben at 8:06 AM on September 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

(Oh, but upon reflection the "don't give in to hate and adopt a dog instead" idea is pretty good, too.)
posted by Don Pepino at 8:07 AM on September 29, 2015

Your ex is a liar, and the "friend" is not and never was such. Get out and about and wave and smile with the back of your hand, remembering five birds are better than one. Do yourself the favor of never communicating with either of them again, except to wave with the back of the hand, and block their numbers. When she shows up to have a concialitory conversation, don't answer the door. It is not your job to assuage their bullshittery.
posted by Oyéah at 9:31 AM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a situation where I absolutely want to pile on to the "fuck 'em, both" parade! And if you're having trouble holding it together, don't. Fall apart in the comfort of your own home with a friend or relative. You have my permission.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 9:56 AM on September 29, 2015

All this advice to rise above is great. But for me, sometimes the fastest way out (of an emotion, in this case) is straight through. So I'd probably make a music playlist of songs about being betrayed, angry, hurt, full of sympathy for myself and steadfastly on my own side. It's amazing how quickly listening to something like that can get feelings out of my system.
posted by salvia at 10:39 AM on September 29, 2015

Once upon a time I was that asshole (the friend, not the ex) and since they're never going to apologize to you, I'll apologize on their behalf/on behalf of assholes: I'm so sorry.

It's probably not actually about hurting you. It's definitely about them being dumb and weird and selfish. They should absolutely have at least the minimal good sense not to hang out in your neighborhood. I'm really sorry that they don't at least have that much sense in their dumb heads.

Once upon a time I was also you, though, and the ex and friend not only lived in my hood but worked at my work, so it wasn't like I could fix my problem with moving OR with throwing myself into work. They were just everywhere! It was the absolute worst, but here's how I dealt with it, with parentheticals on how good of an idea each thing was:

1) I picked one friend (sorry, friend) who didn't know either of them, to whom I told the whole sordid story and to whom I could vent about it uncensored. The reason for the just-one-person is because in these situations, talk gets around, and I didn't want to stir up drama, I just needed it off my chest now and again. [Medium-good idea. Talking good; avoiding drama good; burdening one person? Less good. This is a thing for BFFs. Or maybe a parent/sibling.]

2) Drank a lot, cried a lot, watched a lot of tv and Netflix. [Not the best idea. But you know, fine in moderation. Don't do it for 3 years like I did.]

3) Became a ridiculously dedicated member at a gym that neither of those jerks belonged to. I'm talkin 6 days a week. [BEST IDEA. I got into amazing shape. Every hour I spent at the gym was an hour that I wasn't running into them at the bar, or the grocery, or on the train, or whatever. Plus at the gym I met a dude that I didn't date but he was cute and thought I was cute and we became real good friends.]

4) Waited. Before long the ex-friend got fired and the ex quit, and then they hung elsewhere until they split up. [This is neither a good idea nor a bad one, it's just the only thing you inevitably must do and it will inevitably work. Seriously, even if your ex and ex-friend are playing some kind of head trip they're gonna get bored or start feeling weird eventually and they'll move along to his neighborhood or a new one altogether or realize they're dating a sociopath and that's no fun. But most likely, like I said, they're not running a con--just being dumb and selfish and probably feeling awkward as hell too. So the point of "oh man, let's just hang elsewhere" will come soon. Not soon enough, but soon.]
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:46 AM on September 29, 2015 [15 favorites]

All these feelings you're experiencing right now are totally natural and valid. Seeing someone you want to be close to being close to someone else instead, no matter how hard you work to rationalize it, is one of those things that never stops being immensely frustrating. I don't think your emotions are unhealthy at all, but it's clear they are distressing you, and for that reason and that reason alone it makes total sense to want better ways to manage these feelings.

I think you have also shown an insightful ability to pinpoint that it's not even just about This One Thing, it's also about the culmination of past experiences you have had. It sounds like you were working on good stuff in therapy. My recommendation would be to find a new therapist who can help you work through all of the emotional upheaval you are going through right now. Until then, I would definitely recommend continuing with the meditation. Meditation is a good way to give yourself space to feel that whole confusing morass of emotions and practice mindfulness and self-acceptance around all the things you are feeling. My GP recommended me the book Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg and I really like it and would recommend it to you as well. She has a few guided meditations specifically around emotions and they were helpful to me in a time of crazy upheaval.

I also don't think the behavior of your ex and his new partner is wrong. I take it from your post that what happened is that she stayed closer to him than to you after the breakup, which sucks but happens, and eventually (over 2 years) that developed into romance, which, again, happens. I didn't get the impression from your post that you think they are deliberately doing this to harm you (just that you are feeling hurt both to lose a friend and unavoidably see your ex and ex-friend feeling a happiness that right now you can't feel), but I want to underscore it anyway because it's clear I'm on a very different page from others on MeFi about this. I want you to hear from someone with my perspective so that I can tell you that both what they're doing is okay and what you're feeling is okay. Meditation also seems like a really good call to me for that reason because it will help you to practice feeling love and forgiveness toward them (Salzberg's book also has some guided exercises on this topic). That's the "fun" part about meditation; it's all about feeling what it's like to experience love toward people that the every fiber of your being is telling you to resent. It's about all those dichotomies and grey areas.

One last piece of advice: there has literally never been a better time in the history of the universe to blast You Oughtta Know by Alanis Morissette on repeat so also do that.
posted by capricorn at 1:50 PM on September 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

I think my favorite suggestion here is the dog one (the moving one is pretty great too!) but assuming neither of those is possible right now, I've found that having a music player going can be really helpful both when I'm home and going out of my mind, and when I'm out walking and trying to either not go out of my mind or not interact with people.

Overall though, you're right about time helping, and it really would very helpful to move and to find some new things that you enjoy doing (or new social groups that you enjoy) so that you can associate some new good things with this time.
posted by trig at 2:58 PM on September 29, 2015

I'm not sure why everyone is calling the ex and the friend jerks. If I read your post correctly, they weren't having an affair when you and your ex were together. You split up, and then they got together. I can see it might feel a little awkward, but why do you feel betrayed? I guess it's a case of everyone reacting differently to a situation. No reaction is wrong; the way you feel is the way you feel.

I never thought I'd be quoting Destiny's Child, but their song "Survivor" had some great lyrics regarding positive wishes for one's ex:

I'm wishin' you the best
Pray that you are blessed
Bring much success, no stress, and lots of happiness
(I'm better than that)

Wish them the best, and move on with your life.
posted by LauraJ at 3:24 PM on September 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

That sounds so horrible. Coming from being you in a less intense version (no marriage, long-distance, but still that weird friend betrayal), I'm sorry!

I imagine it'd be a nice release to find a new therapist (or low-fee grad student etc) and vent out the whole thing post haste. Just jump right in.

But to echo the exercise suggestion: maybe I'm the stubborn type, but I'd still run in my own neighborhood (if that's something that you would have done anyway, before knowing the two were seeing each other). It's your place, dammit -- for now, anyway. Enjoy your old-new location!

With running: how else would you have a socially-approved reason, upon glimpsing the two hanging around outside, to put on a gritty face, ignore them completely, listen to awesome workout jams (and/or murderous Screw You-type songs), and bolt the fuck out of there, physically leave them behind? How about it?
While getting your body stronger (and emotional strength will come, in time)?
And then taking the most relaxing, meditative, luxurious post-workout bath back at yours?

As an on-again-off-again jogger, any moment I'm not running outside but see someone else doing so, I mentally give them props for the dedication. You'll be admired! Treat yourself as such. Those two're just a blur in the background.
posted by cluebucket at 5:11 PM on September 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I moved into a neighborhood where my ex lived. I tried to avoid seeing him whenever I spotted him, which was everywhere.

Finally, one day I saw him, screwed up my courage, and called over to him. "Hi, Bob! How's it going!? Yes, I live here now too, ha ha ha ha! See you later!" And I amscrayed.

Then, I didn't feel like I had to avoid him so much because I'd said hello to him on my terms.

Maybe you could do something like that; you see them walk arm-and-arm out of Starbucks. "Hey guys!! Good to see you; going shopping? Wow. That's fun. Okay, see you around." And then bounce. But you've shown them and yourself that you're the one in control. The last thing you want is for them to see you hide behind the McDonald's sign when they're approaching.

Just a thought.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 3:43 AM on September 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

I get the betrayal part, with the ex-H and ex-friend. That does suck.

Whatever feelings you are having, try to feel them. Maybe trying journalling a bit, to help get the feelings out of your system?

Exercise helped (and continues to help) me process anxiety and anger.

Try to connect with who you were before you got married. Pick up a dormant hobby or try to meet with friends you had before your husband (and preferably, ones that aren't dating him now). Or meet new people through or some such site. The more time you spend doing these things, the less time you'll have to care about what they are doing. And eventually, time takes care of the rest.
posted by PsuDab93 at 1:43 PM on September 30, 2015

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