Sticky Wicket
May 17, 2016 7:10 AM   Subscribe

You are close friends with a couple (Tom and Tina). Tina shares the news with you that she and Tom broke up two weeks ago, they are both devastated and not ready to tell the larger friend group, and they have gone no-contact. Do you reach out to Tom, and if so, how and when?

Tom suffers from periodic depression (something we've discussed but he doesn't share with most people) and I really want to check on whether he's doing ok and let him know he's in my thoughts and I'm here if he needs to talk or go for a walk or whatever.

My first impulse is to wait and see if I run into Tom so I can say something in person, but he is extremely busy and there is a chance I won't see him for months (especially with the no contact rule), which is too long for me to feel comfortable not saying anything. We don't have a regular text chain or gchat going.

My second impulse is to wait and see if Tom reaches out to me. This is the treatment I would want to receive in this situation, but he is not the type to reach out like that. Also, I have done this in a very similar situation with a different friend in the past and it damaged our friendship. (This may sound dramatic, but you'll have to take my word for it that he was a good friend with genuinely hurt feelings, and I don't feel the answer here is "No friend worth having would act like that.")

My third impulse is to send Tom a low-key text about something we have in common and sort of test the waters / read between the lines to see if he wants to talk about it. But because Tina and Tom are no-contact and not trying to spread this news around, I don't know whether he would be unhappy that I know about the breakup.

Tom and I have many mutual friends who aren't close with Tina, and they text regularly about sports etc, so if he is really not doing ok I'm confident I will hear about it from them.

Just anticipating some possible questions:
- Tom and I have never been and will never be potential romantic partners, truly. He would not think or worry that that's why I was getting in touch.

-Tina would not mind if I reached out to Tom, but I can see Tom being upset if I spent a lot of time with Tina and none with him. Both Tina and Tom are very mature, low-drama people, but Tom can get his feelings hurt a bit more easily.

-The breakup was mutually initiated and neither of them did the other wrong. They split up because of a fundamental difference in what they wanted in their futures. There's a small chance they'll get back together.
When I was going through a really tough romantic time a couple years back (thanks to one of Tom's best friends, Turdface McGee), Tom did a superb job of gently, non-intrusively letting me know that he was concerned for me and would be there for me no matter what with no questions asked. Knowing that got me through some pretty dark times when I felt totally alone and so sad. That's part of why I want to do a good job with this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total)
 
I'd ask Tina if she thought there was any reason I shouldn't reach out to him and that I'll be concerned about his health. They may have discussed previously who would talk to whom about the news and I'd want everyone to know what I was doing so it doesn't appear secretive.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd probably go for option 4: Send a low key text along the lines of:

"Hi Tom, I just saw Tina. Very sorry to hear about everything. I'm here if you need to talk"

And then leave it at that.
posted by JenThePro at 7:19 AM on May 17, 2016 [43 favorites]


I cannot think of any good reason why, in your shoes, I wouldn't reach out to him - to remove the double negative, I definitely would reach out to him - unless Tina has told you that he would be upset if he knew that anyone knew of their breakup.

And I wouldn't be coy about it - would say "hey man I heard that you and Tina broke up, I know that it must be hard now even if it was for the best, let's go out and get some coffee or a drink this week if you've got the time."

You say that he did similar for you. This is a good indication that he wouldn't be pissed off if you did it for him.
posted by sheldman at 7:28 AM on May 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


But because Tina and Tom are no-contact and not trying to spread this news around, I don't know whether he would be unhappy that I know about the breakup.

Surely he must understand that you will eventually hear about it somehow, so why prolong the fiction that you don't know? I agree with JenThePro. A low-key, "that sucks" kind of text putting the ball in his court.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:34 AM on May 17, 2016


You mentioned at the bottom of your post that Tom had reached out to you when you were at a low point. Reach out to him in the exact same manner that he reached out to you. You already know that his previously used method is within his comfort zone, and if he was willing to reach out to you at that time he will appreciate hearing from you now.
posted by vignettist at 7:40 AM on May 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


I guess I'm a little different than some already, because I wouldn't tend towards low-key, or ball-in-his-court. As "close friend" (original post's words) I would feel comfortable being more proactive.

His other friends who text him about sports and other light stuff will only let you know if he needs help, if he REALLY needs help so badly that he can't even keep up a facade of texting about sports. You are in the position where you can help him feel better, or help him get things off his mind for a while, even if he's not totally down in the worst pit ever. And you are in the position where you can SHOW him, by your actions, that his friends are still just as close, and will not treat him like he's damaged goods, even when they know of the breakup.
posted by sheldman at 7:41 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


And I wouldn't be coy about it - would say "hey man I heard that you and Tina broke up, I know that it must be hard now even if it was for the best, let's go out and get some coffee or a drink this week if you've got the time."

Is there a downside to this advice?
posted by leahwrenn at 7:42 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just be all, "Hey, Tom, I heard, this sucks. Let's go see a big dumb movie, I'll drive." Then you can suss out his mood and ask a few questions and either go to dinner and then the movies and then drinks (if he wants to talk endlessly about it, as I probably would) or just the movies (if he does NOT want to talk about it at ALL and would rather just sit in companionable silence next to a good friend while things explode loudly and colorfully on a big screen).
posted by Don Pepino at 7:42 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'd definitely reach out to him. I might call and talk, rather than email or text. "Hey Tom, I spoke with Tina, that's a real bummer. I just wanted you to know that I'm here for you. Want to grab a beer after work?"

This way there's no misunderstandings. Text and email are so devoid of context sometimes and a warm, friendly voice is what's needed here.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:00 AM on May 17, 2016



And I wouldn't be coy about it - would say "hey man I heard that you and Tina broke up, I know that it must be hard now even if it was for the best, let's go out and get some coffee or a drink this week if you've got (etc)


Is there a downside to this advice?

the downside is: you may not have the time to actually engage that much. And if it were me (and it has been), I wouldn't really want to sit around and drink coffee with an acquaintance during a breakup. What I would want is just an indicator that you were there, and that you are able to chat about serious or fun stuff, whatever. So I vote for option 3: " third impulse is to send Tom a low-key text about something we have in common and sort of test the waters / read between the lines to see if he wants to talk about it."

"Great game last night huh? Hope things are OK with you! Steph Curry is bad at sports".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:17 AM on May 17, 2016


The important thing is not what you do in the next few days, its what you do in the next few weeks. Send him a text this week. Send him a text next week. Invite him to fun things. Continue to be his friend. The worst thing you can do is come on strong with offers to hang out and then be busy, feel guilty, and stop proactively reaching out for the next 2 months.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:27 AM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Since he reached out to you when you were in a similar situation, I think you've got direction about what he would appreciate himself. I'd go with a text like:

"Hey Tom, been thinking about you -- how are you doing?"

Benefits: It's the truth, no faux smalltalk, no emphasizing the bad news. It lets him choose how to respond ("Super busy with work lately, but things are good", "Super bummed about life stuff", "He's torn up plenty, but he'll fly true", etc. etc.). His response can guide you in how to proceed.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm going to nth the "don't be coy" advice-- text or email Tom and reach out, mentioning that you know about the breakup. He may not want to talk about the breakup (and if that's the case, don't push him!), but if you just send a generic "hey what's up?" message he may not know whether or not you're aware of the breakup. If he's not sure if you know about the breakup, he may very well get stuck in a loop of uncertainty about trying to 'act natural' versus having to work up the nerve to (maybe) be the one who has to tell you about it.
posted by Kpele at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2016


Wait. Didn't you write they are not ready to make an announcement + they might get back together??

There is zero doubt if this is correct you should NOT open your mouth. Privacy. You will be invading his privacy.

Tom is your good friend. When he wants you to know he will tell you.


PS - it could start a fight between Tina and Tom if he gets upset she told when they agreed not to tell. Be low drama like them. Stay out of it.
posted by jbenben at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Hey buddy, I hear it's payback time for the Turdface McGee breakup support. Please don't be the basket case that I was. Let's drink beers."
posted by whuppy at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd just text and say, "Thinking of you."
posted by Capri at 11:37 AM on May 17, 2016


If Tina told you, I'd assume she's possibly and quietly telling some other mutual friends too. They may not want to make a huge pronouncement publicly but just let a few people know and let it work out. I've seen breakups handled that way recently -- you just let it filter through your social group for a bit. (I don't know though -- I don't know these people or your social group.)

I would say something to Tom, personally, even if it's just a "hey, heard what's going on. Let me know if you need anything." And then take the lead from his response. He may want to hang out. He may not. He may or may not want to talk about it. Everyone does this differently.

I don't think it's ever bad to reach out to a friend who is hurting. I wish more people did that. I am sorry you had a bad experience doing so before.
posted by darksong at 6:19 PM on May 17, 2016


My second impulse is to wait and see if Tom reaches out to me. This is the treatment I would want to receive in this situation, but he is not the type to reach out like that.

...

When I was going through a really tough romantic time a couple years back (thanks to one of Tom's best friends, Turdface McGee), Tom did a superb job of gently, non-intrusively letting me know that he was concerned for me and would be there for me no matter what with no questions asked.


It sounds like Tom is the type to reach out like that, and that for others to wait for you to reach out is not the treatment you want to receive after all.

Both your first and second thought amount to the same thing... you are going to "wait and see" in either case. Unless you'd ignore him texting or running into him, these are the exact same course of action.

It seems like this is what you want to do, but your reasoning around it makes no sense. You should examine the feelings around this more, to see if there is some reason you are seeing things this way.
posted by yohko at 7:55 PM on May 17, 2016


« Older How do I actually enjoy talking to people?   |   Resources on Black Lives Matter movement? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.