Friends with an ex's BFF?
September 9, 2016 10:43 AM   Subscribe

BFF of a no-contact ex reached out to me and apparently wants to be friendly. I'm wary. Should I be?

S and I met online about 11 years ago. We lived in different states, but hit it off well enough that we kept each others intense interest and affection across state lines for two and a half years with a lot of long-distance communication and occasional visits. Eventually, in order to give that relationship a real chance to breathe and grow, I moved to her hometown in northern California. That was a bumpy transition for me in a number of ways. In particular, career/work opportunities seemed harder to find for me there, and I had trouble getting my feet underneath me. S lived with her parents, and moving in with her was not an option. During that time, one of her best friends, A, took a strong liking to me and actually invited me to live with her & her husband and kids. They treated me like extended family and while A was always S's BFF first, I genuinely felt a sense of friendship from A and family that was independent of my relationship with S, which was pretty up-and-down despite a lot to recommend it.

And I think if we were talking about that high point between A and I five or six years ago, I wouldn't be asking internet strangers for an opinion on what to do when A reached out to me recently.

In the meanwhile, here's some of what happened:

* S eventually got a better job and moved to southern California. After some delay, I followed her, finally got my own better job, and we began dating again. Being in a different part of the state from A (and not living in her house), A & I talked a lot less often -- usually when going back north to visit S's home. Occasionally when A would come to visit.

* S and I went through several *significantly* rough patches, some of which involved various levels of seeing other people. Some of that had to do with stuff I should own, some of it is just negotiating life, but in hindsight it seems there something of a recurring pattern where she'd be disatisfied with the relationship or frustrated over a particular tension... and then decide to go off and find someone else. Craigslist, or OKCupid/Tinder, or hook up with an ex-BF, or just going out and getting dates, all things that happened. Sometimes she'd announce she needed a "break" while this was happening, sometimes she'd just go dark for a bit, sometimes these were stealth explorations she apparently felt little need to notify me of (I'm aware of some of the undisclosed events and more or less what happened because my intuition is generally very good and I'm not a half-bad detective, though it doesn't take first-rate skills with either to know when something is up with a close partner). I also know that A and other friends were aware of many of these events as they happened, and didn't so much hint to me that any of these things were going on at the time. I can understand that's how a BFF would do things (or people who live by the mind-your-own-business code), but it doesn't stop me from feeling hurt about it. Particularly when I know it wouldn't have worked the other way.

* During later rough patches between S & I, my general impression was that A was hoping we would break up and go our separate ways, probably to the point where she was colluding with S as far as amplifying some dissatisfactions rather than serving as any kind of mirror reflecting S's own role in our problems. Again, I understand that this is often how people see the BFF role (validation and support first, perspective only if it's asked for or doesn't interfere with that validation and support). And I'm capable of seeing A's actions as that of a caring person who didn't want her friend to be frustrated and stuck in a situation that had some genuine problems (some of which I owned). Again, that doesn't stop me from feeling like I was notably less important.

* The way the relationship ended was... not ideal. Early last July I told S that I wanted to talk out a few things about our relationship; I knew we were at a point where certain tensions needed to be resolved one way or another. She put me off, saying she was busy, quite plausibly so, as she was preparing to play in a symphony and to present in an important upcoming work meeting. She also told me that A and some other friends and family were coming to town to visit, and then she'd be leaving town with them for a day or two afterwards. She offered a theoretical get-together with her and I and her visitors, and to work out a time to talk later. What actually happened instead was that S went entirely dark once her visitors hit town, and as they left town, she sent me an email unilaterally ending our relationship with almost nothing in the way of explanation, only a hardline and well-underscored demand for no contact whatsoever. I don't know what role A played in that (if any), but it's hard not to feel like she was literally and metaphorically driving the getaway car.

Like good exes, S and I have had no contact since last July. I've also had minimal contact with most of our shared acquaintances. So it goes almost without saying that I haven't been in touch with A either.

But a few months back, A sent me a message on my birthday. Generic happy birthday wishes, here's what everyone in the family is up to right now, and... "love always, A."

I guess there's a way in which it was a really nice gesture. The easy and typical thing for her to do would just be to never talk again. It's nice that she cared enough to reach out.

But I didn't respond because there's also a sense in which it feels like either a kind of obliviousness or studied neglect regarding the past tensions or the still-present hazards here.

I suppose part of this has to be about how over the ex-GF I might be. I am well past the withdrawal symptoms, the kind of deep shock and angry and wretchedly crushed state that I often was in during the months following the breakup. And I've moved forward in the sense that I've had some positive and validating casual relationships with other people, and feel cautiously hopeful about love and maybe even a future in the relationship context I'm building now. But given my past experience, my guess is I have a ways to walk yet before I'm really over it. I'm not at the point where the past is the past and I mostly don't care about it anymore (I know that's not the resting point for all past relationships, but it's my experience that's where the ones that don't get taken apart carefully and compassionately find their finality).

Of course, if I wait until I reach that point, it's possible I won't care much about the past friendship either, and neither will she.

So this all makes how to respond to this person that reached out to me in apparent friendship a bit of a problem.

My practical side and whatever wounds are still present tell me that there are ways in which feeling shorted in my relationship with A is pretty much correctly understanding my relative importance, and that wherever any future tension might arise between loyalty to S and respecting me and my feelings, it's already quite clear what would give way. And that if there will ever be a time to try to either address that or live with it, it may not have come yet.

My idealism tells me that it's good to forgive, that most of what I'm upset about is just her looking out for her friend (and to some extent emotional collateral damage from the end of the relationship with S), that A is signaling she'd like to take advantage of the opportunity for us to have a friendship that actually is independent of the star-crossed relationship S & I had. And that people you like who like you are rare enough. And holding grudges is a bad way to live.

Here's what I can think to do regarding these conflicting impulses and feelings:

(1) Nothing! No response, no contact. She didn't acknowledge or invite discussion of any tensions, so she probably doesn't want to touch them, and I should wait to interact until I can do it happily without worrying about any of the past tension. And if that day never comes, hey, we both have other people we can have conversations and relationships with without having to bother with resolving the tension and any attendant drama. Whew! Good thing we skirted all that.

(2) Send a friendly proportional response, maybe around Christmas or on her birthday. Nice salutations, bland warm wishes, here's a few things I'm doing, good to hear from you. Same time next year, hey? If something grows out of that, great, if not, maybe it wasn't going to and we'll just be christmas card buddies.

(3) Be direct. Call her up, or drop in on a future trip to northern Cal. Thank her for reaching out. Tell her where I'm at, offer to talk things out and reconnect. I actually think it's possible this *might* work, since years back, A and I used to be able to have some fairly direct conversations. But I think in order for it to work, I would need an ironclad promise from A not to serve as any kind of proxy conduit for information about my post-breakup life to S -- or vice versa. Partly to keep the protections that no-contact policies afford in place, partly so I felt like there was some sense of balance in terms of loyalties, partly so A doesn't get treated as a proxy for hashing out feelings.

#3 is what I was leaning towards. So I bounced that scenario off of a friend, who told me that if I thought I would get that promise out of A (or that such a promise would actually be observed even if agreed to) then I was deluded, because that is simply not how BFFs work. Is she right?

Also: are there other possible courses of action I'm missing? Is there anything I'm not thinking through here? Some way in which I'm being a dork and don't know it?

I am particularly interested in hearing from people who have been in a position like A's or otherwise have experience negotiating friendships with both halves of an ex-couple after the relationship explodes, but insights from all are welcome.
posted by wildblueyonder to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In all honesty, I dont' think it makes much difference what A's motives are, it seems clear that their renewed presence in your life would at the minimum be a complicating stressy factor, and I'm not sure why you would want to go out of your way to add that situation to your day-to-day existence.

In short, find some friends you have less baggage drama with.
posted by softlord at 10:48 AM on September 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

You seem to have the idea that by (probably) encouraging S to break up with you, she was being a better friend to S than to you. I don't see it that way at all. If I had a friend who was dating a person I genuinely liked, and that friend was constantly cheating on them and toying with their feelings, I would absolutely encourage her to break up with him for both of their sakes. It honestly sounds like this woman did you a massive favor. That doesn't mean you ever have to talk to her again if you don't feel like it, of course, but if she played a role in the breakup, it wasn't just because she picked S over you full stop.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:59 AM on September 9, 2016 [20 favorites]

My concern is that A is a direct connection to S. And an unbreakable one unless their pre-existing strong friendship has ended. I don't see how this plays out cleanly -- at a minimum S finds out A is closely in touch with you and there's drama between S and A which you can't avoid.

Frankly, when you end relationships, you also end ties with people close to your former partner. It just works that way. I'd recommend course B, with the addition that I wouldn't be interested in deepening the relationship with A unless A and S stop being friends.
posted by bearwife at 11:04 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

S may well have a problem with you and A being in contact, and may confront A about it. If you felt "notably less important" then, you'll almost certainly feel it again. This seems painful for you, and you've had enough pain associated with this group of people already.

Although the loss of a friend is a regrettable thing, so is carrying a lot of baggage. I'd gently suggest that you just let A go, and choose Door Number (1) or possibly (2).

On preview: showbiz_liz's take is a good one, and A reaching out gives it a lot of credence. If, on reflection, that feels right to you, I'd go with (2) and see if her response goes deeper next time. She may want to clarify for you that that was her role.

Still, if she never discusses the matter with you, will that leave you dissatisfied? I feel like you need closure, and keeping A in your life will be like picking the scabs S left over and over.

I'm glad you're out of that relationship and moving on. Leaving A behind may be the best option for allowing you to recover.
posted by Capri at 11:05 AM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

It was 100% right of your ex to break up with you if she didn't want to be with you, regardless of what you wanted. No one who "helped" with that did anything wrong.

You seem to feel like this person was obligated to help keep your ex in a relationship with you, simply because that's what you wanted. Would you really want to be in a relationship that your ex didn't want to be in? I hope not.

I don't expect my friends to try to pressure people to stay in relationships they don't want to stay in, even if that relationship is with me. There's no "getaway car" because breaking up with someone you don't want to be with isn't a crime. It's the right thing to do.

If you had a child together or you were financially dependent on this person and they left you in the lurch, that might be different. This is a normal breakup and you are not a victim, but someone who was in a relationship that didn't work out, and thankfully ended.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:12 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

No you shouldn't be wary.

But also, no you shouldn't respond to A's (probably) simple and nice overture until and unless you can (1) get over the idea that A did something wrong to you, (2) get over the idea that there is anything presumptively odd about A contacting you, (3) say honestly to A "hey sorry I didn't respond earlier - I guess I was being weird. great to hear from you!" There is no reason in your story to believe that A deserves anything less nice than that.
posted by sheldman at 11:23 AM on September 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm the A to one of my closest friends, let's call him New Guy (NG). I met NG when my friend-from-childhood, Old Buddy (OB), moved to my city and started dating him. I definitely felt like a turd when my friends were Going Through It, mostly because OB is a complicated, kinda mean person despite all his redeeming qualities, and I realized very quickly that I feel personally closer to NG than I am to OB.

OB did some awful things behind NG's back, in full view of everyone but NG. When it got very bad, I did finally drop some breadcrumbs NG's way, as did other people, but I still interacted with OB much more often. OB was basically my neighbor, and NG traveled a lot for work and lived across town. To this day I dread the thought that NG thought I was favoring OB because of this. I was just... far away from NG, geographically, most of the time.

When OB and NG split, finally, it was dramatic and public and I still grit my teeth at OB's temerity and cruelty. We don't talk much. I bumped into NG at a concert several months later and, with a couple drinks in me, tried to apologize for my role in the whole mess. And NG was really cool about it. He seemed a bit relieved. I told him I missed his company, that I'd been distancing myself from OB, and that I'd like to be friends. And we're friends. We don't talk much, or at all, about OB, which feels like a silent pact that we're both comfortable with.

I'm very grateful that NG wasn't so wounded by the experience that even OB's friends' took on the stink of their acrimonious split. NG's a good dude, and I'm happy we're back on steady ground. Even if he'd reacted poorly and didn't want to be around me, I'm happy I bumped into him. A good friend is hard to find (which is why I always think it's a bit glib when someone says "just find new friends").
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:26 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

It seems to me you are way overthinking this. I realize you are emotionally raw and want to make sure you don't get hurt, but literally all A did was send you a polite note on her birthday. And now, months later, you're still chewing over the implications!

Write back and thank her for the kind birthday wishes and leave it at that. It doesn't seem to me that her overture requires any more. And especially don't drop in on her unexpectedly to discuss this! That's way out of proportion.
posted by ejs at 11:29 AM on September 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


No. You do not continue a friendship with the BFF of an ex that you had a many years on/off drama filled relationship with. No. Never. Nope.

You know better. Stop this. Let it go.
posted by jbenben at 11:37 AM on September 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Sorry, but your option #1 (continued no contact) will be best for all --- best for you, so you don't get dragged back into the massive DRAMAZ your relationship with S had turned into; best for S herself, who is after all the one to choose to go no-contact in the first place; and best for A who (unless she has already cut S out of her own life) doesn't need to be back in the middle of you & S.

True, A could have been the instigator of some of the drama between you and S back then: in which case there's even LESS reason to reconnect with her.
posted by easily confused at 12:05 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Clearly the choice here is (1). The other two choices you present are terrible ideas, and your preferred choice is an especially terrible idea. What do you possibly hope to gain from this? If you and A are meant to have some kind of future friendship, that will sort itself out down the road.

Frankly, if A were a better friend to you, she would never have sent you that message in the first place. But I have come to understand that some people simply cannot abide having two people they like who are in conflict with each other, and will pathologically try and try again to bridge that gap somehow. The reality is harsher, however: sometimes you do have to choose, and your relationship breakup with S seems like a clear example of one of those instances. For A the choice is obvious: She has chosen S in the past, she chooses S now and she will continue to choose S in the future. This doesn't mean A doesn't have any residual fondness for you. I'm sure she does. But A's reach-out was about making herself feel better. There is no possible healthy friendship between you and A so long as S remain's A's BFF.
posted by slkinsey at 12:06 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

The only regret that I have about breaking up with the asshole Ex was losing contact with his family. His brother in particular was a kind and generous person who I enjoyed having as a friend and would again if he reached out to me. So, I feel like a friendship with A is not totally doomed, but you do need to be careful.

If A's email had been recent, I would have suggested replying with something like:
Hi A, thanks so much for reaching out, it was good to hear from you. I don't know if you know this, but S has requested that I not contact her and I intend to respect that. Therefore, if you're still in contact with S I hope you'll understand if I continue to be out of touch.

Best to you, wby
You'd be being respectful of S and her friendships, BUT if for whatever reason A is reaching out because S and A aren't BFF anymore and she wants to reconnect, the ball's in her court to make that clear.

But it's been "a few months". And replying strategically now would just make it weird. So I think you need to go with option (1)*. If she reaches out again, you can reply more immediately and maybe it could work out.

Now, if you guys do end up rekindling your friendship, I think you should be very careful about how you process your feelings about A's role in your breakup. It *suuuuuuuucks* when friends break up, and while you obviously had it worse, I don't think that bringing up how you still feel hurt by possible actions that she took to support a friend is likely to help anyone.

*maybe, in a couple-three more years without contact, you could consider (2), just reach out out of the blue and say hi, and let her know you're thinking of her.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:25 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

But a few months back, A sent me a message on my birthday. Generic happy birthday wishes, here's what everyone in the family is up to right now, and... "love always, A."

You've been letting this take up space in your head for several months already. Decide on "A" and let it go. No response. It doesn't sound like it invites response. It's a warm "wish-you-well have-a-good-life" sendoff that has no need for a response.

Move on, find new people, don't follow them from city to city, live your life and be happy.
posted by headnsouth at 1:11 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

someone who wishes you a generic happy birthday is not necessarily asking to open up all the old hurt. they're probably just hoping you had a nice birthday. i think if i was in your shoes and really really thinking about this a lot, i would hope someone would ask me if i wasn't maybe deflecting a lot of my hurt about my real (past) relationship onto the shoulders of someone who is probably a nice person but isn't really involved. i would let this one lie, at least until it doesn't seem so fraught to you.
posted by andreapandrea at 1:28 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

BUT if for whatever reason A is reaching out because S and A aren't BFF anymore and she wants to reconnect, the ball's in her court to make that clear.

If this were the case, I think A would have stated that up front.
posted by slkinsey at 1:35 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're agonizing about an e-mail that you received a few months ago? If that was the only thing you received from A and they haven't followed up with additional contact, then sorry, but you need to get over both S and A.

It sure sounds to me like you have (had) a deeper emotional connection to A than maybe even you realize, if that wall of text is any indication. Pursuing that in the absence of any information that S is completely out of the picture is just a bad idea, especially given that it sounds like you have a new relationship blossoming.

You'll make new friends. Move on.
posted by SquidLips at 5:30 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

You wrote a lot and I apologize if I missed something more, but... this is about a message someone sent you saying a rather generic "happy birthday, and etc." a few months ago? Nothing you wrote makes me think that this person is actually trying to reconnect with you or be friends or anything more than just passing along a generic nicety (that she probably shouldn't have).

And I say that being that I am, in fact, a person who is currently best friends with my former best friend's ex. Yep - I'm A.

The short story is that it was very hard to be friends with them both, but I managed it for several months. Eventually my S made it easy by acting like a person I didn't want in my life - a lying, manipulative, greedy, person - so I friend-dumped her.
posted by sm1tten at 8:23 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I vote Option 2. It's like Option 1 except that it keeps the door open better. That said, if you can't write a card at Christmas or her birthday without rehashing all of this again in your mind, then it's not worth putting yourself through that, and stick with Option 1.

Option 3 is overkill and considering it now is a reflection of how fresh the pain still is. Contact with A is second-hand exposure to your ex-, so you feel exposed to that pain again. It may also partially be that you know you can't resolve your hurt and angry feelings with your ex-, but you are hoping that the fraction of those linked to A can be resolved with A. I'd say, just let time do more of the healing. If your card to A turns into a Facebook friend request from A that turns into a natural rewarming of that relationship, that'd be the point where you'd probably want to say "hey, I feel like we're on our way to a good friendship, but XYZ is making me a little nervous, can we talk about it?"

I wouldn't say Option 1 because your desire to do Option 3 makes me think that this friendship is important to you. So, I'd signal back that you'd at least like to remain Christmas card buddies, as you call it, and see how A responds and how your healing goes.
posted by salvia at 9:08 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

No matter what else she may or may not have done, she knew your partner was sleeping around with several different people (basically strangers via online hookups), and she didn't tell you.

She put your health at risk by choosing, multiple times, to keep this information from you.

That is not a good friend, or a person that you should give your trust.
posted by blueberry at 10:37 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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