Best way to let a semi-friendly ex-spouse know you are getting remarried
November 15, 2016 1:33 PM   Subscribe

How should I let the ex-husband I'm still somewhat friendly with, know about my recent engagement? Difficulty: he (erroneously) suspects that my fiance was a primary factor in our divorce. Lots of details inside.

My ex-husband and I split up in March 2015, primarily because (after much couples' therapy and handwringing) I changed my mind about having children (he wanted them, I didn't), but also because we were having serious barriers in emotional connection (I wanted it, he didn't), along with other issues.

However we were both very kind to each other throughout the divorce arbitration, and emerged from the experience fairly friendly, if awkward. We still see each other every couple months for coffee, have maintained mutual friendships, and occasionally see each other at friends' parties. He has chosen to opt out of talking about his personal life w/r/t his new girlfriend, a choice I have respected. I mirror that decision by not talking about my serious relationship either, though mutual friends have told me that he knows I am dating my current beau, and has suspicions about it.

Here's where it gets complicated. Back in 2014/2015, he was understandably angry and upset about me changing my mind about kids, as it was a dealbreaker for him. He shut down and did not want to talk with me about any of it, for months upon months, even in couples' therapy.

During this painful six months' period, a man in our extended social circle became a very close confidante. He was simultaneously going through a divorce and thus was very empathetic, and we shared a lot of our angst and heartbreak with each other. It wasn't as skeevy as it sounds - he was a good platonic friend, and offered advice on how to help prevent my marriage from floundering the way his had. However as this friendship was deepening, I told my (now ex-) husband that this man had become my best friend, and that I recognized that this was a problem, because he was providing the kind of emotional connection that I really hoped to be getting from my spouse. My (now ex-) husband told me he was relieved that I could outsource that emotional connection to someone who was interested in doing that for me, because he certainly wasn't. He described emotional connection as "this thing you talk about as being really important, that I just don't see the point of."

No big surprise, but after that statement, plus the binary difference of opinion on kids, it made no sense for me to stay in the marriage. I called time of death on the marriage before he was ready to, because I think he thought I would eventually budge on the kids thing. (I didn't.)

To get some emotional head space, I moved to a neighboring city, where I already had an established group of friends - including the man friend, who was by this point, single. I had been wanting to move to this city for quite some time for reasons having nothing to do with that man friend, my ex and I had even played around with the idea ourselves, but I understand how it looks. Especially because about six months after the divorce, I began to date the man friend, and one year into our (excellent, super-supportive, child-free) relationship, he proposed.

What is the most respectful way to let my ex know I'm engaged? He may choose to believe that I left him for this man. It's not true, at least not in the way he thinks. We hadn't planned to date, and we were never physically inappropriate with each other while I was married, but I know it is impossible to prove it to my ex-husband. I don't know how to even bring it up to my ex-husband, seeing how we have a moratorium on talking about our relationships. Should I just let it get to him via the grapevine, or should I call him, or email him? Should I try to correct the erroneous perspective that I divorced him so that I could be with this man? Or should I not mention it at all? Thanks for any help or advice.
posted by egeanin to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you talk to him in person or on the phone, you are requiring an immediate response. That seems a bit unfair and unnecessary. Even if he's perfectly happy for you, it might take him a little while to formulate that internally. Ditto with just waiting for someone else to tell him, except by doing that you're putting two people in an awkward situation, not just one.

I would email him and tell him you are getting married and that you wanted him to know so it wasn't a surprise. Keep it short and direct. There's no need to invite drama by talking about the end of your marriage and making assertions that you weren't inappropriate. If he wants to talk about that he will bring it up.
posted by kate blank at 1:39 PM on November 15, 2016 [15 favorites]

I don't understand what's going on here. Intimate connection, both emotional and physical, is the primary reason to be married. Why does your ex think someone he was not personally interested in being connected to would bear him children??

You're overthinking this. Your ex doesn't care that deeply. I think you announce it publicly on FB or wherever and move on. Do NOT single your ex out for this newsflash. You are divorced. Done.

Be cordial in public. Stop seeing him for coffee.

posted by jbenben at 1:39 PM on November 15, 2016 [30 favorites]

A very short email that invites no back and forths and does not go into the past at all would be good.
Something like "Hi Ex, I just wanted to let you know that I am engaged to NewGuy. Thought you would appreciate hearing it from me first. Hope you are well, egeanin."

It's up to him how he wants to feel about it, and not worth opening that can of worms again, so it would not be kind to try to re-argue your point about how you didn't get together with NewGuy until way later.
posted by rmless at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2016 [16 favorites]

A kinder way of saying it is that this person is not your problem and you should focus on your partner and your future together. But I'm still stuck on why your ex expected children in a relationship he wasn't participating in. The inequality, his lack of effort towards you. He's lucky you're nice.
posted by jbenben at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

I once had two co-workers who were clearly good friends, both got divorced and ended up married to each other (over a period of several years). At one point, before they were engaged, but when they were both single and ending up moving(ed) to the same distant city she said "It's nothing scandalous." to which I was rightly able to reply "We get to decide what is scandalous!" Which is hopefully a soft way of saying that while you have your experiences and story, there is little to be gained in trying to change the story your ex-husband might have about how things happened.

I echo the first two responses to make sure he has access to the information, but don't beat him with it and let him take it on his own terms, own time, own way. Personally, I would go with a simple email, a line or two. Unless he contacts you further about it (which seems highly unlikely given what you have said) leave it at that.
posted by meinvt at 1:47 PM on November 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

What is the most respectful way to let my ex know I'm engaged?

Tell a bunch of people, not just your ex. Telling your ex puts them on the spot to respond, telling family and friends does not put any one person on the spot.

What your ex thinks is up to your ex.
posted by zippy at 1:53 PM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm pessimistic about any possibility of changing the narrative your ex already has concocted regarding this relationship. He's gonna believe what he wants to believe, whether it's based on reality or not. While I think it's really kind of you to want to be respectful of his feelings, my opinion is not to single him out, and just go on about telling all your friends and family the way you normally would.
posted by bologna on wry at 2:00 PM on November 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't tell him in advance. If he finds out through the grapevine, fine. Send him an e-mail after the fact.
posted by Bruce H. at 2:08 PM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I see this as extra emotional labour that only a woman would feel obliged to take on (I say this because would feel obliged to take it on too, and have done so very painstakingly despite non-scandalous circumstances, yet no male ex has ever told me about it when they got engaged, despite some obviously dishonorable timing). I think you can just do what most dudes would do- live your life and let your ex find out on Facebook.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:27 PM on November 15, 2016 [41 favorites]

Yes yes yes, seconding pseudostrabismus. You don't need to deal with this. There's a reason he's your ex. You're off the hook on this! Stop letting him rent space in your brain.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:39 PM on November 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

It seems like part of you wants him to not believe this other man played a part in your breakup. Unfortunately for you, you can't convince him of that, and trying is a losing battle. It's his right to interpret events however he likes.

A short email that says, "I just wanted to let you know I'm engaged to John. I hope you and I can continue to have cordial relations." would probably be a good approach?
posted by latkes at 2:48 PM on November 15, 2016

He described emotional connection as "this thing you talk about as being really important, that I just don't see the point of."

He didn't want to exchange emotional labor then, I wouldn't worry too much about it now. And I don't mean that in a snotty way. If it's truly not important to him, then you shouldn't take on extra worry.

If you guys interact on occasion, I'd try an indirect route: e-mail or mutual friend: he gets a chance to compose himself if necessary, you don't have to deal with the fall out if there is a problem.

Otherwise he can find out through the grapevine.
posted by ghost phoneme at 2:49 PM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your ex wasn't into the kind of emotional need you expressed interest in, but otherwise it sounds like you two had a decent relationship. Bless you for considering how to do this announcement well.

I'd let him know by email or some such before you meet up the next time. Let him know that you're telling him that way because you weren't sure how else to do so, and that you'd be happy to talk about it more if that's desired. It sounds like your unspoken agreement is that you don't talk about significant others, so maybe he'll take the news quietly. You can figure out the rest as you carry on with the routines you've already settled into.

Little side note: when I first moved from my hometown to A Big City, I stayed with a gay couple who were significantly older than me. I knew one of the guys as the uncle to my best friend, and they invited me to stay with them while I got on my feet and oriented in a new place (I'm a gay guy). I was a little startled to learn that their relationship wasn't one undercut by deep, passionate emotional connection. It was very comfortable, and they had a great communal life when they wanted to (lots of travel and fine dining and such), but otherwise they were very separate folks. I'd describe them the way you describe your ex: deep emotional connection just wasn't on their menu. I'd never experienced anything like that before, but they helped me come to understand that there are many things that bring people together. Love and life are mysteries. Celebrate whatever it is you find suits you well. Congratulations on your news!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:35 PM on November 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I actually told my ex over text message before I posted it on Facebook, because I didn't want him to be blindsided. I think that's all you have to do. It's a nice courtesy to let him know before the general public, and you don't have to go into details unless you want to and he asks.
posted by katypickle at 4:00 PM on November 15, 2016

Your ex husband said he doesn't want an emotional connection with you or to know about your current relationship. Telling him about your engagement is assuming he cares more than he did while you were actually together! He doesn't. Let it go. For most people telling them privately would be a kindness but your ex has done everything to show he doesn't want it. And if he changes his mind and complains, really, what did he think would happen? You've found someone who will give you what he refused to. Congratulations.
posted by Jubey at 4:14 PM on November 15, 2016

Snickerdoodle: Eh, I know I'm technically "the bad guy." I've made my peace with that - I can't control what narrative he chooses to tell himself. I'm just trying to treat this announcement with the most amount of respect/least amount of drama possible, in the hopes that we can continue to be cordial to each other. I hope for it, but don't expect it. I think letting him know in advance is the right call - via a short email. That's what I would want, if the situations were reversed.
posted by egeanin at 5:50 PM on November 15, 2016

After my ex and I split up I ended up in a relationship with someone we had been friends with for years. We had always had somewhat of an attraction, so I can't imagine it came as a huge surprise to anyone that we ended up together when we happened to turn up newly single around the same time. When Mrs. slkinsey and I became engaged, I just sent an email to my (friendly but low contact) ex saying something to the effect that Mrs. slkinsey had "recently become engaged. We're starting to tell people and I wanted you to hear it from me." My ex wished me well and that was that. Whatever else she may have thought about it, she kept to herself and her confidants. This was because she is a good person and she recognized that she really didn't have any basis to complain. It sounds like your ex is a good person who understands he doesn't have any basis to complain either. A friendly but concise note shouldn't go amiss. Considering that your ex is going to find out about it anyway, what have you got to lose? I wouldn't bother putting anything in there about how you hope he receives it or how you hope your continued interactions will be. That's a can of worms not worth opening. It should really just be a polite notification so he isn't blindsided. That's all.
posted by slkinsey at 6:01 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have to, no, should you, probably yes, should you put a bit of thought into doing it kindly, yes.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:28 PM on November 15, 2016

He may choose to believe that I left him for this man. It's not true, at least not in the way he thinks.

you go from speculating about what he "may" believe (fair enough), then seamlessly transition to talking about what he definitely does think and whether to correct an "erroneous perspective" he suddenly must hold. he may be constructing narratives in his own mind, who knows, but you are too.

mutual friends have told me that he knows I am dating my current beau, and has suspicions about it.

they are not actually very friendly to either of you, then, and they like gossip better than they like either of you individually. The low-drama way to handle this is to ask them nicely to stop carrying stories back and forth in either direction. If he tells them his suspicions so that they will get carried back to you, they should not cooperate. His opinion of your partner and romantic timing is not your problem and unless he tells you directly, not your business.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:25 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's kind of you to want to tell your ex in a respectful way that minimises any emotional blow. So you could do that in one of the short, no fuss ways recommended above.

But as far as setting the record straight about the reasons for your relationship ending, just leave it alone. If you know you didn't leave your ex for your fiancé, then why does it matter? It sounds like you're trying to assuage some misplaced guilt about the relationship ending and moving on. But you don't need your ex to see you as a good person in order for it to be true. Whatever he may or may not think about your motivations isn't your concern anymore. Let it go.

It might mean the polite coffee catch ups end. But if he didn't give you emotional support while you were married, what are you getting out of this ongoing attachment? Part of a relationship ending is letting it actually end.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 9:14 PM on November 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

What is it that you hope to get, or fear you won't get out of telling him? He's going to find out anyway. And when he does he's going to have whatever reaction he's going to have and view you in whatever way he's going to view you. You might be able to influence that outcome slightly by either telling him or not telling him, and if you tell him by the manner in which you tell him. But I doubt any of these choices is likely to make a huge difference in the eventual outcome. You must know him pretty well, so I think you should decide whether he would want to be told by you or not. This is really a judgment call that no one but you can make. Many people who maintain a reasonably cordial arms-length relationship with an ex would appreciate a short note. But the fact that your ex has expressed a desire to not discuss your relationships might mitigate in the other direction. Only you know him well enough to make an informed decision. So you should just pick an option and go with it. However it works out, be comforted by the fact that it probably would have worked out the same way if you had made the opposite decision.
posted by slkinsey at 5:45 AM on November 16, 2016

> I just sent an email to my (friendly but low contact) ex saying something to the effect that Mrs. slkinsey had "recently become engaged. We're starting to tell people and I wanted you to hear it from me."

This is pretty much exactly what I came here to suggest.
posted by desuetude at 6:31 AM on November 16, 2016

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