Pro tips for getting through a long weekend with SO's angry ex?
September 1, 2017 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Pretty much as per the title: I've just learned that my SO's ex will be at a weekend group event with us and is angry I'm attending. As an introverted, semi-anxious person, I'm looking for some tips for how to power through. Details within.

Over the last 20 years my SO has frequently taken a long weekend trip to Big Bend with a large group of friends she has in common with her ex of 7 years. (They share kids in their late 20s and for many years it was a multi-family event.) We have been together for 4 years. Years 1&2 the timing didn't work out for us to attend the weekend together. Last year and this year it did.

Possibly relevant: Last year we opted not to go. My SO let her ex know I'd be there and he was upset. They engaged in some back and forth emails where he bashed and minimized our relationship. Because of this, she put her head in the sand and didn't tell me that he would be there. I found out the night before the trip and didn't like the lack of a heads up, and was disappointed she allowed things to progress to the point where he was lobbing messages like that. Rather than sort out stuff between us during the weekend itself, she and I decided to stay home and work out how we want to handle situations like that. All good.

This year I am attending. Yesterday her ex sent a harsh email to her, angry I will be intruding on the weekend and that she didn't give him more advance notice. Some additional flavor:

- I have been to a number of brief social events with the ex over the years. SO and I live together. It's not as if it's a surprise to anyone that we're a couple. However, this group hasn't included me or tried to get to know me over the last few years. I am rarely invited to parties, dinners, etc., but rather 'allowed' to come after SO asks if she can bring me.* I wasn't invited to this weekend personally, despite the fact that many couples have evolved over time in the group. As usual, my SO was invited and asked if she could bring me. SO and I have talked about this and basically feel we've got to forge ahead even if they won't be more welcoming, with the hope they'll accept me over time, as they're important to her. This is not my strong suit, though, and already has me swimming upstream against feelings of being excluded/unwelcome.

- I'm an introvert and don't love group events. SO is a social extrovert and will want to spend time hanging with the group (i.e., not by my side for long stretches)

- The ex is known (and valued) in this group for being outspoken and mildly confrontational ("says it like it is" "speaks his mind" etc.) while I prefer time to process before hashing things out. My SO is conflict avoidant, and admits especially so with him, and will tend to acquiesce.

What are some things I can do to maximize my confidence and minimize anxiety? What can my SO and I do to boost our couplehood and my place in the group? What are some things I can--or should not--do with regard to her angry ex?

*We've decided this is more about the group than about any miserable social skills or halitosis on my part. Other friends of hers seem to welcome me just fine.
posted by Yoshimi Battles to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't understand why you are meeting up with this hostile group in the first place. You gave it a shot and it didn't work out--I doubt these people will suddenly embrace you if they haven't already. I don't think this is your fault, they sound like a bunch of childish people. And why is your SO in the middle of communicating to you and her ex when the other will be attending an event? She seems too involved in her SO especially given his outright meanness toward you. I don't think you or your SO should be mingling with these people given their history. Self confidence can only take you so far and in fact may make people even more hostile if they want to make you feel excluded, which they clearly do. I think your anxiety is sending you a strong message that this is a futile effort, you should listen and move on with nicer, normal people. Plan to get together with the nice friends from that group. No event could possibly be more important than your peace of mind, and your SO should be on board with that and commend you for the effort you did make.
posted by waving at 7:08 AM on September 1, 2017 [24 favorites]

Ugh, this sounds awful. Why exactly do you want to go? So your SO can "win," or prove a point, or get a dig in at her ex? Meanwhile, you're on edge, the ex is pissed and the weekend is uncomfortable for everyone.

You and your SO are a couple whether this group likes it or not, but inviting drama is certainly not the way to win everyone over. Lots of couples participate in activities on their own. Let this be her thing. Perhaps the two of you could entertain others in the group in smaller numbers, assuming you even want to get to know them.

You have this internet stranger's permission to stay home, for your own sake.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:10 AM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Stop caring about what this guy (and the wider group!) thinks of you. Your relationship with your SO is on your own terms; you don't need validation or welcome from these people.

Practice your "I don't care what you think of me" face. Keep it super neutral, even (/especially) if the ex is being confrontational or trying to get a rise out of you. It's both boring and difficult to get a reaction out of someone who is committed to not giving you that reaction, so don't do him the favour of reacting at all. "Huh." "How about that." Neutral face, neutral tone.

It sounds like this is going to suck for you no matter what (you don't like group events, you don't feel like these people like or welcome you, your SO won't be in keeping-you-comfortable mode because she's more outgoing and wants to socialise), so is there anything you can do to make it more fun for you? Take something to eat or drink you really like, take a walk away from the group, bring some really compelling books for when you don't feel like interacting with people.

And if there's no way to make it easier for yourself, focus on getting through it without your self esteem taking a hammering. These people are not your friends; you don't need their opinion of you to be good to keep living your life, and you don't need their approval in order to attend/exist/be in a serious relationship with your SO.

Deflate their power in your head. It's not real power anyway, it's a crappy kind of power and you're giving it to them by continuing to care what they think. You get to take that power away and feel okay about yourself and your relationship no matter what these people happen to think of you.
posted by terretu at 7:12 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

if you don't even like big group outings like this in the first place, why go?
posted by cakelite at 7:13 AM on September 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm an introvert and don't love group events.

Oh, then don't go.

SO is a social extrovert and will want to spend time hanging with the group (i.e., not by my side for long stretches)

Well then, definitely don't go.

The ex is known (and valued) in this group for being outspoken and mildly confrontational

For heaven's sake, don't go.

My SO is conflict avoidant, and admits especially so with him, and will tend to acquiesce.

For the love of all that is good and holy, DO NOT GO.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:14 AM on September 1, 2017 [68 favorites]

(my advice applies if you decide to go anyway, but I also want to nth all the people saying you really don't have to go - again, think of it like you've got nothing to prove to these people and don't have to make your relationship/self any more legitimate to them by turning up to something that's going to be horrible for you)
posted by terretu at 7:14 AM on September 1, 2017

Best answer: Yesterday her ex sent a harsh email to her, angry I will be intruding on the weekend and that she didn't give him more advance notice.

This is about your SO and her ability to manage this so that she can clearly be on TEAM US with you. If she can not do this, the two of you should not go. W/r/t the angry email, the proper response is "Bob, I've been with Yoshimi for four years now and we have a good thing going. You can manage this how you want, but we will be there and your issues are yours to manage."

As for you: other people's irrational anger is not your issue. I know it's easier said than done, but I'd concentrate on all the other people there who are NOT the angry ex and just opt for a "living well is the best revenge" approach. Make sure you get lots of downtime (get up late, go to bed early) and have some sort of built-in thing with your SO so the two of you can, say, go for a walk and reconnect and/or dish about what is going on or support each other and regroup.

Your SO behaved badly last year to you and it's okay for you to feel worried that will recur so it may be worth talking those things out ahead of time. And, lastly, see if you really want to go to this. It's okay not to.
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 AM on September 1, 2017 [47 favorites]

Who are your allies in the larger group? Can you and your SO together seek out one or two folks in private and ask them if they'll speak up for you, on your behalf, if things get nasty with the ex?
posted by tapir-whorf at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, from what you've said, it doesn't seem as though this is a particularly great group of people to try and fit into. Having to sidle up to an invitation to a long-standing group event as an SO when other partners don't sounds like dumb high school nonsense to me, not the actions of adults. If this is an important group of friends for her and she feels she wants to continue her relationship with them despite them being pretty terrible to you (and her, that's a terrible way to treat any friend's partner and a bad position to put a friend in), then she should go by herself. Also, the entire e-mail situation is wrecked. She shouldn't be trying to manage the emotions of an ex in a friend group, or really at all. Not her gig anymore. He needs to just learn to deal with it, and has less than zero right to be 'angry' about anything involving you.

If I were you and still going I'd put on my 'fuck-off' face and position yourself as someone who should be there inherently. They might accept that better. It sounds like these are the sort of people who like that sort of assholish behavior, or at least don't appreciate civility like you're trying to show.

On preview, yeah, be prepared to spend plenty of time by yourself, have things to make you comfortable, and don't cave an inch to those people. As far as I can tell these are not 'good' friends, these are 'old' friends, and that's never a good situation to insert yourself into.
Basically, these people sound like assholes, your SO is trying to make everyone happy all at the same time (not a bad impulse, but one that clearly isn't working here), and you don't sound like you either want to go or would possibly enjoy it. Either don't go or go and be an unmovable rock, I don't see a happy middle here. I'd tell you not to go, neither of you, really.

(that ex drama is nonsense, he doesn't need to be 'warned' or anything, he needs to grow the fuck up and act like an adult. He gets exactly zero say in where you are or what you are doing, and working around him is some bullshit, and if people require you to work around his bullshit to be friends, they are also bullshit.)
posted by neonrev at 7:33 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

SO and I have talked about this and basically feel we've got to forge ahead even if they won't be more welcoming, with the hope they'll accept me over time, as they're important to her.

Has your SO talked about this explicitly with any of these friends and said "I want you to accept my SO because we're in a serious relationship and SO is important to me?"

If so, do you feel you would have a base of accepting people to hang out with during the event? (And if not, maybe it's time.)
posted by trig at 7:36 AM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding Jessamyn--if it's close to the actual event, I'd take a hard pass but you need to talk to your SO about this. She needs to be working more on Team Us and not getting into this nonsense with the ex.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:39 AM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Don't go. It's weird and juvenile, but these folks have chosen sides between you and the ex and they have not chosen you.

Honestly, 4 YEARS is a really long time to hope that this group will accept you "over time". If this is something important to your SO, then she needs to be putting in the work in smaller ways that aren't so burdensome on you, for example proactively planning casual, lower-pressure outings with one or two of these couples that she feels you might particularly click with.

Putting you, an "introverted semi-anxious person" into a hostile situation where she'll be gone for long stretches of time is honestly kind of mean.
posted by lalex at 8:01 AM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Can you bring a book and just find a corner and read? That's what I'd do - or at least it would be my fallback. I'd socialize a little with anyone who seemed friendly, and if that seemed to run out I'd go read (or stay in my room, if this is a hotel-room situation).

In my experience, when people at a group event see someone reading, the friendly ones are moved to engage you and the others are relieved to have an excuse to leave you alone.

I mean, I wouldn't go - but it sounds like you have your reasons.
posted by Frowner at 8:13 AM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

we've got to forge ahead even if they won't be more welcoming, with the hope they'll accept me over time, as they're important to her

Dude, it's been 4 years. They're not going to change unless someone gives them a metaphorical kick up the arse, which you admit won't be coming from her. She says they are important to her, but they're not really treating her like she's important to them.

Unfortunately, sometimes this happens when a couple has mutual friends and then break up. They've shown where their loyalties now lie and unfortunately it's not with your SO. Years 1&2 when you didn't attend and the ex did was when it started. And then the semi-drama of year 3 where you backed out at the last minute really sealed things. Not that any of this is your fault, they are acting very immaturely. I'm just pointing out the opportunities where the ex basically sowed his bitterness within the friendship group and you've been deemed The Outsider (technically, you are. You haven't been friends with them for 20 years). It sucks. They suck.

*We've decided this is more about the group than about any miserable social skills or halitosis on my part. Other friends of hers seem to welcome me just fine.

You should totally just stay home. Start a new tradition with the group of friends who are actually, you know, nice people.
posted by like_neon at 8:15 AM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

That's a no-brainer. Do everyone involved (including yourself) a favor and don't go.
posted by halogen at 8:45 AM on September 1, 2017

Response by poster: Brief follow up: The trip begins tonight. The ex's email was yesterday so he’s had plenty of notice I'd be there. It seems we're more comfortable being uncomfortable for the weekend than letting his last-minute email drama control our attendance, and I'm hoping my being there begins to set a norm for SO and I as a couple. (Is that ‘proving a point’? Probably.) I don't know if he attended Years 1&2, but if he did, that's a good point, like_neon.

I don't expect to the ex to be nasty—more likely that he will off-gas victimhood and others will be inclined to "support" him to the extent that I'm sidelined.

SO has difficulty cheering for Team Us when dealing with her ex.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2017

  • Bring a good book. Maybe even two.
  • If the ex is being petty or mean, most people can see that. It reflects poorly on him, not you. Keep this in mind.
  • If the ex is spiteful toward you directly, just call him on it. "I don't see what you stand to gain by being mean to me, Ex. You and SO broke up N years ago. She and I have been together for 4 years. People have lives. Did you just expect her to pine away? Grow the fuck up." Rehearse saying this (or your version of this) in your mind. Stay calm. Go back to your book after.

posted by adamrice at 9:07 AM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is THE opportunity to show she is Team Us. This is exactly how she proves a point to her friends. Have a chat together to agree on tangible ways you can show a unified front. Like:

- Explicitly including you on conversations when it warrants, "Oh Yoshimi and I saw that movie last week! I didn't think much of it but Yoshimi liked it a bit more, didn't you?"

- It's an outdoor camping thing right? Instigate a small group to do an activity together. I'm assuming it's easier for you as an introvert to get to know 1-2 people at a time than The Group all at once. "Hey Couple A, do you want to come with me and Yoshimi on a short walk out to that rock thing?"

- If you're making a coffee or some sort of sharable resource, call out one person specifically to share the hot water situation. Use that opportunity to connect with them individually using your SO as a common ground ("SO tells me you enjoy X, how did you get into that?"). Start with the most friendliest/least exclusionary person and work your way up (don't include the ex).

- She should try to use "we" a lot in conversation. I know, sometimes I find that annoying from couples, but I think this situation warrants it. No more of this apologising or seeking permission for your presence. Fuck that. "We did this last week. We think this. We love going to that." They're gonna have to start thinking of her as part of a unit, and it's not with the ex.

- Divide and conquer. The whole group won't love you all at once. But it will just take a couple of people to say "Yoshimi's kinda cool and he makes SO happy" and the rest will need to fall like dominos or look like a-holes.

I know it's tempting to just hide in the tent with a book, but what an awful thing to have to face every year. Either this becomes an enjoyable tradition for both of you, or you need to look for a new tradition with other friends. I hope it goes well for both of you.
posted by like_neon at 9:12 AM on September 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

Oh and she doesn't need to "deal with her ex". They broke up 4 years ago!! There is nothing to deal with! She should just ignore him and focus on the friends. She needs to portray Team Us to her friends, not the ex. Once they acknowledge you two as the status quo, he'll look like the jealous weird one.
posted by like_neon at 9:17 AM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Why does this shitty ex have so much leverage over your SO? If I had an ex who was being a dick about my long-term partner, my reaction would be "Well then Fuck You, I guess that whole Just Friends thing didn't work out after all." Where does he get off thinking he can control whether or not she brings her SO to a group event? Where does he get off thinking he's justified in being angry about it? And why on Earth does your SO put up with that crap?

Your SO is putting her ex's petulent, childish feelings ahead of your comfort and the solidarity of your partnership for what reason, exactly? Why is she putting up with this angry, controlling ex at all let alone at the expense of her existing relationship? And why is she still friends with the rest of this group, if they've shown that affirming her right to have a relationship with whoever she chooses is less important than placating a controlling, angry man-child? They don't sound like real friends to me.

None of this makes any sense to me. Your SO has put both of you in a shitty situation for shitty reasons. You didn't make this problem and it's not your problem to solve. If the ex gets aggro about your being there, you are free to tell him to fuck right off, because he's not your SO's boyfriend and has zero right to tell her who she can associate with. He is way the fuck out of line and someone needs to make that super sharp and clear to him. It should have been your SO with the support if the rest of the friend group, but if it has to be you then so be it.

Don't be afraid to get a little righteous. You have no standing with these awful people, so you have nothing to lose, and if I were you I'd never want to be around them again anyway. I'd be seriously shaken by the fact that my partner apparently still does, even though they clearly don't respect her or her relationship, but that's something I'd want to work out with her privately.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:30 AM on September 1, 2017 [14 favorites]

Your SO is putting her ex's petulent, childish feelings ahead of your comfort and the solidarity of your partnership for what reason, exactly?

I was wondering if someone would bring this up. I don't want to borrow trouble on your behalf, but this would be very problematic for me.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

It seems we're more comfortable being uncomfortable for the weekend than letting his last-minute email drama control our attendance

Don't make this a battle of wills and a power play, it's not going to be fun and you're going to be there for an entire weekend. This isn't last-minute drama, it's how he is, it appears entirely predictable, and it's shared by the whole group.

If anything, let your SO go and lay the groundwork for acceptance (or whatever) for however many years it takes for them to invite you. I just can't fathom wanting to hang out with people who don't like me, regardless of the politics of doing so.
posted by rhizome at 9:33 AM on September 1, 2017

Your SO is putting her ex's petulent, childish feelings ahead of your comfort and the solidarity of your partnership for what reason, exactly?

Yeah. I have an SO who has a childish bitchy ex (possibly with actual mental health issues, so I try to be politic about it publicly) who he has a kid with and we only really got our shit straight as a couple when he developed boundaries with her which included

- No talking shit about me, talking shit about me would end the conversation
- Team Us was the primary unit, not Team Family (which was forever her thing, using "the family" issues to wedge in getting him to do whatever she wanted)
- Her manipulations fell on deaf ears (which included just ignoring her weird and petulant threats and "why didn't you do this the way *I* wanted...?" complaints) and we stopped going to "mandatory" family things which sucked.
- Taking the high road around other people who took her side. Hey, other people feel what they feel and if they agreed with or sided with her that was on them. We weren't mad but also wouldn't get sucked back into drama.

He lost some friendships over it. He kept the important ones. I feel like there's some "tearing the bandaid off" work your SO needs to do with these friends to assure that the friends actually want to be friends with both her and you. If they only want to be friends with her, she should let them know that is not an option (or it is but you can figure out what that looks like and she shouldn't drag you to these events). But possibly they don't really want to be friends with either of you?

Your SO should push harder for actual inclusion of the two of you both in word and deed and she should back up that request. Maybe her ex is a dramatic complaining whiner. Maybe he reflects the group feeling (i.e. he keeps that weekend and he is making people choose and they chose him) in which case be rid of them. if it's only him, let him shout into the wind and she should get other friends to back her up on that. If it really is everyone, make your peace and say your goodbyes. Your SO should not make her ex's bad behavior obscure the larger issue if there is one.
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm not wondering why you're going *since he's being a jerk,* I'm wondering why you're going *since you don't like hanging out with these people and they aren't welcoming to you.* What pleasure will you or your SO take in your participation in this trip? Even forgetting the ex, will it outweigh this trip just not being a lot of fun for you?
posted by gideonfrog at 10:24 AM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with all the advice you are getting in this thread to de-engage. If people treated my husband badly they would not be my friends. That said, I do have some ideas for you.

1. I think you should channel Thor or Wonder Woman. What do these two heroes have in common besides their divine origins? When they arrive on Planet Human, they recognize that they are awesome and anyone who doesn't understand that sucks. Often this comes across as a kind of naivete that I think you can probably emulate.

So look, you are The Partner, and anyone who does not get that is just a very mistaken poor little human.

Like this:

People are chatting in front of you about plans without including you.
You: You know what I would like? I would like to... -- no, they didn't ask you, but you asked you on your behalf. (This is like the two Thor trailers where he's not paying his rent.)

The Ex glares at you from across the campfire.
You: Tilt head, make Wonder Woman eyes like the scene on the boat when she's trying to figure out why Steve Trevor won't lie does next to her. Like "man, you are acting crazy, and it is amusing me totally."

2. This will take it out of you, so schedule breaks and just-you couple time. Consider leaving early and going on a date on the way home.

3. If high conflict ex starts a conflict, use your processing speed to slow down. Look at him. Wait a few breaths before answering. Use WASP disapproval words like "that's so...interesting." "Well, I can see you have a point." (significant pause.) "Oh, hmmmm. I see."

4. Your mantra is "Wow, these people are so stuck in the past."
posted by warriorqueen at 10:28 AM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

How is it that your SO and her ex came to be friends with this group of people? Where do their loyalties lie?

In my experience, it's difficult for two halves of a split couple to remain in the same group of friends. Its awkward for the other people in the group, people are inclined to take sides. And usually there's one person who naturally (for lack of a better word) belongs.

For example, my brother-in-law broke up with his girlfriend of 7 years last year, and although we all liked his ex very much, there's just no way she would continue to hang out with all of us as a group. Many of us are still friendly with her - on Facebook, maybe see her out for a drink - but the days of her hanging out with all of us are over.

It doesn't sound to me like this is just your SO's ex being a dick, with all her other friends being accepting and welcoming. For whatever reason, they all sound like they're giving you/your SO the cold shoulder. If that's something that doesn't bother you, then continue to try to make in-roads with these people. Personally there is no way I could deal with that - I'm super-sensitive to being around people if I think they don't like me, and I most definitely could not spend a weekend away with them.

If you do decide to go, I would bring tons of distractions, and have a lot of small talk topics at the ready.

Good luck.
posted by lyssabee at 10:29 AM on September 1, 2017

SO has difficulty cheering for Team Us when dealing with her ex.

All of the other stuff sounds absolutely terrible and I'd be a wreck over it constantly! No wonder you are spinning like a top over this. I think this is the core issue though. You can't make your SO's friends and ex and whoever else respect you and view you as a unit if your SO isn't doing it. Unfortunately, there's no magic phrase to bring your SO onto your team if they haven't come willingly already. This is something for them to work out and be better about. I hate that it's this way because it feels like you should just be able to explain it to them in a new way and they'll get it and they'll suddenly be team you - there is no magic phrase that you haven't already said to them.

10 years ago when I got together with my now spouse there was gigantic social group drama - it was a group that favors the "underdog" and they viewed our getting together as being especially cruel to the underdog as they saw it. They weren't entirely wrong - things could have been done differently. I could have acted better, but as everyone knows, long relationships are more complicated than that. Regardless, after a time, it was important to us that the group respect us as the friends we'd been for a decade or more and respect our relationship. This is not something the group and we agreed on, so it was team us and we lost basically all those friends. I am still upset over it. I still don't know if it was the right answer. I still feel guilty my spouse felt like he had to walk away from foundational friendships. I'd do it all over again today - it had to be team us or nothing. We both understood that and drew that line in the sand. I understand it's more complicated with children involved, but your SO needs to work out if they're team you guys or not, all the time, not just when it's easiest.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:36 AM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In your place, I would not go. I would dig in my heels and spend my valuable time with people who respect me and don't value a loudmouth petulant confrontational exboyfriend's feelings over mine.

It's been four years.
They're still not inviting you out.
They're still not including you without being asked.
After four years, you're clearly not going away.
This is not respectful behavior. It's pretty darn shameful, actually.

They do not respect you. More to the point, they don't respect her. Because you've been in a relationship with each other for four years and they are trying to pretend that her significant other is not significant. Spending more time with them is unlikely to solve this. The ex boyfriend clearly has issues and that is unlikely to change. After four years, I'd be okay with telling my SO that my mental health and well-being is more important to me (and should be to her) than making an effort with people who don't respect either of us.

I've bolded the words "four years" for a reason. By the time my current relationship was four years old, I'd been married for a year and 10 months. That is WAY more than enough time for her friends to be treating you as a couple. They should be expected to do so at this point.

What are some things I can do to maximize my confidence and minimize anxiety?

Don't go.

If you insist on going, grin and bear it and ignore anything that comes up.

What can my SO and I do to boost our couplehood and my place in the group?

You're a couple. Spend all of your time together. Be a couple throughout the weekend. Make sure she is including you in all activities. This is her responsibility as your SO and the very least she can do, considering that she is taking you into a hostile environment. There are times in a relationship where people have to go out of their way to support their partners over their friends. This is her time to do that.

What are some things I can--or should not--do with regard to her angry ex?

Be superficially friendly. Ignore any slights or provocations. Managing his feelings is neither your responsibility, nor your SO's. The two of you should be very, very clear about that with each other. You should be on the same page regarding that before the weekend starts. They haven't been a couple for most of a decade. He's an adult. If he can't act like one, then that is not your collective problem.
posted by zarq at 10:56 AM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I don't see that the other group is being immature or HS dramaesque. They just don't want OP to be part of their group. They don't have to, just because his SO lives with him. She chose him, not them. They don't have to adopt him, and they've made it pretty clear that they're not going to adopt him. Imagine if this letter were written by someone in the group, who said,

"Sally and Jack got divorced, and Sally eventually moved in with Blake. Blake's antisocial, uninterested in what our group likes, and generally hard to get along with. Jack's one of our dearest, oldest friends, and a total blast. We see Jack every year, at an annual event, and it has been great maintaining our friendship with him. Sally dropped out of the group, and then, three years later, decided to jump back in ... bringing along Blake. They're just not taking the hint, or even the direct communication, that having Blake makes Jack uncomfortable, and that makes the rest of us uncomfortable. We've done what we could ... not inviting Blake, tolerating Sally's request that he come along, generally doing nothing to encourage a friendship with him. They still insist on coming, together. What can we do?"

OP, just stop pushing it. They don't have to adopt you, and you don't have to like them. Let your SO go alone, or ask her not to go at all, but this is not a group you're going to be friends with. Making your point? You're just letting them know you're together, which they know. There's no other point to be made. I can't see why you bother with this. Be friends with people who are your friends.
posted by Capri at 11:14 AM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

My first thought was, "Thank God this isn't about a family reunion."
Those are the people you have to impress. You get along with her relatives? She gets along with your relatives? You're both golden.

The long-time friends may be jaded about getting to know a new romance, only to hear that they've broken up and their divorced friend is now with Terry... or Taylor... or honestly, they may be waiting for the wedding invitation before rolling out the red carpet and welcoming you into their close-knit group.

So give them one more chance to thaw towards you. Mention visits with family -- her parents, your parents. Let them know that you have family approval. If that doesn't get their attention, then they aren't respecting either of you. And that's on them, because you gave it your best shot.

The ex? Not your monkeys, not your circus. Doesn't he have a wife or girlfriend somewhere? Is he so disrespectful to her? Does he allow the long-time friends to ignore or belittle her?
You be the better person. Treat others as you wish to be treated, but you are not put on this earth to placate them, only be a loving and supportive companion to your SO. And her job is to back you up on this. Tell her I said so.

If all else fails, have a backup plan for a romantic getaway in Big Bend that you can both escape to at a moment's notice -- and it is your SO's job to tell the group that they drove her to it by being so immature and unreasonable. Put it back on them, SO -- you don't have to see them over the breakfast table the next morning.

Good luck and enjoy each other, regardless of what others think.
posted by TrishaU at 12:48 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it doesn't sound like either you or your SO are particularly welcome in this group. Don't go. This is probably one of those tip of the iceberg problems, the iceberg is why your SO is insisting on this in the first place.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:55 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

This whole thing is bizarre. Absent some key missing information -- like if the reason they broke up was your SO having an affair with you, with a major STD being passed along in the meantime -- how in the world is the ex still so hung up on things after more than SEVEN YEARS. I mean, you guys have been dating for four years, which is long enough for someone to get over a relationship, but it sounds like the breakup itself was almost a decade ago? If the ex and the friend group is so petty that they cannot move on after all of this time, I honestly don't see the point in trying to engage. One weekend is not going to change a multi-year pattern of terrible behavior. If your SO really wants to see these people, I would suggest attending alone and not subjecting you to their middle school antics.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:48 PM on September 1, 2017

I don't understand why you OR your SO want to go be with people who are so incredibly rude. And frankly, I think your SO is being extremely disrespectful to you by continuing to be friends with people who don't even invite her SO. That is some really shabby crap they're pulling. Why is her loyalty to them instead of to you?

But if you go anyway, the only way to make this work is to switch from defense to offense. Make him uncomfortable that you're there, instead of the other way around. If you can't do that, then neither of you should go.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:47 AM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

How did it go?!?
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:16 AM on September 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: The gory details!

SO and I developed a game plan of “maximized we” which she was pretty good at pulling off and which made a big difference for me.

The friends were polite but we found ourselves at best benignly ignored when activities were planned, and having to make some effort to keep conversations going when in the group. Nothing hostile but people just didn’t respond or “add” to our contributions, etc. This was the first time my SO understood (and maybe believed) my experience of being unwelcome by this group, because at my side she now experienced it, too.

Two people struck up long and very friendly conversations with us apart from the group, which was helpful.

Then….late on day 1, her ex asked for a word privately and, once they were alone, berated her for her selfishness. She listened, and didn’t apologize or anything, but nor did she push back. I learned this a few hours later and was irritated she entertained the conversation. I think it continues a message to him that he demands, deserves, and gets special treatment/communication from her. I also predicted that without some push back from her, he would try me next.

Sure enough he approached me in my first moment alone, said he “must” talk to me, and launched into something that started out: “Look, I really don’t dislike you, but….” I interrupted him and said I wasn’t available for conversations with him about my relationships, and walked away. He was frustrated.

We departed unfashionably early from the weekend because SO said she thought it was too difficult and unfair a situation for me to be in any longer.

Thanks for all the helpful ideas!
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 5:24 AM on September 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

her ex asked for a word privately and, once they were alone, berated her for her selfishness.

What the...?! I cannot understand at all how he thinks he has any standing for this type of conversation unless you guys were acting really badly, like lines of coke in the tents every half an hour kind of badly.

Anyway I think the real win here is for your SO to realise how uncomfortable and unwelcome this whole trip is. Here's to better traditions for you both!
posted by like_neon at 1:52 AM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

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