Was I unclear or did they act in bad faith? Or alternative explanation?
November 28, 2017 9:22 AM   Subscribe

I realised that a mutual friend of my two recent exes has a serious case of mentionitis. I asked her politely to stop talking about them to me but, literally, the very next day she mentions one of them again, apropos of nothing. Can the hive mind check out what I told her and let me know if I'm going crazy? Why would she do this? And this is what the slow fade is designed for, right? Wall of snowflakes, avoid if impatient with middle aged dramaz.

So I meet up with this friend about once every couple of weeks. She's fun, generous, easy to talk to and also friends with both of my exes although I've known her longer. Her partner is an integral part of the small music scene that both exes participate in. For various reasons I'm not in contact with either ex and am keen to move away from this crowd. I've shared with her the pain that Ex1 put me through and my guilt over splitting with Ex2, so she knows the exact score on both counts.

In the last month I noticed that whenever we'd get together she seemed to find a reason to namedrop either Ex1 or Ex2. Not with any important information, just "oh, I bumped into Ex2 - we chatted for a while, I didn't say anything about you" and "Ex1 was at the craft show, he has made some really great [things]" or "went to a gig, Ex1 was there. It was really fun." I wouldn't react (trying to be cool!) but I found these namedrops quite triggering and would often come away feeling churned up and annoyed at feeling churned up.

A couple of days ago, she texted to invite me to an event, I said that I was too busy, sorry, and then she texted back "oh, Ex1 will be there, so maybe not". I was irritated - why did I need to know he was going to be there if I'd already said I wasn't going? I texted back, said good for him, and that she didn't need to warn me and I can handle the inevitable bump into.

She emails me yesterday: how are you, blah, went to the event, saw Ex1 selling his [things] and blah.

I email back: "...I appreciate the update and I’m sure Ex1’s [things] are super, but I'd prefer not to hear about Ex1 or Ex2’s doings, like ever. I'm fine with the inevitable random encounter, can be polite, but I want to get on with my own stuff now and look forward. I know you run in the same circles as them and that’s cool. Just thought I’d let you know..."

Her response: "Not angry at all.. hopefully.. Just sayin... I'm not a hermit... Blah etc" [confusing?]

Me: "Ah no, I’m not angry, I hope you’re not. You’re no hermit, of course. Both of them are fun, interesting people and good friends to their friends. I wish I could rewind a few years knowing what I know now and make some different choices, but I guess it’s lessons that I needed to learn, hey. Onwards and upwards, and hopefully not being a hermit myself. One day it might all feel different but I feel like there needs to be a definite focus away from those two until it’s water under the bridge..."

Today I meet up with her at a cafe, as we usually do, hoping that she got the message and all's now cool. We chat for about an hour, no mentions, I'm relaxed, lovely. Then she starts talking about going to a gig in [place - Ex1's new home town] and how she hung out with [person - Ex1's best friend, who I didn't even know that she knew and she's never mentioned before] and how there were so many 'people' there and how great it was. Oh, and the event I didn't go to, her partner bought one of Ex1's [things] and blah...

And I just sat there completely bamboozled? Did she just say that? And I was polite and left shortly afterwards and hugged her goodbye and acted like everything was fine. And arghhhhhh.

It's not killing a kitten, but shit... Seriously, if someone asked me to stop mentioning someone in conversation because it wasn't good for them, I wouldn't, the very next day, bring up the fact, apropos of nothing, that I'd been to a gig for a band that Ex1 likes with Ex1's best friends in the small town that Ex1 lives in, and then mention Ex1 again within the same context that the person asked me not to the day before.

My questions:
1) Was I somehow unclear in my email? Am I going nuts here?
2) Why would someone overstep a boundary like this, if done deliberately? Is this a classic case of shit stirring? For dramaz? I get the sense that she thinks I should be fine with Ex1 and all the crap he put me through, and she told me the other day not to "make Ex2 into a monster" when I said that I was no contact with him.
3) This kind of persistent boundary overstepping is what a slow fade is designed for, right? Or should I ask her again to abandon the mentionitis?

Thank you everyone in advance.
posted by doornoise to Human Relations (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
So in this conversation at the cafe, she didn't actually talk about your Ex (aside from saying she bought something off him) she just talked about what she did over the weekend and mentioned somebody your Ex knows?

I think if you expect this woman to not only never discuss your Exes, but also to never discuss your Ex's friends, relations, bandmates, etc. then you need to spell that out to her, and I don't think you did. To me this doesn't read like someone passively aggressively needling you. It reads like someone talking about what they did this weekend in an offhand way.
posted by Diablevert at 9:32 AM on November 28, 2017 [17 favorites]


2) Why would someone overstep a boundary like this, if done deliberately? Is this a classic case of shit stirring? For dramaz? I get the sense that she thinks I should be fine with Ex1 and all the crap he put me through, and she told me the other day not to "make Ex2 into a monster" when I said that I was no contact with him.

There you go. She's being pushy because she doesn't agree with you about your exes, and she's trying to change your mind. I wouldn't even slow fade - I'm horribly confrontation adverse, but if she can't respect your boundaries, she doesn't need to be in your space.
posted by joycehealy at 9:32 AM on November 28, 2017 [28 favorites]


I have to agree that describing the bowl, where the bowl is, what the bowl was next to and what the bowl contains is just the same as saying, “I saw the bowl”. In fact, it’s more annoying and needling than just saying, “I saw the bowl”. Maaaaaybe one more shot at it IF you genuinely otherwise enjoy this person. Then the slow fade.

Good on you for standing up for your boundaries.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:40 AM on November 28, 2017 [20 favorites]


If you want to remain friends with her, then try to be even more direct:

Her: "Oh, that show the other night was great. [ex's friend] was there, and [ex] didn't make it, but we had a great time hanging out in [ex's hometown]."

You: "I'm really sorry, but can we change the subject? I *really* don't want to talk about anything related to [ex] right now. It might be better in a few months, but I really need to not think or hear about him for a while. Can we talk about knitting or this great movie I saw recently?"

If the only things you have in common are related to ex and the music scene, then this might be troublesome, or it might be an excuse for this friendship to branch out to other commonalities. Just put the kibosh on anything related to [ex] whenever it comes up. Rinse and repeat.
posted by hydra77 at 9:42 AM on November 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


With your most recent conversation, I may be misunderstanding, but it sounds like she was essentially talking around your exes? It could also be a bit of a "Don't think about zebras phenomenon," where she's thinking: don't talk about Ex don't talk about Ex, so things around them are popping into her head. And your email, which reads to me as you trying to be polite (just letting her know, fine with random encounters etc), I could see her understanding as "Just don't mention their names."

I'm not a huge fan of her pushing back on you establishing a reasonable NC boundary, so I can't say if it'd be worth one more shot explicitly telling her "Don't tell me about Ex 1 and 2 or anything around them, including their merchandising etc." A slow fade allows you to take a time out for now and then try to warm things up again later if you choose (and she does too, of course).
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:48 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


You were not unclear. You could be even clearer if you want to give her a second shot at this. "Hey, I get that you enjoy (town, hobby, friends, ex2, ex1) and I'm not telling you that you shouldn't. What's important, though, is that I don't want to think about them right now. I know I might miss out on stories about things like (your new purchase) because of this, but I'm asking for your help, just assume that if it happened anywhere near Ex1, Ex2, or any of their friends, that I just am not interested right now."
posted by aimedwander at 9:50 AM on November 28, 2017 [13 favorites]


Some of this sounds like boundary pushing, and some of this sounds like your expectations aren't entirely reasonable. Do you really want her to not mention Ex1's new town or say she hung out with someone who happens to be one of his friends? I get that you don't want to hear about your exes, but if you live in the same area and she's running in the same circles, it's just not realistic to think you can be shielded from her saying anything you associate with them. Or you can't be shielded if she gets to talk to you about her life, which is a reasonable expectation on her parts if you're friends.
posted by FencingGal at 9:53 AM on November 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


I would certainly find this a good reason to step back from her for a while. Whatever her reasons, they're more important to her than your request. I don't have that many conversations with people that are a detailed GPS log of their every movement, it doesn't seem like this person has anything besides themselves and your exes to talk about, so there's probably better people to hang out with in the world.

Maybe given some time she'll get over this.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:56 AM on November 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


She has you mentally in the same social category as the exes, and when you tell her to cut out a chunk of the topics that her mind automatically goes to when she's with you, it's more of an effort than she is up for making. That's all. You're asking her to do something that feels very forced. Possibly there aren't that many other topics of conversation you guys have in common?

It's up to you if hearing about these people is really so triggering that you're willing to drop a friend who doesn't do well with censoring herself. I don't think it's fair to ascribe any malice to her. She's just reciting the folks she saw whom you mutually know; it's a natural thing people do. It's not like she's telling you about how they're dating underwear models and looking much happier.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:05 AM on November 28, 2017 [8 favorites]


Not a rhetorical question, just something to consider: how are you going to feel if you're having coffee, you ask her what she did that weekend, and she visibly considers and rejects telling you what she did because she saw Ex 1's friend in Ex 2's hometown and goes with "Oh, nothing?" If I'm understanding you right, you're asking for a pretty extensive zone of exclusion that naturally takes up a bigger chunk of her social life and activities than just non-mention of Ex 1 and Ex 2 proper. Will that make you feel better, or will it seem annoying and awkward?
posted by praemunire at 10:09 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Guys, guys. Unless I'm misreading, the friend did explicitly mention Ex1's name at the day-after cafe meetup: "her partner bought one of Ex1's [things]".

I'm personally having trouble visualizing how this person would be saying this stuff, like in what tone. When I read it on the page, I'm imagining someone nervous-talking, and in so doing stumbling right into the subject she's trying to avoid (and probably going "damnit!" inside right when she says his name). Maybe she's having trouble adjusting. You could decide to not say anything and see if she gets better over the next two or three hangouts.

A related anecdote. Ten years ago, a friend of mine ("Alan") dumped a mutual friend of ours ("Blair"; they met through me) and started dating my ex-girlfriend ("Cathy", who was living in another city) without mentioning it to anyone. Eventually we all ran into each other at a party and it became clear what was going on. I called Alan the next day and told him that I thought it was wrong that he'd concealed the relationship from me and been dishonest to Blair about whey he dumped her. He refused to be, in my view, adequately contrite, and we haven't spoken since.

In the fallout, I kept Blair as a friend—we're still very close—but she never spoke to Alan again. Alan continued to date Cathy for a few more months and then it fell apart; I don't know whether they still speak, because the event was the last nail in the coffin for Cathy and my already-strained post-breakup relationship. But here's the relevant part. For several years I continued to keep in touch with "Daria", another mutual friend. We lived in separate cities and saw each other or emailed a couple of times a year. Every time we saw each other in person, Alan somehow came up. Every time he did, I was always vocal about how I thought he was a bad person (worse, in retrospect, than I had realized when we were friends) and how I thought Daria should cut off contact with him. (Sounds insufferable of me, right? It was.)

Eventually, Daria and I fell out of touch. I think Alan ultimately "got" her. That's the way it goes sometimes when relationships with mutual friends go bad. Maybe it's time to walk away from this person, and you can think of it as neither your nor her fault.
posted by The Minotaur at 10:14 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't know, it sounds like she talked around your ex. Rather than updating you on what the ex was doing, she mentioned what a friend of the ex was doing and what was going on with one of ex's belongings, no? If you never want to hear ex's name, then say so -- say you can't deal with hearing their names or anything related to them. Make it clear why what she said in the cafe was still crossing a line. She may see a difference between talking about ex and talking about things related to ex. But it all sounds very intertwined so this might be tough or affect your relationship, or she might slip up from time to time, which I think you should be aware of. But I think you should tell her because technically I don't think she broke the rule you set in the email.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:18 AM on November 28, 2017


You've defined your boundaries. She's got some odd compulsion to talk about your Exes. When you then engage in discussion about not talking about them, you may be reinforcing her behavior. There's a technique called extinguishing where you literally ignore unwanted behavior. That's what I'd recommend. Have a mental list of topics, and if she brings up an ex-, Change The Subject.
Friend: I saw Ex2 at the grocery; he was buying beer; he still drinks Bud. you: I was thinking about going to the new Meryl Streep movie Saturday; have you heard any reviews?
It feel odd, but I have seen it work.
posted by theora55 at 10:45 AM on November 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


...if someone asked me to stop mentioning someone in conversation because it wasn't good for them, I wouldn't, the very next day, bring up the fact, apropos of nothing, that...

If I broke up with someone who was part of a tight insular community and mutual people from that community couldn't speak freely to me about their lives without mentioning the ex, then I would distance myself not just from the ex but also from those people. Not to blame, just an expansion of the space I was seeking to begin with.

Mutual friends tend to "choose" one over the other after a breakup. Not because of rightness or wrongness but because of who they knew first/better, who they bond with, who their lives continue to intersect with, etc.

However...

I wouldn't react (trying to be cool!) but I found these namedrops quite triggering and would often come away feeling churned up and annoyed at feeling churned up.
.... I was polite and left shortly afterwards and hugged her goodbye and acted like everything was fine. And arghhhhhh.


Your email may have addressed the overall issue but if you aren't cringing and saying "ouch" or "jeez can you not?" when she actually says something then you are not being clear in what you expect from her.
posted by headnsouth at 10:46 AM on November 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


I don't know if this is fair or accurate or not, but what I'm getting from your description is the sense of someone who is enjoying the buzz of drama/power/whatever she gets from pushing your buttons. You told her clearly you did not want to hear about your exes and yet the next day she circled around them in conversation like a vulture.

This situation reminds me of a "friend" I used to have, who would frequently and repeatedly tell me about negative things people had said to me or how some ex-friend or ex-boyfriend of hers didn't like me. She was in general the sort of person who, if she heard Person X say something positive or negative about Person Y, would rush to tell Person Y all about it. If she had two friends who didn't get along, rather than see them separately as she should have done, she'd fetch and carry what they said between them and "arbitrate" between them in a very overbearing way that simply made things worse. And she'd always claim that such behaviour was motivated by "honesty" and because she "wanted everyone to get along", but the truth was she enjoyed the sense of superiority and excitement she got from being the bearer of news, stirring things up and inserting herself in conflict as a referee/judge.

I may be wrong to draw this parallel to your friend -- she may simply be thoughtless, or not quite understand what you wanted -- but if after further thought/experience you find that it is an accurate comparison and that she is someone who would rather stir the pot for the fun of seeing what comes up than behave with respect for your feelings, I'd encourage you to drop her as she is too self-centred to be a good friend.
posted by orange swan at 11:07 AM on November 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


I think she's being really insensitive. I've stayed friends with people on opposite sides of bad breakups a few times, and I've done it by not ever talking to them about each other unless they initiated it. It's cool to give her one more shot if you want to, but be utterly clear. I'd do it when hanging out with her and she brings them up - "hey, I know this is kind of a small scene and you're allowed to be friends with whoever, but the situations with Ex 1 and Ex 2 turned really toxic for me and I really need to not hear about them and not waste my mental energy on them, and I also hope you're not talking to them about me because that's just not okay with me." And then if she can't do it, call her on it and then leave. Be rude. Be upsetting. It sounds like it's going to be the only way to make it clear how much this is bothering you.
posted by bile and syntax at 11:07 AM on November 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


I think if you expect this woman to not only never discuss your Exes, but also to never discuss your Ex's friends, relations, bandmates, etc. then you need to spell that out to her, and I don't think you did. To me this doesn't read like someone passively aggressively needling you. It reads like someone talking about what they did this weekend in an offhand way.

Yeah, usually most people requesting this are saying, essentially, "Don't talk about our relationship, and don't talk about how great their life is", not, like, "pretend there is an Ex-Shaped Hole In The World." And it's really, really hard to do the latter - it's not how people naturally talk. In most cases, if someone requests it, it can be easily done because there's no real overlap between exes and friends - but in this case, your friend's partner is still tied to that community and those people, so it'd be leaving out a significant portion of their life not to mention anything related to either of the exes ever.

I think if you really want to never hear about the existence of the exes again, you'll need to drop this friend, but I don't think she's being a bad friend necessarily.
posted by corb at 11:09 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't know. You were pretty clear, but it sounds like maybe she's a buzzy, flighty, talks-a-lot, sometimes-nervously person? I might give her another chance and call her out in the moment if it happens. How she handles that will tell you whether she's purposely button-pushing or whether she's just having a hard time remembering/controlling her chatter. Even if she never mentions the exes again, I don't think it's realistic to expect her not to mention their friends or hometowns.
posted by purple_bird at 11:18 AM on November 28, 2017


I think how seriously to take the 'talking around your exes' thing depends on how much you like her and to what extent you think she's doing it naively. But for direct mentions I'd just ask her, on the spot, why she does it. I don't think there's any good reason to pretend everything's okay, especially since you've already talked about it.
posted by trig at 11:24 AM on November 28, 2017


You handled it well- clearly and politely.

She just sounds kind of... not-quick. Like, I have friends who I know don't want to hear about certain other people, so I just... avoid bringing those people up. If a story is naturally about that person, I tell it in a non-specific way- "Oh I went to a show with a few people, it was fun!" They don't need to know that Ex, or Ex's Second-Cousin's Neighbour's Veteranarian, was one of those people. But in cases like these, I am able to realize what I'm going to say next, and quickly change the wording I had planned, so it's not so blatantly obvious that I'm talking about Ex. It sounds like that's a skill she may be missing.

Coming from some people that behaviour could be deliberate and kind of passive-aggressive- hard to tell from what you've written, but maybe you have a sense of whether or not she's deliberately trying to mess with you.

But either way, you don't like it, and you made a clear request, and she can't seem to comply, so if I were you, I'd either draw her attention to it in the moment next time she does it and discuss it directly, or.... just gently fade on her for a while, or maybe forever.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:38 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


There are literally thousands of other things to talk about.

She's horrid. Fade.
posted by jbenben at 11:55 AM on November 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


I think IF you just wanted her to not talk about an ex, and this situation came up, it might be a pass. But the way she just... randomly mentions and name drops the exes out of the blue before you had to ask her to stop? That's bizarre. Honestly, it feels like she gets some sort of power from getting attention from dudes you've been with. Does she try to one-up you in other ways?

I think it's mildly fair to understand that if exes are part of the friend group, it may not be always possible to not EVER mention it.

But, a good friend should have said "Oh, this weekend I did stuff related to ex's band, so we should probably talk about something else!" or.. just change the subject?

Seems annoying. I would slow fade.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:07 PM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Additional context:

Friend and I met via other activities, not via the group of people that includes Ex1 and Ex2, and we knew each other for years previous to my relationship with Ex1. Although she and I are/were affiliated to the group through our partners, we are not participants in their activities and her main group of friends are not part of the group. We have many other people in common.

Friend is in her early 50s, extremely erudite and has a very precise way with words. She is not a nervous talker or prone to verbal gaffes.

I got the sense that she was talking around Ex1 when she brought up the subject of the gig in his town. She has literally never mentioned this good friend of his before.

She specifically mentioned Ex1 by name when we met earlier today, in the same context that I'd taken issue with the day before.

I am perfectly happy to hear about what she gets up to with this group, I hope I didn't give her the impression that I don't want to talk about anything relating to the group in general, I plan to attend some events myself and I accept that Ex1 or Ex2 will almost certainly be there. What I was trying to prevent was this mentionitis, bringing Ex1 or Ex2 up at random moments for no particular reason and out of the flow of our conversation: "So have you been watching the tennis?" "Oh I forget to tell you, I bumped into Ex1 the other day and he said (nothing of any interest at all)."

I can't think of a reason why she would need to mention Ex1 or Ex2 so specifically and so often. Or to talk around Ex1 in such a way that I felt that she knew and I knew that she was letting me know he had been at the event. My two best friends had a terrible decade-long on-off relationship and I managed to stay friends with both of them without referring to the other during their off periods. Why can't she?

I have seen her dive into the dramaz before. For example, when I started dating Ex2, we saw his ex at an event and she was obviously not pleased to see me, actively avoiding me in the room. I turned away to get a drink and when I turned back, my friend was talking with his ex, having approached her and introduced herself. When she came back to me, friend told me how his ex was 'snooty' and 'rude'.
posted by doornoise at 12:31 PM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


Why would someone overstep a boundary like this, if done deliberately?

Sometimes people just need to be reminded, especially if we're talking about changing a well-entrenched habit. The conversation you had at the cafe is an ideal point for you to interrupt and say "hey, I really don't want to talk about Ex1 or Ex2". And then if she does it again, "Like I told you yesterday, I don't want to discuss Ex1. Let's change the subject." You'll probably need to do this 3-5 times before it really, really sinks in. And you may need to get into "If you keep bringing up Ex1 and Ex2 after I already asked you not to, I'm not comfortable meeting up with you anymore". I'll caveat that if this sounds exhausting and really not something you're up to, then I do think you need to start limiting interactions with her now.
posted by capricorn at 12:43 PM on November 28, 2017


Yes, I should have called her out in the moment - and, as someone who's learning to be better at handling confrontation, I had my polite mental script ready when we first sat down to coffee. But I guess as the conversation went on (art, politics, a film she'd seen, the book I've been reading, a party with other friends, neutral things) I must have relaxed. I was just thinking of leaving when she dropped the Ex-bombs and was so flabbergasted that I just didn't react. I'd confided in a close friend about what had been happening so called her after I left and we laughed about it, because it seemed so preposterous, and it was only later that I started to get angry.
posted by doornoise at 1:04 PM on November 28, 2017


Your update changes the picture. Turns out, you do have reason to believe your friend is a shit-stirrer.

If shit-stirring is her MO, that suggests a different course of action. Rather than feed the drama by calling attention to her shit-stirring - which makes you look obsessed with the exes, like they're too painful for you to even handle hearing their name - just don't react. "Who else was there?" or a change of topic is in order. (You wouldn't want her going back to your exes and saying "wow doornoise really hates you... won't even tolerate hearing your name when I tell her about my weekend...")

You may also want to consider a fade, since shit-stirrers are not really folks you want to keep close.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:06 PM on November 28, 2017 [13 favorites]


I'll be the dissenter I guess. I don't agree you were clear and direct.

I think there was a lot of padding to the convo (ex. "I feel like there needs to be a definite focus away from those two until it’s water under the bridge...") Not a criticism, it's just how convos go. But I don't know if I can feel as certain as others that your message landed and she's violating these boundaries purposely.

And mentioning ExAdjacent stuff is not updating you on their doings in my book, so that wasn't clear if it's what you meant.

Maybe it's time to say "you seem to have a case of mentionitis wrt Ex1 and Ex2, please don't mention them around me anymore."

Or maybe she's a jerk in which case, you can take some time away. No one needs to be needled like that.
posted by kapers at 1:08 PM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


fingersandtoes: You wouldn't want her going back to your exes and saying "wow doornoise really hates you... won't even tolerate hearing your name when I tell her about my weekend..."

Oh god. I can hear this coming out of her mouth.
posted by doornoise at 1:26 PM on November 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'll dissent a bit, too. You're the one with the rules you want enforced, but you want other people to enforce your rules. Those rules include not mentioning your exes with whom other people interact. By the sound of it, one of your friends in particular interacts with your exes quite a lot. Is it too heavy a burden for a middleperson to keep in mind their acquaintances' preferences on to whom one can mention other parties? That's subjective. In your case, it sounds like you're leaning towards the feeling that your friend in this case is being punitive at worst or forgetful at best about your desires. That's up to you to decide, not the hivemind--if you're turning toward the hivemind, it gives the impression that you're looking for moral support in cutting or limiting contact with someone you see "about once every couple of weeks."

If this were your I-see-you-every-day friend, sure, maybe there's something there. But you're asking for someone tou see maybe twice a month to remember with great fidelity all the emotional labor you expect them to perform on your behalf. Like when I occasionally see my sister in law, whose lovely dog Bush passed away last year and whose new dog Hector looks just like Bush, sometimes I slip up and say, "Oh hi Bush, I mean Hector!" It's not a personal sleight, and I know that it probably makes my sis-in-law sad to think about Bush for a moment, but it's a reasonable slip. I don't see her or Hector every day--they're not in the front of my mind. It doesn't happen anymore, but it did happen for a while. And that seems totally reasonable!

You have all the permission in the world, if you need it, to talk about this more directly with your friend or to avoid your friend altogether. If I were in your friends' shoes, I wouldn't expect anything less than directness on your part if I were crossing a line that has been drawn in the sand a couple of times over the past couple of months. It's up to you to decide how much you'll put up with, and how much effort you're willing to put into keeping this friend despite their continued if peripheral relationship with your ex.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:27 PM on November 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


You: "I'm really sorry, but can we change the subject?

What? No? What's to apologize for when you've literally PUT YOUR REQUEST IN WRITING?

"No. Change the subject."

"What? But I'm just saying that..."

"No. I'm serious. Drop it or I'm leaving."
posted by DarlingBri at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


joycehealy: she doesn't agree with you about your exes, and she's trying to change your mind.

This. Many years ago my (now) ex and I befriended a couple in our industry that were new to town and went out of our way to do them a number of pretty big favors. Some months later they were extremely shitty to my (now) ex, and I expunged them from my life. A mutual friend with pollyanna tendencies continued to bring up news about them for years, despite the fact that I would almost always respond to this news by saying that I thought they were shitty people and didn't care what they were doing. But the thing is that, despite knowing all about the shitty behavior and even agreeing that it was shitty, she wanted to remain friends with them and couldn't accept that we weren't. (Ironically, this same friend pointedly asked me never to bring up her ex from over a decade ago afterI mentioned that we had met for drinks when he had passed through town. I'm happy to honor that request, but it wasn't without a little internal eye rolling.)

The point of all this is that, yeah, some friends who are friends with someone with whom you've broken will continue to try to bridge that gap, more or less forever so long as they continue to be friends with the other person. This is a personality type that I don't understand, but it definitely exists. Some people just can't stand it that two people they like don't like each other.
posted by slkinsey at 1:33 PM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


late afternoon dreaming hotel: If I were in your friends' shoes, I wouldn't expect anything less than directness on your part if I were crossing a line that has been drawn in the sand a couple of times over the past couple of months.

I put the request in writing yesterday. She mentioned Ex1 again today.
posted by doornoise at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2017


>>You wouldn't want her going back to your exes and saying "wow doornoise really hates you... won't even tolerate hearing your name when I tell her about my weekend..."

Oh god. I can hear this coming out of her mouth.


I would suggest that you just be direct and call her out on the mentionitis the next time it happens: "I notice you seem to bring up Ex1 and Ex 2 a lot. I'm not sure why, or if you're doing it on purpose, but I wish you wouldn't. It's not that I want to banish them from my consciousness or anything like that. But, yanno, we broke up. I don't hate them, but we're also not friends and I don't care about what they're doing. It just seems weird that you mention them practically every time we talk."
posted by slkinsey at 1:47 PM on November 28, 2017 [7 favorites]


I put the request in writing yesterday. She mentioned Ex1 again today.

Is she particularly friendly with Ex1 or Ex2? Or likely to see one or the other of them with frequent regularity? I mean, it would be difficult to talk with a friend about the goings on in our lives while embargoing mention of one or two of my most significant companions in those activities. On the other hand, if Ex1 and Ex2 are simply people who might occasionally be at the same location or event as your friend, the mentions seem gratuitous.
posted by slkinsey at 1:53 PM on November 28, 2017


Apologies, so much context missing from the original post.

Good point slkinsey, this is true: Ex1 and Ex2 are simply people who might occasionally be at the same location or event as [friend].

Ex1 is good friends with her partner, but she and he live very independent lives. She rarely attends their events and doesn't have any direct contact with Ex1 although they are friendly when they bump into each other.

Ex2 is a member of the same scene but neither friend nor her partner know him well. Again, they would be friendly when they bump into each other.
posted by doornoise at 2:07 PM on November 28, 2017


A boundary is something you create for yourself. As in, "If you raise your voice, I will end the conversation." For the case in point: "I don't want to hear about xyz, and if you do talk about it, I will change the subject right away." Or hang up the phone, or leave.
posted by wryly at 2:16 PM on November 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


[doornoise, at this point, just let folks answer without getting into more back-and-forth or elaboration; you can decide for yourself which answers are most helpful for you.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:35 PM on November 28, 2017


Direct confrontation option:

Friend: I was at [event] yesterday, and ran into Ex1; he's involved with--
You: Excuse me, can I ask a question?
Friend: Of course.
You (confused voice): Do you have a comprehension problem, a communication problem, or are you just being deliberately mean?
Friend, offended: WHAT?
You: I've asked you not to mention Ex1. Did you not remember that, or are you incapable of talking to me without mentioning him, or are you trying to make me angry?

(Note: Not hurt or sad.)

... the direction it goes from there depends on the standard interpersonal dynamic between you.

The point is not to get into whether Ex1 or Ex2 "is really a good person," but on whether Friend is deliberately ignoring a polite request from you, presumably her friend. If she talks about how the Exes are okay people, you push past that and back to insisting that you don't want to discuss them.

"This isn't about whether they're good people. This is about, they're a topic I don't want to think about for a while. And you refuse to accept that. And I have to wonder - are there other topics you would decide I 'need to confront' whether or not I want to? If I mentioned a death in the family, would you keep bringing up the aspects that make me uncomfortable?" (Or whatever example might get through to her that this is not about Ex1 or Ex2 and your relationship; this is about HER actions, and how she treats her friends.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


late afternoon dreaming hotel: If I were in your friends' shoes, I wouldn't expect anything less than directness on your part if I were crossing a line that has been drawn in the sand a couple of times over the past couple of months.

I put the request in writing yesterday. She mentioned Ex1 again today.


I get it, I read what you wrote. Either tell your friend she's crossing a line of yours, explicitly, or accept that this friend isn't as close as you imagine. I don't think I'd take a similar request from a peripheral acquaintance with as much weight as you're expecting, and your friend may not either.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:23 PM on November 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think this is really passive-aggressive, and as someone else wrote, she's pushing your buttons. She likes to see you flinch. Not friendly. Fade or drop completely would be my suggestion. You deserve better.
posted by Enid Lareg at 3:59 PM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'd drop her or fade completely. Having said this, if you do decide to maintain contact, call her on her button pushing - but put the issue back on her, but not in an angry way. Like so, 'Friend, I broke up with ex1 and 2 a while ago now. I find it strange that they've both moved on from our relationship and I have too, but weirdly, YOU haven't! Why are you so invested in a relationship you weren't even in that you feel the need to bring it up to us? It's...sad. For you."

She wants to get a rise out of you and inflict pain. Once you make it known that being weirdly obsessed with someone else's business makes her an object of pity because she has no life of her own, she'll realise she's lost any power to make you feel like crap and is instead the one who just looks kind of pathetic.
posted by Jubey at 5:01 PM on November 28, 2017


Asking someone not to talk about your ex should fall in the same category as, "please don't tell me about the 'cute' spiders you saw on the nature channel; spiders give me the creeps." Sure, maybe someone doesn't remember - once - that you don't like to hear about spiders, but after a reminder, even moderately polite friends can deal with "don't mention X topic around this person," whether that's spiders or octopuses or slaughterhouse practices or ghost movies or whatever.

If Friend is a person who can manage not talking about "topics that other people find creepy/disturbing/gross," she can manage this one - and is choosing not to.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:22 PM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


You don't have to find her guilty of Felony Ex-Mentioning to take a little distance. It seems her life is closely enough entwined with his that she can't tell you about the weekend without mentioning people and places that remind you of him. I don't think that necessarily makes her a Bad Person, and I actually think it's better that she's saying these things if that was her weekend; she cares enough about you to want to share her recent life, and based on your email, I think it's possible that she might think that it's okay to mention things that are "Ex-adjacent" if she avoids talking specifically about what your Exes are up to.

I join the dissent a little in that I don't think it was completely obvious that you wouldn't want to hear about her trip to [Ex's town]. You said "I know you run in the same circles as them and that’s cool," and your email managed to come across really very wonderfully casual. You don't come across to me like zero tolerance at the level of not wanting to hear about her seeing his friend. Even in your update you say "I am perfectly happy to hear about what she gets up to with this group," so I'm a little confused about why you're offended by anything other than the mention of his name. I guess you have an instinct that she was talking around him as a way of talking about him, but... it's not like she spent the weekend going there just so she could needle you with reminders. I do think mentioning Ex's name crossed a clear line, but maybe in her view she was taking about Friend's new Whatever (made by Ex), not about what Ex is actually doing? Or maybe she just slipped up. Also, she spent something like the first 95 percent of the conversation talking about a whole bunch of other things, so it does sound like she's making an effort to focus conversation elsewhere, no? You asked not to hear about Ex's doings and for there to be "a definite focus away from those two," and it sounds like there was.

But -- if you want to take a bunch of space so that you don't keep getting reminded of your ex, especially now while things are still pretty fresh, I sure wouldn't blame you. You can back off from a friendship at any point, and it sounds like that's what you want to do, so go for it.

I just think that what happened is enough of a gray area that I can't quite agree that this is evidence of incorrigible boundary violation or her deliberately trying to hurt you. I think it's possible that she is a bit thoughtless overall and/or doesn't quite recognize the seriousness of your request. It sounds like you feel hurt when the Exes come up and you want to blame her, and I do personally feel that she should've erred on the side of caution. But I also don't think that this is a clear situation of "there's no other solution; cut her out of your life asap." I certainly wouldn't recommend "hurting her back" through the kind of rude reactions that some people are suggesting. The whole thing comes across as a little passive aggressive, like "I'll pretend all this is fine, and then I'll ask you once, and if you don't realize that I didn't want to hear about his friends either, I'm cutting you out forever." Could you not just say "ugh, I don't want to even think about Town, sorry, can we talk about something else?" I'd either clarify your request -- I don't think communicating a request twice for greatest clarity and to help the person's habits adjust before cutting someone out of your life is an extreme suggestion -- or just peace out for a while but maybe leave the door cracked a bit rather than thinking of it as a complete end to your friendship.
posted by salvia at 7:57 PM on November 29, 2017


You asked: Was I somehow unclear in my email?

I think: Yes. You were unclear. If I had received your email, I might have simply taken it as you telling me: "I hate hearing about my exes and I'd really rather not, but I'm okay. Really, I am. I know you're still friends with them, and I'm cool with that. And if I or we run into them, I'll be sure to be polite. Just thought I'd let you know."

I mean, I know you were being sarcastic, but you outright said that you "appreciate[d]" the update about your ex's "super" thing!

I'd drop the snark and risk being sincere: "Hey, friend. I wasn't as clear before as I should have been about this: Hearing details about where my exes have been and what they've been up to -- hell, even the mention of their names -- is actually really painful for me. I'd be grateful if we could not discuss or mention them anymore in our conversations. I know that you see them sometimes, but please: try and just leave those details out of our chats for the foreseeable future."

I'd try saying that, if I were you. And then I'd see if she could give me what I needed. If not, then I'd simply say that for the time being at least, the friendship isn't viable. Maybe it will be again one day when you get to a place where hearing details about your exes doesn't cause you pain.
posted by pinkacademic at 9:00 PM on November 29, 2017 [4 favorites]


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