Post-Breakup Friendship Battles
December 3, 2006 6:23 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend of four years broke up with me. We're stuck in the same small clique for a while. How do I manage to still see all of our mutual friends? Do I just give up on seeing "her" friends?

My ex and I are both in our mid-twenties and were together on-again off-again for four years, though we always kept in touch even in the "off" periods. It's completely over at this point, though: two months ago she had a thunderbolt experience and fell in love with someone else while abroad, decided to cut off all contact with me to pursue that, and break up with me a week after the fact. She's continuing that relationship. However, she's returned, and we're living in the same city for at least another six months.

We're in a foreign city, and most of our friends are mutual, and are part of the same small clique. I came to the city 8 months after she did, have been working 14 hour days, and spent every minute of free time I had around her; needless to say, I have almost zero friends who didn't meet her first. I've also been quite depressed, which made it difficult to make good friends of my own.

The ex and I have been in touch a few times since her return, and we were civil when in public together. However, even seeing me in public is too difficult for her, so we're stopping that for a while.

And I now feel like she's now competing for our friends' time, while I've been more laissez-faire. I don't really know how to compete for "friend-time", and would probably lose to her in a direct head-on "friend-time" fight. I recognize that everyone knows her and likes her better than me.


She organized a giant Thanksgiving dinner at her place, which all of our friends went to, and didn't tell me about it. I learned about it from friends (one who told me they were surprised I wasn't invited). I could understand not being included, but it was still a very painful experience. I asked her to discuss the friend situation after this, but she became angry and said there's nothing to discuss. We're no longer speaking.

I organized a post-dinner event this weekend, hoping to see some of the friends I'd only been in touch with over email lately, and informed her of it. She then organized a dinner event with a number of those invited, who told me they wouldn't be able to make it to mine.

So what do I do? How do I make sure that I can still see those friends? Should I figure out who are "her" friends, and not expect to see them? Do I have to discuss the options with each friend?

This is all very confusing, as I've never had a breakup with mutual friends, let alone one in such close quarters. I'd be happy if anyone shared similar experiences, as well.

[Also, I've not bitched about her to our friends, or asked them to be conduits of information. I don't want to be "that guy" who only talks about his ex. This has actually been incredibly difficult for me, as I've had no one to support me here. AskMe archives have provided a plethora of sympathy and advice, though! And I can complain about her as much as I want!]
posted by FuManchu to Human Relations (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Go out, or otherwise try to spend time with, the mutual friends that you like. If they decline again and again, then they're not worth your time. Don't schedule things around her, either, and don't tell her about your schedule or plans. Act as if she doesn't exist. Seriously, she decided that you weren't good enough for her, so fuck her (you know, metaphorically). If she shows up and it's too hard for her who cares? Let her leave. Don't sacrifice your good time for her happiness, because she obviously doesn't care about you, despite what she may say.

And try to make new friends ASAP. It will help a lot.
posted by The Michael The at 6:52 AM on December 3, 2006

She organized a giant Thanksgiving dinner at her place, which all of our friends went to, and didn't tell me about it... She then organized a dinner event with a number of those invited, who told me they wouldn't be able to make it to mine.

It looks like you don't have friends: you know people who you thought were your friends but who turn out to be your ex's friends. You need to start over and make your own friends (to whom you should bitch about your ex just enough to let them know the score, but not enough that they start rolling their eyes and changing the subject). Do you know people at work you might enjoy hanging out with after hours? Try that, or talking to people at bookstores who are looking at interesting books, or going to MeFi meetups. But get away from the old crowd. They're not your friends.
posted by languagehat at 7:03 AM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was in the same situation several years ago. I had been dating a guy for several years and we both shared the same group of friends, all of whom hung out at his home on a daily basis. When we broke up I was obviously no longer welcome at that house. The majority of our friends chose him over me.

I was lucky enough to have one good friend who decided not to pick sides, and I ended up going out with him almost daily. He realized my ex's house was off limits while I was with him, so we found other things to do. I ended up meeting a whole new crowd of people whom he had known and it all turned out very well.

Don't worry about her feelings, she's obviously not worried about yours. Like The Michael said, just let her leave if she happens to show up. And meet new people!
posted by Sufi at 7:04 AM on December 3, 2006

I'd try to spend time with the your mutual friends on a more one-on-one basis by inviting them individually or in very small groups to dinner, evening activities, or whatever. This will seems like less of a of a threat to your ex because it won't be so clearly everyone except her getting together with you. It may also make it clear who among your mutual friends is really a friend of yours.

It's no fun to have to navigate these situations and it's unfair to have to play along with what seems like slightly petty behavior on her part but given that you're in a foriegn city with no other friends (for now!), I think you have to tread a little more carefully.

But yeah, as suggested, you do need to make new friends. Are there ex-pat bars or any clear communities of other foreigners? That might be a place to start since people who are similarly displaced are often easy to make friends with.

Good luck! It will get better!!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:20 AM on December 3, 2006

You need to drop your ex and your "friends." Quick. As in yesterday. Don't try to be their friend anymore. Why on earth would you want to see your ex anyway?!?

Leave with your head held high. Don't talk to any of them an pretend for the next 6 months that you don't need them. At the end of those six months, you'll be able to stop pretending because you won't really need them anymore.

I know how hard it is to make friends in a foreign country. It can be incredibly lonely. But find the ex-pat organizations from your country and go there for a start. Make posts on CL and other places. Have fun meeting strangers.

But also, let youself be lonely for a while. This may be the last time that you get to wander around depressed in a foreign country, so be sure to enjoy every minute of it. Oh, and don't drink too much.
posted by milarepa at 7:22 AM on December 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Did anybody show up to your dinner? Those people are your friends - they may be her friends, too, but at very least they're not actively picking her over you. Start cultivating those specific people, and not just for large group events. Have coffee, see movies, whatever. If you are back in the good graces of a small part of your usual clique, you'll at least have some friends. You may well be able to work your way farther back into the clique and re-establish some of the other friendships, as well, so you shouldn't count on it.

Be the cool, low hassle half of this breakup. Don't schedule stuff over your ex. Don't badmouth her. Don't be the one that won't go to the party if she's going to be there. Even if you never win back any of her friends, at least you can come out of the experience with knowledge that you weren't catty and mean during a breakup (her behaviour is especially appalling given the fact that this breakup appears to be at her request).

While you're being friendly with your old mutual friends, do go out of your way to make a few new friends and acquaintances of your own. If you're not 100% reliant on your mutual group, you won't miss them so much.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:23 AM on December 3, 2006

Response by poster: The Michael The: I think you hit at the crux of a problem I didn't see before: I AM still trying to make it easy for her. I'm still in love with her, I guess.

Jacquilynne: Correct, I had no say in this breakup. I'm trying to be non-spiteful about it all, but it's just making me incur more of her wrath, it seems.

To clarify: most of the people I invited DID come to my event. Even those that didn't come still talk with me regularly over email. But I do know that those who went to hers over mine consider her a closer friend. I still consider them all friends, even if they go to her events over mine. We all still keep in touch, and I don't want to give any of them a "her-or-me" ultimatum. In fact, I'd rather none of them have to choose between "her-or-me" events, either.

Making one-on-one or small group plans should get around that, but it feels strange doing that when we've usually interacted within the larger clique.

Thank you everyone! All of your answers are helping! More is welcome!
posted by FuManchu at 8:24 AM on December 3, 2006

You will lose all of your mutual friends to her. Sorry. You seem to recognize this dynamic and be interested in preventing it from happening; but there is no prevention. You moved to the city after her, so they all know her better (ace 1); she seems to be more outgoing and extroverted than you anyway (ace 2); you say you're depressed (ace 3); AND she's making a concerted effort to take them all away from you (ace 4). You can't beat that. She has four aces.

So. Take a deep breath. Your life is your own now. You can do anything you want in the world, and don't have to ask anyone anything. You have nothing to lose, and no one to answer to. You can start anew in a city you always wanted to see, find a new job in a new field, join the Peace Corps or the Foreign Legion, write a novel..... anything. Like it or not, life is kicking you out of your rut, you're heading off the beaten path, your compass is broken and your map has been eaten by a tiger. Take a good look around, pick somewhere to go, and go.
posted by jellicle at 8:25 AM on December 3, 2006 [49 favorites]

You will lose all of your mutual friends to her.

I doubt this is true. Some people aren't going to choose, even despite the four aces you identify. Although the advice jellicle gives is still good—it might be a better idea to take a new path.
posted by grouse at 8:35 AM on December 3, 2006

A new path is good. Get out there, hang out with other people. As everyone has said.

But, good friends, real friends will find their way back to you. It might take them awhile too, because in a silly way they are also processing the breakup. In a few days, weeks etc. real friends will drop you an email, or ask you to a movie. They may take their time to do it, out of loyaltly for the ex. But good friends will make their own way back. If not, well, then you know where you stand with them.

(BTW, I am more than a little disturbed by her concerted efforts to keep friends away from you, deliberately scheduling conflicts. She seems immature. I know that you still have feelings for you, but try not to get caught in her childish ways.)
posted by typewriter at 8:56 AM on December 3, 2006

'feelings for her' of course.
posted by typewriter at 8:59 AM on December 3, 2006

It should go without saying, but I really want to emphasize you should cut off contact with her. You sound like the wronged party, yet she is behaving as if you broke up with her!

Any mention of events you are planning with the mutual friends, any one-on-ones with those folks, don't mention it to her - as she seems childish and spiteful. I'd say vindictive, but it doesn't sound like she was wronged (of course, these things are always very convoluted).

This is your opportunity for adventure, so take time to do fun things - go on rock climbing trips, or if you are in china (you don't say which foreign country you are), travel the silk road for a couple weeks or go to mongolia. You may well find you meet people on these trips - a good friend of mine met his now wife on a rock climbing trip (one of the organized ones you pay for) in Mainland China. Its been 5 or so years, and now they both live in HK together.
posted by zia at 10:20 AM on December 3, 2006

You will lose all of your mutual friends to her. Rubbish. It doesn't have to be that way, unless you want it to be. Yes, you'll loose some, who decide they want to be her friend and not yours. But some will want to be your friend, and some will want to remain friends with both. Talk to the ones you feel closest to, and tell them that you don't want them to feel awkward about it, but that you would like to remain friends. Don't talk about her or the relationship to them: that puts them int he position of having to choose. Show them that yes, it sucks, but you are getting on with your life and are available if they want to go out for coffe/dinner/drinks/etc.

It might actually be easier because of the way things ended: if there was a clean break, the friends won't have been involved in the pre-discussion breakup stuff that inevitably happens.
posted by baggers at 10:53 AM on December 3, 2006

Oh and I forgot, if you can, explain to your mutual friends that you're not trying to make them pick one or the other, simply that you like their company and would still like to maintain a friendship. I'm sure it's also awkward for them so it might be helpful to acknowledge that up front and get it out of the way.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:58 AM on December 3, 2006

I agree with those who've said it's possible to keep the friends you've had. Invite the ones you like, be the low-key good guy about any tension, etc.

But I also second zia. Something is not right with this girl. If you'd dumped her, the act of social retaliation involving the competing dinner party might make sense, and the "it's too hard to be around you" stuff would too, but as it is, something is wrong here. I think it's probably guilt for dropping you hard, which she's tried to rationalize and turn into hostility, but it doesn't matter what it is. You can expect more weirdness until she works it out. Don't enable any of it. Take the high road and be civil, but I'd avoid her and don't tell her about your plans at all.
posted by namespan at 2:15 PM on December 3, 2006

You show poise in a difficult situation.

Can you make an effort to meet and consort more with local people? If I had spent months in a foreign city, I might be unhappy to look back and realize I'd spent all my time with other ex-pats, anyway.
posted by jamjam at 3:18 PM on December 3, 2006

I've been in a very similar situation - moved to a new country to be with someone and had the relationship fall apart. I spent what felt like long months feeling lonely. But I made an effort to enjoy my new city and quickly met friends who stlll form my close social circle several years on. The outcome was ultimately rewarding but it's hard to be in the 'difficult phase' of the process without knowing how it will turn out. The advice to branch out, explore your new surroundings and meet new people is good (if only to give you a break from what you're experiencing right now).
posted by poissonrouge at 1:52 AM on December 4, 2006

It's hard to be the sympathetic party in a breakup like this... when I was in that situation, people stayed away because they assumed I'd be bitter or hurting. I stayed away from events and friends in order to avoid my ex, and wound up feeling left out. He showed up more, and wasn't bitter, so he wound up being invited more.

Put the time in to see friends, and keep in mind that you may have to contact them for a while. So much of friendship is just showing up, and if you keep contact with people, they'll (mostly) know how to balance friendships with each of you.
posted by hamster at 9:13 AM on December 4, 2006

I've been in a similar situation, and I have to tell you: you do indeed need to cut ties and start fresh. It's going to be rough. I went through at least six months of fairly miserable loneliness (hopefully you're a little more naturally social than me, and can cut that down a bit!) but I came out of it much stronger, and gradually built a solid bunch o' friends that prove to me all the time that I made the right choice. Good luck getting through the worst of it; know that one day you'll look back on this part and actually feel thankful that it happened, because you'll feel that much more independent and be free of people who did not make your friendship a priority. You deserve to be a priority!

A word of advice for the future (this is working well for me): in your next relationship, try to always maintain at least a few friends that are JUST YOURS, even if it feels a bit strange at times. Pursue friendships based on common interests-- have a movie buddy that your significant other doesn't particularly like, or someone that loves to go to dive bars that your sig. oth. won't frequent, etc. Keep in touch with them-- this is very important! Check in by phone or email at least once a month, if you don't see them regularly. Just make sure you always keep in touch. Romantic entanglements come and go (cynical but often true), but you should and will have friends that are yours forever.
posted by trichomaniac at 5:08 PM on December 7, 2006

You know, if you lose them, they weren't really your friends to begin with.
posted by spitbull at 8:33 AM on December 11, 2006

Best answer: Whether you realize it or not, some of her friends are almost certainly attracted to you.

Now that she's out of the picture, its time to pay those women a visit.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:24 PM on December 12, 2006 [3 favorites]

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