DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My partner and I separated three months ago after two and a half years of being together. We had initially been dating long distance, and after the first year we decided that I would move cities to be closer to each other. While our decision to split was mostly amicable, I know that my ex is having a more difficult time accepting it and forgiving me for my responsibility for the fall out (our breakup was not the result of cheating and/or abuse).
However, my former partner and I have the same tight knit group of friends that has made it super awkward to navigate since our split. She naturally introduced me to most of these people, and some friendships we have obtained as a couple. She would always say to me, “These are OUR friends, not my friends.” While I’m trying to be respectful and give my former partner space and time to heal, I can’t help but feel left out of certain social events or gatherings. Both my ex and I have skipped out on certain things to avoid seeing each other.
These are friends that I have vacationed with, spent holidays with, etc and I truly don’t want to lose these connections. I also don’t want or expect to put our friends in the middle and make them feel like they need to choose sides. Do I need to find a new friend group until everything blows over?
I’m feeling helpless in this friendship custody battle.
Split The Party
DEAR SPLIT THE PARTY: This is a tricky one, STP. One of the things that people often miss when it comes to relationships is that relationships are, in their way, an entity unto themselves. There’s you, your partner and the two of you as a couple, creating a single being like a fleshy Voltron. One of the things this does is create situations where your relationship with your friends is with the version of you that’s half of the couple, rather than just yourself.
In an ideal world, when a couple splits up more or less amicably, it wouldn’t create a situation where the friends would feel the need to choose sides. It’d be great if they could compartmentalize their friendships with the individuals from their friendship with the couple, especially in cases where there’s no “bad guy” as it were. But that doesn’t always happen; even when people have the best of intentions, friends of the couple often end up drifting one way or the other. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people automatically get their friends in the break-up; there’re plenty of times when friends who were originally closer to one partner will end up choosing the other.
But there really isn’t a way of ensuring that this happens. Nor is there any perfect way of dividing up time so that you and your ex don’t have any awkward encounters and keep a perfectly equitable relationship with your friends.
Unfortunately, if you and they are going to be trying to avoid each other for a while, it means one or the other of you are going to have to skip certain gatherings or events. And that means being willing to tell your friends “hey, just FYI, we’re trying to minimize awkwardness and hurt feelings, so Ex and I’ve been trying to keep our distance from one another, so I’d appreciate it if you could give me a heads up if she’s going to be at $EVENT.” While yeah, this does create the potential for folks having to decide which of you they might invite (or trying to finesse who RSVPs first), if you’re going to try to stay out of each other’s way and see your friends, there really isn’t much of an alternative.
Now this doesn’t mean that you have to avoid your friends entirely. While yes, I always recommend making new friends and expanding your social circle, just abandoning the friends you either met through your ex or met as a couple while things blow over means that you’re more likely to get squeezed out entirely. Not out of maliciousness or Machiavellian plotting on the part of your ex but just due to the nature of friendships. Friendships require maintenance and upkeep; if you go radio silent during the awkward adjustment phases of the relationship, then you aren’t able to keep up the friendships you’ve made and transition them to being friends with you now that you’re no longer part of a couple.
That’s why I suggest that you still see the friends you made while you were dating your ex too. You may just have to make a point of spending time with the members of your social circle who aren’t going to be at the events your ex will be attending and vice versa. This can actually work well for you, by the way. By spending time with them on a one-on-one basis, you can help solidify the bonds and friendship with them as an individual, rather than as half of STPandEX. While this doesn’t prevent things from getting awkward or friends drifting to one side or the other, it makes it much less likely that your friendships will start to drift apart because of your absence.
It’s an uncomfortable situation, and I don’t envy you being stuck in it, STP. Hopefully you and your ex will be able to make it through this adjustment period without too much awkwardness and come out on the other side as, if not friends, then at least cool with one another.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m honestly surprised you responded to my letter about my boyfriend keeping our relationship a secret (11/13/20). I thought I had a snowball’s chance in hell with that one, but I did end up doing what you suggested prior to your response.
That same day I wrote to you, I ended up talking to Ludwig about our relationship. I ultimately talked about how I was sad and stressed over the possibility of our relationship being under wraps for longer than I anticipated, but I also didn’t want to guilt him into coming out if he legitimately wasn’t ready for it. He was really receptive in the conversation and I truly felt heard.
He did tell me that he didn’t want to spill the beans about our relationship to our friends because he didn’t want to shake up our friend group too much. And yes, while I know they’re very drama, I felt it was a weak argument at the time and I still do. We didn’t reach a conclusion to that conversation that night because I didn’t want my emotions to cloud my judgment too much at the heat of the moment, but I felt a lot better just being vulnerable with him.
We eventually talked it over again a few days later face-to-face and it went really well. We once again made plans to be open about our relationship on Halloween, but I made sure to confirm that he really wanted that and Ludwig genuinely reaffirmed with me in response. He confessed that he didn’t feel anxious about us at the time, but he just reacted poorly to a friend finding out about us earlier than he expected and wasn’t prepared for that.
Now, I wasn’t planning on making a huge public announcement about us because that’s not really me. I was just hoping for a quick handhold at a party if anything because I’m not used to displaying PDA. Ludwig, on the other hand, really surprised me with his go-getter attitude on Halloween. Ludwig told a close mutual friend about us on the way to pick me up for a party and our friend was genuinely shocked but very happy to hear the news. (It was nice to learn that our secret really was kept).
Then at the party, he initiated all the PDA from light shoulder and hand touches to full-on cuddling during a movie we all watched. I wasn’t expecting this at all, but it was a very nice surprise and it was really nice to not care about what others thought. He also shared that sentiment after we left the party and confessed that he felt a lot better about everything and we had a great rest of our night.
Thank you, Dr. NerdLove for your advice and words! I do genuinely care about Ludwig and I know and trust that he genuinely cares about me as well. However, I’m going to actively put myself first and ensure my happiness throughout my relationship and be more transparent about my feelings with him, both positive and negative.
An Open Happy Sonnet
DEAR AN OPEN HAPPY SONNET: I’m glad everything worked out, OAHS! I’m glad you were able to talk things out with Ludwig and share your side of things. It seems like it made an impression on him.
Thanks for writing back and letting us know how it all went!
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org