DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So I (f) have had an on-off relationship with my ex (m) for the past 2 years. Recently, he’s shown that he’s growing to be a better person, and I’ve been putting serious thought into getting back together with him.
Before I do so, I need to tell all of my close friends. One of these friends (m) has a huge crush on me. Back when my ex and I were on a break, this friend tried to talk me into dating him instead. I said no, because I wanted to heal from my past breakup. What’s the best way I can go about breaking the news to him without losing the friendship?
He is very important to me, but the fact that he has feelings makes the situation really tricky. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Friends In Need
DEAR FRIENDS IN NEED: Before I even get to your question, I’m gonna be honest: I’m not entirely sure why you need to give a press conference to your friends before you get back with your ex, FIN. Unless this was a break up so dramatic that it caused fissures in your social circle or he was so awful that dating him was harming you or your friends… it’s not really something that people need a heads up over. Your relationship is your business, and while your friends can have opinions on the matter, they don’t get a veto. So the need to tell everyone beforehand rather than it being fait accompli is somewhat lost on me.
But that’s a separate issue from your bud who’s got feelings for you. Not to sound callous, FIN, but frankly this is a him problem, not a you problem. Having been the dude-as-what-had-an-unrequited-crush on folks, I’m sympathetic to how he feels. But honestly, it’s on him to manage his feelings and act like a grown-ass adult about it, not on you.
Now, I do think it’s a good idea to not callously rub his face in the fact that you’re dating someone else — whether your ex or anyone in the future — or take advantage of his affection for you. It’s a kindness to not cause unnecessary pain, especially in someone who you care for as a friend. Maybe a “look, I wanted to let you know that I’m getting back together with Ex” would help soften things instead of suddenly finding out by seeing the two of you canoodling at a party… or maybe that’ll be like tapping a glass statue with a hammer and chisel. Either way, though, it’s not your responsibility to manage his feelings for him, nor can you control how he takes the news. There isn’t some magic way of phrasing things that will take away the sting of “I’m dating someone else.”
At the same time, however, if he decides he needs to step away from your friendship so he can heal and get over you… well, that’s ultimately what he needs to do for himself. If sticking around while you’re dating someone else is going to be like sandpaper on his soul, then it’s not kind to him to try to get him to stay. Just as his desire to date you doesn’t mean he’s got dibs, your wanting to keep him as a friend doesn’t preclude his doing what he needs to in order to take care of himself. If he can’t be around you until he’s gotten over his feelings for you, then it’ll suck, but you really don’t have any choice but to let go of his friendship for now and hope that he comes back when he’s ready.
At the end of the day, while it’s important to be considerate, you’re both ultimately responsible for your own feelings. He’s going to have to be able to handle your seeing someone else, and you’re going to have to be willing to accept it if he decides he can’t be friends for a while.
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