You Need Help: How To Navigate a Social Event with Your Ex

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you seek advice and we try our very best to give it.

This has traditionally been done by way of individual Formspring accounts, Autostraddle’s Tumblr and a Formspring Friday column, which has all been very fun and insightful. But, because Formspring has a character limit and we’re wildly optimistic w/r/t our time-management skills, we thought we’d go one further and let you use our ASS private messaging to share advice-related feelings, too.

For more info on sending in questions, see the bottom of this post. Now let’s get down to bossing people around on the internet! Today we’re going to talk about appropriate social interactions with your ex.

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This article was born from an Autostraddle formspring question that I stumbled across on tumblr during my nightly lurking-on-pretty-girls-with-pastel-coloured-hair and felt inspired to write about.

The original question, word for word is:

“You know what should be an article? How to navigate a weekend-long, large group social event with your ex (who you are on good terms with, but not like friends-friends and may want to hook up with)”

It should be said that my past experiences (which are obviously all I’ve got to go off of) could either be seen as ‘unconventional yet a nice thing to aspire to’ OR ‘royally fucked up in all kinds of Lesbian ways’. I’m very good friends, if not plain friendly, with ALL of my exes. This includes the many ex-boyfriends that I had throughout high school — even the last guy I dated before I dropped the L-bomb.

That’s not to say it has been easy. There’s always a bitter/angry/awkward breathing zone where space and time is probably best, however, I feel it’s kind of crazy to spend so much quality time and share so many life experiences with someone, only to just completely cut them out of your life all together once the romantic relationship is over.

But hey, that could just be me.

I’ve heard my share of horror stories; I just refuse to ever let it get to that point.

This has meant that in the past, I’ve forced myself to attend painfully awkward events such as my ex-girlfriend’s, new girlfriend’s birthday party….with my new girlfriend, JUST so that my ex and I could get back to being ‘good friends’ faster. Let’s get started!

 

Tip 1: Decide if your attendance is appropriate/if the invite was genuine

Were you invited to her sister’s engagement party before you two broke up? Is it an intimate birthday dinner for 5 for her best friend who you never really liked anyway?

Before you even ATTEMPT to navigate a social event with an ex, you should probably figure out whether you’re supposed to be there at all.

If you’re being invited because they (or a family member) feels duty bound, maybe sit this one out.

If you’re being invited but can already tell just by the headline of the Facebook event that its going to be awkward as fuck, don’t go.

If you think you’ve been invited to the ‘Housewarming of Beccy Boo and Tara Choo’ and have a feeling it could just be a stab at you — an excuse for your ex to rub in the fact that she’s moved into a cutesy little one-bedder with her new squeeze — you’re probably right. Click ‘Maybe’ and pretend you never saw it.

 

Tip 2: Bring backup – safety in numbers!

When attending a social event that is sure to feature an ex, no matter how long it’s been since you broke up, it’s always a good idea to have a wingman/woman.

There’s something very comforting and calming about having a close friend with you at these kind of things, someone who understands the situation completely and won’t leave you alone at any point during the night (unless of course you decide on a ‘Last Time’ rendezvous with the ex, which is not advisable, but if you must…)

Your plus one won’t only act as a social buffer when things get a little tense, they’ll also double as the perfect excuse for when you decide the whole thing was a terrible idea and you require an immediate exit strategy.

“We’re going to have to bail, [Wingperson's name]‘s new puppy Indie has just vomited all over the sitter and we should probably get back there…”

Tip 3: Leave the past in the past

Never, ever under any circumstances dredge up your past relationship in plain sight of all the other innocent party-goers.

This includes, but is not exclusive to:

- Calling your ex by her old nickname. Stop. Just don’t.

- Turning every story around so that it somehow relates to your ex. “Oh yeah that reminds me of the time Jess broke her nose when we went skiing…remember that Jessy?”

-Take jabs at your ex based on past grievances. E.g., “Oh really? That’s not what you USED to say Jess! You NEVER wanted to go to New York with me!”

- Get drunk and drag your ex into a room to discuss the in’s and outs of why you ever broke up in the first place. Pretty self-explanatory you’d think, but you’d be surprised by what future-you might think is a terrific idea after two carafes of sangria.

 

Tip 4: Play nice and act your age

If you simply MUST attend said event (it’s your own brother’s birthday party, mutual friend’s wedding etc. etc.), but you’re currently on shitty terms with your ex, then just keep it civil, for the sake of everyone else.

If you can’t stand the look of her then keep your space. I’m not suggesting you immediately about-face every time she joins a circle of people you’re talking with, just be an adult and avoid situations that could lead to a public argument or awkward situation for anybody else.

Remember, you once loved and respected this person. Respect them now and leave them alone and they’ll probably do the same. (That is of course unless they are an evil bitch in which case, why the hell did you date her in the first place!? Pat yourself on the back for cutting the ties before it was too late.)

 

Tip 5: Fuck everyone else, have fun

via kittenpictures.net

Regardless of whether you’re already double dating with your ex or you still want to throw hot oil in their eyeballs, it’s important to remember the social event you now both find yourselves attending is probably NOT about either of you or your past relationship.

Remember why you decided to attend in the first place — chances are it was to celebrate something or socialise with friends, so try to not think about or focus on your ex at all and concentrate on having a good time.

Besides, if at the end of the day all that’s happened is that your ex has seen you laughing, dancing and having a good time — then at least they’ll know you’re just fine all by yourself.

 

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Profile photo of Tully

24, single white female with too much time on her hands and a fatal obsession with social media, travelling, food and creating an abundance of online time capsules otherwise known as blogs.

Tully has written 5 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. Thumb up 37

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    Wow, this would have been super helpful to read BEFORE I ran into my ex at a music festival, after dropping two hits of acid, and called her my spirit animal/ told her her face was the most beautiful shae of kittens I had ever seen.

  2. Thumb up 16

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    My two main techniques are “get drunk, cry in the bathroom and avoid eye contact” or “get drunk and invite her over to your place,” depending on the circumstances. And this is why no one should ask me for advice.

  3. Thumb up 48

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    this is super helpful, but i just want to point out one thing for those it does not apply to”

    the lesbian tradition of staying friends with your ex is worrisome for a couple of reasons.

    raise your hand if you know a lesbian couple that has a toxic relationship. raise your hand if you have had a toxic relationship. yay, you raised your hand for at least one of those!

    while some relationships may be able to stand the test of “i love you but i can’t do this anymore” and then traipse into awkward friendship land, a lot of these relationships should not and cannot do so. and yet for some reason, girl on girl culture often insists or creates a system where it feels like that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. we’re supposed to soothe each other’s wounds while we recover from the wounds that breaking up with one another inflicted. we’re supposed to navigate awkward friendship and positive vibes when actually yes, it’s totally okay to NOT SEE EACH OTHER for a while while trying to get over the relationship. it’s totally okay to have rebound sex, to cut ties, to remove them from your facebook newsfeed. also, FYI, it is completely okay to harbor negative feelings, too.

    you do not have to make everything better. that’s not your job anymore. you’re not in a relationship, there was a reason you ended that relationship, and it means that right now, YOU DO YOU. i have tried to remain friends and help the other person through the break up before and it SUCKS and it makes everything significantly WORSE and it is PAINFUL AS FUCK and yet you will feel obligated to do it because that’s what lesbians do and sally and betty worked their shit out and now they’re friends and their new girlfriends are friends etc. etc. i don’t know why this is a thing in lesbianism, but do not feel like you have to do it. if it was a doozy, get the fuck out of there and don’t look back. it’ll be the healthiest thing you ever did.

    • Thumb up 4

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      I know, right? I have a really hard time dealing with my friends’ various long protracted breakups because they don’t just cut the other loose. Of course you still want back with her, you just told me about your hour long g-chat last night! Then they get back together because the breakup is worse and this time they move in together and the toxic cycle continues. ugh.

      • Thumb up 9

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        can i give you some advice from my personal experience with that? you cannot share air with that person. if they won’t leave, you have to leave. i know how awful that is, and how much it sucks, and how it’s not fair in any way whatsoever. but you cannot be around an abusive person and have it be good for you. i have tried to make it work. it’s not going to work no matter how many angles you try to work, no matter what you try. you’re putting yourself in a position where even though you are exes, you are in her reach and she can still exert power over you, and you’re still in a position to be affected by her presence, to have to revisit old memories and impressions of the abuse.

        if they don’t know they’re abusive, they never will. or maybe they do, and they’re okay with it, and they’re not going to talk to you about it. or it’s more likely they don’t understand how the things they do affect you in a negative way, because perpetrators of abusive relationships are often unaware that what they are doing could be classified as abuse (oh i didn’t mean to cut her off from all her friends and make her feel obligated to have sex with me and tell her that she was nothing without me). trust me. get the fuck out of there. do what you can do on the budget you can do it on – i say this because if one of you can move, you need to move. it won’t work otherwise, and by work i mean your health and happiness.

        • Thumb up 1

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          Thank you for this, Kate. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to as well; the difficulty for me is that we are in the same (tight-knit, competitive, word-of-mouth) industry with a fair amount of social/professional overlap. I got out of the relationship as soon as I realized what was afoot (within a month), and I’m currently as “out of there” as I can be at the moment (in a different city, in a different segment of the field, in a new long-term relationship, with the one with her now a couple of years behind me) but even so, it’s grating to see mutual people publically supporting her creative projects. It’s been tough showing up at the same public community events as her. At the core of it, it’s really frustrating that this all even still affects me almost two years later – but man, because she was my closest friend before we got together, it was all such a mindfuck.

          Bozo, I’m really sorry to hear that you empathize. And I support your Wal-Mart evaporation efforts. <3

      • Thumb up 2

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        I’m in the same place. My abusive ex is popular and I feel like I’m the only one in this town who knows what she is really like. I used to be bothered by the thought of all her fan club taking her side. I finally decided those people are not important enough in my life to bother with. So I took the step of avoiding anyone who knows her. Yes, I, too can evaporate in Wal-Mart.
        Also do not communicate with my 3 exes.

    • Thumb up 10

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      yes yes yes to what Kate said.

      I have watched way too many toxic and/or outright abusive relationships stagger on for far too long because of this notion.

      I think, at least in some part, this is because women are generally trained by society to be the healers, to be the ones who take on emotional burdens and try to fix things for other people.

      So then we do that with the very people we should be getting the fuck away from, even if the break only needs to be temporary before you can become friendly again, but especially if it needs to be forever because your ex is a terrible human being.

      • Thumb up 5

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        you are so absolutely right about women being trained to be the “healers” and take on all the emotional burdens

        i have been in abusive cyclical toxic shit and i remember not only apologizing for the other person, but not wanting to break up with her because i felt like it would be wrong of me to point out to her that what she was doing was abusive and awful. (??!?!??!?!?) instead of walking out and breaking all ties, i spent the better part of the year trying to heal her and fix her of her abusive ways, abusive ways that were hurting me in every possible way. i was basically hurting myself by allowing her to hurt me because i thought that i deserved the hurt for not being able to fix her and stop her from hurting me. lesbian logic, i just…i can’t with it sometimes. thank god i am in a really beautiful and equal and loving relationship now and forever and don’t have to deal with this shit again

        • Thumb up 0

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          As someone who is recently out of an abusive relationship (this person will never see that she was abusive either) you have given me hope that I can heal and find something real and loving someday.

    • Thumb up 4

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      Kate is great. This whole friendship-five-minutes-post-break-up is just hard to fathom for someone who is relatively new to the dyke community. Isn’t part of the break-up thing supposed to be about letting go of control, not substituting the lack of it by monitoring the greif process of one’s ex? Seems sort of… counterproductive.

    • Thumb up 3

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      I agree that this comes from the notion that we ought to be healers and we fear we’re cruel for cutting off all ties, but I think the other reason we do this is that queer scenes are so small. In a mid size to large city, it is possible for a woman to date a man and then avoid him forever (unless they’re part of a specific subculture or professional scene) while for women who date women, so many of us go to the same events that we’re bound to run into exes, even in larger cities. We may also have a lot of mutual friends who don’t want to pick between us, so we eventually end up running into each other at their parties/gallery openings/fundraisers etc. Being friends with exes has been possible for me when I avoided them for 6 months and then found myself running into them at friends’ events and learning to interact with them as new people. This only works though if no one is abusive/people have grown and learned to be accountable for our mistakes.

  4. Thumb up 11

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    So I’ve started to try to meet people organically (that is, not on the internet) and this is the worst part. When it doesn’t work out you still have to see them because mutual friends. Blarhgdsifjer is all I have to say to that.

    I’m with Kate. You don’t have to be friends unless you REALLY want to/think it would be a good idea, but if you can’t stand seeing her facebook posts, do whatever you have to do. YOU DO YOU.

  5. Thumb up 11

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    I just want to zero in on a certain phrase in the original question, “may want to hook up with.”

    DO NOT DO THIS… AT LEAST NOT HERE!! Chances are some of the other weekend attendees coached you and/or her through the breakup. They will know exactly what’s going on and probably be concerned/frustrated/stressed out if they see you enter a broom closet together. Also, if she turns you down it will taint the entire weekend.

    If you want to become friends with your ex, you have to forget what they look like pantsless. Take the weekend at face value — an opportunity to start anew. Have an awkward chat, talk about the weather and enjoy whatever weekend you are at. Take all of Tully’s advice and simply remember that you liked one another socially at one point in time.

    If you two actually like each other enough to be friends, stay satisfied with that for a while. You can let it evolve, but you really shouldn’t imagine your ex will EVER fulfil the role of friend AND sexy friend. Adding naked times back into the mix may create a second breakup that’s even worse than the first.

    … which will be hilarious in retro-retro-retro-retro-retro-retro-retrospect but requires a lot of red wine at the time.

  6. Thumb up 7

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    Something I would add to this that seems counterintuitive when you’re in a stressful/painful situation is not to get *too* drunk. Yeah, yeah, I know that what we do when faced with tough ex situations is to just get completely wasted, but sometimes it makes the problem a lot worse. And it always helps to be less drunk than your ex so that they are the one who’s more likely to be awkward or horrible and not you.

    And I second Kate….we make such a big point of having to remain friends, but sometimes that requires trying to ignore the pain or repressing it, only causing a deeper emotional wound. We need to be true to ourselves and I think it’s time to admit that sometimes trying to stay friends with an ex holds us back and doesn’t allow us to grow.

  7. Thumb up 26

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    “Calling your ex by her old nickname. Stop. Just don’t.”

    I had an ex unexpectedly call me by an old affectionate nickname a) after *she* dumped *me* and b) KNOWING I NEVER EVEN LIKED THE NICKNAME WHILE WE WERE IN THE RELATIONSHIP BECAUSE IT WAS THE SAME NAME SHE CALLED THE CAT.

    That is the most lesbian capslocky sentence you are likely to read today. And just one more reason I’m glad that relationship’s done!

  8. Thumb up 21

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    sometimes you might find yourself at a party your ex is at, and they’re with the gross chick they made out with right in front of you (thus facilitating the long slow terrible end of your relationship)…

    and you might find yourself dancing with a dog on its hind legs

    and the four of you just might have a dance-off, like justin and britney.

    if it’s possible to avoid this situation, i’d recommend it.

  9. Thumb up 3

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    Yes!! Don’t sleep with them. I did that with my ex, well two exes ago now, and it made it so much harder for me to get over her.

    I do think some people can be friends down the road but you have wait long enough and it depends on the person. My first girlfriend and I will never be friends because it was too toxic and w don’t have much in common anymore.

  10. Thumb up 2

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    Why are you in my head? Just had a work meeting and wham, my ex was there. Then I went to a film festival in New York and sat FOUR SEATS AWAY from someone I have slept with. This seems to be a recurring theme in my life these days.

  11. Thumb up 7

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    Oh glittery rainbow unicorn, I have that “Somebody I used to Know” by Gotye (the ASL cover version)in my head while reading this.

    I am going to cry softly while eating ice cream to process these feelings.

    SOMEBOOOODY!!!

  12. Thumb up 4

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    I completely relate to this post. I think it is important to ask yourself what motivates you to continue a relationship with an ex. What needs are being met? If you answer by saying something like….I feel guilty or I call when I’m sad or lonely or etc…you may be continuing the relationship for unhealthy reasons. I find only the most evolved people can successfully manage an active friendship with an ex. It is a lot of work. Lots of boundary patrol. May close you down to new romantic relationships or compromise one if you have one already.

  13. Thumb up 3

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    I did everything on this list. I was completely okay! But I found out later that my ex was completely NOT okay. Man, that girl was taking forever in the bathroom! O that means she’s probably crying. That’s what I get for thinking these things are simple. THEY’RE NOT. If you can avoid contact, DO. Otherwise, anything can happen. Maybe you won’t get hurt but the other person will and she’ll make sure you know it. It’s AWFUL.

  14. Thumb up 5

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    Well, this could not be more timely! And some good reminders.

    We broke up a little over a month ago because our relationship had become more of a friendship anyway. Because we were already acting like good friends, I thought that just dropping the romantic title would be no big deal and that we could be in the same space with no troubles… until I found out that she’s already interested in someone else. I guess I’m not quite mentally prepared to no longer be the special someone. I know from past experiences that I’m no superwoman — I need time apart. Not sure how long it will take before I can inhabit the same sphere again. Thankfully, we both have separate groups of people to hang out with until then.

  15. Thumb up 2

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    my ex and I were in the same sorority and I couldn’t be in our house after we broke up because she was giving me the silent treatment and it was SO hard to be around, and now she’s graduated but still in the area and WHAT IF I HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT AGAIN WHEN SHE COMES BACK TO VISIT

    sorry topics like this just send me into a tailspin of panic.

  16. Thumb up 1

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    This s great advice! I’m friends with most of my exes, there’s really only one that I would never want to be in the same room with ever again. I think unless the event was a wedding, I would just find an excuse not to go.

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