Sharing Common Friends With an Ex-Friend

Sharing Common Friends With an Ex-Friend

Today’s question for Nina is about dealing with a friendship breakup when the two parties have many friends in common. What is your advice for a reader about how to share friends with an ex?

Nina is always accepting anonymous questions so keep them coming!

Dear Nina,

Jocelyn and I recently split for good. We were part of a much larger online and real-life friendship group, but the two of us were particularly close. The specifics of our breakup are not pertinent. I also wanted to mention that I’d be willing to try again with our friendship, but she’s not.

Here’s the reason I’m writing: I now feel awkward with the rest of our mutual friends. Jocelyn and I have not been together in the group since we split up, and I’m afraid that no one knows we’re no longer friends. (I haven’t told anyone.) However, I’m also afraid that if they do know it’s because Jocelyn told them, and I don’t know what she said about me.

How do I get beyond this and just feel comfortable with all my other friends whether or not she’s there, or if I fear she’s talking beyond my back? Should I be up front with our other friends that our friendship is over, or should I just never mention it?

Worried About Post-Breakup Fallout

Dear Worried About the Post-Breakup Fallout,

The first and most helpful piece of advice I can give you for this particular situation of how to share friends with an ex is one that will come to play often in your life, and it’s probably harder to implement than anything else I will say here today: You must accept that you cannot control every person’s opinion of you.

That fact goes beyond controlling other people’s behavior, which is also true. No, you cannot dictate what Jocelyn says about you, or to whom (her behavior). You can only work on how much you worry about others’ perception of you based on what she says or based on their simple knowledge that the two of you are no longer friends.

There are two ways to let go of that worry:

Do not say anything unkind about your ex-friend.

Keep treating your friends well, and if the subject of Jocelyn comes up, I think it’s fine to say, “We haven’t spoken in a while.” If someone asks you directly whether the two of you are no longer friends, I’d say, “Unfortunately we’re not, but I hope you understand that I don’t want to get into the details.” This way you’re being honest, but you’re also showing that you’re not going to bring the group into the issue between the two of you. This is the part you can control. You get to dictate how you act and not getting people to take sides is the classy route to take.


The other way not to worry what others think about you (once you know your behavior is in check) is to engage in some self talk. I will often tell myself that exact message: “I cannot control what anyone thinks.” Say it to yourself before you go out with these friends. Remind yourself a few times while you’re together. It often takes an actual effort to force your mind to think in a more positive way. This new way of thinking will not happen magically; you have to teach yourself to alter your thoughts.

Now let’s talk about the reality of what happens when two friends have a falling out, but they still share common friends. If we’re dealing with adults here, I’d like to think that most of the friends in the wider circle would feel bad for both of you that things did not work out. Any decent person (and they’re your friends so I’m assuming they’re decent) would not revel in the pain you and Jocelyn are feeling. Perhaps they’re even hoping that the two of you will work things out one day.

Is the Friendship Really Over?

There’s one final issue to address: I wonder if things with Jocelyn are truly finished, or if there’s a chance to turn this breakup around. Could you write her a letter (not an email, a letter) reiterating your willingness to take responsibility for your part of the falling out and to forgive her as well? I would tell her that you have no expectations in the near future, but that if she were ever open to it, you would be interested in a friendship in the future.

Once you’ve put your feelings in writing (a powerful act), you can feel confident that you’ve done your part to rectify your mistakes and forgive Jocelyn for her mistakes. I say this because right after college my best friend and I “broke up” and about a year later I wrote her a long letter. It took her a few years to respond, but we became even closer than we were in college, and now she’s been an important person in my life for the past 10 years. To tell you the truth, the breakup made us even closer than we might have been. My point? I wouldn’t write Jocelyn off forever.

Good luck to you! And I’m sorry you’re dealing with the pain of ending a friendship and the dilemma of how to share friends with an ex-friend. I know it isn’t easy.


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  1. Rivki Silver says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with all of this. Worrying about other people’s opinions can feel so paralyzing sometimes, especially if you’re afraid they might negatively impact your social life. But yes, staying classy and not divulging details is the way to go, and I love the positive self-talk idea, too. And I also love the idea that even though a friendship may be over, it may not be over forever.
    Rivki Silver recently posted…Selling a Home, Keeping my SanityMy Profile

  2. Justine says:

    Nina, I love this: “You get to dictate how you act and not getting people to take sides is the classy route to take.” Beautifully put. I have a quote by Rabbi Harold Kushner pinned to my bulletin board; it’s from his introduction to Man’s Search for Meaning. “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you feel and do about what happens to you.” Friendships can be painful, and while I think it’s okay to show your vulnerability, I do agree with you that it’s a good idea not to divulge too many details, which could make a recovery of the friendship more difficult.
    Justine recently posted…being hereMy Profile

  3. As always, Nina, great advice. I faced a similar situation a few years ago. After trying to connect and reach out to my friend, I realized she wasn’t interested. Although I enjoyed our friendship, she decided to pull away. At a certain point, you let go and when people ask what happened (which rarely occurs after some time), I simply say we grew apart. Divulging details only lends to gossip and doesn’t really help. Thanks for your stellar insight.
    Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri recently posted…I Don’t KnowMy Profile

  4. Pam says:

    Solid advice… to want to tell your side of the story is so human, and so normal, but at the end of the day, it’s about putting aside your ego, which is the most important thing when trying to avoid fanning the flames in a group situation.

    Also, I feel like HerStories changed the font from gray to black? So much easier to read now.
    Pam recently posted…A Gorgeous Day To FlyMy Profile

  5. I totally agree! We can’t control what other’s think about us or even what they say about us but we CAN control how we act. I have gone through similar situations and have found that if I don’t engage in any negative talk or try to put anyone else in my drama people are more than happy to let you move on. As always Nina your advice is spot on. Thanks!!
    Kathy Radigan recently posted…5 Reasons I Should Leave My HusbandMy Profile

  6. Sometimes I think that this part of a friendship break-up – navigating the minefield of shared friends in its aftermath – is even harder than the actual friendship break-up itself. I had a friendship end slowly over the course of a couple of years, finally coming to an unequivocal end about a year and a half ago. She was one of my best friends from college, and we were (and are) both part of a bigger group of friends that has stayed pretty consistently close, with the exception of she and I, since we graduated almost 10 years ago. In the day to day it’s not terribly difficult, especially since we both left Manhattan to move to different NYC suburbs. because our mutual friends have stayed mutual friends, and we rarely all get together at the same time. But when the whole group does get together, like we did recently when a friend’s father passed away, and like we will in the spring at our 10 year college reunion, it’s impossibly hard for everyone. Our mutual friends feel awkward and don’t know where to put themselves, the two of us avoid speaking or making eye contact, and I end up feeling terrible for putting everyone else in a weird position, even though it’s usually unavoidable.

    I think that Nina’s advice is excellent. The main thing I’ve learned from my experience is to just accept that things will sometimes be a little awkward and strange, and to trust your mutual friends that they love you enough to navigate the situation as best they can.
    Samantha Brinn Merel recently posted…Three Years of BloggingMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      Ugh, I’m so sorry Samantha. I remember your piece in the HerStories anthology, and I’m assuming it’s that same situation. I think you’re right that the aftermath of dealing with being in the same situations consistently year after year can be as wearing on the shared friends as the two in the center of the tension. I hope that as time goes the pain of it all continues to dull.
      Nina recently posted…How Not to Talk About Ex-FriendshipsMy Profile

  7. This is a reminder I really needed to read — that I cannot control what others think or feel about me. The idea that the best way to combat my fears is by staying positive (with others and with myself) is something that makes so much sense. Great advice again, Nina!
    JUlia Munroe martin recently posted…The Winter of SisyphusMy Profile

  8. Another fabulous post, Nina. I agree that “not getting people to take sides” is the classy route. Because really, what happened between her and her friend is really between them, not everyone else. It’s their situation to sort out; not the group’s. I’m impressed that these two women can still attend group functions at all, so maybe there is hope!
    Melissa Crytzer Fry recently posted…Going SoloMy Profile

  9. Miriam says:

    I love your response to the woman’s question. I also find that the friends in common (the real and true common friends) would probably not actually want to get involved in the why and how. They’re busy with their own lives and are not interested in hearing gossip. I love your suggestions for responses to stop any difficult convo in its tracks!
    Miriam recently posted…On Celebrating Mistakes and Making MusicMy Profile

  10. Dana says:

    Nina, this is a great question and a really thoughtful response. I like how you suggest taking the high road, not gossiping about it, but answering succinctly yet honestly if asked. And you’re so right, there is NO way to control what others think or say about you, which is a terribly hard thing to accept, but kind of crucial to survive without constant anxiety 🙂 I also like how you suggest writing an actual letter, rather than email or text. I agree that the written word has an intimacy and power that typing on a keyboard just can’t compete with.

    Looking forward to your next q&a!
    Dana recently posted…Winter: A Love StoryMy Profile

  11. Dana says:

    I live in a fairly large and close knit community, and I’m surprised this situation hasn’t occurred more often. Or maybe it has, and the two women involved have handled it with grace and maturity. As a mutual friend, I would have absolutely no interest in taking sides. And your advice to not write of Jocelyn forever is wonderful – you never know when a friendship may be rekindled.
    Dana recently posted…Ordinary LoveMy Profile

  12. This really resonated with me: “You must accept that you cannot control every person’s opinion of you.” It feels so difficult to accept that sometimes. I have to remind myself regularly.

    I think it’s also hard to be a member of the group when two others have had a falling out. It can lead to the whole group falling out if there is pressure to “choose sides.”

    I look forward to your column, Nina. Your advice is always spot on.
    Jackie Cangro recently posted…The One With the Blizzard That Wasn’tMy Profile

  13. Barbara King says:

    I agree with your advice. I used to believe I could control and manipulate others. After having a falling out with a friend, I immediately began recruiting for Barbara’s army. Are you “with me or against me” became my battle cry. Later I learned my actions are far more important than my words, that my fears of inadequacy fueled my attempts to have you join the ranks.
    A close friend and mentor reminded me of pithy sayings that actually helped me grow: What other people think of me is none of my business; Is it better to be kind or be right?
    If a person asks me what happened, I’d respond with something like “We’re not dancing well together at the moment.” I would neither elaborate nor ask for the person to buy into my refusal to discuss the situation.
    Last point (finally), I have learned that relationships evolve and I don’t know whether we will be apart for a day or forever. If I have examined my behavior against the standard of being my highest self and, if not, acknowledged and amended my actions, I let go and move on. If I’m stuck in a resentment, I pray for the other person. It doesn’t do anything for her and it does a world of good for me. Much love from your proud aunt!

  14. Gail F says:

    I agree with this post about not trying to force a solution to this type of issue by telling ‘your side’ and especially not talking smack about people. Sometimes it’s easier to fake it until you make it, i.e. fake that you are happy and all is well b/c eventually that’s how it will be, whether the friendship stays disconnected or comes back together. I also think as you age you get into these sort of situations less, and for that I am thankful.

  15. Sarah says:

    Great post and advice. Love the discussion this has prompted — so many interesting comments. What stuck with me, as with many others here, is that you cannot control what others think of you.

    I don’t take sides (even within my family)…unless. Yes, I’m the one who is going to say I butt in. If I’m there when the argument happens, it is impossible for me to stand by and watch something unfold. In a situation like the one mentioned here, finding out after the fact, I know that I (and most of my friends) would try to “make it right”. But if that is not an option, at least at the time, I let it go and deal as best I can. I haven’t yet been the one in the breakup (at least not one with common friends).

  16. I agree, Nina. I spent a lot of time worrying about why others thought they way they did, and how I could make my point of view stronger. And then I gave up. Friendships ebb and flow, and sometimes it’s best to just let it go. I can decide when and if I join in social situations with ex-friends, but really, we’re all grown ups and it shouldn’t be that hard to get along.
    Jennifer Wolfe recently posted…Real Love In Real LifeMy Profile

  17. I’ve actually wondered about this just this week. I have an IRL friend and we’re both the main coordinators of a mom-ish group from preschool… and we’ve had some fairly intense disagreements over text of all things (GAH) and each time, I feel like it’s not going to be resolved EVER but so far, it has been… anyway, each time, I wonder about our mutual friends, and what to say/do, whether I would be disingenuous having a happy hour with them, without her, and whether she’s planing one without me… and I love your advice, Nina. Somebody wise recently said to me that “What other people think of me is none of my business.” I love that. So much. Also to the writer, I’m sorry you’re going through this, and so hope it can work out but if it doesn’t? It’ll be okay too.
    Kristi Campbell recently posted…Technology and How It Has Changed. From Riding in the Way Back of Grandma’s Station Wagon (or, This One Time…) (or, I Miss the 80’s).My Profile

    • Nina says:

      That’s a great quote! Thanks for sharing it here as it fits perfectly. Oh yeah– text fights. I have been there. I only have regrets at trying to work things out that way. Even when things are “resolved” via text it’s not the same as it is over the phone or in person. It just isn’t!
      Nina recently posted…How Not to Talk About Ex-FriendshipsMy Profile

  18. Dakota Nyght says:

    Oh this is so timely for ME, Nina… as a situation is coming up in which a fairly large gathering with a group of mutual friends is coming up and several of them were good friends with an ex-friend of mine. In this case, it was me who moved on (and I never found a gentle way to explain to her why) but she and everyone else in this situation are rather, ooooh… prickly? personalities. She’s moved out of state now, but I’ve wondered if she talked about this situation with them and what they now think of me. I have no intention of airing my grievances to everyone else but it’s good to have this reminder that I cannot control what everyone else thinks, and that it’s not my responsibility to worry about it!
    Dakota Nyght recently posted…Changes, Updates, Blog Excitement!My Profile

    • Nina says:

      I’m sorry you have that going on! I think it’s safe to assume that the common friends know something about the situation and that most of them realize there are two sides to every story. Hopefully they accept they’ve heard just one and haven’t given it a second thought.
      Nina recently posted…How Not to Talk About Ex-FriendshipsMy Profile

  19. Jessica says:

    My friend and I were joined at the hip since we met at work 3years again, I shared with them more than anyone and spent all my time with them more than other friends and really enjoyed our fun friendship they were my best friend 100%, we often though had rows, more than normal I would say which only happened on nights out, we’ve always came back stronger we laughed it off and went back to having the best of times, they were the only person I told about my past struggles at home growing up, one time we had a row they screamed and pushed me into a door and left me but it was all sorted, but this night my friend owed me money and more I gave them they then said they only owed me third of what they really did, a row occurred and my friend pushed me I pushed them back, they ended up needing stitches in their leg and I had pretty messed up back, we both calmed down and helped eachother they washed my blood before anyone could see in hospital, all was ok again both fixed up and healthy, I was feeling quite traumatised by the seriousness of the situation I had a panic attack when I got home and realised the full scale of the row it shocked me, but I moved past it because it was all over us, we had talked and apologised, 2 days later after we all rested and recovered next thing I know I get a message saying it’s my fault it shouldn’t have happened I’m blocked on Facebook and by phone, two weeks passed and a friend tells me this other friend has told people I attacked her, this really got to me as I only pushed back after being pushed and was so heartbroken with my best friend ignoring when when in this situation they were who I would talk to, 4 months have passed and my ex friend still has me blocked has told mutual friends it’s my fault etc and they refuse to talk anymore about it, also they have a new best friend too, I’m lonely and depressed and feel ashamed to have someone I cared for treat me this way and say these things about me, I don’t know what to do.

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