UPDATE (2019): FIND NINA AND HER COLUMN AT HER NEW FRIENDSHIP ADVICE SITE
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!
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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