My ex-husband and I were best friends for years before we decided to start making out. (Good call, Elinor!) His friends and my friends were almost all the same people. When we started dating, I felt a communal cringe within our clique: What if this doesn’t work out?
Well, it didn’t, and our social situation has been screwed ever since.
It was unfortunate, but unavoidable.
Well, let me back-pedal that a little. I don’t think it’s unavoidable in all circumstances. Plenty of smart people remain friends with their exes. I’ve been pals with a few exes myself. I know that it is something I am capable of doing.
Unless, of course, I don’t want to.
Stage 1: The Immediate Aftermath
After we first split, I unfriended him on Facebook so I would not have to see where he was going or who he had met. As we spent several weeks getting our house ready to sell, we were friendly enough because we had to be, but I made it clear I was not interested in socializing in a group setting. It was weird enough for our friends when we evolved into boyfriend/girlfriend; I imagined it would be a thousand times harder to go back.
While some exes can stay friends, I knew almost immediately that we would not. He talked like it could happen.
“It’ll be just like before,” he’d say. “We can meet for drinks and talk about dating and politics and all the things we did when we were friends. We’ll probably even be better friends now, because of all we’ve been through!”
“We’ll see,” I said repeatedly, to avoid an argument. (He would try to argue me into being his friend. Seriously?!?) I was too sad to think about trying to make it happen. I couldn’t imagine growing past the heartbreak and weirdness of it all.
Besides, I didn’t want to! This might sound harsh, but I quickly found I no longer really liked him much as a person. I mourned what I had lost, sure, and always wished him the best, but he had hurt me and said unforgivable things. It’s really weird to realize that the person you’d signed on for life with had become a person you wouldn’t want to run into on the street.
Through the process of opening up about my crappy marriage, I realized how wonderful the other people in my life were. Those were the people I wanted to be with. I didn’t want drama -- I wasn’t talking shit or trying to make people take sides -- but I was in no way interested in nurturing that relationship. Life is too short for people who make me feel that bad. He’s not a crappy person, just no longer my person. I didn’t owe him a friendship.
Stage 2: (Social) Life Goes On
A regrettable side effect of this position, of course, is that our close friends were impacted. My ex and I split up just before my best friend’s birthday karaoke party, which we’d been invited to as a couple.
“I hate to do this,” I said, “but I won’t go if he’s there.”
She told him he couldn’t come. That must have sucked for her. It sucked for me, too; I worried that everybody else would have preferred his attendance over mine. Nobody said anything, of course, but in a time of crippling self-doubt -- well, there was a lot of self-doubt.
My friends politely and courteously divided their invitations in the following months. I got to go to a lot of things, and my girlfriends always made time for me individually, but I had to hang back a lot, too. I didn’t complain, but I was sad to do that. My friends and I are extremely close, and I hadn’t missed any of their parties in the better part of a decade.
I’d wanted to keep my friends out of the middle as much as possible, but in practice that was not actually very much. While my friends have remained patient and supportive (seriously, I love you guys!), I know it must suck for them.
Stage 3: The New Normal Awkward
Time passed. My ex and I respected the other’s space. Then some really unfortunate stuff went down that I don’t want to get into here, but my interest in niceties went out the window. I switched the focus from keeping the peace to keeping myself sane and protected. I changed my number and blocked him on Facebook.
Fun fact: Did you know that when you block somebody on Facebook, you cannot see if they have RSVPed to an event, or if they were even invited? I learned that lesson the hard way when I went to a friend’s art show a few months back. My friends didn’t warn me that my ex could show up because he had become so flaky, and they didn’t want to stress me out if they didn’t have to.
But then all of a sudden, there he was. I left immediately to avoid a scene. It’s not that I was mad he was there -- they’re his friends, too, and he was invited -- but it was an uncomfortable, crappy situation for both of us. Being mature is garbage sometimes.
It was nobody’s fault that we were both there that night, but because of that I re-doubled my own efforts to make sure we were not in the same place at the same time. Before I go to things, I text my friends to make sure he won’t be there. (I bet that's a fun pre-party text to get.)
It’s really embarrassing and awkward to constantly be forcing a bubble around myself, but when the alternative is the possibility of a public showdown, it’s necessary.
When we get married these days, it’s no longer about allotting a woman to a man; it’s about bringing loved ones together as a new life begins. “A unity of families,” we say, in our new-agey ceremonies. It’s a beautiful sentiment. The side effect, of course, is that all of those loved ones who celebrated your marriage will also likely mourn it.
The two people who got married will not be the only parties involved in the divorce. As much as you can try to keep it contained, it will not be. Stay friends with your ex, don’t stay friends with him, hate him, whatever: it will not be contained. I did all I could but I couldn’t stop the fallout from landing on other people.
I haven’t had any contact with my ex-husband for about three months. I don’t even ask our shared friends what he’s up to; I’m committed to moving on, so I don’t need -- or want -- for that narrative to continue. The path has split. I’m over here, he’s in another place, our friends are somewhere in between, and that’s how things will just have to be. No more mess or fuss, right?
Well, no, not really. Even though I’m trying to be mature, I’m not the same person I was before. I’m not as comfortable everywhere, I’m always slightly anxious in social situations, and I can’t just be invited places -- I’m invited with a qualifier. And it’s lame.
But there we are. And guess what? I’m fine. Navigating this social weirdness is still way better than staying in an unhappy marriage. So, yeah, things are different, but they’re still totally fine.