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Home » The Vine

The Vine: January 9, 2013

Submitted by on January 9, 2013 – 1:16 PM23 Comments


Guy and I are graduate students in the same program and have all the same friends. We'd been dating on-and-off for about a year and broke things off last week. If I'm honest, it was always pretty stormy — one of those relationships where we got along so well, as friends, that it was really difficult to break up or even fight, but in reality the sadness-to-happiness ratio was way out of proportion. I wanted commitment, he didn't. Except when he did. But didn't. But did. (Gaaaaah!) It just got to the point where I couldn't take the roller coaster anymore and told him he needed to decide — in or out. That I really hoped it was 'in,' but if not, we were done. He couldn't handle it, so…we're done.

With the start of the new semester, my housemates and I are throwing a party to welcome friends back from field work, welcome the new students, etc. It will be a general invite, department-wide. So Guy will definitely hear about the party.

I'm assuming that most people would not come to a party at their ex-girlfriend-of-two-weeks' house, but he's…not most people. Since breaking it off, he's continued to show up to things and tried to joke with me like everything was normal, to the point that I was forced into sending a text that said, "Please stop making this so hard for me. I meant what I said, we can't be friends. Please stop talking to me and pretending that everything is fine." He said okay, but was pissy about it, and I'm sure will have forgotten/decided to ignore it within a couple of days of getting back (he's out of town right now, thank god).

So…I don't know what to do. Given our on-and-off history, I need to go cold turkey to make this stick. But his absence would be obvious and commented on, and I really don't want to make things more awkward than they already are, especially because his housemates are some of my close friends. But, if he comes, I'm going to be completely stressed out the whole time and not have fun at a party that I'm hosting. I love the guy, damn him, and it's going to be a while before I have it together enough to not feel completely awful around him.

I know there probably isn't a good solution to this. But any ideas? How, in general, do you deal with breakups and mutual-friend circles? Am I overthinking the whole situation?

Sending an "uninvitation" just seems so over the top

Dear Over,

Post-split awkwardness is kind of like having a cold. You can take a ton of DayQuil, suppress the symptoms, continue your normal routine with no extra sleep or days off work, and drag-ass around with a runny nose for a week; or you can accept that you have a cold, power down for a day or two with tons of hot tea and a 9 PM bedtime, and get through the worst of it in 72 hours. Either way, you have a cold and it sucks and it can't really be avoided, but denial is just going to drag it out.

I mention this because you say that you don't want to make things more awkward, and I understand that, but: it is awkward. It will be awkward for a while. Mutual friends and his housemates and whoever else will just have to deal with it for a short time, and if they don't understand why you don't want to see him right now, well, they don't have to understand it. You understand it, you plan to enforce it, and you're not really required to hear the comments either, honestly. "His absence would be obvious and commented on"? Well, yeah, it's obvious — you guys broke up. Anyone "commenting on" it further is sort of a shit-stirrer, really, so a flat "we broke up and it's still fresh, so thanks for understanding" is all you have to offer. (If that.)

It's also awkward to try to ensure that he doesn't just show up against your obvious wishes, but if you really don't want him there, you will have to say so, either to him or to a mutual friend whom you can trust to make it clear to Guy, gently but firmly, that he really needs to stay away this time and not give you agita. He may show up anyway, and you can jump off that bridge when you get to it (and at that point, you're in a province of Cluelesstan that's a different letter), but if you really think that he's still not hearing it after that text, give it to him sugar-free: "I can't with this. Do not attend the party, it will be too painful for me."

But whatever happens, accept that it's weird right now, and you can't control when that will stop; you can only trust that it will, but in my experience, if you pretend everything's fine, "fine" takes longer to arrive.

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  • pomme de terre says:

    Ugh, post-split awkwardness. It's the worst. I have a terrible track record for staying friends with exes, not because there's acrimony, but because I tend to avoid them at all costs and then we lose touch.

  • Isis Uptown says:

    You say to Guy, "Do not attend the party."

    To people saying "Where's Guy?" you say,"We broke up, so he didn't come. What a lovely sweater, where did you get it?"

    If Guy shows up anyway, have a co-host say "Over told you not to come. Please go now."

  • garli says:

    I'd text him and tell him not to come. It's awkward, but less awkward then being forced to hang out with him in your house at your party.

  • attica says:

    Hmmm. Can I just say that a guy so unconcerned with your feelings is well got rid of? If I do, will that make it easier to enforce boundaries?

    I otherwise endorse Isis's prescription for pithiness.

  • LDA says:

    This is a professional party, though, right? You're asking to keep someone from a professional party for a personal reason.

    I would consider the options in those circumstances to be "cancel party" or "have a mutual friend tell him that he needs to keep it distant at the party."

  • Miglet says:

    In college I dated a guy in my very close group of friends. He broke up with me a week before my birthday. Our friend M threw a party for my birthday…you see where this is going, right? Yeah, M invited the guy, who not only showed up, but showed up with his ex-girlfriend because they had gotten back together. It was not a fun party.

    So, yeah, put me in the "do not invite" column.

  • Maria says:

    You're hosting, you get to say who comes, period. It's very common for a group of friends to have a party and not invite the whole class or neighborhood or whatever. Most parties have a size limit for resource reasons. He will live through not coming to this one.

    But I do think you need to tell him not to come, since he knows about it and you issued the invitation "department wide". If he was on the email or saw the flyer or whatever, yeah he might decide to think it's an event he "should" be at for department reasons.

    You've gotten great advice about how to deal with the interpersonals of it all, so I hope one of the approaches will work for you. I hope the awk is over soon, and you can go about things with more ease.

  • flora_poste says:

    Just to be a bit nit-picky, if this is really a department-wide grad student event (akin to what might be held by the department itself), I'm not so sure that asking Guy to stay home is really the right course of action. Seems like that would be creating drama more than anything else.

    (If this is totally a private event, then nevermind, he should stay home.)

  • Erin W says:

    I did my Masters in one of those incestuous little departments–and I LOVED it–but excluding certain people from certain things never worked. It was like trying to tell an uncle he wasn't welcome at Christmas. And I'm not saying you're not totally within your rights to not want to see this guy, because I am also a "we've broken up, therefore we cannot speak for the next six months; if you want to be friends, try me then" type. But your other friends don't have that baggage with him, and I fear it will become "Guy can't come because Over's coming" "but we haven't seen Guy in ages" "then maybe we don't invite Over this time." (Also, just to be egalitarian, they are his friends, too.)

    So maybe meet some cool new people in the department next door and hang out with them for awhile, is what I'm suggesting. Which I know is easier said than done for some of us introverts, but you won't regret it.

  • Karen says:

    I dated a guy at work briefly, but nobody knew and then we broke up. Our office was basically junior high recreated – which one reason we kept it quiet. The next day after the break up he showed up at the after hours office birthday party and it was torture. Oh, and we didn't just break up. He said we should break up, oh wait, what do I think?, oh he really doesn't know right now, he needs to sleep on it. So, the birthday dinner was super awkward and I was all alone in the awkwardness. He of course thought nothing of it.

    I would say if Guy shows up – even after he has been asked to say away, don't be in the same room. I am assuming there is at least a kitchen and living room that will be open to the party. And if he lingers – I say leave your own party with some girlfriends and go get some after party drinks. He will probably leave soon after you do.

  • Katie says:

    If you haven't scheduled it yet, you could always try to have it on a day when you know he's busy. You might not be dating anymore, but if you know his schedule, something he mentioned doing around this time, something you know he wants to see on TV…try to have it at a time when he's less likely to show.

  • Jill TX says:

    I think flora and Erin are probably right. Not that it won't be difficult if he shows up, but if this really is a department-wide event, I don't think you can intentionally exclude one person without making things even more tense.

    On the bright side, I suspect this will turn out like a lot of wedding fears we see here on the Vine, wherein that one person the bride was sure would ruin her day barely even registered on her radar. It's a big enough event that you could conceivably ignore/avoid him without anyone really noticing that was your strategy.

    To be clear, Over, you definitely have my sympathies. I just feel strongly that this is a rip-the-Bandaid moment for you, and a big step in your getting past this guy.

  • Antoinette says:

    A graduate student house party is not a professional event.

    A graduate student house party is not a departmental event.

    However, if you do a broadcast email to invite everyone, but ask him not to come, he would have some gossip fodder if he's that type.

  • MizShrew says:

    The department-wide thing does complicate it a bit. Especially paired with his tone-deaf attitude toward your feelings — and I agree with attica, if he's that dismissive toward your feelings you are much better off without him.

    Have you talked with your any of your housemates about this? Any chance one of them could intercede on your behalf? Or at least find out if he's even planning to attend? Perhaps you'll get lucky and he has other plans, or he put on a brand-new pair of Not-An-Asshole Glasses for a change and saw that it would be awkward for everyone. If the friend discovers that he is planning to attend, then you can address the "Hey, Ex, please do not attend the party."

    And if he does attend, it sounds like there will be enough people there that perhaps you can just politely avoid him. If he comes up to you: "Sorry, Ex, I really just can't talk with you now. Not the time or the place, and I have to refill the onion dip anyway. I hope you have fun, 'k bye." Good luck with everything.

  • Dinah says:

    Yeah, if this party is really open to the whole department* telling him not to come is a pretty jerky thing to do. And that's the thing about this sort of break-up, if you want to avoid him then you're the one who's going to have to avoid department events. Which, if your department is anything like mine, isn't really feasible for more than a week, what with seminars and tea hours and shared offices. I think that rather than not seeing him ever you should focus on not talking to him ever. Start talking to a different sub-group within the department or focus on the couple of people you're closest to (and whom he is not close to).

    *I should add the caveat that if it's one of those "large chunk of the department that normally socializes together" things rather than truly the whole department then it's different and I think excluding him isn't an issue.

  • Jen B. says:

    This situation is why I think the "everyone is invited, everyone can attend, we're all adults here" response sometimes doesn't work. This guy sounds like the exact type of person who *doesn't* want everything to be civil, he's a head-f%*$ who wants you to pine for him and give him attention. He will seek you out and passive aggressively converse with you at your own party, figuring that you're not going to enforce your boundaries in front of everyone.

    All this to say, I feel for you.

    Some ideas:
    – Just accept the fact that he's going to come. He might not, but if you decide in your head that he will, there will be less of the frantic "Will he or won't he?" in your head before and during the party.
    – Busy yourself with hostess duties all night, e.g. mingling, facilitating introductions, replenishing the food, etc.
    – Have a stock phrase ready if he tries to talk to you. "Guy, we both know we're not friendly with each other. Let's just leave it alone." You have the right to say it in front of other people if you want to and he puts you in that position.

    Good luck.

  • Cora says:

    Building on what others have said, try to get a handler. Recruit a friend to either bounce him or distract him, or you from him. Also: if you've been dating on-and-off for a year, and everyone in the grad program is this close? They'll either already know you're done, or they'll figure it out pretty quickly. They probably also know how tone-deaf he is, so his not being there, or being bounced, shouldn't come as a big surprise. And: it's one party. You're all in a grad program; everyone is hella busy. Two weeks from now, no one will remember, and you'll be that much closer to getting over it.

  • MinglesMommy says:

    @ Isis: You say to Guy, "Do not attend the party."

    To people saying "Where's Guy?" you say,"We broke up, so he didn't come. What a lovely sweater, where did you get it?"

    If Guy shows up anyway, have a co-host say "Over told you not to come. Please go now."

    NICE. Really well put. I have to remember this!

  • Isis Uptown says:


    As much as people like to know other people's business, they like even more to talk about themselves. So, ask them about their clothes, their clubs, or whatever, and they are less likely to pry into your business.

  • Mary says:

    He is going to say, "So, what, you get to have a party and invite all my friends but I'm not invited?"

    It is TOTALLY OK to say, "Yes. You can organise your own party and not invite me. Thanks, bye."

  • NZErin says:

    Bit late in the replying, but it sounds like you study/live in exactly the same grad school environment as I did. And had a very similar on-off relationship to the one I was in.

    Oh the fraught parties! Oh, the difficulty enforcing boundaries when you might be in different flats but they're basically in the same building!

    It's totally cool to not invite him, but if that doesn't work for whatever reason, you may just have to enact Sars "you've got a cold" advice in reverse. Namely, this party might suck, but you don't have to interact with him. Put on your hostess face and work the room.

    So many good suggestions above, but can I also suggest that you stay sober – best way to avoid a teary scene (I speak from personal experience of not taking this advice!) If you head out afterwards or he leaves, then you crack open a celebratory drink or four.

    Basically, you're not going to be able to avoid him either in the department or socially, so the only thing you can control is your reaction to the situation.

  • Nikki says:

    +1 @Isis

    Just tell people straight – it's totally understandable that he wouldn't attend a party 2 weeks after you broke up. In fact, it will likely be far less awkward for everyone at the party if he is absent.

    Tell it to him straight that you don't want him there. The only thing I can add is not to be "nice" about it. You sent him a text saying "please" do what is best for you. But this is your party… be direct and unapologetic.

  • Ix says:

    @Over: I've got to agree with everyone else here: be direct about it. Tell him not to come, tell anyone who asks why he's not there that you two aren't a thing any more.

    I'd advise against outright stating you asked him not to come; if you say it, he could spin it to make you look over-controlling. If he says it – well, he just looks like he's petty and trying to make you look bad to anyone who'll listen. If it comes up, you wanted for the two of you to have some space away from each other since it's so soon after the breakup.

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