Dear Carolyn: My friend "Jane" just told me, as a courtesy, that she has struck up a connection with my ex-boyfriend "John" and that things are headed in a romantic direction. John and I dated for about three years ending a year and a half ago; I consider him the one that got away and still have raw feelings of pain when I think of him. There are still local restaurants and social events I avoid so that I don't have to run into him as I try to ready myself for the possibility of a new relationship someday.
Jane did not ask my permission to date John — I would not expect her to. She says she just wanted me to find out directly so it didn't surprise me if I saw them together. I am worried our friendship can't survive it if she starts dating the person who broke my heart.
However, that doesn't seem like something that would be fair for me to tell her. What do I do instead? Stay quiet and silently pull away from the friendship if it turns out that's what I need to do?
Maryland: Tough one, and not much you can do about it. I’m sorry.
But the few things you can do have the potential to make a significant difference:
1. Stop avoiding these places you’re avoiding. You need to demystify them, the sooner the better, especially now. Running into John in the new context of not being his girlfriend is the best way to render seeing him — and render him — as ordinary as possible. If you were stuck seeing him every day, next door or at the next desk or whatever, then that could interfere with getting over him (or accelerate it, depending), but you’re talking occasional contact, so the more that happens, the more of a nonevent it becomes.
As it stands, the “ready myself” plan of avoiding him completely has probably only fed the John mystique. You want to land in the middle somewhere.
2. Don’t stay quiet, but don’t go all in, either, with a prediction that your friendship with Jane likely won’t survive. Just say the minimum: “That will be tough for me, I won’t pretend otherwise. I’m glad you told me though.”
3. If Jane and John become a thing and you conclude that’s it for you and Jane, then don’t “silently pull away.” Again, just say the minimum: “I’m happy you’ve found happiness. I tried to be okay with it, though, and learned it hurts too much to be around you two. I hope you’ll understand.”
By the way — he’s not the one who got away. He’s still around, so he’s the one who didn’t fit. Please, please trust that and free yourself of the image of him you’ve built up.
By the way, I haven’t addressed Jane’s choices here for a reason. It’s possible she could have avoided John with your feelings in mind, but callously chose not to — and it’s also possible she was innocently friendly with John and they fell for each other organically. Dwelling on the “Which was it?” question is wasted emotional energy. Focus on what you need and let the Jane question answer itself.