‘Unfriending’ in Real Life

Dear Paulo, How do I relate with someone whom I lost all respect for as the result of our romantic relationship that is now over? Unfortunately, I can’t just avoid him, because we share a social network that includes several friends and interest groups in common, and neither of us wants to lose a big part of our life just because we didn’t work out.
– Delilah, Portland Age 33.

First of all, let go of any residual blame. Forgive the other person for not having lived up to the projections you shined on him (and vice-versa, to be sure). We all have a reflected sense of self, and enjoy being other-validated. It feels good to be desired and appreciated; it’s intoxicating. But now is the time to hold onto the part of you that is self-validating. To this highly conscious part, everything happens for a good reason (i.e. personal growth), and it just doesn’t matter what other people think (they don’t do it that much anyway :-).

Considering that you are going to be running into this guy, however, it’s useful to realize that you will be having an ongoing ‘relationship’ with him, whether you like it or not. What you are dealing with here is changing the form of this relationship—as opposed to the notion that a “relationship” must be all or nothing.

You had hopes with this guy for intimacy, and discovered that (for mutual reasons) it’s not going to work. So, what form do you want now? If you are reacting emotionally and are still shouting “nada,” you are blinded to what may be in your best interests. If you are not ready to get beyond reaction, then perhaps you really should totally avoid him for a month or two. Time heals all wounds and you’ll come around to being able to treat him as an acquaintance you can’t rely on … and whom you cannot take too seriously. (What a fool that he passed up the opportunity to adapt to and change himself for you, right?)

Most intimate relationships begin by meeting someone at work or in our social groups. Nothing against online or blind dates, but this local, organic approach often feels more natural and can work out (for a while). But even though your wider group of friends may have observed and been privy to the details of your relationship, you never agreed to bet your entire social life on a single relationship, did you? Don’t politicize what happened. Be cool about the fact that “you win some, you lose some.”

If you find yourself feeling out of sorts in public when he’s around, just try to act naturally. Avoid conversations with him, ignore him as best you can without being pointed or obvious about it. Carry on doing what you like to doincluding going out with someone else from a common group. Don’t even consider what others might think or feel … you’re self-validating now, baby. Do your own harmless thing without regard for whatever you think others might think—we never know what people are thinking (hint: it’s generally about them, not us)! As they remind us in 12-step programs “What you think of me is none of my business!” Instead of worrying about what others might think, focus on learning as much as you can about how to hold onto yourself (and pick better partners as a result). And don’t forget to enjoy this learning process. After all, that’s one big thing relationships are for!