Ask Stef: How Do I Deal with Mutual Friends after a Breakup?


Stefanie Marshall

Dear Stef,

I can't stop thinking about my ex and it is interfering with my job, my focus, my everything. I work with them, so I see them every day, but other than that we aren't forced to be around each other. They don't reach out to me and I've only reached out to them a few times under the influence. When we see each other at work, it's just in passing and we don't say anything, but we're cordial and professional. We aren't on the same projects or team, luckily.

The other difficulty is that we dated for a few years and most of our friends we have in common. We both moved to the city at the same time without knowing people, and we were working together, so a lot of our friends are co-workers. So the problem is that outside of work, I still see them a lot if I go out with that group. It's been 9 months and I still don't really feel any further from the break up. I know that I can't avoid them completely at work, but I could avoid them more socially outside of work. Should I? I don't want to give up my friends, but I also don't want to be stuck for another 9 months.



Dear Stuck,

My advice almost always is to divorce yourself from the situation completely, but as I’m sure you can’t quit your job (nor would I recommend it), this is a slightly more complicated situation.  It sounds as though you have the professional aspect under control.  You say you only see them in passing and aren’t working on the same projects.  That’s good.

The social and personal aspects are tricky.  I have always felt that one of the hardest parts of a break up is the custody battle of friendships, especially in a situation like yours where most of these friends have known both of you for the duration of your relationship. I don’t think it is a good idea for you to be placing yourself in social situations with your ex, especially when/if drinking is involved, but I also realize it’s not always that easy.

Your friends are in a difficult situation too. Some of them may feel like they have to choose, and others may naturally lean one way or the other. Since it has been 9 months since the break up, maybe some of them don’t realize you are still hurting. If you feel comfortable, try to express your feelings with those you trust. I think you’ll find they will be more sympathetic than you know.  We’ve all been there.  Your friends want to be there for both of you. They understand.  And if they don’t, if they can’t make an allowance for your pain, then perhaps they aren’t the friend you want anyway.

I have a few suggestions of what you can do. Try to avoid the group gatherings for a few weeks and see if you feel better. You may eventually be in a place where you can hang out as a group, with your ex, but for now it is probably best to hang out with your friends in smaller groups or just one-on-one, when you know that your ex won’t be there. This may mean sacrificing some fun group outings, but the benefit (moving forward) far outweighs the cost (being stuck).

Next, make every effort to reconnect with your other friends outside of this group. This is a great time to reconnect with your close friends who live in other cities or states or countries, even if it’s over Facebook or a text or a phone call. You may not have your best friend down the street, but they can still provide very important support during a difficult time.

Lastly, make friends outside of your current social circle. Go to new places. Start going to a gym. Join a book club. Go to a cafe alone and say hello to someone who looks interesting. Check out or Facebook or the local paper for public events that trigger your interest. I know it sounds daunting, but finding your own friends - your own niche - will help you move forward. This will definitely take a little time, but you are strong.

I'll leave you with this quote: "Make friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow."  Friendships shape your life in a beautiful way. And the best part about them? YOU CHOOSE EACH OTHER. Right now is the perfect time to shake things up, crack your heart open, and see what the world of friendship has to offer.


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