Auntie SparkNotes: Staying Good Friends With a Terrible Ex
I have an unorthodox ex-boyfriend problem. We're extremely good friends and always have been. But when we dated, things got reeeeaaally bad. Like soul-crushing, difficult-to-put-into words bad.
The beginning of our relationship was really great, and we were both incredibly happy. We talked like we knew each other for years and would always have so much fun together. However, things really changed when we became sexually active. Over the course of several months, he started wanting nothing but sex, to the point of never doing anything else, even when I asked if we could. He'd get angry at me if I wanted to talk to him or watch TV or just have his attention in any way that didn't involve sex. He treated me like an object and wouldn't stop, even though I told him how it made me feel. I spent about a year fighting to get back the happy, loving relationship that we had, but eventually I just ended it because I felt so miserable and hopeless all of the time because of it.
That was about seven months ago and now that sex and any romance is out of the picture, we're friends again, and it's just like it was before. We talk to each other almost all day, everyday, and we can talk about almost anything. But I think back to how he treated me, and I get so angry and upset that I can barely talk to him. I haven't told him about this because he is an extremely emotionally sensitive person and some subjects are a minefield that can make him explode at any second, and our past relationship is one of them. I don't know what to do; I fear that telling him how I'm feeling could ruin our friendship, but I question whether this really is a good friendship to keep, considering how he treated me when we were together.
Riiiiiiiight. Because he's treating you so much better now, isn't he? I mean, it's not like he's still shutting you down, or ignoring your feelings, or using emotional blackmail and manipulation to get you to do what he wants!
...Oh, except for the part where he's totally doing ALL those things.
In fact, Sparkler, there's virtually no difference between the relationship you ended a year ago and the friendship that took its place. What happened then is what's happening now, except that where before he was manipulating you into having sex, now he's manipulating you into staying silent. He's using his volatility to keep you walking an ever-shrinking line, and he's doing a hell of a job of it, too—since you speak up, he flips out, and you obediently add one more item to the list of Things I Will Never Mention Because He'll Get Mad. Do you see how twisted that is? To let someone else control your behavior, because he refuses to control his own?
And make no mistake: when you said that your ex is "emotionally sensitive" and that "some subjects are a minefield" and that being open about your feelings would "ruin your friendship," every red flag in the known universe went rocketing skyward at once. A person who can't admit that he did something wrong, and to whom you can't suggest as much without being punished for it, is every kind of bad news. And if you're wondering how bad, consider that you can find this exact behavior described in every list ever written about the warning signs of emotional abuse.
What does this mean for your friendship? First, that the only possible future for it is one in which you have a voice, speak your mind, and refuse to let him cow you into silence—and in which he drops his defenses, hears you out, and says, "I was wrong, and I'm sorry." Because he was, and frankly, he knows it; the reason he's made your relationship off-limits for discussion is that he can't bear to confront how terribly he treated you. But you deserve that confrontation. You deserve to be heard and acknowledged. You deserve to cry out in pain without being punished for making noise.
You deserve better than this, darling. You know you do.
And I'll be honest: there may be no "better" that keeps this guy in your life. There may be no place for you in this friendship that puts you and your feelings on equal footing with his. And even if there is, there may be no happiness for you there. You've lasted this long by dressing up his ugliness in rationalizations and excuses; once you stop, you may find that it's very, very ugly indeed.
Would you stick around to save this friendship, or cut and run? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.