Holiday heartaches

My ex -- who broke up with me two months ago -- will probably be at a New Year's party I want to attend. Should I go and risk seeing him?

By Cary Tennis
Published December 2, 2003 8:34PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I moved to Europe seven months ago to get my Ph.D. Two months ago, my boyfriend of five years broke up with me over the telephone, saying that the distance was too hard and that our relationship "wasn't worth the effort." I have not had contact with him since the breakup, and have been focused on working through this.

I will be visiting the U.S. for Christmas, and would like to attend the annual New Year's Eve party my ex-boyfriend and I both traditionally attend. The hostess has said that my comfort and happiness are a priority and if I wish, my ex will not be invited. My dilemma is that my ex would not require an invitation to attend. I don't know if I am ready to see him or talk to him, but I do know I'm not prepared to do so at a party.

I've considered that the simplest solution would be to not attend the party, but it is an opportunity to see many people I have no other possibility to see. Is it appropriate for me to mail him a letter requesting he not attend? Should I see him at all? I'm not ready to have a friendship with him yet, and I'm not interested in updating each other on our lives. I would be willing to see him if it would facilitate my healing process.

Need Your Insight

Dear Need Your Insight,

If he was a really classy guy, he would not attend the party. He would let the hostess know that because he'd broken up with you, he was not attending; he'd give you that gift. He'd know that the hostess would then tell you he would not be attending; he'd know how relieved you'd be.

But since he broke up with you on the phone, let's assume he's not all that classy a guy, however stellar his other attributes are.

So let's say, best-case scenario, you get to town a couple of days before the party and go see him, not to discuss anything, really, but just to lay eyes on him to find out what it feels like to lay eyes on him. That way you can go to the party knowing what it feels like to lay eyes on him, so you're not distracted by anticipation of that moment.

Bottom line, regardless: You're going to the party. Things like that are so important: traditions, your friends. For you to triumph over this little social obstacle is important too, I think -- not to be cowed or robbed of an experience that belongs to you.

I don't think it's a good idea to ask him not to attend, or to ask the hostess not to invite him. If you ask him not to attend, you're giving him power over your fate. Don't give him that power. Deal with it yourself, if he's there or not there.

So do the courageous, classy thing and show up at the party regardless of what he does. If he's there, treat him with measured coolness. Just don't pay him any mind. I know that may be difficult to do, but it's not at all impossible. It's a great skill, in fact: to be able to face people with whom you have a troubling relationship and not have to get into it. To be above it. To act with some dignity and cool.

Let him be the one who's freaked out and nervous.

Oh, here's the other thing: You say it's a New Year's Eve party. Isn't that the party where everybody gets drunk and kisses each other? If I were you, for just this New Year's Eve, I would stay sober. I'm not saying I think getting drunk on New Year's Eve is a bad thing. But this is one year where you're not in a position to let it all hang out. You need control. You need to pull this one off with coolness, control and dignity.

All your friends will be impressed at how you iced him out so smoothly.

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Cary Tennis

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