My ex drained me dry, and now he’s everywhere I go

'My friends are the only thing I have after all the trauma I’ve been through, so I can’t drop them despite his proximity to them when I go out. Avoiding him is impossible. I'm so triggered.'

Q:

I met my ex several years ago through friends of friends. It was the best of times and, eventually, the worst of times.

I let him live with me far too long after the relationship ended, and he continued to take advantage of me financially and emotionally. He didn’t work. He didn’t do housework. And I paid for everything. 

I was in my darkest place for a while, then slowly began to heal. When he finally left, he first slept on mutual friends’ couches, and sometimes at his mom’s place out of town. Good riddance. 

Recently, he’s back in town more and more. We still travel in the same friend circles, and seeing him triggers me. My friends warn me when he is around so I can avoid him, but it’s clear he has no plans to respect my boundaries — I don’t want him around me, and he doesn’t care. 

My friends are the only thing I have after all the trauma I’ve been through, so I can’t drop them despite his proximity. How do I bring an end to this cycle of setbacks? Avoiding him is impossible and every time I see him, I feel like I’m back at square one.

Dear Trigger Happy:

Not to minimize your experience, but there’s trauma, and there’s drama. Your ex isn’t required to make new friends, travel in new circles, or care about your preferences. It’s not even your friends’ responsibility to disown their other friend.

It’s a harsh truth, but your triggers are your problem. The good news is, you are available to fix it.

We could talk all day about your ex’s transgressions, or the fact that he was or still could be in as bad a place as you. He’s not your problem any more, and gratitude for that fact is a great place to start.

You’re not upset at him anyway. You’re mad that you put up with it for so long. You’re frustrated that it’s taking time to get over it. His presence reminds you that you’re angry at yourself. Simply understanding that these feelings are totally natural can be a relief.

Now for the biggie: Forgive him. Yes, even if he doesn’t deserve it. It stops him from living inside your head the way he lived in your apartment — rent free. Acknowledge him as part of the past, and decide that he’s going to be inconsequential to your future.

While you work on evicting him in your mind, with professional help if necessary, there are some logistical steps you can take as well. It’s not actually impossible to avoid him entirely and get new friends, but there’s an easier way. 

Rather than change your life, change your mind. Avoid him for a time if you really need to, but don’t hide and exacerbate the problem. Once your ex’s power over you isn’t the focus, and you tune into controlling your own thoughts and actions, you may learn to look past or right through him. That is, if there’s no hope of peace between you.

All of this takes time, but using it productively makes it go faster.

The Q is for entertainment purposes and not professional counseling. Send your burning Qs to [email protected]

Illustration by Brad Gibson

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the latest issue, enjoy all of the past editions of The Q advice column, and look for a new issue of Q each week online and around town.