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How Do I Get My Best Friend To Stop Micromanaging My Breakup?

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!

I recently had a short, four-month relationship end with someone because they had to move away. It was a tough decision, because I got along really well with this person and saw us being together for a long time. We broke up over a month ago and both agreed it would be best to see other people but keep in touch. I am actually happy with everything going on with this part of my life, and I am moving on in my own way even if we text every day. The problem is with my best friend, who won’t quit asking me about it. He was initially sad for me when we broke up and asked how things were going, which I appreciated. However, he thought our plan to stay in touch was a bad idea and that I should “cut her loose.” I told him that both her and I are fine keeping in touch and don’t want to stop. Ever since then he wouldn’t stop asking how things were going and insists it’s a bad idea to text each other. Now I’ve started to lie about it to get him to stop. I don’t know how to tell my closest friend that I don’t want him to ask for updates anymore. Ethan

Walt: This person just wants to gossip, and it’s way too close to home for Ethan.

Morgan: I don’t understand why this friend would be so obsessed with Ethan’s dating life unless he has experienced and been hurt by a similar situation. Then again, often times there are people who want to “save” others. They have paternal/maternal tendencies, and they think they know what’s best for their friends.

Walt: I get the vibe that Ethan doesn’t date much. That’s not a bad thing at all! It strikes me that the friend came into this with the best intentions though, given that “Ethan in a relationship” was a new thing, and now the friend does not really know what to ask next.

Morgan: Right. I think the friend’s intentions are good and he really cares for Ethan. But sometimes people have to learn when to dial it back and let others learn and mature in their own way.

Walt: I haven’t encountered a case of someone caring so much about a four-month relationship since Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock broke it off.

Morgan: LOL! A four-month relationships can be significant. I’ve dated men for three months and felt very intensely. This usually happens for people who don’t date much, and that may have been the case for Ethan.

Walt: What if Ethan’s friend is stirring up drama for its own sake though? He’s second-guessing Ethan’s decision to keep in touch. He’s goading him over the following weeks until he’s so exasperated, Ethan’s lying just to get him to stop. That, or Ethan’s friend is asking on someone else’s behalf? I don’t know.

Morgan: But drama for what reason? Because he’s so bored with his own life? I’m also wondering if Ethan’s friend may be asking on someone else’s behalf. If he’s not romantically interested in Ethan, then why does it seem like he has such an investment in all of this?

Walt: Some people just like to gossip.

Maybe Ethan’s ex is back-channeling through Ethan’s friend?

Does Ethan’s friend feel threatened by Ethan’s relationship with his ex? As Ethan later added, “I literally text and call this girl every week and am perfectly happy with how it has gone so far.”

Morgan: Wait … I think that’s exactly it. He feels threatened.

Walt: Ethan needs to ask his buddy what the real problem is — because there’s some other level to this we (including Ethan) are not picking up.

Morgan: Right. Or he can continue to lie to his friend about the relationship status.

Walt: Lying. Brilliant. Always my favorite answer.

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran Aug. 9-12 and received 1,009 responses. We presented respondents with Ethan’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.

  1. Stop talking with the friend about keeping in touch with the ex.

    38.9%

  2. Ask the friend if he feels threatened by the ex.

    24.5%

  3. Tell the friend to stop creating drama.

    15.2%

  4. Continue lying to the friend about keeping in touch with the ex.

    2.3%

  5. None of the above is good advice.

    19.2%

Walt: No decisive answer here! Wow!

Morgan: This one was a bit complex, though. I’m not surprised that confronting the friend or declining to talk about it are the two most popular responses.

Walt: Right. However, this is somewhat surprising:

SHARE OF RESPONSES
FEMALE MALE
Stop talking with the friend about the ex 44% 33%
Ask if the friend feels threatened 22 28
Tell the friend to stop creating drama 13 18
Continue lying about the friendship 2 3
None of the above is good advice 19 19

Morgan: I’m trying not to be gender essentialist here, but I’m surprised that fewer men than women thought it was a good idea to decline chatting about the friendship.

Walt: I too was not trying to be a gender essentialist but came to a similar “huh?” Men? Turning down an opportunity to avoid a conversation? This is madness.

Morgan: Yeah, OK, that’s surprising to me. When stuff is going down in our relationships, we usually talk.

SHARE OF RESPONSES BY AGE GROUP
18-29 30-44 45-59 60+
Stop talking with the friend about the ex 27% 40% 43% 44%
Ask if the friend feels threatened 28 24 23 23
Tell the friend to stop creating drama 17 17 14 13
Continue lying about the friendship 5 3 1 0
None of the above is good advice 23 16 19 19

Walt: The older someone was, the more likely they were to just shut it down.

By a lot.

Morgan: Would you say that the older you get, the less bullshit you put up with?

Walt: I would say so, yep. I am super not shocked on that front!

Morgan: Neither am I, friend.

Walt: So anyway: Talk it out, guys! There’s no need to feel threatened. Unless you’re over the age of 60, in which case never speak about your feelings ever again.

More of our advice:

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

Morgan Jerkins is a writer living in New York City.

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