Friendship in hindsight: What went wrong with this office friendship?

Published: January 31, 2011 | Last Updated: February 1, 2011 By | Reply Continue Reading


Dear Irene,

I’m 25 years old and currently live in Germany. A year ago I entered into a relationship with a man who works at the same institute as me. His ex-girlfriend also works there and we have friends in common. He broke off the relationship with her about eight months before but they maintained a friendship (no kissing or sleeping together). She kept hoping he would change his feelings.


When she found out about our relationship, she cut off communication with him. I understood she was hurt and needed time to get over him. Although she told our common friends that she had no problems with me, I tried to remain private. I spent less time with my friends because going out with the group meant I couldn’t bring my new boyfriend since his ex would be there. I discreetly organized get-togethers involving my closest friends and my new boyfriend.


Here comes the issue. My best female friend started to get close with his ex. She started things with her that she used to do with me. For example, she would call her for lunch or for a coffee break and stopped asking me. I told her that although I had a new boyfriend, we didn’t have to be less friendly. She reacted in a nice way, seemingly happy that I missed her.


The next weekend she organized a get-together with lots of people and after that, I asked her to get together with me. As time passed, however, she began to grow distant. I started to think that maybe her problem was my boyfriend, that she didn’t like him or didn’t feel good about him since she was now close to his ex.


Then I found out the ex was organizing things with our common friends and no one was telling me. I felt excluded, especially because my best friend hadn’t told me. I got really upset when she invited me to her birthday party, but not my boyfriend—because his ex was going to be there. When I didn’t attend, she took it badly. She thought I was selfish and didn’t really caring about her birthday. Maybe it’s true, but it was a way for me to protest for what was happening. I told her I felt excluded and that she was drifting away from me, and that she never showed interest in going out with us as a couple (She also has a boyfriend).


When I got back from a holiday, I resolved to just let it go, feeling I had put too much pressure on her. However, she also had thought about this and invited us for dinner with her boyfriend and others. Two months later she left for a good job offer in another country but at least during those two months it was much better.


The thing that remains in my mind now is jealousy. We never spoke about this but I have the impression that she was jealous. Her acting cold towards me made me feel jealous, too. Independently of what I think, and knowing that you only have my version of the story and probably many details missing, I would very much appreciate your insight, comments or advice for the future.




Dear Maren,

This was a complicated situation and I think there are several lessons that you can take away from this friendship. First, it underscores the complexity of getting romantically involved with co-workers and also of getting involved with an ex of someone you know. This can make people around you feel uncomfortable, even best friends.


Second, it highlights the importance of talking to your best friend as soon as problems crop up in a relationship. It’s good that you told her you missed her when she started to distance herself but you probably should have had a longer dialogue to find out if she felt uncomfortable because of her relationship with your boyfriend’s ex—and how you could make things easier. She may also have had strong feelings about your getting involved with someone in the workplace. Your relationship with your boyfriend placed her in an awkward situation, too, and it would have been good to talk it through so it was easier for both of you.


Given the situation, I think it was appropriate that she invited both her girlfriends but left your boyfriend out. Since birthdays are special milestones that are often emotionally laden for many women, you should have attended her party if you consider yourself a good friend. Had you had the lengthy conversation I suggested before, this might have avoided your need to wage this "protest" about being excluded from prior social activities. This was bad timing.


It’s nice that you ended up on good terms with your friend before she left but as long as you’re romantically involved with your boyfriend, you need to continue to be attentive towards the feelings of other co-workers, including his ex.

Hope this helps.



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