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Context

I recently exited a long term relationship (3+ years). During the last year and a half of the relationship I grew quite close with another friend. This came to a head about six months before my relationship ended, with the realization that this friend and I shared mutual feelings for each other, beyond just friendship.

However, after the initial conversation where we came to this realization (there was wine involved) we rarely talked about it and never in any great depth. By my inaction, I implicitly chose to stay with my then-SO; though again this was never explicitly stated or addressed between this friend and I.

Fast forward to now, after my SO and I have separated. I've been reflecting on the relationship and the things that led to its failure, as one does. One of the conclusions I've come to is that I treated this friend of mine quite terribly during this period. In the vernacular, I "had them on the hook": never outright rejecting them while also keeping a spark of hope alive for "someday".

This, coupled with small things I did throughout this period, contributed to my disrespect of both their time/energy and their feelings for me. Further, some of the things this friend has said to me recently has confirmed my belief that they feel disrespected because of my actions.

To be clear, I have only come to this realization upon reflection after the fact. In the moment, I was completely unaware of the affect I was having on them, which is another problem.

Question

Is there a way that I can convey a sincere apology to this friend without implying that, now that I am no longer in a relationship, I want to get together with them. I want to assure them of the following:

  • I value their feelings
  • I am sorry for disrespecting them
  • I am sorry for not recognizing that I was disrespecting them
  • While this self-reflection happened as a result of my break up, this apology is not a ploy to try to get together with them

I suspect that there may not be a way to accomplish all of the above, so barring that, how can I convey as much of the above as possible?

To conclude, I respect this friend very much, and I highly value their opinion of me. While I accept that I may have irrevocably damaged that opinion, I would at least like to try to apologize for my mistakes. That is more important to me that anything.

  • 3
    Do you plan to romantically pursue this person in the future or act on those mutual (at least in the past) feelings? What relationship with this person do you want going forward, platonic, romantic, none at all and just want to apologize? – spiral succulent Feb 6 '18 at 4:51
  • @spiralsucculent at the moment that is somewhat superfluous. The key point I want to convey is that I regret my actions and, if given the opportunity, would try to make up for them. Anything else beyond that is farther down the road then I'm concerned with at the moment. – enpaul Feb 6 '18 at 10:54
  • What is your relationship with the friend like now? Are you talking regularly, do they know you've recently broken up? – Em C Feb 6 '18 at 14:26
  • @EmC I don't believe they know about the break up yet. They live in a different city than my ex and I and they don't use social media often. Due to the distance, we usually end up visiting each other for a day or so on a weekend every couple months – enpaul Feb 6 '18 at 15:56
  • I applaud you for being honest enough with yourself to admit fault, and for having the decency of wishing to apologize. This is one of those situations where "better late than never" stands true. Sure, it's better not to string someone along at all, but if you have - even unintentionally - coming out and apologizing for it will make you a better person for it. Best of luck. – AndreiROM Feb 6 '18 at 16:22
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Since you seem to be good friends, visiting each other and such, I would go ahead and tell them essentially what you have told us here. As a rough outline,

Ex and I broke up recently, and I've been doing a lot of introspection as a result. I realize now, looking back, that I had treated you pretty poorly during that time and didn't respect your feelings, and I'm very sorry for that. I really value your friendship, and hope you can forgive me.

Keep focused on your remorse for past actions and respect for them, and don't mention feelings beyond appreciating them as a friend.

It's great to have concrete examples of what you value about the friendship too, e.g. "I really value your feedback on my fanfiction" or "You're the best checkers player I know!" This keeps the conversation grounded and is an opportunity for you to be clear about what you're hoping for going forward. (Something like "I hope we can still hang out", on the other hand, is fairly vague and could be interpreted as a potential for dates, especially if they wanted to see it that way.)

If it's true, you could also explain if you're still processing the breakup, e.g. "I feel terrible about for how selfish I was being without even realizing it, so I think I need to spend the next few months to seriously reflect and work on myself." That way, they know you are focusing first and foremost on becoming a better person, rather than seeking a replacement relationship. If you are worried about lingering feelings, this will help make it clear you're not trying to get into that right now.

I would steer very clear of the (drunken?) confession of feelings here, especially as you haven't discussed it since. Bringing it up now will just muddy the waters - if you two still have mutual feelings when you are ready for a relationship, you can talk about it then :) If not, it will just be a painful reminder at a time when you're trying to apologize.

  • Thank you for the advice. The two parts I think I needed was asking for forgiveness and highlighting other parts of our friendship that I value. I hadn't considered those, but I think that might make the difference. Thanks! – enpaul Feb 7 '18 at 20:27
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How can I convey as much of the above as possible?

Ultimately, what will convey this the most is not through an apology, but your actions.

Stating each one of those points in an apology is still a good start though; just keep in mind that apologies are tricky and can backfire if approached with the wrong mindset. Luckily it seems from your question that you are already aware of this but I will highlight some reasons why just for the sake of saying it. You expressed remorse, took responsibility, did not try to make excuses, are not trying to gain something through apologising and did not expect that everything will be immediately forgiven. If you can keep this in mind when you apologise then it should not backfire and will be a big help when you start on the real answer to your question, which is showing her with your actions.

If you want her to know you respect and value her feelings, then value her feelings and do things that show you value her feelings. Exactly the same goes for all the other points; you want to convey that your reform is not a ploy to try and get together with her, then after telling her in the apology, show it and after [X] amount of time she will understand that you were sincere.

Lastly, circling back to the worry you expressed in your question, that at the time of apology she believe it is implied that you are trying to get back together with her. With my answer, what I am saying is the best you can do at the time is tell her openly and sincerely. Either she will believe you or not, but it is what you do after that really matters in terms of conveying those things to her.

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Timing seems critical here. You have just broken up with someone, and unless that is super-top-secret then there is a chance that the friend to whom you wish to apologise knows about this. Perhaps you share even just one common friend, or maybe she's seen your relationship status on social media, there are a number of ways she could know. Even if she doesn't, it might be one of the first things she asks you if you got back in contact and unless you lie then it will have to come out. So, if you contact her right now there is a very high chance that she will either think (a) you want to get back together, or at the very least (b) that your breakup has prompted the contact and you're going through a post-breakup 'what does it all mean' thing.

The thought also occurs that you may also be in denial about your reasons to contact her. It would be understandable, you have just gone through a breakup and you surely are going over the reasons why it ended in your mind. Why else has this old flame suddenly come back to mind? It can't be coincidence.

I am not going to provide suggested wording as to what you should say to her if you do talk, only say that you should go with your instincts but consider holding off for now. You may not still feel it is necessary to apologise when you are fully over the breakup, but if you do, it won't seem to her like you are on the rebound.

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