SocietyNovember 26, 2016

Hello Caller: I’m spending New Years with my ex. How can I make this not suck?


Being forced to socialise with the person who broke your heart is hard enough at the best of times, says in-house counsellor Ms X – but mix in end-of-year emotion and plenty of alcohol and you’ve got a combustible situation.

Kia ora Ms X.

I recently had my heart broken and I’m seeking your advice.

My ex-boyfriend, who was prior to that my friend, is part of a large group of friends I’m going away with for five days over New Years.

Being together socially still feels quite painful for me at least, and we are both very aware of each other in group situations. Though we’re both really respectful of the other, and can talk about the awkwardness together pretty well.

He’s said he can not go, but I don’t want that as I would feel really stink to disconnect him from his friends. And selfishly, I still want to go of course. We’ve both had shit years and for either of us to miss out on our mates would be stink, I think.

I’m hopeful it can work, but wondering if you have any advice about (a) how to prepare myself and/or (b) how to make it as ok as possible for us both, and the group at large?


Kia Ora Caller,

Look at you being an adult!

Knowing something will be difficult and preparing yourself for it demonstrates good emotional maturity so go ahead and high five yourself in the least embarrassing way you can.

Changing relationships takes work. Actual time and effort, not just wishful thinking. I reckon you are showing great potential just in recognizing that you both deserve a decent break and wondering how to do it.

Part of how you successfully transition to friends could be indicated in how you broke up. Have a think about that. Are there still overwhelming feelings for either of you? Was someone more hurt by the break up? Because it understandably takes longer to reset to neutral for someone who has been very hurt.

So, you have just over a month to prepare for this. I don’t think you are being selfish in wanting to still go away and you are also being considerate of him by insisting he should as well so lets think practically and realistically about how.

My first thought was that because you say your ex is aware of this awkwardness, you ask him to meet up a couple of times before the holiday. This means you are somewhat desensitized to each other and not doing this whole “oh hi there person I used to go out with” performance in front of your friends.

You may be able to explain it to him like this: “I want us both to have a good break with our mates at New Years but I still have some of the usual feelings people do after a break up. I thought one way we could avoid it being weird is if we spend a little bit of time together before the holiday. I guess the goal would be to move us closer to where we used to be as friends. I don’t want to undo the past but I’d also like to get through this ‘just broke up’ phase before the holiday.”

If he sees the sense in that then you can have a couple of coffees and hang out a bit before the holiday. Keep it low key and sober and non date-like. By which I mean don’t get drunk and fuck because that won’t help the holiday weirdness.

But if for some reason your ex doesn’t like the pre-holiday hang out suggestion and you go away together without having spent a bit of ordinary friend time, then be extra careful.

You could ask one or two friends that you trust to establish a safety word/phrase for the duration of the holiday. A safety phrase is for when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by any range of feelings or chardonnay. You say your safety word to a friend and they take you somewhere else so you can chill out and calm down or sober up and sleep it off.

Hot Tip: Safety words are only really effective when they don’t get the attention of absolutely everybody. Lean towards benign phrases like “have you got a some panadol?” or “I might get a bit of fresh air” rather than “Code Red!” or “Sweet Baby Jesus save me from the feelings!” Especially don’t do it like this, ok?

Now Caller, while I admire your humanity and maturity, just remember a couple of things. Because this is a process that can involve some of the more difficult members of the feelings family like jealousy and grief, one or both of you may not be ready to slide into the friend zone just yet. I am also aware that this holiday you are going on includes New Years Eve, which is a minefield that involves alcohol, snogging people at midnight and a lack of sleep.

I have made what are optimistic suggestions based on your good intentions and I notice that you thoughtfully asked how to approach this for yourself, your ex and the whole group of friends. I’d suggest that if you go on this trip you prioritise yourself and self care. It’s lovely that you are considerate of everyone else involved but don’t minimise your own needs.

If you give it a try and it doesn’t work for one or both of you right now then don’t despair. It might just be that you need more time apart. This does not make you a failure at adulting.

In fact, if it all proves too difficult then as Tay-Tay would advise, shake it off, be kind to yourself and have a read of this.

Because taking a break with someone you have recently broken up shouldn’t cause a break down.

Ms X

Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.

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Need help now?

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Youthline 0800 376 633

OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463

More helplines can be found at the Mental Health Foundation’s directory. For a list of Māori mental health services, click here.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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