Should I tell my new friends that one of their friends was the other person in my last relationship?

Basically, I either owe him an apology and we hopefully all move on, or if he did know about she and I, then I don't feel like I have much to apologize for at all and it could still be tense.

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About two and a half years ago, I went through a really awful break up. My then-girlfriend of two years had been acting distant in some ways for the previous 5 months or so, was friendly with this guy through mutual friends of theirs (I never met him - we'll call him David), but I wasn't that concerned because everything always felt great when we were together still, which was often. She finally came to me saying we needed a break and after pressing her, she admitted to hooking up with him. I was pretty devastated and I tore into her a bit, and then said some very mean shit to him through Instagram DMs. She told me that he had known about us, and I decided that was enough guilt on his end to earn some of my ire. But a few weeks after doing this, I found out that she had been telling people we were already broken up for that entire distant ~5 months. I realized I probably never should have been mean to him, certainly not if that was his understanding. I imagine she told him I'm her crazy ex after I messaged him (though I sort of became that thanks to her, I very much understood myself to be her boyfriend when they hooked up). 

Since then I've tried really hard to rebuild my life - new friends, new hobbies, got a new job. Then the pandemic ruined most of that and I had to start over again. Made some more friends who I've been hanging with for a about year, and we get along super well and it seems like a great small group of friends. Here's where it gets tricky. Through another mutual friend of theirs, these new friends of mine know David. They took me to a party, where I saw David. My stomach dropped. We live in a big city, we're a couple years older than him, how could this happen? I saw my newish friends hug him and say what's up and I couldn't believe it. Like I said, he and I never met, so I have no clue if he recognized me or not. I managed to avoid him all night and nothing happened, but the next day one of my friend's girlfriend's tagged us both in the same Instagram story (it was a panning video, we weren't super near each other). If he hadn't recognized me before, I'm sure he clicked my tag, saw that he blocked me, and started to remember. I have no idea where to go from here.

Do I tell the friends between us that I don't want to see this guy? On the one hand, it's really humiliating all over again. I'm also worried he may mischaracterize me to my friends. But asking them seems like a lot of responsibility to put on my friends who really don't have anything to do with our beef. I don't want them to feel like they have to choose between us (I don't care if they like him, I just don't want to be around him). On the other, I may have crossed a line with him I really wouldn't have if he didn't know I was still with that girl at the time. Basically, I either owe him an apology and we hopefully all move on, or if he did know about she and I, then I don't feel like I have much to apologize for at all and it could still be tense. Or I can just keep ignoring it and hope for the best. I don't know what he knew at the time, and I definitely don't know how to go about handling this. I've gotten mixed advice from friends & my therapist. What do you think? 

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Oh boy, oh boy this is a spicy one! Let me begin by saying that you are not and were not nuts. I don’t think you acted particularly unreasonably. I’m not saying that messaging the other person in your relationship is kindest most gracious act out there; clearly in an ideal world you wouldn’t have messaged him at all, but also dear god let us not be judged for our actions at our lowest point. On top of that, at the time, you believed that this guy fully knew that you two were a couple. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s particularly banana pancakes to yell at someone who participated in active harm towards you. Again, I’m not for it! I’m not suggesting that everyone who gets cheated on go IG message the other person and shout at them, I’m just saying that I will absolutely give it a moral pass. If I were God or the arbiter of what is good in this world, I would absolutely turn a blind eye to that. Very easily absolvable, in my humble opinion!

What your girlfriend did, and I’m not sure how intentional or premeditated it was, is make you believe you were nuts. She told one truth to you and then who knows how many other “truths” to other people. She told people you guys were broken up for FIVE MONTHS. There is virtually no version of this where you are the “crazy” person. (I don’t usually use that word because of its connotations, but I’m quoting you). There is no world in which her actions aren’t the height of cruelty. I mean… she cheated on you for months and then made you work to get the information out of her. It kind of feels inevitable to me that you did something minorly unkind. I wish it hadn’t been directed towards David—I wish it had been either to her or to an inanimate object—but what can you do?

And then, after being dealt a bullshit hand you did the word to re-fucking-build your life. Twice. Do you know how fucking hard that is??? I mean, you do! Obviously! Because you just did that. But so many people do not do that work ever. Let alone so soon after such a devastating break up.

So we are absolutely NOT going to let David rob you of another great thing—whether he was totally innocent/unknowing or not! We’re just not doing that again. Absolutely not!!! You deserve to have good friends in your life. You and I frankly have no idea of what David did or didn’t know about you and your ex. We don’t know if he thought it was a perfectly kosher hookup or if he was a dickhole. We don’t know! You may never know! So you have to do some somewhat uncomfortable work right now to make sure that you don’t lose something you love (friendship) because of your history with this guy. And the work you’re going to have to do is called: maturity! (Being mature sucks at least 84% of the time so get ready).

Here is what I would do, and you don’t have to do what I would. Keep what works for you and discard the rest. I would talk to a couple of your absolutely closest friends in the new group, the people whose opinion and company means the most to you, and I would say something like this, “Hey, this is going to maybe be super weird and potentially unflattering to myself, but I wanted to explain something now in case it came up in the future. The other night we ran into David when we were out and I actually sort of know him from my past. My ex girlfriend cheated on me with him, actually and I’m very unclear on whether he knew she and I were dating or not when they were together. I did say some really rude things to him at one point when she told me that he did know about her having a boyfriend, and I very much regret that. I’m happy to apologize to him (if he didn’t know about us), should the opportunity arise, but in the meantime, I’m just going to do my best to avoid him so there’s no more conflict. I’m obviously super fine with everyone else hanging out with him, but I just wanted to explain now why I might avoid that situation in the future.”

It’s pretty fucking normal to not want to see the guy your ex cheated on you with, regardless of how you behaved afterward, so no one is going to think you’re a big weirdo. On top of that, giving your friends the information that you did say rude things to him gets in front of any story they might hear from him. The more you own up to your own actions—which were perfectly…fine, if not flawless—the better off you’ll be. You do not need to give tons of details or information, but try to be open if people ask. The last thing you want is for people to get information from him first about your behavior that then makes you feel defensive or judged. He absolutely has his own version of events and it’s fine if they hear that, too! But you don’t want to be hiding anything. Be clear that you’re not proud of what you did, explain broadly the circumstances, and then set your boundaries.

Remember, if you treat this like it’s not a big deal (because it’s ultimately not to your friends) they get to treat it that way, too! You get to set the tone here. And the tone I would try to set if I were you is I’m Very Mature Despite This Shit In the Past and This Is No Big Deal to Me, But Just a Head’s Up So Shit Isn’t Weird In the Future. You are, of course, welcome to entirely avoid this scenario and keep ignoring him/the situation, but I have found in my life that waiting to explain things to people when stuff does become awkward or dramatic is usually a worse choice than laying your shit a little bare in the beginning. I have a very strong feeling that none of your friends are going to be off put or weird about this. In fact, I’d be surprised if they even think about it again after you talk.

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