Q: Years ago, I had a friend named “Amy” who was very explosive and ended up being verbally abusive toward me. I ended that relationship.
Fast-forward to today – my closest friend “Julie” has recently befriended Amy, and they do lots of social things together most weekends. I feel upset that Julie is becoming close with someone who treated me so poorly.
How do I navigate this? Accept this is life? I want to take the high road.
A: There are actually two things to accept here – that your “closest friend” is becoming close to someone else and that the someone else is a person who hurt you.
Maybe I’m just projecting on the former; it does seem, though, that “lots of social things together most weekends” would inevitably cut into the time Julie has available for you.
Either way, you don’t have to get off the high road to talk to Julie about both concerns, as long as you stick to how you’re feeling.
For example, tell Julie you’re: sad to be seeing less of her; skeptical of the idea that Amy now is so different from Amy then; conflicted by believing both that Julie has a right to befriend whom she pleases and wouldn’t befriend someone who had been so cruel to you; frustrated to be in this position at all; uncertain how to handle it.
To presume to tell Julie whom she can and can’t befriend would be the low road – “Amy goes or I do” or anything similar – as would judging Julie’s decision without knowing more about her reasoning, or about Amy’s behavior now.
The last is where it gets complicated. You’re entitled not to be Amy’s friend ever again, not even if she’s evolved into a living saint, but her past abusive behavior doesn’t disqualify her from ever having friends again. On that, I imagine even you agree; losing your friendship was her punishment for that emotional crime, the correct and proportionate one.
Amy may have learned from your exit, after all, or gotten counseling, or just grown up since then.
But by this logic, and given the passage of years, Julie is just as eligible to be Amy’s friend as anyone else.
The exception is if you believe that any real friend of yours, knowing what Amy did to you, would avoid Amy on principle. That exception is what you need to wrestle with after you’ve talked to Julie. You can’t tell her who her friends can be but you get to decide who your friends are, and what that friendship means. There’s no high-road law that says you can’t rethink Julie for this.
Q: My ex-husband cheated on me with “Helena” for one year before filing for divorce and moving in with her.
Two months after the divorce was final, he began bringing her to my daughters’ soccer games, where she took many pictures and interacted with soccer parents.
My ex has never introduced me to her and tells her I say bad things about her so it has remained contentious. But my kids seem to like her and her teen daughter. So I have accepted all of it with as much grace as possible.
I was OK until this past weekend, when my 9-year-old daughter had a big soccer tournament and Helena and her daughter attended the team lunch – with all the other parents.
I told my ex it was uncomfortable for me as a first-time meeting and to please tell them not to come, but he did not listen and brought her and the daughter anyway. Helena sat in my seat and I did not attend. Was I wrong?
A: If you’re trying to out-wrong your ex-husband, then you’ve got a long way to go, even if you stop reading this right now and go kick puppies. (Please don’t.)
Staying home to avoid making a scene was an act of compassion for your child. It was also your prerogative.
But it would be a terrible precedent if you let it become one.
Your husband has, deliberately or no, arranged things so that you can either avoid conflict or enjoy your daughters’ milestone events, but not both.
And while I can sympathize with your conflict aversion, it will cost you dearly to keep indulging it. How much of your daughters’ lives are you prepared to miss while dodging the mistress?
The first meeting has to happen. So, prepare your kids for it, summon your deepest reserves of grace for it, and walk up to Helena and your ex. “Hi,” as you extend your hand. “I decided we’re overdue to meet.”
Don’t extend this hand or swallow your fury or brave this potential melodrama because they deserve it, but because you and your kids do. Seize what’s yours: the freedom to be where you please. Those two certainly did.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org