With Friends Like These…

A regular reader emails that she’s going through a difficult divorce. It’s not about money, and there are no kids to worry about. The problem is with her friends. It seems that they’re shunning either her or her former husband with no reason or explanation. She’s confused and hurt, because some of those friends were people who originally knew her and not her husband. She asks if this is normal.

If by “normal” you mean “reasonable,” I’d say no. Nonetheless, it is typical for people to take sides in these situations. First, your friends are not mind readers. They haven’t necessarily been through this before. They’re not sure what to do when their good friends break up. Unfortunately, many people are not independent thinkers, and when confronted with a dilemma they either ignore it or hope it will resolve itself. It’s not ideal or mature behavior, but it’s the way many people are.

Out of regard for the connection you once enjoyed, you might consider approaching them individually. Say something like, “I know this must be hard for you. Can we come up with some ground rules to clear the air, and, if possible, make it easier for all concerned?” You might suggest that you don’t mind that they invite your ex- to some events without inviting you. That’s probably best for everyone, at least in the first year. After that, who knows? Tell them that you’ll be hurt if you’re never invited at all, and that you still want to stay friends. In fact, you can bypass the invitation issue altogether by simply initiating things with individual friends or couples separately. The issue isn’t as much about ground rules as it is about clearing the air.

A couple I know who recently broke up sent out an email to all of their good friends. The email informed everybody of the breakup, and cleared the air about some of the matters I suggested above. In at least some cases, this led to individual friends getting together with one or the other party to talk in more detail about what was happening. Some of the friends became even closer, and it was all because of this group email. You can choose your preferred avenue through which to do this, just so it breaks the ice by clearing the air.

Don’t be a victim, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Isn’t it bad enough that I’m going through a breakup? Now I have to expend energy for my friends, too?” Well, yes, you do. Your friends didn’t ask for this. If you made any major life change, such as moving, you wouldn’t expect your friends to know your new address without your telling them. It’s the same with your divorce, especially when they were friends with you both. The occasional mature and proactive friend will come to you and say some of these things, but frankly, most people are not that mature and proactive. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile friends.

Anybody who rejects such an overture is not really your friend, at least not any more. That’s OK. Nothing lasts forever; even your marriage reached an end. Endings are not tragedies and are as much a beginning as anything else. Your breakup is painful, but it’s also an opportunity for a new beginning. You’ll lose or outgrow some friends. The ones you keep will be stronger bonds than ever. And just because you are divorcing doesn’t mean you’ve lost the ability to make new friends who can accept you for who you are now.
No matter what you do, it’s all going to be new, and the sooner you get used to it, the better. If you view it as a bad thing, it will taint everything you do and say. Your friends, both old and new, will sense this and back away.

Divorce and breakups are always sad, but in order to keep up your social activities, you need to watch your attitude.

Give your friends some room to cope by being both vulnerable and considerate. What doesn’t kill a friendship will make it stronger than ever. And the ones that go by the wayside probably should have done so anyway.