Dear Emma, WTF?!
I had been married for nearly 30 years to a really nice guy. There was no major wrongdoing on anyone’s part, but ultimately I had to leave the relationship. Since getting divorced two years ago I have certainly struggled emotionally, but I’m also thriving — business is great, I am having tons of fun dating and I love my new apartment in the city, and I’ve connected with a new group of girlfriends who are also single.
I still cherish my old friends that I was close with when I was married. One in particular I was very close with, including together with our husbands. The four of us took many vacations together, spent many weekends away with our kids — who are now also friends with each other — and we’ve been there for each other during the deaths of our parents, job losses and other difficult times.
She is still married. Her husband is a decent guy, but they’ve had rough bouts and they things aren’t great between them, but tolerable, she says.
I’ve made a lot of effort maintaining my relationship with many of my old friends, and this one in particular, as well as her husband. But she is so angry at getting divorced. She says things like: “We all used to have so much fun together. Now it’s awkward when you hang out with Jim and me.” Which, frankly, it is. Even when we go out as girlfriends — just the two of us or with other women – I sense she is catty about my appearance, making comments about my clothes being too “young” or that I’m too skinny (I’m the same weight I have been since college, while she has gained 15 lbs in the past few years). She never asks me about my dating life.
This relationship is so important to me, and, I feel to my children who have known her and her family their whole lives. But the longer I’m single the more painful it is to be friends with her. What should I do?
-Sad in Sarasota
When you divorce, you don’t just divorce your spouse — you divorce your old life. Of course many parts of that old life will remain, including many relationships. But the fallout goes far, far beyond the dissolution of your love affair. But I don’t need to tell you that because you are experiencing that now, first-hand.
That is what no one tells you about divorce: When you’re facing the decision you see the parts that are up in your grill: Your marriage, your children, your financial picture. Sometimes the full picture of the end of a relationship comes many years later, after the ash from the immediate explosion has settled and the first-line players have resumed their lives.
Right now your friend is hurt. When your marriage ended she lost that relationship, too. The divorcing parties and their immediate circles do not have a lock on the pain of divorce.
Also: Major life changes around us force us to reflect on our own situations. It is no wonder that last year Brown University researchers published a study that found a person is 75 percent more likely to divorce if their friend is divorced, and 33 percent more likely if a friend-of-a-friend is split.
As for what you can do: Acknowledge her pain. Usually when people divorce they are met with gestures of support and sympathy. Extend this to your friend.
It sounds like the tenor of the relationship is chilly — not hostile. There is little reason to cut this friend out of your life, and you have not. You also can no longer afford to count her as part of your inner-most circle. I am proud of you for moving into new friendships, dating and growing other parts of your life. Keep doing that. And keep in touch with this woman, keep the connection alive. In months and years from now her situation or your situation will likely change. Or they will not change but you will learn to come together in new ways, ways that are unknown to you now.
Because that is the thing that divorce teaches us: Things change. Shit happens. Things do not stay the same. The sooner you accept that everything has seasons, the sooner you are likely to roll with it — and open yourself up to new and wonderful ways of being in the world. Which is exactly why people divorce in the first place.