Should I give this friendship another chance?
August 27, 2012 6:04 PM   Subscribe

A close friend, "Tom" has just gotten engaged to somebody, "Jane", who, in the recent past, despised me for reasons unknown and said terribly hurtful things to me. I am 100% ready to be pleasant and graceful about this, but Tom wants me (and my spouse) to be good friends with Jane. I am not interested in this. Help me figure out how to navigate this situation.

The history, as brief as I can make it:
I met Jane several years ago, after she and Tom began dating. One of the first times we spent time together was on a long drive and some hikes over a weekend. During that time (not just the weekend, but the surrounding several years) I was in extremely poor health - a chronic condition. During the weekend, I had a particularly severe flare-up and felt *awful*. I informed the group that I wasn't well, without complaining, and tried to participate as best I was able. It was a terrible weekend for me, and I subsequently went to therapy for a year to deal with my significant anxiety about ruining group activities for others due to my unpredictable condition.

Nearly a year after that trip, Jane emailed me and my spouse. She was absolutely FURIOUS with us, especially me, for what she perceived as neglect, "vile treatment", hostility, extreme selfishness and a whole host of other sins on our part. She said she had never been treated as badly as a human being. (The weekend had been spent with members of my family, who are sensitive and caring people. They had not noticed any such treatment and were as confused as I was to hear Jane's accusations [second hand only, from me].)

Shocked - neither of us have ever had a fight with a friend in our lives, let alone an accusation of this magnitude - my husband and I both spent most of the day writing deeply heart-felt apologies for not making her feel more included and appreciated. I also mentioned that my demeanor during that weekend was due to my medical condition.

Unfortunately, our apologies were unanswered and the situation got much worse. Over the next two years, we bent over backwards to patch things up with Jane, for Tom's sake. (We spoke about this openly with Tom.) You are going to have to believe me when I say that we tried very, very, very hard to be warm, accepting and interested. Jane responded to our efforts with vitriol. Every little thing we did - even asking her about her activities and interests, which she had specifically requested - was twisted in to more proof that we are bad people. In particular, she wrote one extremely hurtful email directed at me specifically after a short hour-long meeting we had shared in a train station. During the meeting, Jane literally refused to look at me and gave one-word answers to my friendly questions, making it the most awkward and baffling half-hour of my life. Jane accused me of being extremely selfish, holier-than-thou, immature, incapable of being kind to others - the works. I cried all day. My husband also had a very, very uncomfortable meeting with Jane at which she made it very clear that she was never going to give him a second chance as a person.

Ultimately, my husband and I wrote to Tom and said that while we wished him and Jane happiness, we were no longer willing to spend time with Jane. We thought this was the end of the situation.

HOWEVER.... Jane changed her mind. Jane emailed us to say that she had realized that she was in the wrong. She apologized. We each wrote brief emails saying that we accepted her apology and wished her the best. We still thought this was the end of the situation.

But now, Jane and Tom have gotten engaged, and they are both obviously interested in starting over with this "couples friendship". Jane has written two very short, friendly emails. She even baked cookies that she included when returning a borrowed item. Tom has suggested we all have dinner, or that we go on a day trip. [Note: my husband and I have maintained a good relationship with Tom throughout this ordeal. We have certainly never complained about Jane to Tom. We are not sure if Tom saw Jane's emails or not.]

So here's my dilemma.
On the one hand, I have no interest in being friends with Jane. We have nothing in common, and there is a LOT of lingering hurt and mistrust on my part. I feel like there are lots of other things in to which I want to invest my emotional energy and time.

On the other hand, I have forgiven Jane. Sometimes second chances are important. Tom really, really wants us all to be friends. Jane wants to turn over a new leaf. And, they are going to be married. It will be difficult to maintain the significant friendship with Tom without including Jane. (It already IS difficult.)

My question: In my shoes, would YOU open yourself up to a friendship with Jane?
posted by Cygnet to Human Relations (61 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have a feeling this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but my answer is yes. Yes, if I were you, I would open myself up to a friendship with this woman, but I wouldn't bend over backwards or put myself out to make it happen. It sounds like she was absolutely horrid to you without reason, but people can change, and she might be strongly regretting her previous actions.

A brief anecdote: I treated a good friend of mine's boyfriend pretty terribly at one point. In my defense, I didn't think very highly of him because he had dumped her cruelly, and when they got back together I thought it wouldn't last. He struck me as a smarmy ass. In the end, I was wrong, and they ended up getting married last year. While I'd now like to be friends with him (and have tried to make this clear, both by being nice when I see him, and by apologizing to her for my past behavior), it's too late for me to really make amends. Since I know my own overtures are sincere and I would have been really grateful for this guy to give me a second chance, Jane might also feel the same way.

On the other hand, you've got to protect yourself from being hurt by her again. So proceed with caution, but maybe don't totally shut her out?
posted by booknerd at 6:16 PM on August 27, 2012 [12 favorites]

It will be difficult to maintain the significant friendship with Tom without including Jane. (It already IS difficult.)

Realistically, it will be impossible, and it would probably not be fair to Tom. I mean, if you reject Jane's proffered olive branch, how do you think his home life will be when he tells her he is going out drinking with the two of you, and no, she probably shouldn't come? If you feel strongly enough about your dislike for Jane, you probably need to break off the friendship with Tom, for his sake. Personally, I would give it a try, I mean, what's the worst that could happen? She acts shitty to you one more time, and then you can check out for good.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:17 PM on August 27, 2012 [14 favorites]

Hell no. This woman is not a friend and never has been, and that her behavior toward you didn't make her husband-to-be question her quality is kind of suspect as well. (Suspect on his part, I mean. What kind of person allows their significant other to treat their friends so horribly?)

You've been hurt enough already, and you have been given this situation far, far more time and energy than was required. You have my permission to walk away - I don't see you gaining anything by allowing this person back into your life, and the potential for her to go kind of batshit insane is pretty high.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:17 PM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Frankly, if it were me, I'd consider it water under the bridge and let Jane try to make amends.

That said, there's a difference between being willing to see someone socially and having a specific interest in developing a friendship. It's totally acceptable for you guys not to be interested in developing friendships with Jane.

I see no reason you guys have to go on group outings with Jane just because she's engaged to Tom. They're not conjoined twins. He won't die if he doesn't see her for a day or a weekend.

It's one thing for her to come along for dinner or pub trivia night or whatever. But you guys aren't friends with her and shouldn't be forced to have her as a travel buddy simply because she's engaged to a friend of yours.
posted by Sara C. at 6:17 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

My question: In my shoes, would YOU open yourself up to a friendship with Jane?

I would be civil, but never "ZOMG BONDING TIME!", toward Jane. If she is unkind toward you and your husband again, it's time to explain things in an honest, regretful conversation with Tom and part ways.

She basically went far out of her way to gaslight you and your husband and be needlessly cruel and vicious. That's predatory, awful behavior and I feel a bit sick reading about it.

I view defaulting into civility toward her as a way to contain collateral damage against your (plural) friendship with Tom. Maybe he'll come to his senses on his own.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:18 PM on August 27, 2012 [13 favorites]

I would not, no. You seem lovely and it sounds like you tried and tried to make up for these imagined slights she felt and she let you grovel and grovel. Then when you gave up and stopped giving her attention, she finally came around. Yeah, no. That Tom wants you all to be friends is not your problem. You can be friendly and polite to her, but you do not have to hang out with her if you don't want to. This may damage your friendship with Tom, though. How do you feel about that?
posted by Aquifer at 6:19 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Possibly relevant detail, briefly: Jane lives near us. Tom lives far away. When Tom visits Jane, we see Tom only when Jane is otherwise busy (which is not very much at all). We have never invited Tom without Jane to anything, but of course that means we haven't seen much of them.

Soon, Jane will move far away to live with Tom. Any future visits will be when they both come in to town.
posted by Cygnet at 6:21 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think Inspector's on the right track — I'd be civil and probably even friendly toward her, if only because that's less energy than being a dick to people. But I'd also have no problem telling her to fuck right off if she started up with any nonsense — I might even come up with a diplomatic way to tell her that from the outset. Some kind of, "Hey, I don't make friends easily, and so I'm giving you a chance, but you know you really hurt my feelings before, so please don't get upset if I seem prickly or cold from time to time. It just takes me a while to change."
posted by klangklangston at 6:22 PM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think you should open yourself up to being friends with her. I do think you can open yourself up to being friendly with her, and see her only when you are also seeing Tom. A dinner is fine, a day trip is too much. And if she starts to act like she used to, I'd give up entirely.

If you don't want to, that is also fine. But then you are saying goodbye to Tom, which you seem unwilling to do.
posted by jeather at 6:24 PM on August 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

I would try, but only after having some kind of air-clearing talk. Has she said why she was so horrible to you? Her behavior seems really bizarre and I think there has to be some kind of explanation before you can all move past this. Maybe, like with booknerd, there is more to the story.
posted by exceptinsects at 6:26 PM on August 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

I mostly suggest not being open to being anything other than friendly and polite to her because it's horrible to have to be extra-special-nice and walk on eggshells around "a friend" who can turn on you at any moment. I've done that, it SUCKS and I'll never do it again.
posted by Aquifer at 6:28 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would definitely give being friends a shot, because it sounds like she's earnestly trying to make an effort to redeem herself and the friendship would help you stay close to Tom. I would, however, make it clear in as kind of terms as you can that what she did was extremely hurtful, and that it will take some time for you to understand and get past her actions.

If she's truly extending an olive branch, she'll be receptive; if not, well, no harm no foul.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:31 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing "friendly, but not friends." She seems remarkably unstable and lacking in insight.
posted by SMPA at 6:32 PM on August 27, 2012 [15 favorites]

If they are moving far away, the chance of you guys being close friends with either of them far into the future is slim. It sounds like this situation is about to solve itself.

After they move away, you have a nice casual catching up session with Tom and Jane when they happen to be in town. You behave civilly to Jane. Due diligence done. Maybe, if you're lucky, distance makes the heart grow fonder and you eventually get to a place where you guys could go on a hike or whatever. But maybe you never get there, and that's equally OK.
posted by Sara C. at 6:32 PM on August 27, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you have truly forgiven Jane, I would give her a second chance. Although we often think we know where other people are coming from, we never have the full story. Jane may have been having issues with her own friends, her family, her co-workers or her mental health. She may have issues from her past that she has only recently dealt with.

That said, you are well within your rights to a) not give her a second chance or b) say that the second chance is also her last chance. Forgiving and forgetting once shows character; continually forgiving trespasses shows lack of it.

You also can determine what level of friendship you have with Tom and Jane. Since you asked what we would do in your shoes, this is what I would do: Give Jane a cautious second chance. Maintain contact with the couple, primarily via Tom. Never make trips with them, nor would I make a trip to see them when they are living out of town. When they come into town, give them 2-3 hours for a nice dinner. Continue this until you can ascertain that Jane has really changed. If you'd like to deepen the friendship at that point, you can, but it's not required.

People can change and relationships can be healed. But building up trust takes a long time, and you are within your rights to proceed cautiously and call it quits if your gut tells you that things haven't changed.
posted by peacrow at 6:34 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would give her another chance. It sounds like something significant must have shifted in her life or in her mind for her to go from hateful e-mails to baking cookies. Right now it sounds like she regrets her past irrational behavior and is trying to make amends, so, knowing how it feels to have behaved badly lived to regret it, I would forgive her. Now, if she goes on to behave that way again, then you will have a pattern of abusive behavior and you'll be free to cut her out of your life with my blessing.
posted by HotToddy at 6:36 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of my friends have spouses with whom I would be friends with independent of my original friend. My best friend from high school, in particular, married an awesome person who is a blast to spend time with. That situation is great. I also have friends who have perfectly nice spouses with whom I probably wouldn't be friends with if they weren't married to my friends. That's fine, too. I have to say that I'm fortunate to not be friends with anyone who's spouse is as "complicated" as Jane seems to be.

I think that, for Tom's sake, you should try to be civil with her. You don't need to be friends with her, but if she's marrying Tom and you want to stay friends with him, you have to accept her as, at least, an appendage.

If she really wants to be friends, she owes you more than an apology. She owes you an explanation. No one is allowed to be that vitriolically cruel to someone else and then expect that person to be friends with them by merely apologizing. If she really wants to be friends, she needs to give you a damn good explanation. I think the only one that would satisfy me would be a brain-controlling parasite.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:40 PM on August 27, 2012 [21 favorites]

Realistically, you're not going to be seeing much of Tom anymore, anyway. It'll be a dinner here and there when they come to town. So you need to be as civil to her as it takes in order for an occasional dinner to be tolerable. But there's not going to be much opportunity for more of a friendship than that (luckily for you, as this woman sounds like a nightmare -- poor Tom.)

Never ever travel with her, though. That's hard even with normal people.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:41 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would be open to giving her another chance just because of Tom. I'd be friendly and gracious but I wouldn't get emotionally invested with her one little bit.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:44 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tom's chosen Jane over you already, whether he thinks of it in those terms or not - fiancee trumps friends (and often trumps family). You need to decide whether you want to stay friends with Tom. If so, you are going to have to come to grips with being friends with Jane, because they're a package deal, now.
posted by gingerest at 6:45 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

She sounds like a total freak, OP. Seriously, you seem like a tender-hearted and kind person--those are amazing traits! However, you and your hubby should NOT be pushovers. Life is hard enough as it is.
posted by rhythm_queen at 6:50 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I believe in second chances and would be open to re-establishing a friendship with someone who hurt me, as long as their words and actions showed that they were actually interested in being pleasant and getting along.

There is some risk that you'd have your feelings hurt again, but you'd be taking that risk on for a worthy cause: doing a kindness to Tom, who no doubt would very much like you to accept his fiancee's apology so you can all once again be friends.

It would also be a reasonable decision to tell Tom that you're not open to having Jane back in your life, and that course would save you from the potential hurt that Jane might cause you in the future. So you are choosing between two reasonable options, but I would choose the option with the greatest upside.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:50 PM on August 27, 2012

If you read a question like this from someone else, but Jane were an ex-lover or a dysfunctional parent of the poster, how fast would you be telling them to run away from this abusive person? Pretty fast? 'Cause that's how fast you should run. From the both of them. Jane sounds keeerazay. And Tom has not only seen her drama and embraced it, but -asked you- to put yourself back in her line of fire? Oy. Genung. You will have other, better friends in your life. Especially if you're not pouring your time and emotional energy into these vampires. I'm sorry this is happening to you.
posted by mimi at 6:51 PM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

So, I think you can have a perfectly nice long distance relationship with this couple and politely demur if invited to a couples weekend type intense event. That way you can maintain your relationship with Tom and put in just the minimum effort necessary to be nice to Jane.

On a side note, it sounds like Jane has a mental illness - I wouldn't be surprised if she acts up again.
posted by sid at 6:51 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

If it were me, yes, I would try to give her another chance. At least to the extent of being "neutrally friendly" (ie, not best buds, but warmer than cool civility). And if she and Tom are going to be living far away, it shouldn't be too much time or effort; presumably it's only going to be an occasional get-together over dinner or something like that, without the close-quarters difficulties you had with her before.

There may have been all kinds of things going on in the past, as other people have said; depression or other mental issue, death of family member, something awful happened in her private life, horrible stress at work, etc. Stress and major life events and mental health issues can do really strange things to peoples' personalities. The fact that she's apologized for her previous bad behaviour is the thing that makes me think it's worth a shot. She may be horribly embarrassed about it.
posted by andraste at 6:51 PM on August 27, 2012

The time for this might have already passed, but I myself would have wanted a "clear the air" meeting to ask this woman why the heck she was so mean to you to start with.

Of course it is possible she was dealing with her own issues-I won't speculate but I have a few scenarios in mind-and if she truly wants to make amends and her actions back up her words, then, just take it slow and see how it goes.

But the truth is, you don't have to be friends with her just because you forgave her. That is a choice you get to make. If you do decide to try and then you realize it's just not working out for you, at least be kind when you explain that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:00 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

But now, Jane and Tom have gotten engaged, and they are both obviously interested in starting over with this "couples friendship". ... My question: In my shoes, would YOU open yourself up to a friendship with Jane?

If I were in your shoes, I would reframe this question. "Am I going to open myself up to a friendship with Tom & Jane?"

By asking about a friendship "with Jane," you seem to be narrowing to one component, and it seems to be unnecessary to do that in the circumstance you have described. They are proposing a couples friendship, you say. That's different from Jane being your friend, specifically—or at least, it sounds like it is. It would be in my social circles.

Also, by narrowing to "friendship with Jane" you seem to be asking a question that skips over your (plural) apparently deep, close feelings for Tom. It's obvious from your description that you and your spouse care about Tom quite a lot, and that relationship (with Tom) seems to be important to you both. Consequently, I would not remove it from the equation when considering your decision on a couples friendship.
posted by cribcage at 7:13 PM on August 27, 2012

I would be open to being friendly acquaintances with her. Sometimes people do change. I know I've been a jerk in the past to a few people, and had to apologize to them. It would take me a long time to trust her, though.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:14 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. This person was, at least to you, mean and hurtful, and there is no reason for you to interact with her.

I am not sure how old you are, but at 40, one thing I have found, is my own wife sometimes has absolutely no interest in meeting some of my friends. Some of my friends' wives have absolutely no interest in meeting me. That's fine (I'm a pretty friendly, outgoing extrovert).

Your husband has got to back you on this, really. I think it would be one thing if you never wanted to do anything with anyone else, but if you really don't want to hang out with someone, he should back you.

And if your husband feels awkward about hanging out with his friend Tom without you, the question should be asked: "Me or him."
posted by KokuRyu at 7:15 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best friend is married to a woman who absolutely hates me. I have never been anything but polite and friendly to her (we don't have great chemistry, but I obviously wanted to be friends with my best friend's girlfriend), but she's called me a multitude of horrifying things to my face and behind my back, betrayed my trust, and accused me of things with no basis in reality. Part of this cycle is that she used to routinely apologize, wishing to make amends. She would then at a later time snap, chew me out, and forbid my friend from talking to me. If I were you, I might give it one more chance, but if she ever tried shit like that again I'd take a permanent pass.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:18 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can try being pleasant to her and having a couples dinner. Once. Wait for her to inevitably blow the hell up at you. Because people who are just evil bitches/assholes can't suppress it for very long, she won't be able to maintain this "nice" facade for long. But it's worth giving it one shot, at the very least to prove it to Tom that "friendship" can't be done.

I second the "there'd better be a DAMN GOOD EXCUSE such as brain-eating parasite" to explain her behavior. Being mentally ill and proceeding to get medical attention about it might be the only hope for her genuinely being less of an asshole. But I highly doubt that's the case and she's just an asshole, and right now she's putting on a front for Tom's sake. Which I doubt she can hold up for long. Assholes gotta ass.

As someone else said, now they are a package deal--and more specifically, Tom no longer sees you without Jane. You might have a hope of maintaining the friendship if you didn't have to have Jane along, but it sounds like she has to come along. Especially if they live far away together. Tom doesn't want to lose you, so he's forcing you all to become friends. You could perhaps fake being cordial to her once in a while (if she can also fake it, I suppose), but genuine friendship? Hah. No. But really, what is wrong with Tom if he's okay with her behavior? She probably treats him shittily (or will so after the wedding) as well, because assholes don't restrain themselves with loved ones once the bloom is off the rose.

I think this friendship with Tom is doomed, honestly. You can try to make one last gasp at polite fake friendship with Jane--and hell, you might as well, just don't have any expectations for it--but in the end, I don't think you can be friends with someone whose wife despises you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jane clearly has some serious fucking issues; what they are, heaven only knows. For civility's sake I would be neutrally friendly but very, very guarded about opening up to a meaningful friendship in which any expectations of trust, loyalty, empathy, etc. play any sort of role.

It is possible that she is doing the massive personal/emotional/psychological work that will allow her, in the future, to potentially be this sort of friend to you -- but there is absolutely no way to safely know that at this point, and assuming/behaving otherwise would be too much of a risk. It is also equally possible that she is not doing that sort of work at all, and that you are destined to be on her shit list in the future for reasons unknown, at which point you will almost certainly have to say goodbye to Tom forever.

In short: hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and set your boundaries accordingly. Remember that you can forgive someone -- even feel great compassion for them -- without having to make room for them in your life.

(Best wishes to you regarding your health.)
posted by scody at 7:47 PM on August 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

This is a little off track, but I think Tom deserves to know the full extent of what his soon-to-be-wife did to friends of his. I'd be really horrified to find out that the person I was marrying had been so over-the-top vile to people I loved, and this is information I'd definitely want before I got married to him. I'd suggest that you forward him the awful emails from her. This would also give him a clear understanding of why you're so hesitant to go on mini-vacations with them (or even have that woman in your home).

So, from that, you can guess that in your shoes, I'd have a lot of trouble ever trusting Jane again (without evidence of the parasite having been extracted from her brain). If she spend three years abusing you, I'd expect six years in good behavior to make up for it. A few nice emails and a plate of cookies in no way comes close to erasing three years of totally uncalled-for abuse. She should expect to grovel, to walk on eggshells, to be over-the-top kind to you, and you should remain skeptical about her true intentions until she has really gone the distance.
posted by Capri at 8:00 PM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Someone above said it - it sounds like Jane has a mental illness, and likely any truce will be short lived.

I think you should give lip-service to whatever niceties are suggested and then slowly back away from Jane and Tom.

If you try to move forward as friends, it will not end well.
posted by jbenben at 8:04 PM on August 27, 2012

I can't imagine wanting to be in a relationship with someone who would treat my friends in such a manner. Hell, I wouldn't want to date someone who would treat strangers like that, I certainly wouldn't want to marry them.

If I were you I would be considering if Tom is worth having as a friend. He doesn't exactly have your back when the chips are down.
posted by Dynex at 8:15 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I would.

If you are in a place where you feel good about things and absent any kind of thing that might make being friendly to her a traumatic and upsetting experience for you, I would say give her another chance. You don't have to be best buddies, you just have to be friendly and civil.

Yes, she acted very, very badly. But we can never, ever know what goes on in the hearts and minds of other people. Like people have mentioned, she could have had an untreated mental illness, or going through something unrelated that was particularly stressful and traumatic. That doesn't make her behavior okay, but it seems as though she has realized that she was wrong and is doing what she can to make amends. She has apologized, she baked you cookies, she's reaching out to you. You are absolutely under no obligation to accept it, but in tricky situations like this, I always try to remind myself to be the bigger person. You will never go wrong if you try to err on the side of kindness and compassion.

Good luck.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:15 PM on August 27, 2012

Jane extended an olive branch to you. You don't know what was going on in her life, but she did treat you awfully. If she is willing to listen to you about how you are reticent to be friends after she hurt you, then maybe you can (cautiously) begin to be friends with her.

People can change. I know it's very popular here to remove people from your life as a strategy, but the story you told seems to me to be of someone who is genuinely sorry to have been an awful person to you, and would like to try again.

Not many people ask for a second chance. The worst that can happen is that it won't work out, and that's where you are right now anyway.
posted by xingcat at 8:28 PM on August 27, 2012

Hi, cygnet! I remember you! You married another Mefite just about a year ago, right? So you're still newlyweds! I'm sorry ya'll are having to deal with a mess like this.

I bring up the marriage for a specific reason, actually. I read your question over twice, and like you, I am just mystified at why Jane took almost a year to vent her spleen in that email, and also why she seems to have it in for you for no reason, especially since you and your spouse seem like really sweet, caring people.

And then I got it. Or at least I came up with a pretty good assumption.

Is it possible that Jane thought she was competing with you for Tom back then, when you all went on that hiking weekend together?

You mentioned you, Tom, and Jane were there, and that Tom was dating Jane, but you didn't mention your spouse specifically. So maybe you were dating your spouse, and he was there too, or maybe you were dating someone else at the time and he came with you? Or was Tom the only guy there with you and Jane? I wasn't sure from your question, and anyway it doesn't matter so much as what happened after that weekend.

Because I think that the crux of this whole nasty Jane problem is exactly what happened between that hiking weekend and her hateful email to you. And to me, it seems clear that Jane must have heard or inferred something, through Tom, that really hit her hard, something about you.

I know you said you needed therapy after that weekend because it was so hard on you. I have had chronic health problems that have kept me from doing things, too, and felt like I was disappointing other people, so I understand where you are coming from there. I'm really sorry that happened to you.

But I think you really need to think back to that hiking weekend, painful as it may be for you, and try to look at it with a different perspective. I know that you took care to say you weren't feeling well, and that you even explained that again to Jane later. So there seems no reason for Jane to feel "excluded" or like she had never been treated as "badly as a human being". That just seems really, really extreme, right?

Unless she thought you and Tom had something going on behind her back, that is. If Tom was solicitous of you because of your health (like any good friend would be) at the time, Jane probably either felt like that was fine, or a bit miffed at not getting much attention and a little ashamed of herself for feeling left out, because you were sick and that was certainly not your fault!

But later, she changed her whole perspective on that weekend, enough that she wrote you a hate-filled letter with what seems like hyperbole-laced rhetoric. Really, the only logical explanation is that Tom said or did something, maybe even unwittingly, to put both of your actions in a more sinister light as far as Jane was concerned.

So, to put it bluntly, is it possible that Tom might have let it slip to Jane that you and Tom had a fling once, or suggest to her that YOU had a thing for Tom, or worse yet (in Jane's eyes, I mean) that he had feelings for you, and maybe still did when he started dating Jane?

That would explain why, now that you are happily married AND Tom has asked her to marry him, she has let go of this quarrel. She may have felt insecure right up until their engagement reassured her that both you were over Tom (if you ever had feelings for him, or even if she just felt you did) and he was over you (ditto).

So my answer to your question is: I think you *may* be able to be friends with Jane, but only if the FOUR of you sit down together and talk about exactly WHY Jane was so angry with you to begin with, *honestly*. It's really, really important that you, Tom and Jane are all in the same room at the same time. Sure, Jane seems mercurial, and prone to temper, and it MAY be that she is just a hateful or spiteful person who is only going through the motions because Tom asked her to.

But it also MAY be that Tom has not been as open with you OR Jane as he should have been with all this cross-talk that's been going on. I could certainly see him not wanting to own up to admitting he had feelings for you in front of your spouse, who loves you, and who you love! Or admitting to Jane that maybe he gave her a false impression of your relationship with Tom (like, for instance, if he made it seem like the two of you had feelings for each other at one time when really it was all on his side).

I mean, that's likely why this whole situation got so ugly in the first place!
posted by misha at 8:30 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Were I in your shoes with a significant other in your husband's shoes, I'd simply let Tom know that we appreciate his desire to see us all buddy-buddy with Jane, and that we'd forgiven her for her past bad behavior, but that we remain absolutely perplexed by the root causes of that behavior, and rather than try to force-fit a friendship on such a rocky past, we'd rather lay back and see what happens naturally over time.

Then I'd wait to see what happened as far as effort from their end, because (acting in your shoes, here) we've both put in tons of effort in the face of her nastiness, and so I'd want to see some consistent normalcy and niceties before I opened myself to a relationship with her, lest it turn out to be a temporary reprieve that explodes into stupidity again.

Back to filling my own shoes: I have next-door neighbors who seemed quite nice when they moved in, but somewhere along the line the woman became extremely hostile, irrationally so, to the point that she wouldn't make eye contact or say hello, and on more than one occasion shouted nasty things out of the window. To this day I have no idea what was going on there -- although I could speculate, I won't do so here -- but with a few major life changes (one in each household) she's now very nice and friendly.

That doesn't mean I'd go over there for dinner, though. I'll just enjoy the pleasantness from a distance. You should, too, at least for a while.
posted by davejay at 9:21 PM on August 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

No. I wouldn't. Here is why. She was a straight up meanie for two years. It isn't clear from your email, but it sounds like when she apologized, it didn't sufficiently cover the two years worth of crap she flung your way. And it isn't clear that Tom tried to figure it out either.

So why is it so important that you are friends with Jane, anyway? I mean really, why? I think people want people to get along, and sometimes that is more important to them than whether they really do get along. And that is just super unhealthy.

Sometimes apologies get you out if the dog house, but they don't put you on the path the friendship. So, stop thinking about this in terms social etiquette, and think about it in terms of your wants and needs. Do you want to be what ever you define as friends with her? Do you want cookie recipes or emails? No? Well what do you want? How often do you want to interact with her, and how? You get to determine what you want, and get to set that boundary.

You can decide you forgive her and not want to hear from her seperately from Tom. But if that is what you want, you need to be honest with yourself and then with both of them. You feel what you feel. Honor that. If you want more... To tell her how painful those two years were before you can engage in a friendship, which personally, I would need to do, you can say that as well. Figure out what you want in terms if engagement, and sick to that until you feel differently. I think that is the healthy way to go. I can forgive you for stealing my tomatoes, but forgiveness doesn't equal access to my garden again. Admission of wrong doing, explanation of why you did it, and a promise to not do it again might. But it doesn't sound like she checked all those boxes. So, figure out what feels right now and set those boundaries.
posted by anitanita at 9:40 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

No. Life is too short to socialize with horrible people. You've done your time in Jane Land. Too bad for Tom, but if he wanted to maintain old friendships he wouldn't be marrying someone who is so ill-mannered. Let him know you care about him and that you will always be glad to hear from him, but no, you're not available for couples-time with the sea hag. He will, perhaps, come back to you when this marriage implodes.
posted by Scram at 9:47 PM on August 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

HOWEVER.... Jane changed her mind. Jane emailed us to say that she had realized that she was in the wrong. She apologized.

For me a lot would hinge on the apology. I'd probably be cordial just so I could socialize with Tom, negotiating the context with him as needed ("well, the last time we all went hiking together, Jane drove off angrily and stranded us all, so why don't we drive separately and meet at the trailhead this time?"). But if the apology demonstrated a lot of thought about what had happened and why, I might hold out hope that we could one day become real friends.
posted by salvia at 10:20 PM on August 27, 2012

Me? I'd start verrrrry civilly and carefully, see how things play out over time (and it seems like things will be manageable either way given the soon-to-arrive physical distance 'tween y'all and them).

To the extent that Jane may have a mental illness, people do get better. Couldn't disagree more with a view that amounts to, "She's mentally ill; it's doomed."
posted by ambient2 at 10:22 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Misha's probably on to something.

I think this is probably an exercise in testing your own limits and/or figuring out what really went on. The likelihood of this working out as hoped seems slim at best.
posted by joshu at 11:04 PM on August 27, 2012

I would also advise to not re-engage. I would filter her e-mails to trash. Tell Tom you are happy for him and wish him the best and if anything happens, you and your husband have his back and he can always call you to reconnect.

Has Tom seen the e-mails Jane has sent you?
posted by spec80 at 11:24 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to expand on my answer to say that there are a lot of women like this in my competitive, professional middle class, educated, outdoorsy social circle. Some are out and out jealous or threatened by other women and some are just lame people. They go through cycles of being friendly, then their husband smiles at someone or you get a promotion at work or it turns out that, horrors!, someone wears a smaller pants size than they do and its back to snide remarks and bitchface. I have some lovely friends who are just thrown for a loop every time this happens and, like you, agonize over how to react. I, on the other hand, don't care because deep down I don't give a shit about these people. I decided a long time ago that you CANNOT be friends with another woman who resents you, is jealous of you or is competitive with you. Pleasant? yes, civil? yes, patient and polite with their crap... sometimes if they don't do it in front of other people. Friends? no. They are not your friend. They will cut you given two seconds alone and a nail trimmers. It's sad for them that they are that way but it's not your job to fix it!
posted by fshgrl at 11:26 PM on August 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

I apologize. I read that Tom has not seen Jane's e-mails. As a friend, wouldn't you want to warn Tom? Maybe he's seen that many of his friends have drifted away from him and he has no idea that his "delightful" partner is sending everyone hateful e-mails.
posted by spec80 at 11:27 PM on August 27, 2012

But really, what is wrong with Tom if he's okay with her behavior? She probably treats him shittily (or will so after the wedding) as well, because assholes don't restrain themselves with loved ones once the bloom is off the rose.

This is true of my friend too-- his wife is very verbally abusive to him, often publicly humiliates him, and they rarely go more than a day without fighting now that they've been married for a few years. The mental illness hypothesis also rings a bit true, as she's been on and off meds for depression, and this tends to make her moods worse. However, it is very, very easy for women who feel insecure to take it out on other women, and unless they change their entire worldview (i.e., gain self-esteem), they're probably going to have issues. (This is how it is with me and my friend's wife-- one minute she'll be making nice, and then she'll see that he and I had a back-and-forth on Twitter or some such, and she'll suddenly be telling us we both need to "grow up" and saying I'm a "homewrecking slut" or something out of left field.) This kind of behavior can't be controlled, and I tiptoed around this woman for five years, forgiving her multiple times, before I said "fuck it" and gave her a piece of my mind. Because ultimately, I can't be friends with a someone who is married to someone who hates me. I'd like to be, but there's no ethical way.

This is why I proposed giving her a second chance, because I think a lot of people deserve second chances (plus, you're taking the high road-- you realize this woman has issues and you can choose not to take it personally). However, if she demonstrated anything less than a real change in her attitude and behavior, I'd be out of there. People are usually against sabotaging someone else's relationship, but if Tom asked what was up, I would tell him in polite but direct language what had happened. The problem is that in these situations, it is likely he'll side with her rather than you, but it's a choice on his part. In telling him, I would say something perhaps like: "She's sent me several e-mails containing language which was very hurtful to me, and has made it difficult for me to speak to her directly without a sense that I might be vulnerable to the same again." Perhaps adding, "I do not feel that I could be genuine in cultivating a relationship with her." (That would be comfortable for me, but YMMV.)

It's unclear exactly why Jane acted out against you the way she did, but her behavior was beyond the pale and I hope that you no longer feel that you should take it personally-- I don't think there's any doubt that her behavior has little relation to your actions.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:19 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think this would be a good opportunity for you to have a disengaged relationship with Jane. Just because you are friends doesn't mean you have to open your soul to her. Use your time with her to hone your social skills, whatever they may be. Everyone needs to grow in some area, what areas could your diplomacy skills use some improvement. Just use her. If the relationship breaks down again consider it a failed mission on your part and move on. Even if she is the most despicable human on Earth, there is a way to stay on the top of your game, you just need to disengage and stop being so emotionally involved. Sounds like she's skilled in being the center of attention at any cost and you may just be the person who can outsmart her ;)
posted by waving at 1:24 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my shoes, would YOU open yourself up to a friendship with Jane?

Not a chance in hell. Assuming you've given a full and fair description of events I would have no interest whatsoever in giving this person a second chance. Not everything should be forgiven. Sometimes trying to do so only leads to more hurt and difficulty for yourself. You are more important than she - or even Tom, if it comes to that - is.
posted by Decani at 4:03 AM on August 28, 2012

Think of this as a story: "We were good friends with Tom. Then he met Jane, and we had a serious falling out with her because she was cruel to us and we couldn't understand why. Jane and Tom got engaged, and we thought we'd totally lost the possibility of friendship with Tom. And then Jane seemed to change her mind about us. So..."

How do you want the story to end?

A: "... We decided we didn't want to deal with such negativity and cut ourselves off from Tom and Jane. We miss Tom, but we believe in moving forward from negative things."

B: "... We decided to give them another chance and rebuilt our friendship. I'm really glad we did, because we believe in moving forward from negative things."

Which one feels right to you? Which one is the kind of life you want to live? When you use this anecdote to illustrate your life values (such as telling kids how to deal with tough life choices), what conclusion feels like the "right" end to this?

In your shoes, I would choose B, because "moving forward", for me, means fixing and resolving bad feelings. YMMV. Good luck.
posted by woot at 4:19 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the thoughtful feedback, everybody.

misha - my husband and I were both on the weekend hike, and we were absolutely together. In fact we've been solidly together for more than a decade (dating nobody else), even though we recently got married. (We were together long before we met Tom or Jane.) It had literally never occurred to me that Jane might feel some sort of threat from me - so I'll consider it as a possible explanation - but it's hard for me to imagine. While Tom is my friend (I actually met him first), he's closer to my husband than to me. There have been absolutely no romantic intentions or flirting between me and Tom, ever.

It was always my plan to do dinners with Tom and Jane, and I think that what I'm taking away from all your advice is to use those dinners as a place to decide whether to move forward with the friendship at all. In one of the friendly emails I mentioned that Jane sent, she asked if I wanted to hang out with her - just the two of us. I think I will politely decline that suggestion for now, until/unless it seems that the tone of interactions has truly changed. If Jane actually wants to be close to me - I guess I'm having a hard time even imaging why she'd want to be - I will gently ask her to explain her past behavior, so I can get past the vulnerability I feel around her.

I do absolutely feel that Jane deserves another chance. Based on some of the details of things she said to me, I have a few theories about what may have fueled her behavior, and none of those theories are "she's evil" or anything like that. My reticence has a lot more to do with how hard her accusations hit me the first time. It took me a long time to realize I didn't need to take it personally, and I spent a LOT of time feeling guilty and ashamed about myself in between. I want to do what I feel is "the right thing", but I still feel so vulnerable that I'm... well, just plain nervous about it I guess. Baby steps, I guess.
posted by Cygnet at 5:13 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If Jane actually wants to be close to me - I guess I'm having a hard time even imaging why she'd want to be - I will gently ask her to explain her past behavior, so I can get past the vulnerability I feel around her.

I can appreciate where you are coming from here but you are leaving every decision up to Jane.
-"If she wants to be close" to you ... what do you want?
-"I will gently ask her" ... you are tiptoeing on eggshells.
-"I want to do what I feel is "the right thing" ... you feel responsible for Jane's emotions/happiness.
-"Baby steps, I guess" ... by following Jane's lead.
The takeaway from this experience shouldn't be trying to find a new approach that will prevent Jane from turning on you again. The takeaway should be don't take on responsibility for other people's crazy. Your boundaries, not Jane's issues, should be driving your relationship decisions.

And you know, forgiving someone means you don't hold a grudge or bear them ill will, that you care for them as a human being and want them to be happy. It doesn't have to mean inviting them back into your life.
posted by headnsouth at 5:40 AM on August 28, 2012 [15 favorites]

Tread carefully. You and/or your husband are being vetted for membership in the wedding party. Friendly catch up dinners are fine if they match your comfort level, but you and your husband will want to be on the same page in regards to whether or not you want to participate. The period leading up to a wedding is typically pretty stressful for everybody, and if you are not sure if you are comfortable with Jane on her best behavior as of yet, you certainly don't want to risk seeing her at her worst.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:06 AM on August 28, 2012 [11 favorites]

Go slow.

You are only interacting with Jane for the sake of Tom. I wouldn't want to be friends with someone who can turn on a dime like that, or someone who is capable of some really terrible behavior.

Have dinner out somewhere, or invite them over for a barbecue. Low key, low stress events.

Don't plan all-day activities with little outlet for escape, for damn-sure don't plan on traveling with Jane, as clearly, she's proven to be an ass.

If someone mentions being in the wedding party, HELLS NO! You can say politely though, "I wish you all the best, but no thank you."

Personally, I'd let them go away, and let both friendships fade away. Tom, while a nice enough guy is marrying a loon. Jane has acted terribly to you and your husband, and you don't really like her. What exactly is in this for YOU?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:41 AM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I were in your shoes, my response would be something like this: "yes, I'd like to try to start fresh, but before we do that, I want to understand why you were so angry with my husband and me. From my perspective, your behavior was completely out of proportion to any slight you might have perceived that I committed. And I want to know why I should expect that the same thing will never happen again. Because not only do I not want to go through that again, I don't even want to risk going through that again. It was extremely upsetting."

The onus is on her to allay your concerns. Make sure she knows that.
posted by adamrice at 8:16 AM on August 28, 2012 [13 favorites]

The takeaway from this experience shouldn't be trying to find a new approach that will prevent Jane from turning on you again. The takeaway should be don't take on responsibility for other people's crazy. Your boundaries, not Jane's issues, should be driving your relationship decisions.

This is absolutely, 100% right. Put the power for your comfort in your hands, not Jane's (or anyone else's).
posted by scody at 10:36 AM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I mean this in the nicest way: you're getting ahead of yourself. Just open the door. You take one step and see how that goes, then repeat as long as it's going okay. Being friends, spending time together..those things may not really be an issue.

Jane was hideous to you, completely selfish and unreasonable. Imagine something that might allow you to try to have a discussion with Tom and Jane, like maybe she took some psychiatric medications that brought her back to her reasonable self.

This whole thing is worth a meeting of its own; you don't have to do it as an intro to dinner the same night. You, or you and your husband, can bring up the subject, right out loud. Speak calmly but not angrily, you know, the way you'd try to do if the four of you were in a therapist's office. "We've been very apprehensive about getting together with you. We felt confused and hurt by Jane's anger, and it went on for a long time. Jane didn't respond when we apologizes and tried to make amends. So not we feel very uncomfortable. I've been able to forgive, but bed feelings hold on -- as you know. See what they say. If they say the right things, you can tell them you appreciate the effort.

Initiating a talk like this is an extremely generous gesture, yet your own feelings and boundaries don't get compromised. At whatever point you find you can't go forward, you can then tell Tom that you with him well, and maybe the two men can get together in the future.
posted by wryly at 2:07 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that you are getting ahead of yourself.

I also think that Jane's apologized, and nothing you say about that suggests that she might be insincere. I am not suggesting that you trust her, but I also hope you're not going to entertain the idea that you've somehow "forgiven" her while rebuffing her attempts to reach out to you and make amends.

I think we need to be clear here: this woman is not in a position to put you in any real danger. She doesn't have any control over your career or livelihood, she can't take your husband away from you. The worst she can do in the external world is drive a wedge between you and Tom, and if you choose not to be friends with her, you'll lose Tom anyway. Her only power is to injure your feelings, and while I don't deny that that's serious, it can only go so far.

I would therefore strongly suggest you accept her apology and open yourself up to being friends with Tom *and* her. This doesn't mean you should all go rock climbing in Greenland together, or on a cruise to the Bermuda Triangle. Definitely do not get together with Jane one-on-one (her insistence that you do that is definitely setting my spidey-sense tingling btw). But situations where all four of you are together and you can easily get away? Do that.

I would also stop protecting her where Tom is concerned. If he raises the question of how the conflict occurred, and you can explain it to him without causing a scene, do so. Don't raise the issue yourself unprompted. Don't go out of your way to say "WELL MAYBE YOU SHOULD EMAIL YOUR COMPLAINTS TO THE CHEF, JANE, AND TELL HIM YOU'VE NEVER BEEN TREATED SO BADLY AS A HUMAN BEING" across the dinner table. Don't send a live-feed of Jane's poison emails to the big screen on Times Square so that it "just happens" to be broadcasting while you're all there on an outing. I'm sure you catch my drift. Don't just tattle, do maintain discretion, but also don't carry the burden of Jane's secrets beyond all reason.
posted by tel3path at 4:00 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, in case anybody ever ends up in a similar situation and wants to know what happened...

I (very politely) declined Jane's invitation for a private meeting (just me and her) by saying that I was looking forward to a nice dinner when Tom was next in town. Her invitation specifically said that if I was not interested at the time, it was fine with her.

We had a heartfelt conversation with Tom about how we wanted to maintain the friendship, and were open to seeing how things went with Jane, but needed to take things slowly.

A few days later, my husband and I received a very long, very angry letter from Jane saying that we were shameful cowards and we were ruining her wedding with our horrible behavior. Whomever suggested that we were being vetted for the wedding party was correct. Jane's email was sent without Tom's knowledge and before Tom had even mentioned a role in the wedding to either of us. It was upsetting. The angry letter was followed by a direct phone call to my husband during which Jane said some extremely insulting things about him being a horrible person, incapable of his chosen career, etc.

A few weeks later, Jane and Tom broke off the engagement and split. We didn't find out for a few weeks.

A few weeks after that, Jane wrote us an email, copied to Tom, the gist of which was that we were responsible for their breakup. Tom replied saying that he did not consider us a factor in their break-up at all.

ANOTHER few weeks later, we had a lovely weekend with Tom.
posted by Cygnet at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

Wow. Tom certainly dodged a bullet. I'm glad the three of you have been able to maintain your friendship!
posted by scody at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

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