My friend wants to date a married man...How would you have handled this?
June 27, 2017 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I am a single woman, late 40s, divorced for almost 20 years and dating most of that time. I have a lot of newly single friends, recently divorced, new to dating. Anyway, I met this great girl, in that situation. We have been friends for about 6 months, talk or text almost every day. We have our differences, but we worked those out by just not talking about it at all (we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, which in this particular day and age is really a big deal as we all know). Here's what I want to talk about - So she started dating after getting divorced from a 25 year marriage. She met a new guy online. He is married and "separated" for 1 year, but per my friend, he has not pursued a divorce at all. The man and his wife share a child. The man is far apart from the wife, in different cities. (Please see the extended explanation for the rest of this. Thanks.) What would you have said or done with this situation/friend?

Here's what I did - I told her she needs to find out why he has not pursued a divorce (in 1 year of separation), and I told her that she should ask questions because maybe they are working on getting back together. Maybe he has not told his separated wife that he is dating.

Her response was that she did not want to bring it up yet, she does not even want to know, because what would be "upsetting", and that even if he is attempting reconciliation with his wife, that she would still want to date him, and that it did not matter to her because she likes him THAT much.

So my response was telling her that us singles should not be dating married men, that we should ask pertinent questions on the first date (ex: "are you married", "are you pursuing a divorce"), and that a man is only available while being separated IF he is PURSUING a divorce. I told her also that she might be hurting another woman (the man's wife) by continuing to see him if the wife does not know about it, that we are worth more than this, and that it will be a lot of stress and pain, and the usual.....

Here's what happened: After about 2 weeks of us talking back and forth like the above, she got mad at me, saying "You are upsetting me" and "Drop the subject. I don't want to talk about it anymore" .

After sitting with that a day, I decided that the stress that comes along with hearing a friend's stories about dating a married man is just not what I want in my life. And that I want a friend who would share the same values, respect as I do regarding this. And I noticed how my stomach hurt frequently around her now because of this.

So, I told her kindly that I just can't deal with this stress in my life and I think there's just too many important differences between us so we aren't a good match for a deeper friendship. Pretty much said good bye like that.

What do you see here that you would have done differently?
posted by bananaskin to Human Relations (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm with you 100%.
posted by karbonokapi at 6:52 PM on June 27, 2017 [13 favorites]

If someone stresses you out, for good or bad, it's always best to cut them out of your life.
posted by GiveUpNed at 6:53 PM on June 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you made a good choice for you. I don't necessarily align with your opinions about dating but I think if your friend insists on making this a topic of discussion and it's not an okay situation for you and it makes you think your friend is bad or making a mistake or whatever, it's okay to move on. It's fine to have a friend who shares your values. It's fine to not want one who doesn't.
posted by jessamyn at 6:55 PM on June 27, 2017 [18 favorites]

Where I live, you have to be separated for one year before filing for divorce. As a result some stay separated for a long time. Personally, I don't think lack of divorce paperwork means a person is "taken".

It's fine for you decide not to date men in this situation, but you way overstepped in deciding that for your friend. The friend dumping was also unnecessarily dramatic. I think you did your friend a favour in dumping her and you did yourself a disservice.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:56 PM on June 27, 2017 [63 favorites]

You're right to set the requirement for yourself that friends share your values. You do not have the right to demand she share those values. I would have found hectoring about my choices to be extremely annoying-- particularly if it went on for two weeks. Her choices are really none of your business. Be her friend or don't. But don't lecture.

Personally, what I would have done is said, "Jane, my husband cheated on me and told the other woman that we were basically separated, which was a lie. I have no idea the truth of your boyfriend's situation, but because of what happened to me, I keep imagining the worst. I'm afraid that means I'm not really a good person to talk to about your new relationship. My issue. Very sorry. Do you want to talk about the film?" I am, however, not you. (This is my real backstory, and really how I would react.)
posted by frumiousb at 7:03 PM on June 27, 2017 [28 favorites]

You never get to tell other people how to live, and trying to rarely works out well for anybody. And even if you're trying to help, she made it pretty clear to you up front that she doesn't give a shit if he's married.

That said, you're fine to walk away from people you decide don't meet your standards. You just don't get to demand they change to meet your standards.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:19 PM on June 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

I might have withheld my opinion and asked some questions like "How do you feel about that?" - it's a cliche but it can lead a conversation to interesting places - "What do you want to do?" "Are you comfortable with this situation?" "Is X something you feel you can bring up with him?" "Do you believe he can give you what you want in a relationship?" I probably would have felt more curious than appalled - but also concerned that my friend might be wasting her time and headed for a heartbreak.

If they expressed any concern I might have said "you know, you deserve someone who can give you more."

If they seemed pleased with the situation or unwilling to open up, I'd drop it - definitely wouldn't keep asking questions if they didn't want to talk about it.

When I withhold judgment people are more willing to share openly and less likely to get defensive, and then I can often see that they actually have complicated feelings about things, and if they want to make a change I can then offer them support.

However I have a tendency to find myself playing (untrained) therapist in some of my friendships so this may not be the best approach.

I think frumiosb's script is really good. Honest, focuses on how the speaker feels, and sets a boundary.
posted by bunderful at 7:22 PM on June 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I... just don't get why your friend's choices for her own life have to align exactly with what you would do in the same situation. I mean, just as a counter example, my mother and father separated when I was 2. My mother met my step-father a year later and they moved in together. My mother and father literally didn't bother to get divorced for another decade.

You don't get to make a universal declaration about how "us singles" can or should operate. You get to make decisions about your own behavior. You do not get to hector other people's about theirs. If you cannot live with a friend's choices, you exit quietly and with as little drama as possible. There are no points for making a moral stand.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:26 PM on June 27, 2017 [50 favorites]

Yeah, ditto DarlingBri. My parents were separated; my Dad met someone; she was initially concerned that he was separated but not divorced; she decided to trust him and told the friends who were pressuring her to mind their own business; and my parents were able to negotiate the logistics and finances of their divorce on their own timeline. Her patience saved the rest of the family a lot of drama (forcing a home sale immediately rather than after my Mom found a new place), and I'm really grateful to her for that.
posted by salvia at 7:37 PM on June 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think there are points for making a moral stand about, like, child abuse, or securities fraud, stuff like that. In this case I think you overstepped. She's not breaking up a marriage and I just don't understand why you think yours is the virtuous stance. For all you know she could be the best thing about this guy's life right now and an important part of his emotional recovery from a traumatically bad marriage.

That said, if you find her detestable then don't be her friend, that's a choice you get to make.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2017 [9 favorites]

It doesn't matter if you overstepped or not. You identified something in this friendship which was stressing you out and making you unhappy, so you ended the friendship. That's always the right thing to do.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:44 PM on June 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: OK I SHOULD CLARIFY: SHE was the one always bringing it up and asking me advice. NOT ME BRINGING IT UP EVER. In fact, I told her if she does not want to hear what I say, then we DO NOT HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT.
posted by bananaskin at 7:48 PM on June 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: And Wow, I guess I am surprised so many people are ok with single people dating married people. I feel like everything in the world is turning upside down on everything anymore. Like things are all backwards anymore. I guess I just don't fit in anymore.
posted by bananaskin at 7:50 PM on June 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

I guess I just don't fit in anymore.

Your opinions line up with some people's and not with others'. There's not a monolithic morality in the US (where I think you are) though there may be within some subcultures. More to the point, there are edge case situations (mine is uncannily similar to DarlingBri, my parents were married for another few decades after the separated, stayed together for... I don't remember health insurance or whatever) that may be central to some people's lives. And some of those people are here.

So I wouldn't worry too much about this. It's fine to set your own boundaries with a friend and within your own personal relationships as you have done. It's just also useful to understand that those values belong to you and not necessarily to the entire world so sometimes you may want to make different choices in how you prioritize, say, your feelings about marriage versus your feelings about friendship. As I said, I think you made the right decision for you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 PM on June 27, 2017 [21 favorites]

Life is frequently more complex than we would like it to be.

The man and his wife share a child. The man is far apart from the wife, in different cities.

Is probably why divorce is not being actively pursued.

At the end of the day, though, it's up to you what you want in your life and don't want in your life, so if you feel relieved by the decision you made, then it's the right one for you.
posted by heyjude at 8:06 PM on June 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

A lot of people stay married for legal reasons, like health care for a disabled child or adult for years after the relationship is over. It wouldn't be a deal breaker for me if it was some reason like that. In this day and age separated is enough for dating. As long as they really are separated and he's not in town for work and making up a story.
posted by fshgrl at 8:08 PM on June 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

you'd be getting different answers if the question were about a person who was involved in the breakup of a family, the deception of a wife, &c. In the end it's the same - you get to shun whomever you want - but there'd be a lot more people agreeing that this woman is shun-worthy.

This sounds like a woman dating a man whose marriage is over and has moved to a different city and is moving on. It's not the same thing as homewrecking. And plenty of people here have experience with long separations and are explaining why it's not the same thing as being party to the breakup of a marriage.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:12 PM on June 27, 2017 [16 favorites]

I don't disagree with your take on possible risks to your friend in this situation. People can be fairly confused fresh off a split like that, and they do sometimes get back together with their exes. If she's in her late 40s, and into this for love, sure, it'd be ideal if she had a clear indication that she was this guy's #1 priority. A divorce would certainly indicate that, though as people are saying, there might be complications and variations that don't exclude non-divorce from good intentions. And he does live in a different city from his ex, which absent some other explanation is a pretty good sign he's keen to move on.

I think it's a little worrying that she's so full of butterflies that she's actively avoiding thinking about the possibility, though. But I'm also wondering if she actually meant

that even if he is attempting reconciliation with his wife, that she would still want to date him, and that it did not matter to her because she likes him THAT much.

or just said something dumb like that out of frustration, if you got into IRL caps when you spoke to her... (though to be fair, you *are* getting kind of rained on right now).

And, I'm wondering if the upset feeling you have around her reflects upset at a difference in values, or whether it's your spidey senses tingling because she's being really needy and unstable in a worrying way, and draining your energy/resources beyond your ability to cope.

I guess I might have focused less on judgment and more on concern for her. But yeah, this horse doesn't want to drink your water! No changing that. I might have drawn some kind of boundary though, if her level of need got to be overwhelming, probably temporarily. Maybe I'd have suggested counselling or something.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's a great situation, but what heyjude said is probably why it's going on. But if you can't take having to hear about that situation, it's probably good if you nope out now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2017

As long as they really are separated and he's not in town for work and making up a story.

Ach yeah I have seen this happen. The deceit went on for almost a year. Devastated my friend (who is incredibly open-minded and readily accepted his modern explanations of his modern arrangement...). It's a valid concern. Unfortunately.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:24 PM on June 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

What I would have done:

In my experience, I've never found that friends and acquaintances really want relationship advice when they ask for it, they just want validation. I try to listen as best I can and change the topic if I feel unable to refrain from saying something negative. If I feel that someone is making a choice that I find absolutely morally reprehensible (generally this has happened to me with respect to other values, not relationship choices, but ymmv) I stop hanging out with that person.
posted by ferret branca at 8:39 PM on June 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been in his shoes, having been separated for ~1 year, living in separate cities and starting to date seriously.

I would caution that being separated and actually going through the process of being divorced are two VERY different things. The former is like any other breakup. The latter is, for some, a hellish, emotionally draining process of turning a relationship you thought was over into a financial transaction.

If she's willing to stick around through that, bob's your uncle. But she should be prepared for what she's in for.
posted by misterdaniel at 9:05 PM on June 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

People put off getting divorced for all sorts of reasons that don't involve cheating on their separated spouse. In your shoes, I'd have bought up my concerns once, maybe twice if she absolutely insisted and then dropped the whole thing and let her find out this information about HER relationship as HER relationship evolved. It's not even clear that these two ever met in real life, which is where most people would feel comfortable divulging personal information to a complete stranger. You seem to have jumped to a conclusion that your friend was helping a married man cheat when you have no idea, so I'm not surprised she got upset. What would I do? Mind my own business.
posted by Jubey at 9:22 PM on June 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mod note: bananaskin, this isn't a place for general debate - opening the question up to hypotheticals is too broad for AskMe, sorry.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:45 PM on June 27, 2017

My friend wants to date a married man is actually your former friend is dating a separated man.

I feel like everything in the world is turning upside down on everything anymore. You're in your late forties, and have been divorced for nearly 20 years. You're old enough to remember when being divorced had a stigma, when being a divorcée was frowned upon, so you know social mores change. You've written that you knew you and your ex-friend had different value systems, even before her new relationship came up. When she hounded you for advice, you could've stated your reservations and then requested it not be a topic of conversation as the subject made you uncomfortable.

You were right to end the friendship given your discomfort. I'm just confused why you had to drag the process out, and why you're conducting an opinion poll now (and favoriting your own contributions, and the one answer that has your stance unequivocally in the right). It's a big, varied world, and she's an adult making her own decisions.

I'm sorry your friendship was a bad fit, and that its dissolution is not bringing you joy, either.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 10:29 PM on June 27, 2017 [31 favorites]

Reframing: Ok so your friend was using you, right? By hounding you with her relationship details, she got to relive all the sexy drama bits and bask in your scandalized expression again and again in the guise of asking for advice. And she kind of made you part of this thing, enabling her.
You hate her choices and that she kept involving you. You were not able to turn it off. So you dumped her.
That's not a bad choice. Better would be to quietly dial back the friendship, become less available and tell her "nope" every time she starts discussing the guy. But if she was, like, pinning you against the wall to force you to listen, yes, you dump her.

What's irrational about it is how you are so invested in proving to her and to us that only your ethical approach is the right one. You're yelling around in this very ask me and went out pf your way to mark your own answer as "best", despite this question ostensibly being about other people's opinions. I bet you had a similar ALL CAPS tone talking to her. I think you need to get away from this need to be the only morally right one, somehow. You can't control others and you will make yourself and others unhappy trying.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:14 AM on June 28, 2017 [24 favorites]

I'm _still_ married. We separated in January 2012, and have two children. We were co-habiting for four years, and the divorce will go through next year, when we've been living apart for two years.

*Massive* red flag alert for a lot of people on here, from what I've seen of other questions - I know - and sometimes rightly so of course. One thing I discovered when entering the world of dating (cautiously) again was how common this sort of thing seems to be, as it happens.

But anyway, I have been with my girlfriend for one and a half years, and we've been living together for one of those years. We have an amazing relationship, and none of us have any real desire to get married (either again, or for the first time), and there's no immediate need or rush to get divorced either. It works for us. And yes, we do and have talked it through, so I'm not just being presumptuous or blinkered.
posted by thingonaspring at 2:47 AM on June 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mod note: bananaskin, please check your Metafilter mail.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:21 AM on June 28, 2017

Well, there is a large difference between "being ok with something" and "actively telling others what to do with their lives." I do not like the idea of dating a man who is separated but not yet divorced, but for me that is a personal choice. I understand that other people may have a different calculus than I do when they make a choice about dating someone who is separated, and while I don't agree with it, I accept it as their choice. Accepting it as a choice doesn't mean I have to accept the actual action: in this situation, I would use boundaries to say to my friend something like "You asked me what I thought, and I don't like this situation. I respect your choices, even if they are not the choices I would make. In fact, I am bothered by them. I would prefer not to hear about it again or to discuss it with you further. Thanks for respecting that." Sort of like she did with you, when it sounds like you wouldn't drop this subject for two weeks.

The reason you are getting pushback about being judgmental here is not because your ideas about marriage are wrong, but because the way you treated your friend -- it sounds like you really wouldn't let this go and like you kept literally passing judgment on her -- was out of line with how most people, at least on Metafilter, approach friendships. Many of us see friends as interesting people we like spending time with, and their choices about the way they handle their lives and their core values are less essential to the friendship. Others of us want our friends to help shape our moral codes, or we see our friends as people who share all our core values. And that is a completely acceptable way to negotiate a friendship, but it's not as common in our culture, which places high value on autonomy.

Were I your friend in this situation, I would be asking myself why my friend was so concerned about the marriage of two total strangers and about honoring the wife in that marriage, which she knows almost nothing about, to the point where she is dissolving her friendship with me. Why is their well being more important than mine? Why do you care more about strangers potentially being hurt than you do about hurting me, right now?
posted by sockermom at 5:39 AM on June 28, 2017 [21 favorites]

I feel like everything in the world is turning upside down on everything anymore. Like things are all backwards anymore. I guess I just don't fit in anymore.

Marriage used to mean different things than it means now. Being the "other woman" has also changed, in terms of the blaming and things that can happen around that situation. The laws around divorce, custody and division of assets have also changed over the years.

None of that is necessarily right or wrong (although I have my opinions on it, as I'm sure you do!). But I just wanted to point out that things sort of have turned upside down, from where they were say, 100 even 50 years ago. So don't feel alienated, try not to indulge the "I don't fit in anymore" reflex. Just examine your opinions, and how they reflect your perception of marriage and relationships and people's responsibilities and duties and expectations within them. "The only constant is change".
posted by greenish at 6:55 AM on June 28, 2017

FWIW, as a fellow divorcee, I've also disengaged from friendships with people who date married men. And as a fellow divorcee, I made it a point to only date men after their divorce was finalized. Having gone through the process of divorce, I know for myself, that is a time for contemplation and getting back on track personally, socially, and professionally. I didn't want to date during that process, and I didn't want to date anyone going through that process. Different strokes for different folks, but that's what I want in my world and in my friend-circle.
posted by pammeke at 8:06 AM on June 28, 2017

I think the issue is that if you are going to hold anyone to the standards you are setting, it should be the married people. It is the responsibility of married people to be clear about their situations and their intentions with everyone involved when they're dating. And yeah, lots of married people are intentionally and unintentionally NOT clear about those things but that does not shove the burden onto the single people of the world to walk around making sure they aren't crossing lines in relationships that they aren't even a part of.

If it matters, I am married and we don't date other people. But if my spouse is dating someone I am unaware of, my problem is with him and not with the person he's dating, even if that person knows I exist.
posted by juliplease at 8:56 AM on June 28, 2017 [6 favorites]

I was in a situation similar to yours where a married friend starting dating a work colleague with his wife's blessing. I told him I didn't think it was a good idea, and that in my experience dating outside one's marriage always led to misery, inevitably and irrevocably damaging the marriage. That's all I did. He was pretty upset and almost ended our friendship, but it's my opinion. I felt I had to share it and not waiver to be a good friend. In the end he stuck with the marriage, but the relationship created all kinds of drama and really ended up hurting the work colleague.

On the other hand, if my friend were separated from their spouse for a year, I might even recommend they try dating. If my friend was dating someone who was separated, I would recommend they curb their expectations and keep in mind he may be leading her on. However, I am assuming separated means they are openly exploring whether or not to get a divorce.
posted by xammerboy at 11:22 AM on June 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

You are right to have some concerns about your friend's well-being in that situation, and she was wrong to keep bringing up a subject that clearly made you uncomfortable. For my part, if I'd been in your shoes, I would probably have told her I couldn't talk to her about that particular subject, rather than ending the friendship completely. But, that is assuming I liked my friend a lot and found value in other parts of our relationship. It sounds like that was not the case for you.

The bottoms line is you are well within your rights to end any relationship that makes you that uncomfortable, regardless of the reason, and in this case, you've done her a favour by doing so. Most people would not want a friendship with someone who thinks so little of them.
posted by rpfields at 11:50 AM on June 28, 2017

And Wow, I guess I am surprised so many people are ok with single people dating married people.

When I initially read your question I sincerely thought one of your friends was dating a married man who was still married and she was fine being his mistress.

I am NOT OK with that on any level, on any level at all.

But your friend is actually dating a separated man which is completely different. No one is being walked over, no-one is being hurt in this situation. I'm surprised you feel so strongly about it.
posted by JenThePro at 10:07 AM on June 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

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