Friendship fallout from divorce: should I stay or should I go?
January 29, 2019 3:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm having a hard time deciding what to do with a friendship that's been seriously impacted by my divorce: cut and run or hold out hope of revival?

In the midst of an extended, high-conflict divorce, one of the things that's been most difficult the fallout on one of my best friendships, and I'm trying to figure out what to do.

When we were together, my wife and I were close with a couple we'll call Bill and Sandy. We had kids the same age, Bill was one of my best friends, Sandy one of my wife's best friends, all four of us got along great and our kids did too. A rare but amazing connection that went on for almost a decade.

Then the divorce. Bill and Sandy are in a tough position: I'm pouring my heart out to him as things go south, and my wife is doing the same to Sandy. Probably an untenable balance to maintain in the long term.

Six months after I move out, I learn my wife (who stayed in the house with the kids, age 6 & 9, 75% of the time) has started seriously dating someone else, introduced him to the kids (who told me about it) and everything. Ugh. Next I hear that Bill & Sandy are hanging out with them as a couple, kids and all, including Fourth of July BBQs at the house and taking weekend trips together. Nothing similar going on on my end, just a constantly worsening legal battle.

I sit down with Bill and tell him I understand the difficult position they're in, but also how much it hurts to hear this is happening, this symbolic replacement they're participating in--especially with no heads up, just hearing about it after the fact, with basically little more than a shrug. He says he isn't picking sides, isn't making judgements, but it sure doesn't seem like it. I feel very let down, even betrayed, left holding the short end of the stick of a strong loyalty imbalance. (If the roles were reversed, I can't imagine doing something similar.)

Then it happens again, another family trip last fall, and I have to cut things off with him, civilly but firmly. Just can't handle the added hurt at the moment, as I fight for every hour I get with my kids. I've never cut off a friend explicitly before, much less felt betrayed by one. It hurts, but also feels healthy.

Six months later, after the holidays, Bill and I sit down over beers and have a teary hours-long heart-to-heart that reaffirms the importance of our friendship, but still ends inconclusively. He says he can't be involved as a good friend goes through a bad divorce, in large part because his childhood was full of divorce trauma, which is understandable. (Apparently, because he's not as close to my ex and the new guy, that doesn't apply on their end, ironically.) We leave it at a hope that we can pick things up down the road when things calm down.

Then I hear about them taking yet another long weekend trip all together, and I'm torn by a decision: give into the desire to tell him to go f*ck himself, cut things off completely and cleanly? Or hold my tongue, accept it as one more shitty part of the divorce, and maybe, eventually, save a valuable connection? (And count my blessings this is the only important friendship that has been affected.)

Just like I've never put a friendship on hold, I've never had to repair one that felt this damaged by loss of trust and respect. But I'm 46, and it gets harder to make new friends every year, which makes old connections that much more valuable, especially in times of intense trauma.

The urge to tell Bill to piss off is almost overwhelming at times; as I told him, if it was anyone else, I would have long ago. It would be so gratifying, and justified. But I'm also trying my absolute best to take the high road in this whole excruciating process, look outside myself and take the long view. I would love to be able to pick the friendship back up eventually; it would never be the same, I know, but there's a chance this could make it even stronger.

Either way, I can't stop thinking about it.
posted by El Curioso to Human Relations (40 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Others can tell you that telling off Bill won't actually make you feel any better and won't ultimately be gratifying in the long run, but I'm here to tell you something slightly different: that exploding at Bill could come back to bite you if he is ever deposed in a custody battle where your temper is at issue.

It is rare that someone regrets taking the high road.
posted by juniperesque at 3:17 PM on January 29 [70 favorites]

I'm so sorry about all of this. It sounds so painful and the last thing you need or want on top of the painful divorce. You have a very good head on your shoulders about this, being mindful of Bill but also aware of your own needs.

You say: He says he can't be involved as a good friend goes through a bad divorce, in large part because his childhood was full of divorce trauma, which is understandable. (Apparently, because he's not as close to my ex and the new guy, that doesn't apply on their end, ironically.)

Just wow to this. On one hand, I give him credit for being honest about his limitations. On the other hand, it's pretty shitty friend behavior. We've all been through some sort of hardship and most of us can find a way to support others, even with our personal limitations. I don't know if telling him off will accomplish much, as you acknowledge. But biting your tongue and accepting his crappy behavior isn't the best either. How about a middle ground, such as telling him simply, while you care about him and wish for the best, you can't continue the friendship right now. You appreciate his honesty even if you're disappointed by his choices, and hope that maybe one day you two can be close again.

I would hope that you and Bill can be good friends again one day but I don't know if that's possible or realistic. Hard times show us who our true friends are and, sadly, often few people pass muster. I'm dealing with that myself lately. However, that frees us up to find better friends in the future! I know it's harder to make friends as time goes on but I know you can and will. You seem like a rad person and someone I'd love to have as a friend; after going through a slew of hard times, I really want to be around people who know life isn't all daisies, who can be there for me during the bad and share my joy in the good. It's easy to be a "good" friend in the good times but much harder to be a good friend in the bad times!

I wish you all the best as you navigate everything. I don't know if you've seen it yet but I really enjoy the show Single Parents; if you don't watch it yet, you may like it, too. Can you reach out to acquaintances who have been kind and see if any of those could grow into friendship one day? Do you know of other divorced people who could reach out to, like parents of your children's classmates? Even if you don't know them well, you could reach out and invite them for coffee. Not that they'd become your bff overnight but you'd be expanding your social circle and they might be close one day! Regardless of what you do, I'd try to put the energy you've been putting in your relationship with Bill towards taking care of yourself and creating new connections because that will be more rewarding, ultimately.
posted by smorgasbord at 3:23 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]

I think this is an instance where you need to just go no-contact. You don't need to give Bill an explanation, you don't need to respond to any outreach on his part other than to say, "I have valued our friendship, but for my own emotional health I need to step away from this friendship."

Then you should journal about everything you want to say to Bill. Every explicatively laden feeling you feel. You should talk to someone who doesn't know Bill and will never ever meet Bill. You should process this betrayal with a therapist. Do everything you need to do to grieve this loss.
posted by brookeb at 3:24 PM on January 29 [25 favorites]

This is made more complex because the kids are friends. Since your ex has the kids the majority of the time, maybe keeping the "two families who are all friends" dynamic tends to exclude you. In your shoes, I would go no contact while this is so painful but not burn any bridges. The kids will grow up and then it may be possible for Bill to be your friend again.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:32 PM on January 29 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I think this is more complex because not only are the kids friends, but Sandy and the ex are also still close best friends. Honestly, I don't think this is about 'divorce trauma', I think this is because you are trying to give Bill an ultimatum that requires him to be in conflict with his wife, who no matter how close your friendship, he owes more loyalty to.

It's unlikely Bill is initiating this - most likely Sandy is. He's not 'betraying you', he's just not initiating a fight with his wife over it. This isn't really about Bill, this is about your feelings about being replaced so easily in other people's lives.

If you really want to take the high road, I'd stop letting yourself get upset because Bill and Sandy are spending time with your ex and her new partner. You really, really can't ask a couple you've been couple-friends with to choose sides - they're just going to be friends with the person who doesn't ask them to make those choices, because it's the thing best for their marriage.
posted by corb at 3:37 PM on January 29 [119 favorites]

Do you ever plan or invite them on trips, get-togethers, etc?
posted by ITheCosmos at 3:40 PM on January 29 [48 favorites]

I'm pouring my heart out to him as things go south, and my wife is doing the same to Sandy.
He says he can't be involved as a good friend goes through a bad divorce, in large part because his childhood was full of divorce trauma, which is understandable. (Apparently, because he's not as close to my ex and the new guy, that doesn't apply on their end, ironically.)

Did your ex initiate the divorce? It sounds like you are struggling a lot with the divorce, and, for a while at least, you were using Bill as your primary sounding board. That can be a really tough spot to be in for any friend after a point. Have you been in therapy during this time? Do you have other support systems? A brother or sister or parent, perhaps?

I suspect that it may be that your wife isn't talking about the divorce as much, that she might be more resolved emotionally (which is why I asked if she initiated it). Or if she's talking to Sandy, she's not also talking to Bill.

It sounds like you have a lot of resentment and bitterness built up about the divorce and on-going process. I get that it hurts that your wife is dating someone new, and it was tough to learn how you did. But she gets to date now. And she gets to spend time with friends.

Here's the thing. You want Bill to pick sides, and to pick yours. I suspect Bill isn't actively cultivating a friendship with your ex's new guy; it sounds like they are simply continuing to do fun things together. I suspect he would be open to doing fun things with you, too, but your time with his is sounding pretty negative. Did Sandy and your ex plan most of the outings together? It may be that the same pattern is continuing. It may be that they'd have weekends away together even if there was no new guy in her life.

I'm not convinced that Bill is being a terrible friend. You said the divorce is high conflict. It may be really hard for him to hear criticism of his other friend, and I think he gets to set those boundaries, even if he does so in the context of saying he went through divorce trauma as a child.

I'm not sure what Bill is supposed to do in the situation where Sandy and your ex discuss weekend plans. Is he supposed to stay home out of loyalty to you? Refuse to participate? Be rude to the new boyfriend? I don't really see how that's healthy for anyone, as hard as it is for you to see her moving forward in life.

It sounds like it's been at least a year since you moved out, and you are still holding onto a lot of anger. I wonder if you are projecting some of your anger at your ex onto Bill. I think therapy would be incredibly useful to you. I'm in my 40s and divorced and I know some men my age who have really struggled with strong emotions around their divorces, and therapy has helped them tremendously.

I know this hurts. I'm not sure it's only about Bill. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:50 PM on January 29 [77 favorites]

^^^ I came here to ask this too. It’s one thing to be upset about Bill going away with your ex and her new squeeze, but how often do you initiate catching up with Bill and his wife or planning things?

I’m stereotyping a lot here but it’s not at all uncommon for the women in relationships to get left with the labour of planning catch ups on their husband’s behalf, and if the ones involved here are still doing this together and you haven’t put in as much effort with your friendships then of course they will fall by the wayside.

You wouldn’t be the first man to go through a divorce, take a step back and realised he’s alone and that his wife has kept the friends simply because she’s the one who maintained the relationships in the first place.

In short, you can’t dictate who another couple is friends with but you can try and ensure they stay friends with you. If you want a weekend away with them, plan one! If it’s just that you don’t want them to go away with your ex and you try and control them like that, it’s a surefire way of ensuring you’re the one left with no one. I would also try to have other avenues to share your hurt with that aren’t Bill eg therapy. It’s not fair on him to put him in the middle like that. I’m sorry, it sounds rough.
posted by Jubey at 3:53 PM on January 29 [37 favorites]

A few more thoughts: it may be that Bill is a bit conflict-avoidant. It would be very difficult to be in the position of making plans with your ex and her new partner and knowing how to communicate that to you when you are clearly very unhappy about a lot of things. I can see why he would have avoided the issue entirely and hoped it wouldn't come up. That would be a difficult conversation regardless.

I'm not sure you should let this friendship go quite yet. You don't actually have to make a decision. Take some time away, perhaps. But get into therapy and finalize the divorce and start working on healing yourself. It may be that he couldn't handle all the negativity and conflict from you, but he can be a good friend again in the long run. In any case, I'm not sure you have to decide on this right now, even though it seems like you are very hurt and want to blow something up.

I would also suggest journaling in addition to therapy. Get that hurt out.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:54 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]

It is likely that Bill is fairly fond of you, given that he's still trying to be somewhat friendly to you when you're putting some pretty immature ultimatums on complicated adult friendships, his marriage, and your kids' friendships. You're clearly in a lot of pain and he likely sees that, but I'll bet money Sandy noped out at the point you insisted they and their kids exit your own kids' lives out of loyalty to you.

You want someone to be mad at, that's understandable. It's not Bill who deserves it. If it's too hard for you to witness right now it's understandable for you to tend to your own boundaries and back off, but Bill does not deserve your vituperation or any pieces of your mind and it might be gratifying for a moment - you should grapple with why - but it will not be justified. It may very well be something you'll end up revisiting at 3am for decades to come, once you regain your equilibrium. It will likely eventually be too embarrassing for you to try to reconnect the relationship.

Step back gracefully, send holiday cards, revisit this in a year or two.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:55 PM on January 29 [34 favorites]

Six months after I move out, I learn my wife (who stayed in the house with the kids, age 6 & 9, 75% of the time) has started seriously dating someone else, introduced him to the kids (who told me about it) and everything. Ugh. Next I hear that Bill & Sandy are hanging out with them as a couple, kids and all, including Fourth of July BBQs at the house and taking weekend trips together.

End the friendship. For one thing, it causes you emotional pain, and that's not what friends do. Second, what happens if your ex's new partner is not actually a partner, but leaves the scene? This lack of attachment is tremendously emotionally damaging for your children, and your friends should at least be very cautious for their sake (the kids).

So, just end the relationship. You don't even have to say anything.
posted by JamesBay at 3:59 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

At your age, it is entirely possible to take a break from a friendship while you personally sort things out and return, after 2 months, 2 years or 20 years. It doesn't matter. Don't worry about that part of it, worry about pushing your friend away by doing or saying something that really is a deal-breaker.

I have several happy personal examples of how this works, but I'll put forward the newest. I divorced in 1996, so more than 20 years ago. Before that, my ex and I had a mutual friend we were both very close to. For reasons that should not be posted on the internet, I distanced myself from this friend after the divorce. And so did my ex for entirely opposite reasons. Our friend had no idea why, and kept on trying to communicate.
Last weekend the friend and I were both at a party, and because I've been at a new therapist and felt some things were resolved in a way they hadn't been before, I decided to tell my old friend what had happened and why we had stopped seeing him. He was visibly moved. And we agreed to do some holidaying together this year with our respective new families to get back in touch.
On the basis of this experience, I suggest it will be OK for you to take a time-out and care for yourself for a while. If you are honest about your motives and feelings, it will be OK.
posted by mumimor at 4:11 PM on January 29 [9 favorites]

What may also help is to reframe your thinking a bit. Instead of being angry at Bill for spending time with your ex, the new guy, and the kids, think of it this way: Bill and Sandy have been constant figures in your kids lives. Your KIDS are going through a lot right now, yet they still have their best friends and their best friends PARENTS there for them. The new guy may last and he may not, but Uncle Bill and Aunt Sandy are still there. If you can see that this is a good thing for your kids, maybe it will help your feelings a bit.

Bonus: they are kind of keeping an eye on things, because it sucks knowing a new person is around your children and not knowing anything about them. Bill can be your eyes to make sure your kids are treated okay.
posted by annieb at 4:34 PM on January 29 [66 favorites]

“ It hurts, but also feels healthy.” This seems to be the most important sentence in your post. Prioritize you healing right now. It will be the best thing in the long run for both you and your kids.
posted by MountainDaisy at 4:50 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

I know this hurts but I don't understand what you think Bill ought to be doing, here.

His wife is best friends with your ex. They want to do family outings together. What, is Bill supposed to boycott plans with his wife and family because your ex's new boyfriend is there? The new boyfriend is apparently part of the kids' life now.

You'd do better to figure out a friendship between yourself and Bill that can help you stay part of the kids' social sphere, rather than fantasizing about him going to bat on your behalf against your ex and his own wife. He can't really do that. And it's not reasonable to expect him to be a sounding board for your anger against your ex, when your ex is his wife's close friend. Get together for a hike or a game or something, and try not to vent your anger at your ex onto Bill.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:56 PM on January 29 [23 favorites]

I was friends with a guy in high school. I married someone from a different part of the U.S., and over the years we were married introduced my wife to this friend and hung out with him a few times when we were back in my hometown.

After my wife left me - and married my best friend - this old friend remained friendly with her, staying friends on FB and even texting with her.

He was *my* friend. She barely knew the guy. And it really hurt me that he would continue talking to her as if she hadn't messed up my life.

I tried telling him it hurt, be he didn't care. So I ultimately cut him off completely and blocked his email and phone number. That turned out to be the best solution.

Our situations aren't exactly the same, but similar enough that my advice is to end the friendship and move on.
posted by tacodave at 4:57 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

Six months later, after the holidays, Bill and I sit down over beers and have a teary hours-long heart-to-heart that reaffirms the importance of our friendship, but still ends inconclusively.

Were you mostly the one initiating this, or was Bill? It seems like it matters at least a bit, to me. I mean, I think it would not be a terrible idea to just move on, here. But if Bill has expressed to you without prompting that he misses being closer with you and most of the driver for him talking about how difficult this is is coming from him, I think there's at least a plausible argument here to be made that it really is just that difficult for him and that it will get less shitty over time, although it may still take quite awhile.

But if you were the one who was mostly nudging to try to reconcile, here, then it starts to read more like he's just trying to tell you what you want to hear, and nobody needs friends like that. I do think that at the end of the day the person Bill is really choosing here is his wife, but if he's actively initiating contact with you where he expresses regrets, I think it has at least potential to improve. If he's just saying "yes I sure do also miss when stuff was better" when you contact him, new friends might be hard to find, but not THAT hard.
posted by Sequence at 5:01 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]

I vote you don’t do anything. If I were you, I’d go for a temporary fade, but stop short of no contact. I’d put Bill on the back burner for now and try to focus on things that are more soul-enriching than your friendship with Bill, both in and of itself and as a constant reminder of the heartache with the divorce and the fact that you now are/ feel excluded from a circle you were previously part of.

The problem with Bill will keep for a year or two until you recover a bit and have a cooler view of what has been going on. And if it doesn’t keep – well, problem solved!

My sister has been going through a separation recently, and witnessing her struggles I was able to see something I didn’t have the distance for when I was going through my own divorce: the vast majority of people have NO CLUE what to do when it comes to other people’s heartache. This includes people who are very close to you. I mean, people tend to be kind of supportive in the immediate aftermath of ‘officially recognized traumatic, life-changing event', but two, three weeks later the empathy tap has run dry and support and commiseration become increasingly reluctant, or the previously sympathetic person may even resent you & turn on you. It’s awful, but it happens all the time. Just read the media – very often, you have to be a model ‘victim’ in any given situation for others around you not to turn on you for inconveniencing them with your uncomfortable feelings.

That sounds a bit bitter, but I also have some sympathy for people at the supporting end. Like, in your situation, what could Bill do? Not go on these outings? Make a grand stand? Tell your ex off? The reality is that whatever Bill does, the separation cannot unhappen, your ex will still have a new partner, the divorce is still going to be painful, the legal battle is still on, the kids are still in the middle … Doesn’t make things easier for you, but the reality is that if Bill were to act differently it would largely be symbolic and with no practical value. Quite the contrary, by remaining socially connected to your ex, he might even have the chance to put in a good word on your behalf.

Still, I have to admit, I’d be feeling pretty much like you if I were in your shoes. But don’t act on it – let it slide into the background of your life, be very passive in your relationship with Bill for a while (or even withdraw to just short of completely cutting him off), and cultivate a new life that brings you, if not exactly happiness, at least some peace and maybe contentment. Whatever that means for you – life is immense and our lives are short and there’s always something to discover, even when we are feeling down, jaded, bitter, and too old to learn new tricks.
posted by doggod at 5:02 PM on January 29 [22 favorites]

All these answers are helpful. I know I'm holding onto a lot of anger and sadness and bitterness far longer than I'd hoped, for many reasons, and that some of this is getting redirected onto Bill. Being let down by a friend is such a new and awful feeling, especially such a good friend, at such a horrible time, that's it's hard to separate out all the emotions.

To answer some of the questions: I do have a therapist, and a men's group, and a divorced father's Meetup group I started, and I journal compulsively, and stay in shape, and sleep, and cultivate new friendships, and date, and sometimes it all feels like barely enough.

There's no chance Bill and Sandy would have hung out with me and someone I was dating, out of Sandy's loyalty to my ex. I'm 99% sure of that. They just have a different relationship. And I'm sure I've been less fun to be around lately, in part because I don't have my ex's ability to smile no matter what. That's just our personalities, one of the reason things didn't work out.

What did I expect him to do? My inner 16-year-old says: refuse, say I'm not spending time with this new guy because that's aiding and abetting something that's potentially unhealthy for my friend's kids--starting a new relationship too early and intensely in the midst of a high-conflict divorce--not to mention painful for my friend as a marginalized father.

But yeah, the real world is more complex. At the very least, it would have helped to acknowledge the shittiness of the split-loyalty situation up front, instead of what feels like sneaking off and downplaying things. His initial response--hey man, it could be so much worse, like my childhood, and besides, this new guy isn't so bad, you should try to get to know him--yeah, no, pretty much the worst answer possible at the time.

Just hearing the word "sorry," in any context, would go a long way.

Anyway, I think I'm going to just stick it on the shelf for now. If he gets in touch with me--I've initiated all contact since this all blew up last summer--then we'll have to see. But for now, I'll do my best to put it aside and focus on happier things.
posted by El Curioso at 5:37 PM on January 29 [14 favorites]

Thing to remember here too, however much we like to believe we're all enlightened & spouses should be able to have any friends they want, if his wife is good friends with your ex it puts them both in a difficult position that I suspect neither of them want to be in.
posted by wwax at 5:42 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]

It is really tough for people to remain friends with people after a divorce. This is especially the case when they are couple friends. It might get better but at this point things are still heated and uncomfortable. It sucked for them to hear from both of you about your problems. And it sucks for them to hang out with you now. They feel conflicted about telling you about things they did with her or vice versa. They are nervous about not disclosing something that was private.
This is probably also compounded by the fact that the wives were closer than the husbands.
In my direct experience, friends will get divided up. And for those people that must interact with you both (like your kid's best friend's parents), it'll be awkward.

Just slow fade from them, especially while things are still contentious.
posted by k8t at 6:44 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]

On one hand, I give him credit for being honest about his limitations. On the other hand, it's pretty shitty friend behavior.

A different perspective: you may be a bit of an open wound on this topic (for all sorts of good reasons!) and it may be tough for him to take because of whatever shitty stuff happened to him in his childhood. We all do the best we can with the toolkit we have, but I have a friend who just hates her job and complains about it to the exclusion of other topics and after a while I have to politely tell her I can't be around her. It sounds like you and Bill may have reached the limits of what you can do for each other until your situation becomes less fraught.

As people said above, he's not going to choose you over his wife. And I hear what you are saying, it would have really been nice to have heard "Awww man, it's tough and I'm sorry this all sucks" instead of... whatever you've gotten from him. At the same time, you seem like you're in a really tough place right now and maybe expecting some stuff that isn't realistic given that real people are complicated. And it also seems like just being around him sort of puts you in a situation where you're confronted with the life you used to have and maybe that's a place you need to spend less time in right now.
posted by jessamyn at 7:12 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]

refuse, say I'm not spending time with this new guy because that's aiding and abetting something that's potentially unhealthy for my friend's kids--starting a new relationship too early and intensely in the midst of a high-conflict divorce-

If you think you genuinely have the right to determine whether your ex is starting a relationship "too early and intensely" because you think it's "potentially unhealthy" for your kids, the person you need to be speaking with is your ex, not Bill. If you don't think you, the parent of the children, have a legitimate basis to object to who she is seeing because of the effect on them, on what basis do you think he would? But I don't hear that you have, and I think that's because you know down deep that you don't have the right. (Imagine if the situation were reversed, and you were the one who'd moved on, and he tried to tell you you shouldn't be seeing the new person...)

That you feel aggrieved that Bill is not policing your ex's relationship behavior on your behalf is frankly troubling. I think you need to let Bill go because you need to take a step back, period. But it's not Bill's fault. From the outside you look like someone not just intensely jealous and resentful--which are understandable feelings in the wake of divorce--but someone who doesn't get that, while these feelings are understandable and not "wrong" in themselves, they are not necessarily fair bases for action. Stepping away from Bill is best because it gives you more time to allow your emotions to cool. If you torch the relationship in anger instead, though, you will be torching it, not him. And I think you will regret it in the end. You're looking for someone to be mad at about the situation, but sometimes...there just isn't anybody to be mad at. It's just life, and it just hurts, and lashing out at people who are or were close to you will not make your life better in the long run.
posted by praemunire at 7:16 PM on January 29 [23 favorites]

You can’t expect him to take sides with you against his wife. I’m sorry that you're feeling the odd man out but that's how it is, especially in friendships that are forged within couple dynamics. I think your impulse to move on from him is healthy.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:17 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]

re "aiding and abetting" - we don't know whether your worry about the new guy/new relationship is justified, but I think it's very likely a net good that your children are maintaining their bond with dear family friends including two stable adults (who you trust around your kids, even if you don't particularly like them at the moment).
posted by acidic at 7:35 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]

I think the piece about your kids being friends is incredibly relevant. When Bill and Sandy hang out with your ex and her new partner, how frequently are all the kids there, too? As much as you can’t ask Bill to choose you over his wife, you really can’t ask him to choose to hold himself separate from his own children under these circumstances.

I presume you have parenting time with your children; your post seems to imply that you have them 25% of the time, though it’s a little unclear. Have you tried inviting Bill and Sandy’s kids over for a play date during your parenting time and making sure that the invite extends to Bill and Sandy?
posted by KathrynT at 8:09 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

I really feel for you. Ok, so of course he has to chose his wife (and therefore your ex) but sometimes it would be nice if it could be about you when you're having a hard time. And bringing up his childhood experiences of divorce? That's like telling someone with one broken leg 'well I broke both my legs once'. Not helpful.

I think fading will be best for you. Don't do anything dramatic, if you tell him how you feel it's not likely to change anything and you won't feel better after the moment. This is one of those things that's unfair and really sucks and there's no way to sugarcoat it or really fix it. Acknowledge that, you have every right to feel that way. It won't change the situation but should hopefully help you move through it as at least you're being heard (even if only by you).

I really hope 2019 gets better for you.
posted by kitten magic at 8:33 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]

El Curioso: "There's no chance Bill and Sandy would have hung out with me and someone I was dating, out of Sandy's loyalty to my ex. I'm 99% sure of that. "

I dunno. I take a different read on this than everyone else. If you really do think they are treating you differently than your wife (i.e. willing to spend time with her new SO but not your hypothetical one), that is pretty lame and potentially a cause for frustration. That said, there's not much you can do about it. :(
posted by crazy with stars at 8:50 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]

If the roles were reversed, I can't imagine doing something similar

I would be hesitant to make calls like this, honestly. I think you're downplaying the difficulty of this for other people - because your own difficulty is so much worse.

When my parents got divorced, they respectively lost all their friends, literally all of them in about a year. They had been married for 27 years in a relatively conservative country town and people just found the new status way too hard to deal with.

It hurt them both, immeasurably. But it especially hurt my father who - like you - had moved out and was only seeing the kids two days a week and was hurting and so lonely, and alone. And that solitude was haunting him like a wendigo, I was only thirteen and could see it. He was baffled by it.

Their friendship circle did not act well. However they didn't know howto act, hell my parents were trying to figure it out themselves. My parents essentially became different people after the divorce, in terms of the roles they were expected to play in their social circle.

Even the friends that "took sides" kind of disappeared after year or so.

The best thing, for both of my parents was establishing new relationships and friendships, as their new selves. This was, I imagine, both exciting for them as they explored facets of themselves they had kept tamped down for many years, and also terribly sad for them, as they felt their old selves/roles disappearing over the horizon and they had to say goodbye and nothing could be done to bring them back. Some friends became non entities, some became acquaintances, and some acquaintances became good friends. They also had a bunch of "transition" friends, close at the time but once things settled down 3-5 years later, they kind of dropped away.

As a kid at the time, grappling with change myself, I found these changes confusing, sad, upsetting, mostly, as my parents founded their new identities. Especially when I felt they were doing it without regard for my feelings or emotional needs.

Sorry this is rambling, your question has triggered a lot of memories in me. I guess what I'm saying is:

1) you are going through a huge period of change, it will suck during this metamorphosis, there will be hurt, and there may not be much you can do about it. Endure, know that it will pass.

2) lower expectations of old friends and contact time with old friends. Be aware your own behaviours have changed and will continue changing. You also represent divorce, marital discord etc to people they are often discomfitted by that. You may be putting a heavy load on people used to just hanging out with you. My father was depressed, would have been maudlin in the extreme and dwelt on the divorce too much, people didn't want to be his therapist.

3) Don't burn any bridges, but keep building new relationships, establish people that know and like the new you.

4) be the best father you can be, keep putting your kids first. Once my parents got the sadness of divorce, they both - my father in particular - took their hands off the parenting wheel in the excitement of their new lives (yes, that's how happy they were). It sucked. As a kid I accepted it because I didn't know any better. As a parent myself now, I can't believe my father moved away for three fucking years at this crucial time of my life because of his girlfriend. What the hell.

Be a good dad, and person, the rest will come. You are healing from an injury and rehabilitation will take a while. Be kind to yourself, and kind to your friends past and current as well. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 8:53 PM on January 29 [39 favorites]

This seems like "couple friends" are the issue here. You're no longer a couple, so you can't be friends. She's already paired off with someone new so they can "couple friends" with the new boyfriend instead of you. Which sucks.

Bill won't pick your side. Either he's going to try to walk the line between you or he'll go with Sandy and your ex-wife because it's easier. If it's possible to spend time alone with him, that might be the best you can do. (As a friend of mine said, if someone made her pick sides, she will pick the side that ISN'T asking her to pick sides.)

In situations like this, see if he ever initiates hanging out with you again and if he never does, then that's your answer.

I'm sorry you're losing a friend over this, but from what I hear from others, this is a risk with "couple friends."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:26 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]

I... his wife is best friends with your ex-wife. When Sandy says to your ex-wife "Hey, let's take the kids and go for a ski weekend" do you expect Bill to... not go?

My guess is that your ex is dumping on Sandy, not on Bill, and that means it's easy for him to simply hang out with her and with the new boyfriend. It is harder to be your friend. And to me, that means the real issue here is not the new boyfriend, the trips and the BBQs, but that Bill is failing to be there for you as a friend when you need him.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:41 AM on January 30 [6 favorites]

Bill has said his childhood was scarred by divorce. That's no trivial thing. Maybe instead of asking Bill to support you no matter what during your high-conflict divorce and presumably forever after, you could ask him about his experience and what he thinks his parents could have done differently that might have helped. In a high-conflict divorce, there is always something that each party could be doing differently, especially when kids are involved. And in high-conflict divorces, the focus is nearly always on winning, not co-parenting.

Instead of leaning on your friend in a way that forces him to choose between the two divorcing adults, consider leaning on him to gain some perspective about being a better divorced co-parent to your kids. Bill cares for your kids and he probably has a great deal of wisdom to share.

Friendship doesn't mean continually venting to another person and having them stand by you no matter what. Sometimes it means asking their honest input about your own words/actions that are difficult to hear.
posted by headnsouth at 4:03 AM on January 30 [12 favorites]

Just wanted to stop in and suggest, as others before me have, that you put Bill on the back burner. Divorce, even without conflict, will change you. There is loss on so many levels.
You may come back to Bill later or you may just do the fade away as you make new friends not connected to your prior married life.
I think both my ex and I lost most of our friends. Some really freaking hurt and some I am still bitter about if I think on it too much. But we both made new friends, found new loves. It does get better..just slowly.
posted by ReiFlinx at 4:09 AM on January 30 [2 favorites]

If he gets in touch with me--I've initiated all contact since this all blew up last summer--then we'll have to see.

Yeah no. This friendship is as good as dead.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:54 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]

Bill is going to keep seeing your ex. You need to decide whether you can have a friendship with him right now given that that's the situation. If not, stop contacting him, but don't tell him to go to hell because I think you'll probably change your mind in the future.

If you think it's possible to enjoy his friendship even though he is maintaining his friendship with your ex and her boyfriend, think about what you'd like that to look like. An agreement that neither of you talk about her, and if one of you forgets the other stops you? Casual hang-outs at the bowling alley or whatever that don't get too deep? Continuing to tell him how hurt you are by his behavior isn't going to help either of you even though it's true, so that can't be part of it.

Either way, you need to start putting in significant effort to socialize with other people, both with and without your kids. It's a lot harder to socialize individually than as a couple but you need to do it. Why haven't you hung out with Bill and Sandy and the kids? It probably doesn't make sense for you to date yet since you're so broken by divorce right now, and I know you're seeking support in various formal ways, but are you socializing just for the sake of hanging out? Are you hosting parties and inviting them?

(I sympathize; my ex left me in a really shitty way, and even though almost all of our friends supported me above him, I get secretly pissed every time I hear about one of them intentionally interacting with him in any way. And I lost a lot of friends just because relationship dynamics change so much post-divorce; couples often don't make a lot of time for single people, and everyone I know is married. Losing good friends is a real source of grief that a lot of people don't recognize as devastating. I'm so sorry this is happening to you.)
posted by metasarah at 8:31 AM on January 30 [5 favorites]

I wonder who was doing the emotional labour of get-togethers in the past. Were the moms the ones doing the planning, coordination and getting the kids ready? Who made the food, organized all the things to bring, did the laundry and clean up? Are they the ones who know the ins and outs of the kids' relationships and help them navigate that? Were you and Bill relying on that hard work, without even realizing it?

If you think your relationship with work is valuable *or* if you want to support your kids in maintaining their friendships and important people in your lives, support them getting together with this other family. It will also increase the social supports for their mom.

At the same time, think about what you can do to create and foster the relationship with Bill and with their kids and your kids. Could you plan a picnic, a homemade escape room, board game night, movie night or something? If it doesn't work with them, could you plan it with other friends or your kids' friends? If you become the dad who has food and activities, you'll end up with more social supports and so will your kids.
posted by shockpoppet at 9:23 AM on January 30 [9 favorites]

I have a different view as someone who ended up in a lawsuit with a former friend whose actions cost me a lot of money and really messed up my life (and who has gone on to become a far bigger scam artist as other recent lawsuits, completely separate from me, have shown).

It was basically impossible for me to continue friendships with our mutual friends. I was constantly wondering if she was telling them her side (and which lies exactly), how they saw me, if I should tell them my side or if that would rudely put them in the middle, if they had begun to get even a hint of how messed up her professional ethics were, if they could tell me where to find her in person so I could serve her with the g*d*mn legal papers that she was evading, and so on. A full year after I'd recovered emotionally in almost all ways, seeing them would still give me second-hand exposure to her and bring it all back. I think that some fraction of what you're feeling is this -- exposure to your ex- and all that anger surfacing.

In my case, I could see that these friends were blameless. In your case, I do think it's a bummer that he has never reached out to make contact and can't validate that this sucks for you. I don't agree that it's reasonable to ask him to refuse to hang out as a couple with your ex- and her new person. But independent of all that, it sounds like he's not being a good friend to you. That said, I think the equation of your anger here is (degree to which he's not being a good friend) x (importance and painfulness of the situation), and that it's probably that second factor that is really making this unbearable. In other words, if you were perfectly happy with your current situation, I don't think his behavior would be quite such a massive dealbreaker. It doesn't mean you have to be pleased with him, but it's worth keeping in mind. This is super-painful not because he's a super-awful person but because he's being a sub-par friend in what is an excruciating situation.

I wouldn't tell him any of this. I had to take a lot of space from these mutual friends because I couldn't handle the second-hand exposure to my former friend -- it was just too upsetting for me. I kind of get the sense that this would be the best for you. I also agree both with those who said that this relationship is likely over and those who said that sometimes long-lost friends come back into your life unexpectedly if you avoid burning the bridge. So I'd just take the space that you need and continue all the other really valuable things that you're doing to get through this. I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by slidell at 8:37 PM on January 30 [3 favorites]

Wow, I just wanted to say this has been a super helpful AM.
posted by El Curioso at 10:52 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]

Look at folks’ behavior instead of their words here. Bill has stopped reaching out entirely? Only a shitty, unconcerned-about-you kind of friend would straight up ignore his close friend who is going through a terrible divorce for the last 6 months. Not even a “hey, how are you holding up?” text from the guy in all that time? That’s bullshit. So Bill has already friend dumped you, he just won’t come out and say it; and so you should move on and make new friends as hard as that is. (And you are definitely young enough to be able to do this.)

In “extended, high-conflict divorces” like yours (and mine), having previously best/close friends suddenly drop you, or slow fade on you is actually incredibly common. And it hurts so bad. Especially when they are people you were so good to as a friend! Your wife’s most certainly been badmouthing you to Sandy and Bill, probably for longer of a timeline than you know, and they unfortunately believe what they’ve heard. Let them believe her. Don’t ever try to change their mind. Just know that they are not great friends and you can do better at finding new friends eventually who share your values of not treating friends like this when the chips are down.

Chump Lady has coined a great term for the Bills of the world, in the high-conflict divorce after infidelity context: a “Switzerland friend.” It super sucks to have to start from scratch with finding pretty much all new local friends. But the truth is, the same traits that once led you to pick a bad-for-you wife also led you to pick some bad-for-you friends as well, such as Bill. “Fixing your picker” — another Chump Lady turn of phase— also applies to picking better, more legit friends who are actually fully reciprocal, and have your back. Friends who would tell you your wife’s been smearing you and refuse to believe it. Hang in there, you are not alone in losing fake friends who were never genuinely there for you.
posted by edithkeeler at 5:36 AM on March 27

My wife kept the social calendar before we divorced. Some of the friends we had clearly had no interest in staying friends with me, and I wasnt particularly keen on them either, so that worked out. I also made a somewhat close friend because another couple recommended me as someone who knew how to navigate a divorce in a healthy way, and I supported him for a while until he started dating my ex, so I let him go because I didn't want to have to balance keeping things good with my ex (to coparent) against supporting him when they inevitably broke up (which they did.)

That other couple I mentioned above, though? They were super sad we split, and since they are good people and our kids are friends, they went out of their way to stay friends with both of us; to do our part, we kept the drama away from them, and they acknowledged the situation sympathetically but without taking sides -- essentially mourning the end of the relationship without ending our friendships. So it has been years, and we all still get along, and they are truly the best people.

Point being: it can be done, but all four people have to be on point, and the drama has to stay out of it...which isn't happening here.

I recommend putting the friendship aside as far as expectations go, and not leaning on him for support, but when you do have the kids, call Bill and invite him and the kids over. If he says yes, great, have a good time and don't talk about the divorce...and if he turns you down a couple of times in a row, then accept he isn't the friend you thought he was, and let your kids go over there without you/let the friends come over without their parents so that you are modeling better behavior for your kids than that family is.
posted by davejay at 10:39 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]

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