Friend behaving "badly"...
May 30, 2007 5:11 PM   Subscribe

How to handle friend's choices when you don't approve?

I am a 40-year-old Mom with three young kids. My question concerns a friend of our family's - technically a college friend of my husband's but we've all been hanging out a lot lately because our kids get along so well with his. I like him but don't like some of his recent life choices.

About 10 months ago, he announced he was separating from his wife with the intention of divorcing her. Of course you never know the whole story but I can say that she's been heartbroken and confused by the whole thing and claims he's having a mid-life crisis. They have two young children (3 and 7). Since moving out he has revealed that he has a (cuter, younger, childless) girlfriend. This relationship started before the separation. She has moved to be nearer to him and recently started spending time with the kids. He hasn't filed for divorce yet, says he can't do it to his wife after she's been "so great about all of this".

I have a real problem with the whole thing. I don't want to hang out with this girlfriend and would really rather not even see him at this point. The problem is, we (I, my husband and our kids) are very attached to his kids and they to us. I feel they could use some consistency now and I don't want us to be more people letting them down. The wife has been unresponsive to my efforts to establish a relationship with her (I think she sees me as coming from the dark side).

What to do? Let it go? Pretend I don't care about his personal choices and focus on being a good friend to the kids? Level with him and risk burning the bridge? Encourage my husband to hang out with him on his own? Maybe this phase will pass - if it is a mid-life crisis, how might it progress? Should I wait it out?

Thank you very much for your input!
posted by MiffyCLB to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Mind your own business.
posted by mckenney at 5:16 PM on May 30, 2007 [8 favorites]

Is letting him know that his personal choices are currently making you uncomfortable, and giving him the opportunity to explain himself to you, while continuing to focus on being a good friend to the kids, not an option?

If that were my friend, I'd certainly be calling him on the "can't do it to his wife" bullshit, and trying to get him to see, in no uncertain terms, that he's already done it to his wife, and that keeping her hanging on like some kind of emergency backup in case his present relationship goes west seems selfish, cruel and cowardly.
posted by flabdablet at 5:30 PM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Pretend I don't care about his personal choices and focus on being a good friend to the kids?

By doing this you will communicate to both his kids and your own that what he is doing is an OK thing to do.

Its not.

This guy is a selfish asshole who's too weak to live up to the promises he made, and it sounds like he's trying to have his cake and eat it too at this point.

I think your best out is to remain friends with his kids but make it clear to them and yours that what he is doing to them and their mother is wrong, and you are not ok with it. I wouldn't communicate with him, period.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:38 PM on May 30, 2007

I've been in the exact same situation: childhood friend of DH's, married with a child, begins a relationship with someone else before the official separation.

Leave it alone. Don't keep trying to invest in a relationship with the wife, especially if she is rejecting any advances you make. Let her deal with it her own way. In my experience, after some time went by and I felt that the friendship this man had shown me and my family outweighed any personal feelings about his decisions, we invited him and the new girlfriend to an open house for my son's graduation. Guess what, we like the girlfriend better. She's better for him, treats him and his children much better than his ex wife and he's the happiest he's ever been in the 30+ years DH has known him.

Try hard to not be so judgemental about the whole situation. There truly are 2 sides to every story and you only probably know half of one.
posted by hollygoheavy at 5:45 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

What mckenney said. It's nothing to do with you. Phase them out of your social life if you feel unable to deal with the situation.
posted by fire&wings at 5:47 PM on May 30, 2007

I absolutely disagree with allkindsoftime's suggestion that you badmouth this guy to his kids. That's just wrong. If you're going to badmouth him, badmouth him to *him*, in private.

He's their father, and regardless of whether he's currently capable of organizing his own emotional affairs in a mature and responsible way, there is no way the kids are going to benefit from having their own father belittled. Unless he's an abusive prick to his kids, they deserve the best relationship with him that they can possibly get.
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 PM on May 30, 2007

I see nothing to gain by putting the kids in the middle of a drama. I and people I know have been in situations where as "kids" (both as adult "kids" and as young kids) we were prevented from seeing family members or friends because of rifts. It's really uncomfortable, for starters. (Especially when, after years, the rift is settled and you have to see those people again, who have become strangers.) (I realize this is just my own little personal anecdote and may not apply to all.)

The business between the man and his wife is for them to sort out. And, people divorce all the time. Doesn't mean you have to approve of it, but the man is doing what he thinks will improve his *life*. We only have one. If he's a friend, tell him what you feel (especially about keeping the wife hanging on; in the future she'll be bitter about all this time of hers that he's wasting), but don't victimize the kids or kill the friendship over it.
posted by iguanapolitico at 6:24 PM on May 30, 2007

His love life isn't really your business, but your kids are your business, so I guess that means if sucking it up and spending some time with him and the new objectionable girlfriend means the kids of both sides are happy, then that's what you have to do.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:26 PM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Seconding flabdablet. I possible, I would talk to him, tell him that you are uncomfortable with what he is doing, but that you still want his and your children to be friends, and that you think it is important for them to remain friends in light of the great upheaval he has caused in his children's lives. Only do so if you can remain detached while doing so. Communicate same to your husband.

Please do not badmouth this guy to his kids.
posted by taliaferro at 6:29 PM on May 30, 2007

Mind your own business. You can't control other people's social lives.
posted by modernnomad at 6:55 PM on May 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

fire&wings writes "It's nothing to do with you. Phase them out of your social life if you feel unable to deal with the situation."

I disagree, good friends will tell their friends if they see them making what they think is a mistake. Keep it private between the husband and you (IE: don't involve the kids, your or his) but tell him.
posted by Mitheral at 6:56 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nthing Flabdablet about not running the guy down to the kids. Those kinds of comments generally don't make kids who are hurting feel better-- more often, they cause the kids to rush to the wanker-parent's defense, which makes it that much harder for them to deal with their own negative feelings about said wanker-parent.

Also, keep in mind that, just as your friend probably doesn't understand the true essence of your marriage, you more than likely don't understand the true essence of his. You have no idea what kind of toxic, flammable water has flowed under that particular bridge. It does sound like the guy's being a dick, but when it gets right down to it, no one's really good at divorce. Severing ties that deep has the potential to make an an asshole of anyone. Divorce can, and has, turned some of the most wonderful people in the world into shrieking, whining, stalking, backstabbing asshats. Most of the time, it passes.

Executive summary: Stay out of it, and try to withhold judgment, to whatever extent you can.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 7:38 PM on May 30, 2007

I disagree, good friends will tell their friends if they see them making what they think is a mistake.

Yeah, but good friends will still be there after the mistake is made in spite of any advice. I don't think it's entirely clear that OP is a "friend" to this man. The major connection seems to be through his children.

I don't think anything good can come from you injecting your opinions into this, OP. He didn't ask for your advice, and has clearly made a decision already. What's more important: you speaking your mind, which will probably fall on deaf ears, or your children having regular playmates?
posted by almostmanda at 8:50 PM on May 30, 2007

I had this type of situation when I was a kid, only a little weirder: My good friend's dad divorced his mother, but before they were even living in separate houses, they threw a birthday party for my friend, and his dad brought the (childless, younger, etc) new girlfriend. This man was a creep. He always tried to have physical contact with me and called me "honey" and other such words. So, my parents didn't allow me to hang out with my friend at his dad's house (until I was older and able to handle scary situations). I only stayed at his mother's house. It was a good compromise, and I was safe from the crazy. YMMV.
posted by nursegracer at 9:00 PM on May 30, 2007

In a somewhat similar situation (where I felt judgmental of the decisions a friend made leading to a divorce) I came to the conclusion that it really was not my business (in that these decisions did not impact me personally), and that my input was extremely unlikely to add anything constructive or positive to the situation.
posted by nanojath at 9:14 PM on May 30, 2007

Find ways to do stuff with the kids that don't include the father or GF--but nthing not to badmouth their father to them.
posted by brujita at 10:23 PM on May 30, 2007

At some level, you're angry because:

a) this could be you
b) it feels very irrational and hurtful
c) you feel you should support the wronged party that you're closer to (the wife) and
d) your husband is backing his friend.

Certainly, it's none of your business unless asked. You can nudge him, like "well, what are you going to do next?"...and if he asks "I don't know, what do you think?"...then you can gently point out that his wife loves him, etc, and it might be worth it to figure out if he wants to save that.

But you can't lead a horse to water. The damn animal just won't drink.

You are on the dark side - the relationship for you is your kids - for her, it's her husband's friend's wife and kids. She's in pain and if she can't be angry at him, then then those people who are near him (like your family) are fair game.

You might want to approach her, and say that you feel bad (and even worse because of your husband), and you're wiling to help be there for her as a friend.

You might also say to your husband that being around his buddy and girlfriend leave you a bit uncomfortable, and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
posted by filmgeek at 10:42 PM on May 30, 2007

1. Leave the children out of it.
2. Leave the wife alone if she doesn't want to be friends.
3. Don't socialise with the husband, or socialise with him the minimum necessary, if his behaviour distresses you.
4. Remember it is a sad fact of life that people do get divorced, and sometimes they have children, and sometimes they do it after they've hooked up with someone else, and the person abandoned is sometimes very upset. I wouldn't quite second the first comment, 'mind your own business', but I would say that unless you've been living under their bed you aren't in a position to pass judgment.
posted by londongeezer at 12:32 AM on May 31, 2007

I was in a situation like this once, with people who were very near and dear to me; one of them was blood. Seeing them come apart hurt a lot, and I wanted to know everything I could about what happened.

After quite a bit of time and worry, I eventually got to hear both sides of the story; it was told with brutal honesty, in more detail than I was comfortable with. I still ended up feeling like I had no idea what happened, because their stories just plain conflicted; these are people I've known for almost my entire life and trust wholeheartedly not to knowingly lie to me. And I don't think they did.

I was still deeply upset, and I wanted to be angry at someone. But at the end of the day, I think people's visions of the truth and reality are simply too splintered to ever mesh in a way that allows neat moral judgments as frequently as we'd like to make them.

Let it go.
posted by zebra3 at 6:25 AM on May 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like he wants to have his cake and eat it too. That's really none of your business unless the girlfriend is harming the kids or if his behavior is causing him to be a negligent or harmful father.

Continue being a friend and role model to this guys' kids. They clearly need one right now, and it sounds like you and your family care about them.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:53 AM on May 31, 2007

I second leaving the kids out of it. If they were teenagers, maybe I'd say something to your kids (never his), but they are too young to understand the vagaries of romantic relationships and familial commitment. I doubt at their age they'll perceive this as "morally OK," because they don't even have a concept of marital fidelity.

Re: the new girlfriend. Be nice to her - she's a bystander in this whole mess. Plus, if this is really a midlife crisis, she probably won't be around long.
posted by desjardins at 7:54 AM on May 31, 2007

You don't know the intimate details of his marriage. No one really knows what goes on in marriages except the people who are in them. And when they end, the fault is usually not so one-sided.

This guy isn't your best childhood friend you've known your whole life and consider like family. By your own description, he's just a friend of your husband that you like well enough. That's not close enough for you to opine to him on his marriage problems. It's really not your business.

But if you feel strongly that what this man is doing is wrong, then don't socialize with him. Leave the children (his and yours) and the girlfriend out of it.

You also might want to ask yourself why it is you have such a problem with the situation:
-Have you known other couples that have separated/divorced, and did you have a problem with that too?
-Do you have to take sides when a friend's marriage dissolves?
-Do you secretly fear your husband might leave you for a "cuter, younger, childless" woman as well?
-Could a fear like that be coloring your interpretation of the current situation?
posted by Gamblor at 9:02 AM on May 31, 2007

Re: the new girlfriend. Be nice to her - she's a bystander in this whole mess. Plus, if this is really a midlife crisis, she probably won't be around long.

That's ridiculous. She's sleeping with a married man. She's contributing to breaking up a family. A bystander she's not.
posted by Heminator at 9:38 AM on May 31, 2007

Kids, kids, kids - focus on the kids. Be friendly and loving and stable for them. Imagine how hard this must be for them. Like someone else said, be a good role model for them right now, as they are sorely in need of one. Be their safe haven, if you can.
posted by msali at 5:36 PM on June 1, 2007

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