Imagining how our friends will fall in the wake of a divorce reveals much about our character and values.
Let’s say I’m in my early forties, married, the father of a young child. Now let’s say that I’ve been with my wife less than ten years, more than seven, and that this is the longest relationship I’ve ever experienced in my life. Throw into the mix other married friends. Okay, now throw in a few divorced friends, separated friends, and, say, one or two single friends.
These are our friends.
Now say I’m happy at times. Say I’m not so happy at other times. These ups and downs, they’re completely normal, I think. Life 101, right? Now let’s say that infidelity strikes my marriage (doesn’t matter who’s to blame). The non-cheating spouse says no, I won’t forgive you; we’re done. You strayed. I neither trust you nor want to forgive you.
It doesn’t matter if we have one kid, or two kids, or enough kids to have some reality show whose title rhymes with fate or great or bait.
We have a mortgage to deal with, property, finances, pets, DVDs, photos, cutlery. We have pots and pans and shit neither of us ever uses but are unwilling to part with.
Our problem is complicated enough. But then comes the question of our friends. What about them? How will Bill and Sarah and Judith and Mike and the Warrens factor into our lives moving forward? Will everyone still remain our friends?
The answer, I think, is that it depends. Sometimes everything works out. Sometimes nothing does. Friends, like marriages, are relationships. Some last till death. Others are short-term deals, like that one-night mishap your first year out of college with that hot bartender. Most are probably somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t mean they’re failures if they don’t end with someone’s death. Some friendships—especially those based on the relationship with a couple rather than a member of the couple—are just as complicated (if not more complicated) than the actual married couple’s relationship.
This is life. This is reality.
When a couple divorces and you’re friends with both parties, here’s what happens: you’re fucked. Not always, of course. Some couples mutually fall out of love, or one of them realizes they’re gay. Those are the good breakups. The happy divorces. I’m being facetious, of course—there are no “happy” divorces, although I do believe some people are better off divorced, and I commend them when they choose to follow through. Sometimes it’s the right move for both of them, and they both realize it. They shake hands, walk off into the sunset, and that’s it. Even so, when you’re the friend of a couple that divorces, you’re fucked.
It’s a strange place to be.
I thought about my marriage. What would it mean to our friends if we said adios? What would our friends do? Would I come out on the winning side on that front? Is there a winning side? Would I lose friends I thought were more my friends than my wife’s? Would one of her friends betray her? What about my wife’s friend, X? Would she ring me up, console me?
Would any of us get drunk one night to reminisce about some party long ago when she’d come over our house, gotten ripped, and jumped into the community pool in her underwear? Would she do it again, this time on purpose?
What about Jim? Would Jim, my archenemy at work, the guy who, for some bizarre reason, also watches Korean soap operas and Glee, find out about my divorce and friend my wife on Facebook?
It’s an odd world, the world that is created when friends divorce. If you’re mature, you might talk to the couple one on one, figure that stuff out. I guess that’s the smart thing to do.
But I’m not smart. I’m not mature. Our friends know that. They’ve accepted those faults in me. Why would they want to put me through the pain of breaking up with me once they learn I’m getting divorced?
I broke down our mutual friendships into three categories: friends who would gravitate my way, friends who would gravitate my wife’s way, and those who’d remain friends with both of us.
The process was a lot less complex than I thought it would be. Very few fell to the third category. Let’s say three at most. One of them I’m being very generous on—I’m pretty sure they’d swing to my wife given the chance. They do it now when my wife and I are in separate rooms.
After those three, though, it’s pretty much a slaughter. My wife, petite and sweet as she is, is a killer when it comes to winning the hypothetical friend-custody-battle. I have a couple of hard-drinking tattooed fellows on my side, but she wins, hands down, everywhere else.
She gets lawyers and designers, technology consultants and housewives. She gets our straight friends and our gay friends, our well-established professional friends and our as-of-yet-unsure-what-I-want-to-be-in-life friends. She gets people who can cook, and others who teach at respectable universities. People she can call to pick up our kid and not get stopped by security before entering the building.
I get guys that will probably be on liver donation lists, guys that think chatting up the gal at the strip club is having a meaningful relationship. Pitiful? Sure. But I’m not shocked. They say opposites attract, and I think it’s pretty much true.
I’m a little bit of a thug. I’m rough around the edges. I curse like I have a vocabulary of ten words, six of them curses, and I don’t mind having holes in the seat of my jeans. My wife? She’s kind. She’s funny. She’s the sweetest person I know, and when she works for you, she gives it her all, and you want her to work for you forever.
What I’m saying is that she’s respectable, and I’m just your average shmo. And friends? Friends usually aren’t looking to be friends with shmoes. Not if they’re given an option between a shmo and a non-shmo.
Let me ask a final hypothetical. Say we get or are in the process of getting divorced, and I ask one of our mutual friends for, say, help with custody of my kid. Should I be mad if they say no? What if they say Yes, let’s bash your ex-wife to shit, win you some custody! What then? Do I accept it? Is that what I want to do?
Divorce is tough enough, I think. If my wife and I were divorcing, I’d want to set up some rules beforehand, some decency boundaries, at minimum. In an ideal world, I’d say:
Honey, here’s the deal. Before it gets ugly, let’s set some rules. Nothing crazy just, you know, sanity checks and balances. Like, for instance, Rule Number One: No pressure on our friends to choose sides. We can be friends with whomever we want, unless our friends have a preference. Let them decide. We give them enough rope, leeway, that sort of thing, and they make their decision. How does that sound? Cool? Honey? You there? Dear?
Photo by Scarleth White/Flickr.