After A Breakup, Who Gets To Keep The Friends?
Two of my best friends broke up recently. They were going out for years, and were deeply in love with each other, and did everything together, and I just NEVER imagined that this could happen. My instinct under any other circumstances would be to remain friends with both of them, in the most sensitive way possible; but it’s not that simple — one of them dumped the other in a completely devastating, totally insensitive way. I can’t see a way to remain friends with a person who’s capable of that kind of behavior. But I’ve only been listening to one side of the story (I’ve been spending time with the one who needed me more) and I worry that I’m not being fair. Am I supposed to tell myself that I can’t fully know what happened between them, or am I justified in ending a friendship now? Is it even POSSIBLE to be a true friend to both of them?
- Questioning Custody
You haven’t told me almost anything about the circumstances of their relationship — not even their ages or orientations — but in a way, that’s a good thing. Because this is the most difficult question I’ve had to answer so far, and by being ambiguous about these things you’ve given me free range to imagine a number of scenarios.
Say, for instance, that the dump-er (A, for the sake of clarity) had left the dump-ee (B) for someone else — someone A had been seeing before they broke up, even. Someone A had been sleeping with, maybe. Even an ex. Or one of A’s best friends. I can’t imagine anything worse than that, excluding some sort of incest scenario, which seems unlikely.
Is there any way somebody would be justified in doing that? I suppose that if A were really in love with this other person, I would find it excusable — because you’re not doing anyone any favors by pretending not to be in love. Love isn’t like a headache that will go away if you wait it out. But that implies, to my mind, that A didn’t really love your friend — because people who’re in love don’t fall in love with other people. And they don’t do things that devastate the people they love. So maybe A’s real ethical violation was leading B to believe that s/he loved him/her.
There are a couple of ways to read that, if it’s true. It’s possible that A had never really been in love before, and thought s/he did love B, until A met some other person and realized the difference. On the other hand, it’s also possible that A once loved B, but didn’t any more, and couldn’t deny it. Or maybe there wasn’t someone else; maybe A just wanted to see other people.
In fact, no matter what A’s behavior was like, it seems to me that the real betrayal here is that A stopped being in love with B. Because people who love each other are very, very unlikely to betray each other. They can forget, sometimes, that they love each other, or they can be lazy and selfish in small ways, but they don’t do things to each other with this kind of impact — i.e. leaving B this hurt.
But when you think about it, isn’t that why all relationships end? Because one person stopped acting like he or she was in love with the other? Stopped being in love? Is there any way to leave someone you were once in love with without betraying all the promises — of your own constancy, your reliability, your love?
And isn’t that a risk we all run when we get involved with other people? Isn’t that written into the unworded contract that you make when you kiss, make breakfast together, rent movies, fuck each other silly, buy perfect gifts? Can you really hold someone accountable for being, or not being, in love?
More generally, the question of how much we’re ever responsible for feeling (or not feeling) love has been on my mind a lot lately. For instance, I have several dear friends whom I love with all my heart. But sometimes, in spite of all the love and appreciation that I have for them, I still feel that I don’t deserve their friendship — because they’re so brilliant and delightful and caring that I feel sure that even the most dry-hearted Scrooge in the world would be moved by them, if he only knew them. Can I really call myself responsible for feelings that run so deep that I can’t help them? Or do they somehow elude attribution to one person or another?
And then there’s the reality: it’s generally understood that when couples split, they divide their friends. I have an ex who has, with time, found it in himself to forgive me for ceasing to be in love with him, after we’d been dating for four years. I can’t fully explain it myself, except to say that he’s a better person than I am. But we’ve become close friends now, and rely on each other for advice, perspective, and a million other things. However, there are friends of his who are never going to forgive me for breaking up with him, in spite of the fact that he himself has — and I’ve accepted that, if grudgingly. There’s nothing I can do about it; there’s nothing they can do about it. Because when the cards were on the table, they loved him, and they didn’t love me — at least not once they knew that I didn’t appreciate their friend as much as they did.
So with regard to your friend A, don’t ask yourself whether he’s in the right or in the wrong; if any ethics are relevant here, you’re not in a position to analyze them. Instead, ask yourself whether you still love A, and whether you can love someone who doesn’t also love B. Those are the only things you can know. Best of luck —
Send me your questions anonymously: VeronicaMittnacht@thefastertimes.com.
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