Thursday, 11 April 2013

When She Chooses Him Over You

Here's one of the most painful facts of female existence. There are women who will put their latest romantic/sexual relationship before any other consideration in life: before their friends, before their children, before their jobs, before their marriages, before their health, before their sanity.

Sexual infatuation is a drug, and some women become addicts. Other women are just--well--ordinary human women. Most women naturally want a special man in their lives and make him their Number One priority. Marriage is supposed to make this tendency a safe, good one.

But it does hurt at least a little when your best friend falls in love or gets married. Quite obviously she loves some guy better than you, even if she has known you for twenty years and him for six months. Whoa. Ouch. Life.

If you are under twenty-five, the tendency of women to privilege some man over their female friends may come as a shock to you. If you are over twenty-five, you may have noticed this already. If you are over thirty, you're probably used to it. Life--you know? (Shrug.) Whadayagonnado?

Pop music is full of wonderful songs about "men come and go, but sisterhood is forever." It's a lovely idea, but come on. Although women don't usually compete with each other with the same bloodthirsty gusto as men, women do indeed compete with each other, and if it has something to do with a man... Whew! Look out. Even the nicest, kindest, women-loving women can go crazy with jealous rage.

But I should stress that not all women battle or compete much or often over men. One of the most annoying things about being a Single woman is going to a party of married couples where the Married women act like a you are a vixen in the hen-house just because you are having a conversation with one of the Married men. I should also stress that not all Married women are like that, either, although few things annoy Married me more socially than watching a Single woman chase any man around a party. "Sit still, woman," I think. "If he wants to talk to you, he'll talk to you."

But I'm not really thinking about the occasional social unpleasantness between the Married and the Single. I'm thinking about young women discovering that they have been displaced in their girlfriends' affections by their girlfriends' boyfriends. I am especially thinking about the young lady whose friend is now dating her ex-boyfriend.

Treason, we howl. Treason! How dare she? How can she be on his side, let alone at his side? AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!

Really, it hurts. It really, really hurts. But it happens. And only if you are really lucky will she discuss it with you first. She is much more likely to sneak around or lie about it because she doesn't want to hurt you or feel like a bad friend, etc., etc.

So what do you do? Well, there are a number of things you might do.

First, admit to yourself and God that you feel betrayed and disrespected and even disbelieved, if you told your friend that your ex-boyfriend is a rat-fiend from hell.

Second, admit to yourself and God that as you fell for the guy, you know better than anyone how easy might have been for your friend for fall for the guy.

Third, ponder the faults of your ex, and feel compassion for your friend because now she has to deal with them. Pray for her. Go talk to a good priest about it all.

Fourth, draw some boundaries for yourself and for her. Her love life is her love life. You don't have any right to know what she does with her love life, and she has no right to impose her love life on you. If you don't want her to talk to you about Scooter, say "Because Scooter is my ex-boyfriend, I don't feel comfortable talking about Scooter." If you don't want Scooter in your place, tell your friend that as much as you care about her and want her to be happy, you don't want your ex-boyfriend in your place. She, of course, is always welcome.

This is not forcing your friend to "choose between her friend and her man"--that staple of so many boring and painful high school and college dorm dramas. This is you choosing to remain friends with your friend, but not being forced to have a relationship with her boyfriend.

It's a tricky situation, one that calls for compassion, patience and strength. Friends respect their friends' boundaries, so if the girl who is dating your ex still wants to be your friend, she must respect your boundaries: if you don't want him in your living space, or to have to talk about him, then you must say so as kindly yet firmly as possible, and she must respect that. And you must respect that her love life is her business, not yours. It is not for you to complain about to mutual friends, and you can't tell her what to do or not to do.

Fifth, allow yourself to grieve a little--in private or with someone paid or trained to keep their mouths shut. The juiciness of "Mary's dating Anne's ex-boyfriend, and Anne is totally gutted" is too much of a temptation for the average college student not to share. "Mary's dating Anne's ex-boyfriend, and Anne seems totally cool with it" is not only a million times classier, it's too boring for others to want to talk about much.

It may be that you will never see your friend in the same light again. I know. And that's sad, and maybe she dreads that, but truth is what is, as Saint Thomas Aquinas taught. Forgive her and also remember that you have other friends. She wasn't put on this earth to be your Lifelong Special Confidante; you probably have other women in your life to confide in, women who won't tell your ex what you said about this or that. (Another newsflash: women often talk to our boyfriends and husbands about what our friends did or said unless doing so feels like real betrayal.) Meanwhile, continue to do whatever girl-time stuff you could still enjoy together: studying, watching films, going dancing, baking a cake, organizing mass pedicure parties, messing around with chemistry sets, electric guitars or fabric scraps.

So. Compassion. Boundaries. Forgiveness. Adjusting. And hope.

***
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13 comments:

Bernadette said...

I agree that setting proper boundaries in these circumstances saves ever so much agony and Drama. I also think we need to let go of the idea that, just because we were once romantically attached to a certain man, we somehow have dibs on him for all eternity, and it is a rank betrayal for one of our friends to ever look on him with favor ever again. I mean, if he is a fairly decent man (and hopefully you wouldn't have dated him if he weren't), and your friend is a fairly decent woman, and you all share the same somewhat constricted social scene, things happen. Hopefully it is also after a decent period of time has passed, which may not erase the sting, but at least dulls it. And you can also see their pairing up as perhaps him having Learned His Lesson, and demonstrating excellent good taste in choosing a wonderful woman (since obviously he can't have you anymore). All of which can help reduce the Drama dramatically.

Jules said...

Luckily I have never had the experience of a friend dating an ex. (How horrid! EEEK!) But I am certainly getting more familiar with my gal pals pairing off with gents and running into the proverbial sunset. This normally means that I acquire the new position of "backburner" in her life- and boy, does it sting! (Though I do understand that it is a part of life... and that one day, it could very well be me.) What's been even more peculiar, is when the "most important person" in her life is completely unfamiliar to me... when I have no idea who he is other than what she tells me about him. (In the case, when friends are spread out across the country/world). But again, that's life.

I think it may hit on a general fear of abandonment/lonesomeness.
But I am resolved that as wonderful as a man can be, there are just some things that are best spoken about or done with a woman/gal pal. Things will shift over time- but I think we are particularly vulnerable in our twenties and general singledom.

Then again, I'm finding that life tends to be a constant lesson in detachment... and that as people come and go- God remains, and He tends to provide the right people at the right times. But boy, detachment is quite difficult!!!!

Mustard Seed said...

I think one of the hard things about seeing your friends get married (aside from the question of if/when it will ever happen to you) is the feeling of not being of #1 importance to anyone. I know that I shouldn't be more important to a friend than her husband - marriage requires some rearrangement of priorities, and it doesn't mean we can't still have a great friendship - but it still stings sometimes.

I have a question too. One of my friends got married two years ago. We live in different cities, and when I see her every few months, she almost always invites her husband to hang out with us. I don't think he's a bad person or anything, but I don't necessarily want him to be part of a conversation about the latest guy I've been dating or other personal things. Also, his sense of humor is different than mine, and I don't find him super fun to be around. Is there any polite way to tell my friend I'd rather just make it a one-on-one coffee/dinner? I don't understand why some couples seem to maintain their own friendships, and some morph into this weird package deal. One of my other friends had to consult her fiance (who was in the same room doing something else) when I asked if she had liked a new local pizza place ("Babe, did we like that pizza place?"). Since when did dating someone mean that you can't remember if you like thin crust pizza? I just find it annoying. Is this more my own issue than anything with my friends?

Seraphic said...

Mustard Seed, I would find it annoying if I never saw my married friends without their husbands.

However, it may be that your married-for-two-years friends never see much of each other, except on holidays. Or she might love a girls-only night, but where would she stash her husband?

When I was last home in Canada, I hardly saw girlfriends for the first week because my husband and I spend most of our time together and with family. It was only when he went home that I really started having girl-time.

So I would have to say that is perfectly normal to want to have girl-only time with married girlfriends, but that there are logistics involved. Where to stash the man? How to keep him from feeling abandoned? Would he like to go out with his brother-in-laws for some guy time?

Don't forget--married women do not have the same freedom single women do. With our perks comes many responsibilities and brand new puzzles to figure out.

Meanwhile, cut the engaged/married girls some slack. All their lives they may have been listening to their mother and married aunts yelling "Did we like that restaurant, Earl?" and now they get to do it themselves. Bless our little hearts.

Newbie said...

Hmm... on a slightly related note, how can married women best put their single friends at ease? Here's what I mean: in my parish, there were 4-5 of us single girls a few years ago, all edging towards out late twenties/early thirties. We all wanted to get married, but there were practically no eligible men about. Then within the last two years, four of us have gotten married (all in our mid-thirties - see? there's hope for the single girls past 23!), leaving only one, frankly the most deserving of the lot, as a searching single. Mine was the most recent wedding, so while I'm thrilled to be happily matched, I also know the pain of feeling left behind; believe me, Christmas season 2011 was HORRIBLE. I feel a kind of survivor's guilt over the fact that she's still single, actually. So - other single ladies, can you spare some advice? How can I keep in touch with my friend, without rubbing married status in her face? I've had her over once since the wedding, but was careful to have another person there (my married brother, whose wife was out of town - they're friends) so that hopefully she would feel less like the odd one out. Once my husband and I are more settled in, I'll try to make time for some girls' nights in which I will not talk constantly about husband/marriage. Anything else?

Mustard Seed said...

Hahahaha... this made me laugh out loud. Earl! :)

I think part of the issue with my friend's husband is that he moved to her city once they got married, so he's still building his own friend network there. I know he means well, and maybe someday she'll be more willing and able to stash him somewhere. Meanwhile maybe this is a good empathy-building opportunity for me as well.

Anna said...

Eve Tushnet has a great post on coming first for someone

SIngle at 43 said...

Newbie: Plan girls' nights out with your single friend, or invite her over if your husband is working late, out with the guys, etc. Call her when you have time to talk. Ask about her, her life, her interests. Single people, especially singles whose friends have all married, can feel like they/their lives aren't interesting to their now-married friends. Let her know you remember her and that you value her life and her friendship, even though your life has changed.

Jo said...

Oh, I am so glad this topic came up. So many of my friends have gotten married/gone off to the convent in the past couple years, and I am occasionally struck with the feeling of being 'left behind'-not because I necessarily feel any self-pity for still being single, but because often marriage seems to act like a black hole from which my friends never re-emerge. It's true that the seasons of life change, but I love my friends and don't want to lost touch with them, however far away we may be! Their spouses are obviously 'more important' than me in the big picture, and it is perfectly natural and healthy for newlyweds to spend more time 'getting used to each other' so to speak, but it does sometimes seem as if some of them forget there is a world outside of their marriage. In some cases, the only times I ever have conversations with some of my married friends is when I see them at other weddings in person. I don't expect that keeping in touch will be as easy it used to be, especially when many of these friends also start families very soon after marriage, but really, is it so hard to once in a while answer a letter or a phone call? (Ironically, my friends in cloisters who can only write once or twice a year are often better at sending messages than many of my married friends on the 'outside'!) I think my lot is also tricky because I've moved all over in the past few years. But bottom line-just try not to fall completely off the face of the earth. We know married life can be crazy, especially at first, but riding that wave for too long can begin to seem rude and neglectful after a while. Marriage is not a private institution.

It is true that we all need to be forgiving of our shortcomings as friends in all states and stages of life, but I also think that the culture of social media has made it easier for us to be lazy in presuming that someone 'won't mind' or 'will understand' if it is months or years since they've last heard from us. We all matter to each other very much-often much more than we tend to realize.

n.panchancha said...

As an addendum to this (very necessary) blog post, I might add that sometimes you can save a friendship by respecting your own emotional needs in this kind of situation. What I mean is this: consciously forgiving a friend is one thing; being so detached from the situation to the point of having no [painful] feelings about it is quite another. I believe the latter really is a grace, and one a person should ask for, but frequently it doesn't come for a while. And if being around your friend (even without her new/your old BF around) is too painful, I really think it's best to spend some time apart from that friend until you heal up. Otherwise you might end up involuntarily associating those painful feelings with her, and that's a hard thing to get past, in the long run.

Alternatively: I know I have at least one friend who prayed very sincerely for the grace to forgive both parties involved in such a scenario, and this prayer really was answered very quickly. So - the ideal scenario. Get your prayer on.

Seraphic said...

I used to think my girlfriends back home, Single and married, were meeting weekly for cocktails, so I was greatly surprised when I discovered they all get together only once or twice a year. And one of those times is when I fly back to Canada and a huge effort is made!

One of my friends is a stay-at-home-mum with a baby and a preschooler, so I just go directly to her house and demand cups of tea or help stuff children in or out of cars. Really, when friends have kids, it's up the the kid-less to make the effort.

The fact is that only a few of my friends are really good at written communication or long-distance-calling, and that's just who they are, and loving them means accepting them for the non-correspondents they are. Some people really cannot think of anything to say via computer or long-distance phone.

Meanwhile, I believe it was Sheila of my married readers who wrote in about how much married women miss their friends. And I know at least one married mum who cries with frustration because she has no time for herself, let alone her friends.

That is an image that a Single woman might have trouble getting her mind around: a married woman with children crying as if her heart would break because she is so tired and so busy and so at the beck and call of her kids and has so many worries and responsibilities and things to wash.

Yes, of course most of us would trade in what spare time we have for the sake of having kids, but I think it is salutary to know that married women with kids sometimes cry and guiltily, for a few moments here and there, envy single girls with no kids.

MaryJane said...

@Mustard Seed: after a decade of dealing with married friends, I can say that there are a couple results to situations like yours. (1) the two-year marriage turns into the eight-year marriage and eventually the friend is REALLY eager for some girl time sans husband/children. (2) the husband grows on you and becomes less annoying (etc), mainly because you see how wonderful he is to your friend, despite that fact that you would still never have married him, or (3) you end up becoming a beloved auntie and spend lots of time helping your friend in ways the husband just doesn't b/c although he is a wonderful father he is still a man and does he not *see* the crumbs on the child's mouth begging to be wiped away?

Or some combination of the above.

@Newbie: at the end of the day, it is her situation to cope with, not yours. That being said, I think it is wonderful that you want to show her you still care. I second all the advice above, including maybe just saying to her that even though you don't know exactly how it feels, you can imagine that it must be very difficult and you are there to listen if she wants to talk about it and if not that's fine too. But def. have girls night and talk about things other than men and marriage.

My bff from high school got married at a VERY young age and I was pretty upset about it. I will never forget her (very wise) mother saying to me, "you know MaryJane, she is going to need your friendship even MORE now that she is married." It helped me realize that it wasn't just about me "losing" a friend, but my friend entering into a beautiful but nonetheless challenging vocation, in which she would need my support.

When we lived closer and she had little ones I would often, like Seraphic, just go and demand cups of tea or offer to read a story to the kids- it was beneficial for both of us.

Jessica Brewer said...

The idea of “stashing” a man anywhere makes me laugh!

Joking aside, I will never forget my own first experience of being set aside for friends’ romantic relationships. The bitterness was double for me because my best girl-friend and my best boy-friend got together with each other. And got engaged and got married. And now have a one-year-old!

We had all been an inseparable group before they became interested in each other. In fact, I have known him 25/26ths of my life, and her I introduced into our group because she was just awesome. I remember the exact day and time I noticed him notice her awesomeness for the first time IN THAT WAY. It was heartbreaking!!!

I couldn’t admit to myself for the longest time that I was just plain jealous…not because of their love for each other, but because I couldn’t be a part of that love the way I had been a part of our group’s friendship. I endured a very long period of depression and bitterness before coming to terms with the new order of things.

Sorrow and bitterness make for wisdom and understanding though. I think I love them now better and more perfectly than I ever had when we were all just friends. We still have a great relationship, although it is much, much different than when we were teenagers.

Occasionally I am tempted to revisit the old bitterness of feeling abandoned, but thank the Lord I am always able to reason myself out of it. And of course, as the years go by and this sort of thing happens more frequently, it gets easier to deal with (as Auntie Seraphic pointed out). It helped me so much when I learned not to expect anything, be grateful when opportunities to be with them came up, and to just let it be what it was afterward. This has been a good policy because I still see them on a regular basis at their invitation!