The upheaval in my life in the past year and a half is not limited to divorce, single parenting, quitting a job and starting a new one. It’s social, as well. In fact, I can hear The Jayhawks singing right now…
If you asked me today who my best friends are, I’d list the usual suspects. Most are my single girlfriends (you know who you are), and I’ve been able to reconnect with and lean on these girls much more than when I was trying to manage a family life, especially a deteriorating family life. So there has been a lot of shifting in my friendships, and not all of it as positive as I’d like.
As you might imagine, with small children, much of my family’s socialization was right here in the neighborhood, with other couples who had children of similar ages. Some, I was surprised to find, seem a bit suspicious of me following the split…as though perhaps my ex went on a bit of a public relations campaign before moving several neighborhoods away.
In fact, this PR campaign was confirmed by a local wife over a bottle of wine one night. It wasn’t as though she came out and told me he had done this; rather, she hung around until after the other women had left and literally grilled me. In the process she happened to mention that my ex had been over and told his side of the story. And I doubt he stopped there.
Most adults recognize that there are two sides to every story. I was hoping not to have to air my grievances about certain of my ex’s betrayals, simply because I preferred to take the high road. It was over; the damage was done. Dissing him was not productive. In fact, one neighborhood wife had the grace to say, “We saw in your ex the man you fell in love with.” While I knew it was a lie, I appreciated her generosity and refusal to talk bad about him.
I mentioned other broken relationships in the neighborhood — one of those to whom I was closest moved away and, after having spent several years as an at-home mother, now manages half of the parenting, a long-distance relationship and a full-time job. It’s simply become harder to stay in touch. Another close friend moved to the coast. My neighborhood is a lonelier place than it was before.
There is no question that the disruption inherent in divorce extends beyond the family circle and daily life into broader social circles, often making friends feel as though they have to choose, take sides or spare you the knowledge of the party they held last weekend to which your ex (but not you) was invited. And then there’s the couples vs. singles dynamic, where you’re no longer invited to be part of the group because you’re an odd number or a single or you just aren’t thought of by the well-meaning folks thinking of which couples to invite. Divorce forces those around us into an awkward situation.
Recently, I experienced probably the worst possible incarnation that this dynamic might take — its impact on my children.
One of my daughter’s friends invited her to a backyard bonfire and barbecue. As they sat talking about it, my daughter assumed that her brother and I would also be welcome to attend as a list of neighborhood attendees were rattled off. Whispering ensued. I could hear the girlfriend complaining that they didn’t want so many people. This friend has been known to be manipulative and generally prefers to exclude my son, if at all possible. But it seemed there was more…
Later, when we were alone, I expressed to my daughter that sometimes it was a challenge for me to know how to respond to her friend. She agreed. We talked and, as I uncovered more about this dynamic, I had an intuition and asked:
“Did you friend tell you that her parents don’t like me?”
“Yes,” she confessed.
“When?” I asked.
“Is that why you haven’t been making plans with her for the past several months?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Does that make you feel uncomfortable around her parents?”
My stomach dropped. I was, of course, hurt. I have been kind, generous and respectful of this couple. Certainly, we have had moments of difference as it relates to our parenting styles, but I would never exclude them or treat them differently for it. By far, though, pure rage outweighed my sadness. Regardless of what this couple thinks of me (and they’ve made plain their sympathy for my ex), one would think they’d have the discretion to limit what they might say in front of children. And, while I doubt this couple actually said the above verbatim, they need to know how grossly inappropriate and un-friend-like it was for their daughter to say something like this to mine. How dare their words be used to so callously injure my daughter’s self-esteem!
Add another difficult conversation and more social awkwardness to my to-do list…
Update: It should be noted that these friends later told me I’d done the right thing (in getting rid of my ex).