Recently, friends of mine broke up after twelve years of marriage. The three of us met during college and became fast pals. By graduation the two of them started dating and a few years after that they tied the knot. From the moment the two of them got married, I spoke to the wife more often, but only because she was in charge of their social calendar. Truth be told, I preferred the husband to the wife. There was always a natural, quick-witted banter between the two of us, something the wife couldn't keep up with, no matter how hard she tried. And she did. This happens sometimes with couples, you end up gravitating towards one partner over the other. I'm not saying I didn't like the wife, I did, I just had a richer connection with the husband, which is why I was so devastated to find out last week over lunch with the wife, that they were not only calling it quits, but that it had already been decided who would get me in the divorce. Her.
The news was casually delivered to me while the wife intensely studied a Chinese menu, vacillating between ordering the soup dumplings or the sesame chicken. "So the good news is that I got you in the divorce. Dumplings it is!" and she excitedly handed the menu to the waiter. "It just all sounds so yummy!" Unable to speak, I stared at her with a look of shock. She gets me? How did that happen? What does that even mean? He gets the house in the Hamptons and she gets to keep my friendship? Don't I have a say in this? Apparently the answer was no.
The wife offered the obligatory story about the demise of their marriage, but all I could think about was what she had just laid on me. If it was any other person in the world, including a random stranger on the Amtrak train to Boston, I would be devoting my full attention, but I couldn't let this one go. All I could think about was how they decided who would get the friends. I'm a narcissist, so of course my first fantasy involved massive amounts of tears, before the wife told the husband she couldn't go on without my friendship. The husband, totally distraught, eventually relents. Maybe it happened at their lawyer's office.
The wife kept talking about the husband, but all I saw were lips flapping. No sound. I got the wife, huh? It was all too much. I had to know how they came about their decision that I would go to the wife after the divorce, so I asked. The answer? A game of Rock-Paper-Scissors! A game where people use hand gestures as signs for rocks, scissors and paper. Excuse me? Was this a joke? I was speechless. Noticing my big open mouth and pure shock on my face, the wife nonchalantly explained that I was the only one who wasn't on a clear side, since I met them both at the same time. The two of them agreed they wouldn't share friends and since I was the only friend up for grabs, they chose to let a hand game decide the fate of the friendship. My fate.
What is the proper protocol when your friends break up? Can you remain friends with both partners? Do you have to decide whose side you're on? What if you don't want to choose? What happens when the decision's been made for you? Are you supposed to just take it in stride? Is that even fair? There's the assumption that you should remain loyal to the person you knew first, but what happens if over time, you grow to like the other partner more? While I understand that sometimes it's crystal clear whose side you're on, that's not always the case.
I wish my friends had included me in their decision, since it wasn't black and white which side I would fall on. Or better yet, how about letting me decide? I would have chosen to remain friends with both of them while making it clear that I wouldn't be a go-between. How come that wasn't an option? While I realize that a divorce is difficult and someone always loses, friends shouldn't have to lose as well. It didn't feel good being told that a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors decided what side I was on. In fact it felt mean. I would have preferred a white lie to the actual truth.
I haven't decided what I'm going to do about whether or not I want to remain friends with just the wife. The way I feel right now, I might just leave it up to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.
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