THE BLOG
02/02/2011 10:33 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The etiquette of remaining friends with an ex-friend's mom

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I've been dealing with a painful friendship break-up but I'm actually happier now without my ex-friend. It was more of a one-sided friendship where I was always initiating get-togethers that rarely happened.

I thought I'd moved on until she bumped into me on the street and said, "Hello, how are you?" while walking away. Then the bad memories came rushing back. Sadly, despite our falling out, I still miss her. My husband said I should move on but it's easier said than done.

The issue is having developed a friendship with her mother, who is about my mother's age, 70. My 7-year-old son calls her Nonna (grandma). Nonna likes my family a lot and the feeling is mutual. My ex-friend doesn't approve of my friendship with her mother. She said it's like her being friends with my 7-year-old son without my being involved. Her mother is 70 years old; my son is 7---so there's a difference. Her mother is an adult and can make her own decisions.

I told Nonna I didn't want her daughter to get mad at her because of our spending time together (e.g. watching "Jersey Boys" and dining out). Nonna said although her daughter is a good person, she is very selfish and it's always about her. Obviously, they have a mother-daughter issue. Nonna's complaint about my ex-friend is the same as mine: My ex-friend did/does not make time for anyone else but herself.

Is it proper to continue my friendship with my ex-friend's mother? My husband, son, and I truly enjoy Nonna's company, and she truly enjoys ours as well, especially spending time with my son. I have no hope of ever getting back together with my ex-friend, although somewhere deep inside if my ex-friend ever calls me to have a cup of tea, I would probably accept. Is it unfair of my ex-friend to ask her mother to not spend time with us while she herself rarely visits her mother?

Signed,
Still Heartbroken,

ANSWER

Dear Still Heartbroken,

As long as you both find the relationship gratifying, it's okay for you and Nonna to remain friends. As you point out, you're both grownups and your ex-friend doesn't have the right to approve your friends or her mom's.

Here's the caveat: Your note made me wonder if you might be using your relationship with Nonna as a way to remain attached to---or even to get back at---your once-friend. You say your friendship was one-sided but it seems as though you would get involved with her all over again given the chance. It sounds like you really haven't let go of that friendship.

If you truly feel close to Nonna--- independent of your feelings for your once-friend---the relationship is fine. However, if most of your conversations with Nonna circle back to criticisms of her daughter, it may not be a healthy relationship for anyone.

Hope this helps.

Best
Irene

Over time, connections between close friends often become tangled like vines. Friendships that began as twosomes extend to relationships between families and groups---and the risk of collateral damage after a breakup is real. Read several prior posts about "collateral damage" on The Friendship Blog:


Can collateral damage be avoided after a breakup?

Why breaking up is so hard to do

Unfriend, not a simple term by any means