Sorting out tangled friendships and questions of loyalty

Q: What's the rule on loyalty to a friend in a breakup? I dated a guy with whom I had many mutual friends. He lied to me and cheated on me with a woman who is now his girlfriend. Initially I was just angry at him and held nothing against the other woman, until she began making harassing phone calls, leading me to dislike her, too.

My belief has always been dignity in restraint, so I never tried to break them up, or come between them, or contact her in any way once they got together. In fact, I haven't mentioned my feelings on the situation to any of our mutual friends, save one woman with whom I am particularly close. She continues to be friends with him, and, since meeting the new woman, is friends with her, too. I wish it didn't bother me, but it does, especially since she knows how much he hurt me and how the new girlfriend harassed me.

I'd never ask her to not be friends with him, but deep down in the darkest, pettiest part of myself, I want her to "have my back." Tell me how to stop feeling this way!

Wanting Someone on My Side

A: It isn't petty to want loyalty, not if you've earned it.

I would never advocate "testing" friends by telling them they are free to make their own choices, while you secretly view only one choice as acceptable; that's puppetry, not friendship.

However, it is not uncommon for the sincere desire, even encouragement, of friends to do as they please, to turn into a de facto test.

This sounds like one of those cases. Of course you're not going to tell your friends whom they can and cannot befriend. However, you regard your friends as the few people on this crowded Earth whom you trust to care about you, right? So once you watch one of them smile, laugh and play with someone who willfully mistreated you, it's hard to believe she does care — especially since, in this case, your friend is essentially saying to the new girlfriend, "Those harassing calls were fine by me."

There are some friendships, and some circumstances, where these conflicting interests can coexist — for example, when reasonable people can disagree on whether you were mistreated, or when the offender has shown true remorse. The friendships can also withstand it when they're so old and complicated — both between you and your friend, and between your friend and your tormentor — that the significance even of a complete falling out is just a drop in the history bucket.

If your situation is gray like this, then that's how you tackle your unwelcome feelings: You remind yourself every time it comes up that there's room for conflicting opinions, and not everything is a cheap shot at you.

If your situation isn't gray, but instead is a matter of a good friend choosing to maintain her loyalty to bad people, then "stop feeling this way" is probably not an achievable goal. This situation, like it or not, has informed your view of this friend. You have no choice but to start a new future from there.

Sorting out tangled friendships and questions of loyalty 10/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:21pm]

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