Your friends love you, they care about you; they are sad, angry, and confused on your behalf and trying to do their best. But they aren’t always thinking about how your divorce is making you feel. Sometimes–more often than they’d dare to admit–they are thinking about what your divorce makes them feel. Which leads to some pretty strange behavior. Here’s a look at what your still-married friends are thinking–and ways for you to deal with it. It will help you keep your jaw from hitting the ground in those moments when they forget that you’re the one living the tragedy!
They treat you like their personal marriage counselor. Friends will look to you for the answers in their own relationship. They’ll call you from an empty parking lot to complain about their spouse after storming out of the house and driving off in a rage. They’ll recount every detail of their spouse’s excessive spending habits and ask if you think their marriage can survive their differences. They may even throw the divorce word around in front of you: “If he thinks I’m going to move in with his parents indefinitely, he’s wrong. I will divorce him, I’m not kidding.” (This last one will sting a bit, because you of all people know that divorce is not a word that should be uttered lightly, ever.) You don’t need to pretend to have the answers. That’s more pressure than you can handle right now. Just listen with a sympathetic ear, and remind your friends that every marriage is different–and just because you’re going through a divorce yourself, it doesn’t make you an expert on their relationship.
They get paranoid that their own partners are up to no good. True story: My best friends took me on a shopping spree not long after my ex moved out. We spent the hour-plus drive to the outlet mall dissecting his every demeaning word and odd behavior toward me, and plotting what on earth I’d do next (Should I get a lawyer? My own checking account?). After a day of shopping and gossiping, we returned to the car. When my friend opened her trunk so we could throw our packages back there, she spied a small jewelry shop bag in the far corner–and flipped out. “What’s this? Bob hasn’t bought me jewelry from here! Who is he buying jewelry for? What’s going on? Is he cheating on me?” He wasn’t, and she knew it, deep down. But the fact that my marriage could unravel before my eyes proved to her that anyone’s could–including her own. It’s not your job to comfort your friends. In fact, you don’t even have to humor their anxieties. Go ahead and laugh if you want: It can be a real tension breaker to call your friend on a serious overreaction. (And my friend later remembered that she’d had a watch-strap replaced by that jeweler.)
They mourn the loss of you-and-your-ex, their “couple friends.” When your marriage broke up, so did your perfect three-couple game nights. It can take years to find the right couples to click with–those rare, precious double-friendships where the husbands get along just as well as the wives. So for now, your couple friends are back at square one when it comes to sharing football game tickets or day-tripping to local wineries. Yes of course they still want you to come alone (they really do), but the dynamic has shifted, and you’re all probably feeling it. You can find new ways to connect. Yes, you can still stay close to these friends, but we’ll wager a bet it will probably be in different time slots. In place of your standing Saturday night double-date, why not go out to brunch with your couple pals, or have them and their kids over for football Sunday at your house. And they will work through their disappointment on their own–while they silently hope that they’ll click with the next person you start dating (whenever that might be, they’re not going to rush you).
They get irrationally jealous and suspicious–of you. This behavior is more rare, but it happens often enought that it’s worth mentioning. Suddenly, your friend will wonder why it took you 10 minutes to help her husband fix drinks in the kitchen. Or, your guy friend will shoot you a look after you tell his wife she looks pretty this evening. Sometimes, even people who know you well will feel threatened once you’re single–as if now that you’re spouseless, you’re on the prowl for someone else’s partner. A friend may confront you or, more often, become aloof or make puzzling comments about “the way you’re acting.” Confront them. Have a frank, private conversation with your friend, and explain (calmly, not defensively) that you’ve been getting some strange vibes from her/him, and want to discuss the situation. It’s a difficult conversation to have (“I was only helping with the martinis–I want to make that clear”), but if you value your friendship and want to keep it, address this head-on. On the other hand, you might decide that a friend who would even silently accuse you of misbehavior with their spouse is not a friend at all. If that’s the case, you still might feel better clearing the air before ending the friendship. The decision is yours.
They try on your single life. Probably even before you do yourself. Without even realizing that they’re doing it, your friends will try to live vicariously through you, their suddenly single pal. Your tennis buddy will sidle up to you at the block party and ask who you think is the best-looking spouse in the neighborhood. Your married coworkers will take you out “so you can have some fun”–and they’ll end up drunk and dancing on the bar. Your lifelong best friends will suddenly want more details about your latest blind date than they have since you were 14. They’ll envy your freedom to go out for drinks after work whenever you want, spend money on yourself, flirt a little, and come home at 3am without calling home. Just do what you want. You don’t owe your friends anything: spill when you want to, go dancing if you feel like it, and if you don’t think any of your neighbors are worth a second glance (or if you find the question slightly disturbing), don’t say a word. And don’t be shy about reminding them, if you have to, that you’d gladly hand back your so-called newfound “freedom” in exchange for not having to live the gut-wrenching hard stuff of divorce.
This article was originally published on Huffington Post.