Who Gets the Friends?

In the aftermath of your divorce, when the stuff has been divided up, the kids are basically adjusted to the custody agreement and the dog has stopped pooping in your closet to punish you for moving, there remains one of the most important questions of your new life:

Who gets to keep your mutual friends?

In all likelihood, your friends will each pretend that they’re neutral, and maybe even try to actually be neutral. However, much like parents with their kids, everyone has a favorite whether they admit it or not. I know what I’m talking about not only because I’m a divorcee but also because I was very decidedly not my parents’ favorite. (...There may be a connection.) But because your friends, unlike your dog, actually have some choice in the matter, you have two roads available to you in how you handle this: the high road, and the low road.

The high road is handling things graciously. You tell your friends you know this is a difficult time for everyone, that their support is appreciated but not expected, and that you completely understand if they feel awkward about choosing between you and your ex-spouse. The bottom line: They don’t have to choose (yes they do). You won’t hold it against them in any case (yes you will). Taking the high road means saying the right thing, relieving the pressure on your friends that your divorce is probably putting on them, and knowing that some of them will become, not so much friends, as people you see sometimes when your kids play together; you know, people you say “Oh, we should get together” but don’t really mean it. Taking the high road means taking a hit socially so that everyone can save face.

Your other option is the low road. The low road is political. It’s about using the ample ammunition you undoubtedly have against your ex-partner to ensure your social life doesn’t die with your marriage. While I don’t necessarily condone this approach, under certain circumstances you may be entitled to feel like you “deserve” the friends—particularly if you’ve been egregiously wronged—in which case, nobody can stop you from being cutthroat. (Who am I kidding, I’m a lawyer. This is totally what I would do.) The low road means potentially burning bridges (“I will not forgive you if you choose her over me”) and being okay with that. It also means that things are going to be fairly awkward when you run into ex-friends, but maybe this is a small price to pay, depending on your temperament.

There is, of course, a final, third, weird option: you circumvent the entire problem by staying friends with your ex-spouse. This is something I’ve seen a few people actually do with success, but those who do it appear to save themselves a good deal of misery. If you can manage this one—and let’s face it, you’re probably pretending—it will likely pay dividends, because you will be able to (eventually) hang out in the same room without making everyone incredibly uncomfortable, and your friends will probably be more likely to tolerate the divorce and keep you both.

Of course, that’s just my opinion.


James J. Sexton