by Jeannie Greeley
| July 27, 2012
My girlfriend and I recently conducted an interesting relationship exercise, asking, “Who would you get to keep in the breakup?”
Perhaps this seems morbidly fatalistic. But it’s a sad fact that if and when relationships go south, a ripple effect undulates through circles of friends. If the ground rules aren’t clear, it can cause a lot of awkward jockeying of loyalties — and possibly turn exes into enemies.
Historically, I’ve enacted a strict ban on allowing friends to remain friends with my exes. (Fortunately, they haven’t liked many of them enough to try.) But this time is different. Having recently celebrated our three-year anniversary, my girlfriend and I have come to the realization that our lives are inseparably intertwined. We share an unusually close circle of mutual friends, having met through one of them, and I do believe my mother now likes my girlfriend better than she likes her own daughter. A certain close friend even regularly warns me not to break up “the family” — hinting at the fact that our split would inconvenience our friends’ lives as well.
We’ve all heard horror stories of relationships and friendships “lost in the divorce.” And we’ve all probably experienced breakups where we realize we miss the person’s friends and family more than we miss the miserable bitch we actually dated. Even now, if I think about some of my closest friends, I would certainly want to remain friends with their partners or spouses if their relationships met their demise.
It can be tough to navigate the muddy waters of a breakup. But when it comes to maintaining mutual friendships, there are a few generally agreed-upon laws of social etiquette. For instance, if a friend explicitly asks you not to remain friends with his or her ex, either due to some deceit or the mere fact that it will make the breakup more difficult, the request should be respected. Things might change over time, but allow for at least a respite before you and the ex are off getting mani-pedis together.
Second, if you do remain friends with someone’s ex, you should try to tame the catty, gossipy bitch in you (we know it’s tough) and refrain from talking about the other ex — or offering relationship advice.
And, most important, never, ever report back on how great the ex is doing, how great he or she looks, or who the ex might be dating. Remember, the only real reason people allow you to remain friends with their exes is to have an informant, and all they want to hear is that the ex has become an obese troll who desperately misses them. Remember, real friends lie when they need to.
But would any of these rules actually help if my own relationship ended? For all intents and purposes, my girlfriend and I are treated like conjoined twins. So what happens if the day comes when we need to be surgically extricated from each other and learn to live and breathe on our own? Would all of our mutual friends engage in awkward games of rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets invited to which event? Worse, would they diplomatically invite us both and test our bravado? Or what if they realize, sadly, that they’ve always liked one of us better?
For now, we don’t need to know the answers to these troubling questions. In fact, after we reviewed these hypothetical scenarios, during which I cried real tears at the thought of our splintered existences (and the inability to have access to her home on the Vineyard), we came to one firm conclusion. The best people to worry about holding onto are each other.
Jeannie Greeley is a freelance writer who will now let her friends awkwardly discuss this topic amongst themselves. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.