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#538: Forgiving a Friend’s Darth Vader

Montezuma from Civ 5

“Okay, Montezuma, we can have embassies in each other’s capitals, and I will trade incense for whales, but an Open Borders treaty? That’s just gullible.”

Dear Captain,

How obligated are we to try and forgive our friend’s significant others for the harm they have caused in the past?

To make a long story short, my friend A started dating person B.  I wasn’t wild about B, but I wasn’t the one dating him, and our casual interactions initially seemed fine, so I didn’t worry about it.

However, it soon became clear that B had some unaddressed emotional issues, and they were taking them out on my friend, and eventually on the rest of our circle (we were accused of alienating A from B, of monopolizing A’s time, and eventually, even of cheating on B with A).  It was like B read your article on Darth Vader boyfriends but thought it was a how-to.  Needless to say, we were angry for our friend and angry on our own behalves.  Most of us wanted A to dump B, but A was not willing to end the relationship without trying to save it, and instead worked very hard to get B into therapy.  We did our best to support A in this time, but it was very hard to see how much pain B was causing her.

Now, B seems to have gotten some help, and B and A are working on rebuilding their relationship.  A very much wants to bring B back into the social circle, but this is causing problems.  I know I am not the only one of A’s friends who resents B after all of this.  I am also mad at B for the way that B treated me and our other friends.  A says she has forgiven him, and wants us to forgive him too, but I don’t know that I’m ready to do it now, and honestly I’m not sure I will ever be.

Do you and the army have any suggestions for how I can handle the issue of reintegrating B?  I don’t really want to hang around with B, and though I am trying to plan occasions to hang out with A alone, I know that it isn’t possible to totally avoid B so long as they are a couple.

Thanks,

Trying To Make The Best Of It

Alexander from Civ 5

“Alexander, good to see you, bro! Yes, let’s by all means make a Joint Declaration of Friendship I Mean I’m Coming To Surround Your City With Hoplites in 5 Turns!”

Dear Trying:

We talked the other day about how forgiveness can be a trap, but there was a great discussion in the comments about how to move on with someone after a breach of trust. Thanks for this question, because it gives us a way to talk about how to normalize relations at the social group level.

You are not obligated to ever forgive B or welcome him into your social circle. You can always privately think he is a shithead. But for A.’s sake, you maybe have some obligations to treat him with “arms-length acquaintance politeness” at social events and not dig up old dirt.

In my opinion, if B. treated you badly, and he wants to be allowed in your house/movie excursion/karaoke night, he needs to acknowledge that there is a reason you don’t like him and might not want him around. Right now this is all being handled transitively by A., who understandably wants to minimize past bad stuff and not bring it into the present, but a little direct communication between you and B. might not be the worst thing in the world.

What that exchange could look like, in the movie version of this, is B saying:

“Trying, I did not treat you or your friend well, and I know that there is a reason you don’t like or trust me. I am very, very sorry about how I behaved, and I am working hard to make it right.”

And then you saying to B.:

“I appreciate the apology. I don’t think you and I are ever going to be best friends, but I can hang at games night/bowling league/pub quiz for A’s sake if you can.” 

Gandhi from Civ 5

“Let’s be peaceful cooperative neighbors for 6,000 years and then I’ll nuke you out of the blue. Cool?”

That’s not gonna happen spontaneously, so maybe you can work it out with A. Like so:

  • Ask A. how she’d like you to handle it to get a sense of what her expectations are.
  • If B. needs to apologize (and you will be watching to see if he makes it a real apology or an “all about me & my issues” Darthpology), keep the discussion about stuff between him and you vs. stuff within their relationship.
  • Let her know you’re willing to deal with B. being around some:as long as he’s not underfoot all the time and you get to see her alone, too. The less time you actually have to spend with him, especially initially, the better you will be at greeting him neutrally when you do see him.
  • He doesn’t need to charm you or sell you. “Don’t treat my friend like crap” + “Make occasional polite small talk” + “Time” will get this done way better than a charm offensive. Montezuma & Alexander always make a big show of this in the early parts of Civ…right before they surround your cities with troops. It’s sketchy behavior. Don’t fall for it or tolerate it.
  • You promise not to pick arguments or bring up old news or dissect all of his behavior for reasons to hate him.
  • However, she is not to pressure you to like him or be close to him in any way, and if he reverts to old behaviors you have the right to kick him out of your space or cut the night short.

With a little time, if everyone behaves themselves, perhaps relations will thaw. That’s the best you can offer right now – you’re open to seeing if he really has changed, and you want to support her, but you need some acknowledgement from him of wrongdoing and a little negotiation about how things will work, because “Following my friend’s example, I welcome the new, reformed you back with open arms!” is not a realistic scenario.

I suspect A. is working very hard to be the buffer and vouch for him. This is a common characteristic of Darths, making the partner have to be the ambassador/apologist (“There’s good in him, I’ve felt it!”) with other people. Darths are good at setting it up so that you can’t really freeze them out without punishing your friend, too. They are good at choosing kind people who want to smooth things over and then taking advantage of that kindness to facilitate their Darthy Ways. So being this direct about what you need and having some conversation where you and B. very bluntly work out how things are gonna be without A. translating is gonna probably terrify her, depending on how much she trusts that B. is reformed.

Harald Bluetooth from Civ 5

It’s actually pretty relaxing to deal with someone without the pretense that you like each other.

But believe me, if he has changed, having a little structure around how to acknowledge and deal with that is not the worst thing in the world. Darths are all about hints. This takes the responsibility off of A.’s shoulders to manage every little interaction, gives B. some clear guidelines about what he can do to show that he is serious (and let him know that he cannot manipulate his way back into being welcome, so he best come correct), and protects your boundaries in the meantime. Maybe think of it as lancing a boil of awkwardness; if you get it all out you can deal with it and actually move on, where if you skip to the “Oh sure, welcome back! Where have you been these last months when you were persona non grata, let’s pretend it was a cool sabbatical?!?” part while your loathing is still festering under there it’s just gonna erupt again. There are a few people on the earth who I actually like *more* for the fact that we know that we don’t like each other and give each other a wide, respectful berth.

If a personal apology from B. is not possible or is a bad idea for whatever reason, then tell A. – “I promise to reset B. to arms-length acquaintance level social relations, as in, if he comes to something as your guest I will treat him like a guest and give him an opportunity to show that he can hang. I won’t bring up uncomfortable topics or give him tons of side-eye. That’s the best I can do for now.”

You will *treat* him like a guest. You feel inside however you want. You don’t have to forgive, and even if you manage to forgive, you don’t have to forget or relax around this dude. We are complex and can contain two disparate thoughts, like “I hope you’ve really straightened up and will be a good partner for my friend and try to deserve her belief in you” and “I hope my friend dumps your ass and I never have to see your wretched face again,” at the same time. The Jedi Mind Trick is to let yourself feel the second fully in private so that you can behave as if the first were true in public.

Edited To Add: It’s time for the twice-a-year Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive, where I ask for donations to keep the blog going. If like what you read here and you can kick a few dollars our way, I’d be forever grateful! 

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55 comments
  1. Alexandra said:

    I generally agree, but I think it’s important to be clear that you do get to decide (now or at some point in the future) that B. has behaved too badly to *you* to be in your life in any way at all.

    My friend’s Darth repeatedly verbally abused and threatened her friends (because they were evil homewreckers who had taken her side!), and then apologized (because he would never have said those things if he’d been sober!) When he began calling me in the middle of the night and threatening to come over and hurt me, he could not be in my life anymore. Full stop.

    And, yes, my A. ended our friendship because I wouldn’t give him another chance. But I was never going to feel safe around him, so he could not come to my house, and I was not going to go to parties where he would be. And apologies weren’t going to reset the relationship to “polite acquaintance” when there was too much history of “guy who threatened to punch my face in for being friends with his girlfriend.”

    • JenniferP said:

      I back this plan. Your own safety and well-being comes first, LW.

    • slimlove said:

      Yes, THIS. My “Darth” situation is a bit different, in that my Darth is my dad. He left the family when I was young, leaving my mom to raise 3 kids on very little money, and then popped up later (you know, after all the hard parenting work was done). And then he and my mom decided to get married again after 25 years of divorce.

      Yeah.

      After a lot of angst on my part – and finally deciding I should probably talk to a therapist – I came to the rather freeing realization that I don’t have to like, forgive, or even talk to him. I get to decide what’s right for me! Even if it upsets my mom! Even if it means I’m being “mean” by not even giving him the chance to explain and apologize!

      Granted, my parents live 3,000 miles away so it’s not like I have to decide how to act towards him at bowling night or anything. But it’s important to realize that you get to decide when things just aren’t forgivable or forgettable. There might be awkwardness, and you might need to do a cost-benefit analysis that accounts for potential changes to your relationship with your friend versus never seeing this guy again, but only you can decide what’s best for you. And it is absolutely okay if what’s best for you turns out to be “don’t ever speak to me again.”

  2. CMart said:

    All of this advice matches my one personal experience with a similar-ish situation perfectly. LW, listen to this advice, for it is good, and works.

    My best friend’s at-one-point ex-boyfriend, now-husband wasn’t a Darth Vader, but he was a Lousy Boyfriend. What made all the difference in the world was him making a genuine effort to get back into my/her family’s good graces. He did it almost exactly how the Captain said: not so much a charm offensive, but by treating my best friend well + being polite + time. One of the most important aspects of treating my best friend well was that he majorly reformed his actions regarding her spending time with others. Before, he sounded much like LW’s friend’s ex-BF: very jealous of her time, openly resentful when she wanted to spend time with friends or family instead of him, and laid on extreme guilt trips and emotional FEELINGSBOMBS when she dared spend time away from him anyway.

    Reformed-boyfriend acted the opposite of that. Inside he was still battling jealousy and feelings of abandonment, but those were things they talked about and worked on inside the relationship. His actions spoke of effort and change. When he used to invite himself along to “girls nights”, he started asking if he was invited or not, and now is openly supportive of her spending time away from him.

    We’re all very close now, but it took time, and we’re only close because he wasn’t actually a Darth Vader, he was a good dude with bad behaviors and when those behaviors ended his good-dudeness shone through. If he was less of a good dude, but still with modified behaviors, I suspect best friend and I would spend more time one-on-one, but I would still tolerate and be polite to her husband when he was around.

    • My BF’s husband, when I met him, was pretty much of a jerk: a petulant child when she was accomplishing something or going somewhere without him or spending time with her own friends, who was very disrespectful and inconsiderate towards her, and intentionally cultivated an obnoxious persona. He never directly treated me badly, but he was mean and rude to my husband in a way that BF and I both attributed to “they’re so much alike they can’t stand each other.” (As it turned out, my husband really was a shitheel and dude really did dislike him for Reasons. But at the time his behavior was deeply unhelpul!) I gradually developed a real loathing for the guy.

      When we’d been friends for about a decade, things got very bad between them. She went through two years of “I want to work this out. I want to stay married. I want this guy.” And I felt like the only way I could keep my friend was to swallow my own feelings, really listen, and uncompromisingly support her… So I did. I was the only friend who did. She lost a lot of friends during that period.

      Eventually… he showed up. They worked through it. I watched him transform into a guy who treated her with genuine love and respect, supported her goals, celebrated her accomplishments, took responsibility for his screwups, actively partnered and co-parented, and generally Grew Up. He’s probably not someone I would be friends with in his own right if it weren’t for her, but I have come to deeply like and respect him and enjoy his company in his own right, and I am so, so happy for her.

      Around the same time that their marriage was on the rocks, my husband realized that isolating me was no longer sustainable and instead attempted to “curate” my social life, cranking the charm up to 11, rekindling relationships with people who’d previously shunned him, making friends with my boss and doing volunteer work at my workplace, and generally recruiting enablers in the gaslighting. It was only because of a very few very close friends (including BF, who returned the favor – completely respecting and supporting where I was) that I didn’t get sucked back down under, and the marriage ended fairly soon after that.

      So these things really go both ways, and it can be genuinely hard to tell which is which, and the Captain’s last paragraph is pure gold. I I would hesitate to even seek an apology/air-clearing/expectations-resetting with A AT THIS POINT (although that may very well come later*);I really think the arm’s-length script is the the best way to go regardless of which way it turns out to be. If he really has straightened up, it gives you some time and breathing room to see him in this new light and put some distance between Bad Old Boyfriend and this new dude you’re getting to know, and perhaps lay the groundwork of that conversation; if he hasn’t, it keeps you in your friend’s life and keeps half an eye on him so you can assess how (or whether) you can support her when, down the road, she needs it.

      *I did, indeed, have that conversation with BF’s husband, but it was not until two or three years after he’d regained my wary “I guess I don’t completely hate his wretched face” level of acceptance. It was a good, healthy conversation, much more on the level of “you have earned my respect” than on the “you’re on probation” level it would have been on if it had happened soon after they hit rock bottom and started clawing back up. That would not have been an appropriate conversation to have – he didn’t need my permission or approval to work on his relationship with his wife – and there would have been too much pressure to make nice in an artificial way that neither of us were ready to feel.

  3. RodeoBob said:

    One thing to look out for, LW: you’re angry at the Darth for how they treated you, but you’re also angry at how they treated your friend. These are two separate issues, but a clever Darth will try to conflate them, and then pivot to your friend’s forgiveness.

    “Hey Darth, you know you said some really messed up things the last time we all hung out. You were really out of line.”
    “I know things were bad back then, but A has forgiven me and we’ve agreed to move on.”
    “Um… this isn’t about A. This is about what you said to me.”

    A few tips to the LW for slightly-less-awkward social encounters:

    If you have any say in the matter, don’t invite Darth to events with only a few people. Double-dates are a bad idea. The more, the merrier. If you and your friends can’t talk to Darth for more than ten minutes without wanting to say something nasty, having five other friends around who can “tag-in” on conversations means you can collectively go an hour without either saying anything nasty while still letting Darth be part of the group socially.

    Similarly, try to invite Darth to events where socializing is optional, and not necessary. Going in a group to see a movie at the theater = good. Board-game night at someone’s house? Not so good. Going out to dinner, or to a bar for drinks? Not so good. Concerts, shows, book readings… all neat things you can do with friends that don’t require chit-chat.

    I’m not saying you can’t go out for drinks with your friends or have a board-game night, I’m just saying that those events should be Darth-free for a while, until either the relationship is over, or until this person has displayed enough reformed behavior to be invited to the more social settings.

    • If you have any say in the matter, don’t invite Darth to events with only a few people. Double-dates are a bad idea. The more, the merrier. [...] Similarly, try to invite Darth to events where socializing is optional, and not necessary. Going in a group to see a movie at the theater = good. Board-game night at someone’s house? Not so good. Going out to dinner, or to a bar for drinks? Not so good. Concerts, shows, book readings… all neat things you can do with friends that don’t require chit-chat.

      THIS THIS THIS. (This came up last year in Question #483; there’s a lot of really good stuff there that may be beneficial for LW if zie goes the arm’s-length route for a while, or, you know, forever.

  4. okrysmastree said:

    What would you guys suggest doing if B, the Darth Vader, never apologized or attempted to change? I’m dealing right now with a friend who married her Darth and trying to navigate social situations attached at the hip to a guy who has (and does, imo) treated her terribly and has treated me pretty despicably as well. Am I justified in being firm about not wanting to be around him and making it clear that while I will hang out with her, I don’t accept that ~Mr and Mrs Darth~ come as a package deal now?

    • tawg said:

      I think you’re very justified in making it clear that you don’t want to hang out with Mr Darth. A good friend of mine had a partner who I just could not stand to be around.
      We would argue and it often got nasty very quickly (it was a mix of us both being similar, stubborn people who weren’t used to backing down, and me constantly being angry at her for not treating my friend well). My friend was organising a dinner gathering one night and I just came out and said “Look, I know that you love your girlfriend and stuff, but it’s not good for anyone if she and I are in the same place. I’m happy to have dinner with you + friends, and if your partner is going to be coming along then I’d like to be able to sit this kind of stuff out without there being any hard feelings.”

      My friend agreed that this was an okay compromise (and I’m pretty sure she relayed the conversation to her girlfriend later, because from then on if she met up with us during the night there would be phone calls first and I got plenty of warning/time to bail). I still went to gatherings if there would be enough people to act as a buffer, but I didn’t feel a pressure to play nice for hours and hours any more because if things between us got sharp it was so much easier for both of us to back off and find distractions. The rest of the social group benefited from the decreased tension, too.

    • I think it is totally legit to be firm that you would prefer not to spend time around Mr Darth. But I think given that she married the dude, over time there might be a drifting-apart from Mrs Darth, whether or not either one of you intend it that way.

      • jenfullmoon said:

        Seconded. As a general rule, if you can’t accept the Darths together as a package deal, the friendship will end. Unless you have a rare Mrs. Darth who will happily sneak off to see you privately without insisting that the Mr. be with her at all times. But most folks in a Darth relationship tend to ah, not be that reasonable.

    • I hope you can stay friends with Mrs Darth without having to have Mr Darth around. It sounds to me like he could be isolating her by alienating friends – classic abuser behaviour.

    • Mary said:

      I think you are, but I also think you could have a conversation with her about it. “Friend, I am a bit stuck because I appreciate that you love Darth, but I am still angry and hurt about the times that he said [X] to me and the time he did [X] at me. How should we handle that?”

      How your friendship goes from there will depend a lot on whether she’s happy to accept that her husband and her friend don’t get along, and plan and schedule things for the two of you to do together. You are completely within your rights to limit the time you spend in his company to zero, but be aware that if she’s not willing to accept that Darth ever did anything wrong, then she’ll see you as the problem and probably choose Darth.

      On the other hand, if this relationship is abusive, even that level of criticism of Darth might be unacceptable because she’s got to work so hard to maintain the idea that everything’s OK and that it’s him and her against the hard cruel world. In that situation you might decide that supporting her and being a friend that he can’t drive out is the better part of valour, but it is INCREDIBLY hard work doing that, so be kind to yourself if you find it exhausting and difficult and stressful and it’s OK if you decide you’re not up for it.

      • So much this. I have (had? :< probably) a friend who suffered from a Darth. I cared about zir an awful lot but in the end, I had to decide that cutting off Darth was the way to go – in my case, mostly because I had recently cared about my friend a bit *too* much if you know what I mean, and it was impossible to separate my friendship motives from my oneitis hangover.

        That was six months ago, and at first Friend and I made a big display to each other of Still Being Friends, but it's tapered off a lot now, and these days we don't hang out unless I initiate. I haven't done that since before Christmas, so I haven't seen or heard from Friend for more than a month now. I worry about how zie's doing, and if I'm not hearing from zir because zie is being isolated from the world at large by Darth. And when I think about that I want to go charging back into Friend's life with klaxons blaring, but one of my biggest personal problems is White Knight Syndrome leading to Intense Pantsfeels, so I really, really can't. :(

        So LW, I'm very much seconding the idea that it's okay if you can't either. I hope it won't come to that though. It sounds like you have a fair few options in play at the moment. Good luck! <3

      • Nerdlinger said:

        Ooof. THIS.

        I had to have that conversation with a friend after an incident where partner got verbally abusive and almost physically abusive with me while we were all out in a public space one night. Basically, I still loved my friend, but did not feel safe with Partner in the room (he was twice my size and had to be restrained during the initial incident).

        Friend and I are no longer friends for several reasons – but one of the kickers was when she spent the majority of our 1:1 time trying to convince me Partner wasn’t so bad, and that he didn’t mean to swing at me, etc etc. After a while, her trying to convince me that he and I should be BFFs got too exhausting for me to handle.

        I guess what I’m trying to say here LW, is to nth the notion that its ok to bow out of the process of re-incorporating Darth (hopefully former Darth) into your life, even if he’s on the edges of it. Its ok to take time to be angry and process your mistreatment and its also ok to take as much time as you need to re-incorporate Darth back in if and/or when you choose to do so.

      • Cactus said:

        “On the other hand, if this relationship is abusive, even that level of criticism of Darth might be unacceptable because she’s got to work so hard to maintain the idea that everything’s OK and that it’s him and her against the hard cruel world.”

        I’ve been there (during my senior year of high school my “best friend” started dating my ex-boyfriend/rapist), and it ultimately was too exhausting and stressful. I dreaded being around her, because it ultimately turned into passive-aggressive comments about what a terrible person I was for breaking his heart, what a sad life he had had, what a great boyfriend he was, and also random bodysnarking. She didn’t believe that the rape had happened, and every time we hung out outside of class it was like she was trying to fight a verbal war against my memory. So I broke off the friendship. And she tried to rekindle things, but her method basically consisted of “but he’s such a GOOD GUY! I can’t BELIEVE you! He’s obviously more truthful than you!”

        Years later, she broke up with him, and she tried to rekindle things with me again…which resulted in me doing a full-nuclear block on every bit of social media. She was as much of a “Darth” as he was.

        So…I definitely like the point about putting your own safety first.

  5. thebewilderness said:

    My only question is whether B wants to reenter your social circle. A wants him to, yes, but if he is satisfied with having isolated her by alienating her friends he may not want to. If this is the case there isn’t any amount of welcoming B back that will be satisfactory to him.

  6. cdrury said:

    Rock solid advice from the Captain, although I think a more hard-line route could work, too. The thing is, A can’t forgive for you, just like she can’t apologize for B. And if you don’t want to hang out with B? You don’t have to. It doesn’t make you a bad friend to A. It doesn’t make you mean or hard or bitchy or whatever Girl-With-Boundaries stereotype you’re thinking it might be. It makes you a person who was treated badly by B, and at the moment doesn’t seem to have received any request for rapprochement from B. So feel free to treat all group discussions and especially talks with A with a very firm, “B treated me badly. S/he hasn’t apologized or spoken to me about it. We’re not friends.” Until B reaches out, that’s really the end of the discussion. It’s really 100% not about how A feels.

    Now, if B tries to make nice, again, you get to decide. Because it’s, surprise, not about A. It’s about you and your relationship with B, and you get to choose that someone that accuses you of sleeping with hir partner/whatever else B did that made you unhappy, a person who does that does not get invited to your house ever again. Does not get invited to any social event you set up again. That’s just fine. Social politeness does not mean you have to invite someone who was horribly rude to you into your house, even if s/he is a partner to a person you care about. You don’t get to dictate other people’s involvement of hir, of course, but there are consequences for bad behavior, and B gets to deal with them. And if A learns that hir boo’s bad behavior has real, lasting consequences, as well…I think that’s a positive, really, don’t you?

  7. MamaCheshire said:

    I was about where A is 11 years ago. Then-fiance, now-spouse making a direct apology to BFF regarding what he had done (tl;dr – concocted a gigantic grandiose lie about his past to conceal that he’d been in a psych hospital roughly 18 months before we met, and was caught when I stumbled accidentally yet unavoidably on something that directly contradicted a key component of the lie) went in approximately the “movie” scenario listed here, with the “Hey, I fucked up, and I fully expect, understand, and accept that you are probably pissed as hell at me right now” from my now-spouse and, “I can hang if you can, for Cheshire’s sake, but still don’t really like or trust you and am not sure I never will,” from BFF. (Should also add: BFF and I had dated twice, and she had something of a bias against any male partners I had, which made this slightly worse than it would’ve been otherwise. BFF thought something was weird with Spouse’s turned-out-to-be-lie backstory all along, but given BFF’s history of disliking/distrusting EVERY man I dated, I had a hard time taking her or her motivations seriously. Extra awkward when she turned out to be right!)

    Things thawed enough for BFF to be in my wedding without it being a problem, complete with fielding the rude question from my mother about whether I was making a gigantic mistake and telling our photographer to stop boy-girl-boy-girl-ing all the things at our wedding because that’s not how we roll in this crowd. They froze back over for a while when FirstKid was born – BFF flew in from the other coast to see FirstKid, Spouse was in the middle of a severe mental health crisis, which was being exacerbated by having the exactly wrong (for him) psychiatric medications prescribed, and BFF thought Spouse was malingering the whole thing or at the very least exaggerating mild depression or anxiety to make things All About Him when hey, I’d just given birth here. (Incorrect assessment, but I can totally see how it looked that way.)

    I think the real forgiveness on both sides came a bit after SecondKid was born. While I was heavily pregnant with SecondKid, and BFF was in Nearby Large City on business, she decided to take the two of us out to a fancy dinner and a show, and basically told Spouse she was doing this instead of asking if it was OK. Spouse was kind of offended by that (he was already a full-time stay at home dad and didn’t appreciate the assumption that he was automatically available) but I hadn’t seen BFF in months and wanted the time with her, so he called another member of this circle of friends who lives in Nearby Large City, and this friend arranged sports tickets for himself, Spouse, and FirstKid and the three of them had an awesome time.

    Some months later, I said something about the sporting event to BFF, in passing, and she asked if Spouse and Mutual Friend had planned this before she did the dinner-and-show thing. I just sort of, “Uh, no…?” and it all hit her. “Oh wow, I fucked that up with the not asking and just telling him we were doing that, holy shit I’m so sorry! That was really inconsiderate, wasn’t it?” “Yeah, it kind of was.” “But I should probably be telling [Spouse] that, not you, huh?” “Yeah, really you should.”

    Spouse was *stunned* that, after their history, and after him being the bad guy, and given that BFF was at that time well-known in our circle for being bossy and thinking she’s right, she had actually sought him out to apologize for anything ever. I’m pretty sure that’s where they started getting along for their own sakes and not solely for mine due to the knowledge that each knows the other’s presence in my life is not negotiable.

    Things between them now are actually pretty darn good – some months, I think Spouse talks to BFF more than I do. This was one of those things where time, and YEARS of therapy and meds (and her knowledge that he stuck with years of therapy and meds), and the fact that Spouse had the primary parent role and totally kicked ass at it, were all part of what made it easier. She didn’t expect him to stick in the marriage, to stick with the meds and therapy, or to otherwise stop doing the crap he was doing that pissed her off – but he did. I realize I’m in the fortunate extreme minority here, but the lists of “this is what it looks like when someone who fucked up wants to make it better” were actually followed by Spouse in ways that I know damn well they usually are not.

    But this is not to deny that things sucked for quite some time, nor is it to say that there was a linear progression from “armed truce for mutual dear one’s sake” to “hey, you’re cool, we get along, it’s all good!” There wasn’t. Even now, there are moments when they get slightly snippy with each other, and sometimes I have to laugh because sometimes the reasons he is annoyed with her look a lot like the reasons she and I couldn’t date successfully. (And both ironically and unfortunately, I’m still at armed-truce level with *her* spouse, which sometimes makes me sad but I just cannot cope with his privilege blinders sometimes either, since he’s “in the 1%” and ACTS it constantly. Sigh.)

    • twomoogles said:

      That’s an awesome story, MamaCheshire! Thank you for sharing it. I think we tend to be naturally, for good reason, doubtful when someone claims they have changed/are sorry, so it’s really great to hear a story where not one but two people really did.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        Thanks. I think something that helped was the physical distance involved – BFF lives on the other U.S. coast from us. I miss her a lot, but well, given that the reason us dating didn’t work the second time was “I love you dearly but I can’t share living space with you!” sometimes it’s easier.

  8. MamaCheshire said:

    Oh! Also:

    So being this direct about what you need and having some conversation where you and B. very bluntly work out how things are gonna be without A. translating is gonna probably terrify her, depending on how much she trusts that B. is reformed.

    This was why Spouse, who was in B’s position, DIRECTLY dealing with BFF was a condition of my forgiveness of Spouse for his breaking of my trust. I didn’t get into the particulars, other than to verify with both of them that the conversation had in fact occurred. I expected polite truce, and got it, but they had to work out its terms for themselves. I couldn’t have done it trying to run interference between them.

    • Nerdlinger said:

      I loved this story – thank you for sharing MamaCheshire!

  9. mandaray said:

    Came for the Civ 5 screencaps, stayed for the excellent advice. Thanks, Captain! =D

    • Jorge said:

      As a person who restarts a game when Montezuma is my neighbour, i second this xD

      • Kacienna said:

        Yes, so much love for the screencaps! Though I actually had a game where Montezuma and I were BFFs and major trade partners and he never ever attacked me.

      • mandaray said:

        LOL! I saw that screencap and was like…”Yup. This is the perfect description for being too trusting.” Because I have BEEN that person who allows Open Borders…and I regret it every single time.

    • victoria said:

      I was ridiculously excited to see a category for “Civ V Jokes,” then bummed to see that this was the only one :(.

      • JenniferP said:

        Think of it as the first of many. :)

  10. Jaelle said:

    Good advice, I think. Being civilized around each other but watching out for traps or sniper shots is what I would probably do, too.

    I am wondering… why is it people keep saying “you have no obligation to forgive” when it’s about friends or lovers or some such, but when it comes to family, no matter how badly they treated you, therps keep saying “you have to forgive or you’ll regret it”? Maybe I should write my own letter to the dear Captain about that, but that would be the short form. Any takers?

    • Erin said:

      Well, because family is seen as non-optional. People can’t really imagine to cut of their family so they are horrified anyone else could or would. And you don’t ever have the “right”, from their point of view, to be angry, even permanently angry, at your parents. Because that’s a sakred relationship bla bla.

      I think there’s a lot of “I don’t really get how bad it is in your case.” or “I can’t face losing my family, so don’t talk about cutting yours off.”

      In any case: No, you do not have to forgive. Yes, if necessary you can cut them off. Yes, families can be so fucked-up that you don’t want to see any of them ever again and if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.

      • Jaelle said:

        I have met quite a few people who have cut off single family members or the whole lot and seem genuinely ok with it. You’re probably right that there is a lot of projection in it.

        • Marvel said:

          CW: talk of parental abuse and suicide

          As someone who has cut off most of his family, my takes on it is: it’s never quite okay. Family tends to be much more entrenched in your life than your average friend, no matter how close, simply because they’ve been there since the very beginning. Cutting them off is hard, and there often ends up being a wound there that will never fully heal over, though we can bandage it with chosen family and friends.

          Does this mean no one should ever cut off their family? Not at all. Like I said, I’m no longer in contact with mine. But it is, in my experience, much harder than cutting off a friend.

          Still, there are a lot of people who really need to learn to keep their mouths shut about it instead of wailing on about “but they’re FAAAAAAAAMILY.” My family is not their family and there is a lot of projection that goes on there. Especially if the person in question is currently a parent. They end up thinking about how heartbroken they would be and then getting angry at me for giving my parents that heartbreak. But, you know, my mother told me to go ahead and kill myself while I was actively suicidal and having a middle-of-the-night breakdown. I’m sort of okay with her experiencing a little bit of heartbreak–but it’s not like I can tell that to the average person on the street.

          • Jaelle said:

            My take on family and friends has always been: Family is given to you, no choice, friends are chosen. Friends need to be nice to you (on average) or they won’t be friends any more. Family will always be family. But that means some of them think they can be crappy to you and they don’t realize that “I will not speak to you again” can apply to them as well.

            Some of my friends have been around longer than my family. If I count the days I’ve spent with some old friends, or my husband, they are more than those my father spent with me (which isn’t a lot, really). And with a husband of, say, 20 years, nobody seems to think it’s “impossible to cut them off” as divorces happen ever so often. I really fail to see the difference.

            But that isn’t directed at you, Marvel, and thank you for your comment. I agree that some people need to shut up about Family Values when they actually talk about abuse. :-/

      • Mary said:

        I read an article years ago explaining the political divide in America between red families and blue families, and one of the things it focussed on is that for red families, family is non-optional. You don[‘t have sex outside marriage, you get heterosexually married, you have kids, you look after your kids and parents and your siblings and aunts, uncles and cousins. These things are non-optional. Cutting people off, marrying someone of the same sex or not having kids are not available options, because that non-optional family is your social security and you are theirs. You have to forgive abuse or suffer through a terrible marriage because the alternative is that abusive people can just be cut free and then whose responsibility are they? So then there’s a logical step from belief in a smaller state to being anti-sexual liberation and anti-queer, and I think the idea that it’s unacceptable to hold family members accountable for abusive and poor behaviour fits in there too.

        I am not American and I don’t know how good a job it does of explaining American politics, but it really made sense of a worldview that’s very foreign to me (not specifically an American one, but one that I think is true in a lot of traditional communities and societies.) Compulsory family is an effective answer to the problem of how a community ensures that its vulnerable members are looked after materially, and that’s why people fight for it so hard, either overtly in the form of anti-gay marriage laws or covertly in the case of the pressure to forgive an abusive parent. It also allows for a huge amount of abuse and unequal power relations, of course, but the ideal is that everyone is looked after.

        • Jaelle said:

          Interesting concept. I am not from the US but on a very individual and not so political basis, this applies here too. “If I allow a person to cut me off, then who will be there for me?” Solution a (hard) = Be nice to that person so they have no reason to cut you off. Solution b (easier) = Make sure that person feels like crap when they cut you off even when you are a abusive.

          I guess some people just take the wrong turn at some points.

        • espritdecorps said:

          I am American, and from one of the red/ Offer/ traditional cultures they are talking about. Yes, it is very much an economic thing.

          And yes, a lot of the shitty judginess of those cultures comes from the idea that the only people without extensive family and community support systems are people so worthless that they have been cast out completely. See: “Why should my tax dollars go to support some (insert group they are hating on)?”

          The idea that worthwhile people do not have the access or social skills to form extensive social support systems is not comprehensible to them.
          Having a family so fucked up that there is no aunt or cousin or grandparent to step in and remove a beloved child from a bad situation is incomprehensible.

          They literally (not figuratively) cannot comprehend good human beings not having people who will ‘do for them.’

          The dark side of that is a kind of economic hostage situation that can happen when people from abusive families have to rely on social connections with abusive people. Or when people who don’t fit into the community narrative have to choose between living a lie or social and economic devastation.
          And of course the pressure to manage and work around a difficult/abusive family member rather than cast them out, because that is condemning them to a life without resources or support.

          Cheating is endemic because no one wants to leave the economic security of a relationship (even a bad one) without having another one lined up, especially with kids.

          Marriage is more valued, but increasingly less common, as the feminist ideal of marriage has filtered down into even the most traditional communities. People don’t want to marry until they feel they both have material value to bring to the union, and an strong relationship.

          It is common for young women to be more educated and ambitious than their partners and parents, but still feel the appeal of the values they were raised with.

          No one has figured out how to fold all these things into a traditional framework yet, and there is a lot of external and internalized misogyny to contend with. And a heapin’ helpin’ of ‘ism’ backlash bullshit from the older generations, who see all these things as the end of community and social responsibility.

          This went sideways. I apologize. I am one of the women struggling to integrate the rightness of inclusiveness, with the security of my clannish upbringing.

          • JenniferP said:

            Please don’t apologize! I am FASCINATED by this idea and it made a lot of attitudes that seemed incomprehensible click into place for me. Thanks to you and Mary for opening up a whole world.

          • Mary said:

            espritdecorps, I hadn’t thought about the flipside of “if a person doesn’t have *someone* who’ll look after them, then that shows they must be completely worthless.” I have always been able to see that that system enables a huge amount of abuse and power imbalances, but that’s a new aspect of it.

            I come from a European leftwing background, so it’s always been obvious to me that a state-provided safety net is a good thing. That essay was the first time I’d seen someone try to explain what the positives that people fighting for a traditional system were fighting for, so even though I could immediately see soooo many holes in it – and you’ve just pointed out more! – it was really useful for me to understand where people *might* be coming from.

          • BitterAlmonds said:

            Replying to Mary here with another view–I live in the US in a relatively progressive city in a moderately conservative state. Most of the locals here have these clannish kinds of safety nets. I don’t because my family is horribly unreliable even for day to day things. When crises happen, I can’t count on them even a little. It backfires every time. So as a result, I’m pretty fond of the state safety net myself.
            But I know a lot of people who aren’t. I think most people in the US don’t think of the bureaucracy here as being something tangible and made of people that they can affect. When you rely on the family safety net, if something goes wrong, there’s someone you can talk to. You can talk it out or yell or pressure or whatever and there’s definitely a face there that is responsible for what’s happening, with other people to (hopefully) keep them accountable. With the state net, unless you have a caseworker, there is no face. If the net fails, you have talk to dozens of office workers who may or may not care and have little influence over the stuff that makes it fail (I’m thinking mostly of budget cuts here). So even though the family net has so many holes in it, people here are quicker to trust it because they think there’s more accountability.

          • Mary said:

            Oh BitterAlmonds, yes, I agree. That was part of what I found so compelling about it – because whilst I believe in state safety nets as a good thing, I know they’re not perfect, and a well-functioning clan system does some things much, much better than an imperfect bureaucracy.

          • jenfullmoon said:

            Mary said: “if a person doesn’t have *someone* who’ll look after them, then that shows they must be completely worthless.”

            Oh yeah, totally. You aren’t valued by the rest of the world until someone else has chosen you. I honestly think this is why single ladies get such crap. We’re unvalidated and unwanted and essentially trash or something.

          • espritdecorps said:

            I can’t speak for all traditional cultures on the single woman thing.

            Here single people aren’t really single. They are part of their family which entails helping to care for any younger siblings, neices and nephews, grandparents. This is both preparation for having their own children, and expected because they have the time and resources to spare.

            Single people usually have a primary friend group (which functions as an extended family group) and secondary/tertiary groups based on religion/shared interests, and the families of their primary friend group.
            I didn’t know until I lived somewhere else that not everyone is friends with their close friend’s parents.

            Even an extreme introvert like Spouse has small groups of school friends, hobby friends, and a four person primary friend group that overlaps with my larger primary group (how we met).

            Marrying someone merges your family and primary groups together, and signals you are ready for additional responsibility, but you don’t go from alone to not alone.

            Also because primary groups are compatible people, they often date each other in various combinations before settling into long term partnerships. I’ve seen the bits of a large portion of my primary group. So a single friend is no more likely to “steal your man” than your partnered friend who dated him a couple years ago, and maybe wants him back.

            The only women who would be viewed that way are ones with no family or group.

        • staranise said:

          The “Red Family, Blue Family” article is still around and I love it dearly. I’m on the outer edge of one of the clans espritdecorps talks about, and it’s FASCINATING. It feels like I see things a lot of people from outright liberal areas don’t–like conservative, religious, married people who oppose gay marriage because THEY completely ignored their felt (homo/bi)sexual orientation to bow to the needs of compulsory family, so it’s just selfish and UNFAIR for other gay people to waltz right past those obligations and go get a partner of the same sex.

          • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

            ” You aren’t valued by the rest of the world until someone else has chosen you. I honestly think this is why single ladies get such crap. We’re unvalidated and unwanted and essentially trash or something”. Not to mention we’ll STEAL YO MAN if given half a chance (especially all of us slutty divorcees on the prowl, you know)! Such bullshit. And they wonder why single women of a certain age are more prone to depression and the ills that go with it? No answers, but thanks for pointing this out loud and clear, Jenfullmoon.

          • Mary said:

            Thank you! I just re-read it. The New Deal stuff still makes no sense to me because I don’t understand American politics well enough, but the stuff about families is more detailed and even better than I remember.

        • jenfullmoon said:

          I got raised with red family values, but oddly enough, my non-immediate family relatives pretty much can’t stand me or my parents and eventually became a lot less polite about it. (For example: hey, might have been nice of you to mention when Grandma’s funeral was, just in case we had this crazy idea of flying there to go. They barely bothered to mention that she had died, so there was that at least.) I grew up with “you are stuck with these people and they have to love you” attitude, but….this is not how it has gone in execution. At this point, my dad’s dead and his relatives that can’t stand us (same as the funeral folks)….well, they cut us off and I don’t miss ‘em if they are gonna pull that shit.

          Anyway, that wandered off topic and I just wanted to say thanks for mentioning that topic, it explains everything.

    • Commander Banana said:

      I don’t think CA has ever said that you have to forgive family members, and probably 90something percent of the comments here agree with her. I suspect her answer would be along the lines of not taking advice from people who pressure you to forgive family when forgiving family isn’t the right choice for you. Anyone who tells you you have to forgive someone no matter what is probably not really on Team You.

      I don’t know why people say that. I guess you could ask them, but they’d probably just sputter that it’s because they’re family, which is kind of circular reasoning.

    • Cyberwulf said:

      I’d guess that at least some of the people who say that are really tight with their families and get on well with all their relatives. When someone from a closeknit, loving family hears about a friend/coworker who doesn’t speak to a parent/child/sibling/other relative, the tragedy is that they can’t get over whatever is clearly a trivial thing compared to ALL THOSE WASTED YEARS THEY’LL DIE ESTRANGED. It never occurs to that person that there might be a really good reason to cut off all contact with a family member. They literally can’t imagine those circumstances arising in their own family, because they don’t have abusive/toxic people in their family.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      My experience for what it’s worth:

      The “You Must Forgive!” therapists tend to apply that to everyone, as do the, “You don’t have to forgive if you don’t want to…” therapists.

      Where the difference seems to come in is the expectation that family will be less completely-avoidable (because of other family you’re still attached to and want to see, I think?) than will people you aren’t related to. In other words, if you are furious with Uncle Jerk, you still have to put up with him because when Grandma gets all the relatives together for holiday meals he’s going to be there.

      The thing is that a lot of friendship circles DO replicate that dynamic, to varying degrees. I think that happens more often a) in circles where there are a lot of LGBTQ-folk (especially if their families of origin had issues with them coming out) and/or b) when there aren’t big sprawling families of cousins and aunties and so forth that stayed in the local area, but just one or two or maybe three kids in the generation who don’t live near each other. Extended networks are important – they just don’t have to be the ones you were born with. :)

  11. 30ish said:

    Great advice. My take: It’s A’s decision to try and work on their relationship with B, but it is NOT up to her whether B will be integrated in A’s circle of friends again. Is A expecting that since she still wants to date B her group of friends should hang out with B again? I really don’t think this follows. You might have to straightforwardly tell A that you can’t fulfill her hopes for this at the moment since you’re just too uncomfortable with B. (This will also make it clear that B must apologize on his own).
    I wonder whether for the time being ‘one-sided integration’ would work: If A and B invite you and other friends for a party, you’ll go and be polite to B. You’re thereby not making it impossible for A to socialize with you & your friends and B present. You however won’t feel obligated to actively include B in any plans you make. This may lead to A not wanting to attend those events if she can’t bring B with her. But again, this is her decision and a direct result of being involved with someone who treats others badly. Then if B makes an effort and is behaving well, you can think about including him again.

  12. Jenesis said:

    I’d like to emphasize that A has responsibilities in this relationship maintenance, too, as much as she might like to have LW and B get together and magically overcome their extended period of mutual hostility. If A cares about her relationship with LW, and A cares about her relationship with B, then it is in A’s interest to come up with ways to spend time with both people that don’t involve LW and B constantly butting heads or awkwardly faking politeness. People can and do handle this in situations that involve far less serious offenses than what B did to LW and hir friends.

  13. Hugs LW, this sounds like a thankless situation for you. There’s some excellent advice here so hopefully it helps to know you have a ‘toolkit’ to deal with it. My only addition is that if she complains about him, even about mundane things, just nod and say things like, ‘So what do you think you’ll do?’ or, ‘That sounds hard,’ followed by a change of subject. It sounds callous but it sets you up as a safe, neutral person to talk to if things get bad again, which is important in a Darth situation. It also minimises the amount of time you have to spend on the subject.

    Love and luck!

  14. DFTBAwkward said:

    I have a somewhat similar situation in my life, although the relationships are different. It’s not a friend, it’s my mother, and it’s not her Darth Boyfriend–it’s her Darth Father, who is my grandfather. He was distant and emotionally abusive to my mom when I was young, which as I’ve gotten older and learned more about him, have definitely skewed my views of him. We’ve never been particularly close, but as I found out what went on in her childhood I really didn’t like him and didn’t want to have anything to do with him. The final straw was an incident where he did something callous that showed he really didn’t care that much about us, making my mother cry, when she was in her 40s and he was in his 70s. This incident was one of those that just showed me things really hadn’t changed, and he’s not a good person. Your situation may be different–may be he will really change. But this is how I deal with mine.

    My mom’s relationship to her father is really complicated, and I think she sees it as part of her personal growing up/moving on process to forgive him and try to have a relationship with him. That’s how she wants to handle the situation, which is mostly her business, and I respect that. Because I love my mom and value our relationship, I support her in that by going with her to visit him sometimes, being a surface-level polite, nice granddaughter.

    But forgiving him and trying to form a relationship with him in spite of all that has gone on is her deal, it’s not mine. I don’t think that I have to forgive him, and I don’t think I have to like him. My coping strategy in dealing with people who are difficult and I don’t really like but have to deal with them is that I just become completely emotionally neutral to them. I don’t know if that’s something you can do. But for me, it’s like flipping a switch. They just don’t get my emotional energy anymore. I can interact and be polite this way, but I just kind of stop caring about the relationship and what is going on. I don’t expect anything out of them, and I try not to be surprised when the act badly. But I also free myself of the obligation of trying to be a caring/loving granddaughter who has to love him because FAAAAAMILY. When I know I have to see him, I put on my nice face, and there’s a set time limit to the visit and when it’s over, it’s over. I don’t give him the privilege to be close to and therefore disrupt me, but I also don’t put any effort or care of mine into the relationship.

    I know that probably sounds callous to some people, but it’s been a very successful strategy for me. For toxic people who have hurt you or caused hurt to people you love in the past, keeping them at an emotional distance like that prevents them from hurting you again.

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