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.
Trying To Make The Best Of It
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.”
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.
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!