Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend of three years recently cheated on me, broke up with me through an email and then ghosted me. I know I should be glad to be rid of him, but I loved him. I'm trying my best to go on without him.
Before and during our relationship I was very good friends with his sister. Seeing her now just reopens the wounds, and our friendship is not what it used to be. I explained to her that it would be very difficult for me to pretend nothing was different, and out of self-preservation I needed distance.
She is very angry with me and accuses me of breaking her heart, etc. Am I wrong or selfish? It would be painful for me to see her because of all the memories.
Anonymous: And it’s painful for her to get dumped for something her brother did.
I’m sorry your ex treated you so poorly. It looks like cowardice more than anything: His seeking escape from his doubts — instead of having the guts to admit them to you — would explain all of it, the cheating, the email breakup and the subsequent vanishing.
Anyway. I’m certainly not going to say you have to be friends with someone. Not here, not anywhere.
I also won’t minimize the challenge of carrying on friendships with an ex’s people, especially when your pain is so fresh. The conflicting loyalties can just be too complicated to sort out. (In fact, I just recommended such a “breakup”: wapo.st/FamBreak.)
But your dropping this friend who is innocent of any wrongdoing without regard for how she might feel about it means she now has to process feelings similar to yours, that she didn’t matter as much as she thought she did to someone she cared for deeply.
So please, before you decide she isn’t worth the emotional effort, consider this. Of course your friendship won’t be what it used to be; something significant has changed. And the idea that you have to “pretend” anything is just misguided: You have a real sense of loss that both of you need to reckon with.
It would be so much easier if breakups put dotted lines through our lives marked with the little “cut here” scissors.
As many learn, though, from the people they can’t cut away easily (colleagues, neighbors), or wouldn’t dream of cutting away (children, and the in-laws who are their aunts, uncles and grandparents), we can be so much richer for doing the difficult thing.
The awkward post-breakup phase of these associations does settle into something familiar, because everything new eventually does. The more regularly you see the sister, the less you’ll react to her as a breakup artifact, and the more you’ll see her just for who she is.
The patient — and courageous — are even rewarded sometimes with better relationships than before; being there for each other through pain can leave a powerful impression.
Maybe the sister isn’t that friend to you. Her angry response gives me pause, certainly, and I won’t overrule a true “self-preservation” need. I only suggest asking yourself whether yours is an emotional reaction where a more reasoned action would serve you best. You may have, in her and in you, more strength than you know.