Dear Carolyn: A few years ago, my wife and I made a lot of new friends. There was one Main Couple that was really the center of our social universe.
Sadly, Mrs. Main Couple died last year of breast cancer. Our friend group had rallied hard for two years and her loss was a devastating blow.
Mr. Main Couple has quietly established a new relationship. She seems nice enough, but I'm just not ready. It's been hard enough to go back into their house without her, but now there's a new person spending weekends there.
I completely agree with my wife that Mrs. Main Couple wouldn't want her husband to stay alone forever and dating a new woman doesn't change the love our friend had for his wife.
But I still can't deal with it. I know I'm a bad friend, but I don't want to get to know this person. I'm still sad about the loss of our friend and want our social group to just remain status quo for a little while longer. I know I'm being selfish, so what can I do to fix it?
— Bad Friend
Bad Friend: I’m so sorry for your loss.
And I understand your not wanting to know this new person. It’s a normal way to feel.
I don’t think it would be fair, though, to act on those feelings. Not to the extent you want to, at least. It wouldn’t be fair to her, of course, because she has done nothing to hurt you. It wouldn’t be fair to Mr. Main Couple, because he, too, did nothing wrong, but more so is grieving in his own way — since it’s certainly possible to love one person while grieving another. It’s not fair to your wife, because keeping yourself out of this reconstituted circle of friends will affect her ability to connect with it, and she, too, is dealing with a loss.
And finally, it hurts you the most, because it isolates you from your friends the most. At a time when you are obviously still emotional about this loss and need these friends around you.
So what does this mean, to feel something normal but not act on it as you normally would? It’s a matter of balance, really. Don’t pretend you’re fine!fine!fine! as if nothing ever happened. But don’t stay away entirely, either. Instead, find the middle path, where you push yourself to make small efforts to get to know the new friend, followed by small retreats to your comfort zone. And/or, decline one invitation of every three, so you can pace yourself in adapting to the new reality. Talk to your wife about it and figure out ways to wade in slowly, ideally ones that will be subtle enough not to offend your hosts, who are, like the rest of us, just trying to figure things out.
Re: Bad Friend: The fact that he's worried about how his feelings could hurt his friend and is asking for advice to keep that from happening makes him a good friend. A bad friend wouldn't care about his friend's feelings, and he clearly does. Feelings don't make you a good or bad person; how you act on them does.