Divorced people can be friends, but duplicity is another matter

Q: I don’t understand why (in your March 9) column you would suggest that divorced people can’t or shouldn’t be friends. I find that disturbing for a therapist. — Z.D., Henderson

A: First off, Z.D., let me alert you that I selected your letter to represent about four unhappy letters I received in response to the March 9 column. Two of those letters spun in an eddy about the current presidential race. The other, like yours, was snagged on post-marital relationships. All four readers completely missed my point (which probably doesn’t speak in glowing terms about the quality of that particular column).

Let me try again.

Read the March 9 column. You won’t find the barest suggestion that divorced people can’t or shouldn’t be friends. They can. Some are.

If you’re asking, I would say that post-marital friendships are a beckoning and worthy hope. Some divorced people realize that hope. For those estranged couples who cannot find their way back to friendship, I think the consolation hope is for peace. Specifically, that each could surrender enmity and offer the other a sincere wish for peace.

For those divorced couples still in anguish over marital injustice, treachery, moral failure, etc., I would say there is no runner-up prize, and least not for the immediate future. All that remains is a duty — a duty made even more demanding if divorced co-parenting will of necessity countermand the next 10-20 years.

The duty is civility, honor and sacrificial kindness — not because we are friends, but because this duty is the moral high ground. Because this duty is best for the children. Because this duty represents the best of us.

But trashing the very attributes you once loved in a mate of 10, 20 or 30 years so you can find the necessary leverage to exit, and then turning with a smile on the other side of the abyss to offer "friendship"? Well, I think that’s treachery. Duplicity. Post-marital friendships can happen, but they don’t happen like that.

I hope that answers your question. And, having answered it, let me call your attention back to my hopes for the March 9 column.

My column was not about politics. Not about post-marital relationships. Those were mere illustrations. My column was about duplicity.

I don’t think duplicity is necessarily treacherous, dark or evil. But I think normalizing duplicity sets a stage for treachery, darkness and evil. Apart from that, I think duplicity is simply beneath us. This is the beginning — and the end — of everything I wanted to say.

So, perhaps two new illustrations would be useful …

The first is a lesser known Monty Python sketch. A patron walks into a butcher shop. The butcher says, "’Morning." And the patron says, "Shut your festering gob, you tit!"

"Sorry?" says the shocked but utterly English butcher.

"Yes, I’ll have a two-pound fryer, please," says the patron.

"Absolutely," says the butcher, relieved and happy to dodge the social awkwardness.

To which the patron shouts, "Your type really makes me puke!"

On and on it goes, for six or seven minutes. One moment the perfect picture of social decorum. The next: invective. As the patron leaves, the butcher delivers the ironic punch line: "Sorry, I couldn’t help but notice that you are terribly rude to me, and then polite, alternately."

My column asked you to think about what it means when people say terrible things, and then, in the next breath, speak as if the terrible things have no consequence.

Or how about the tale of a man in therapy who recalls a family memory at age 14. His little sister is raising ducks, one of which flies into the backyard. The boy’s collie dog kills the duck on the spot. The little sister cries. The father explodes in a signature rage. He attempts to beat the dog to death, while the mother cries out and attempts haplessly to intervene.

The father lifts the dog against the wall in a choke hold. The dog is losing the fight. Suddenly, the father relents, as if snapping out of an evil enchantment.

Five minutes later, the father, his wife and three children are sitting back at the dinner table. But the trauma isn’t over. The man in therapy says, "You wanna know the worst part? It wasn’t my dad trying to kill my dog. It was him then saying, ‘Please pass the potatoes’ … How was your day at school, son?’ Like nothing happened!"

I say again: Duplicity creeps me out.

Oh, and one more thing: You’re right, Z.D. I am disturbing. No one should do therapy with me who doesn’t wish to be disturbed.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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