My son has a friend. Every evidence points to a sincere, mutual, warm and caring friendship. They stay in touch. They support each other. They are informed about the other’s comings and goings, the ups and downs of dating, their respective journeys of education and vocation.
I like my son’s friend very much. I know her better than many of his friends because … they used to not be mere friends. They once were high school (and young adult) sweethearts. They once were in love. So, she was at my house a lot.
They preserved a friendship. I’m intrigued.
I believe in the possibility of recovering a friendship in the aftermath of a significant, committed love relationship. My (quite possibly incorrect) prejudice, however, is that it’s statistically less likely than more likely. And a bit astonishing when it does happen. To be lauded and celebrated, for sure.
My mother and father, divorced since forever, are great conversationalists. They are both really smart. Well-educated. And, when holidays, children and grandchildren call them to the same home, they greet one another with true regard, warmth and respect. They appear to relish discussing politics, the economy, aging, world events.
They bear no apparent ill will. All grudges evaporated. There exists between them an authentic peace. I’m feel confident they wish each other well — a thriving and happy life.
Are they friends? Friendly, for sure.
“I’m friends with all my exes,” the woman exclaims with a flashbulb smile and no little pride.
I’ve met people like her before. I’ve heard words like those before. And I confess my reaction is always a polite, skeptical curiosity.
A variation on the theme is when consoling a heartbroken, discarded husband or wife, well-meaning people will often coo, “Well, maybe you can be friends.”
Like, that’s the target. That’s the goal. Like, it’s always possible. And in every case desirable.
Hmm. The person that could not or would not but for sure did not endure with you in the work of marriage might nonetheless endure with you in the rigor and work and joy of friendship.
A man in my office once said, wryly, in response to the “maybe you can be friends” encouragement, “I pick better friends than that.”
I swear I’m not cynical about post-love-affair or postmarital friendships. They are possible. My son is proof of this. But I am still hesitant and wanting to examine. I have questions, like …
If you can turn on a metaphorical dime and convert a love relationship into a friendship, it makes me wonder if you were all that deeply invested in the first place. I take as given that great love is powerful and life-changing. That it requires a trembling, gaping vulnerability. That, if for whatever reason the relationship ends, it would take most people a couple of years or at least several months of carefully guarded distance before we could just stand in a room and “make normal,” let alone consider investing in a friendship.
I wonder if some people recover a real friendship, but if other people are simply posturing an understandable self-assuagement. In a world of crumbling marriages and the pain of divorce, I wonder if it makes us feel better about ourselves to talk of friendship.
And, if indeed your ex is today one of your best friends, it seems reasonable to wonder why you divorced at all. I mean, for those lucky enough to reach their 80s in a terrific marriage of 40 to 60 years, I imagine that friendship is the abiding, lasting core of their communion.
I’m not being critical, just curious: If you were/are such buddies, I wonder why the friendship didn’t provide a tether while you addressed, healed and reconciled whatever was threatening or eroding the marital promise.
Friends? Do you mean friends? Or do you more mean you have made an authentic peace with your estranged mate. You have forgiven and been forgiven. You have surrendered enmity and wounded pride. These are good things. But such sublime victories in no way mean that we are participants in an active friendship.
I wonder, once you were totally exposed in a marriage, wouldn’t some part of you need, once divorced, to be rightly guarded and “covered” in the presence of the same person?
And lastly, how do you define “friend.” I know I’m a dinosaur, but I still reserve that word for something significant and even profound.
If you’re one of the first four to six people I call when my mother dies, or when I become a grandfather, or when I win the lottery, then you can bet you’re in my inner circle.
You are a covenant friend.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His column appears on Mondays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or email@example.com.