Tell Me About It

Balancing act for unhappy friends

Washington Post Writers GroupDecember 2, 2012 

Dear Carolyn: A few of my close friends have recently gone through difficult breakups; meanwhile, I’m newly in love after many years of being more-or-less-happily single. I’m trying to balance grad school, being a good friend, and developing this great new relationship, but a couple of comments from my girlfriends have made it clear I’m not really balancing the last two very well.

One friend recently admitted to being distant because she’s not eager to see/hear about happy couple-y stuff so soon after her own breakup, and another was angry with me for canceling a “date” with her because she assumed I’d canceled to hang out with my boyfriend (not true, I had a school issue, which she knew about).

I thought I was doing a decent job balancing these things. How can I figure out where the line is so I don’t cause pain to these friends? I tried sincerely asking them what they’d like me to change, but that only yielded assurances that they’re happy for me and that I should continue being happy. – K.

Carolyn Says: Consider this permission to take them at their word.

You’re not causing them pain, their circumstances are. Merely by being sensitive to this, you fulfill your primary obligation to them as their friend.

Maybe you aren’t balancing well, sure, and your friends’ concerns reflect that, but it seems premature to draw that conclusion from just two incidents, quite different ones at that.

She’s jealous of ex-wife

Dear Carolyn: I have battled a jealous streak my whole life. That said, I am jealous of my husband’s ex-wife because he still gets in touch with her. He admitted he talked to her “just occasionally, maybe once a month.” It is probably just phone calls and/or email, but I can’t understand why he would want to continue talking with her, and I wonder what they have to talk about.

She left him wounded from her serial extramarital affairs, and he lost considerable savings to support her career moves. When she stepped into a brilliant and high-paying career, she left him behind. He knows I don’t like him contacting her, and he knows it infuriates me when he speaks highly of her. Am I being a control freak? – Weary of Ex-Wife

Carolyn Says: You are expecting your husband to fix your jealousy problem, so, in that sense, yes, your stance on his ex-wife is a controlling one.

I can also argue that it’s illogical on a couple of counts. For one, doesn’t it sound more bizarre for two people who used to spend every day together just to up and stop talking, forever? I don’t doubt the ex put your husband through a wringer, but people are complicated, as are the relationships they form. He could remain justifiably annoyed by her infidelity and opportunism while still valuing her opinion on, say, his mom or work or a recent gallery show. They can be “over” without snipping every last little thread.

Send email to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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