When we divorced, my ex and I agreed we’d remain friends. Good friends, even. We couldn’t make it work as a married couple anymore, but we were both determined to maintain a friendship. We wanted it for the kids, for us, for our extended families, for our friends. We wanted to have a truly amicable divorce. We wanted to rise above, to have the type of divorce that other people hoped for (should they face the unfortunate situation).
For a little while, it worked. He moved into his own place and would visit the house for dinner when it was my night with the kids, and vice versa. We even went on a family camping trip a few months after we separated, albeit with separate tents.
But, from the beginning, the tension between us made it difficult to relax. It was hard to carry on a normal conversation — would he ask how my date from the previous weekend went? Weird. So we focused on the kids, talked about them instead. Honestly, it wasn’t that different than when we were still together, but now there was an unmistakable added layer of tension.
I didn’t worry too much about it at first, because of course we would have a period of transition, and of course that wouldn’t be easy. I didn’t expect to be besties without the occasional hiccup or discomfort in the beginning.
But, over time, the tension only thickened. He knew I was dating, and he started to make passive aggressive comments about it. He also would make snide remarks about my financial situation (I make a lot less than he does), wondering aloud in front of the kids whether I could afford to stay in the house we had shared together. I went on a getaway with some girlfriends one weekend and he wouldn’t shut up about how I wasn’t “being smart” with my money. (The getaway was actually a gift from my mom, but after his jerky comments, I didn’t feel compelled to let my ex know that.)
When the kids weren’t paying attention, he’d ask for “last time” sex, which I had already made clear I wasn’t interested in. When I said no, he whined and pestered me. I told him to drop it, but he still pouted. It made me feel uncomfortable and angry.
My response to the majority of his comments was to ignore them. I would quickly change the topic, either to something about the kids or I would ask him about work or talk about my work. I was determined not to get sucked into his toxic bullshit anymore. After all, that was why we had divorced.
I hoped that if I ignored his rude comments, he’d stop. But he didn’t. If anything, it made it worse — he started to imply that I was the cause for our divorce, that I had broken up our family, that I was the selfish one. He wouldn’t say it directly, but he’d work into conversation how my house used to be the family home, and now he’s been “kicked out,” even though in the beginning he’d insisted I keep the house because he’d rather not stay in it post-breakup. He muttered under his breath once something about me “ruining everyone’s life.”
I kept telling myself it was just the hurt talking, that eventually he’d come around and start behaving like the friend he’d claimed he wanted to be. How long could he carry on with the anger? But it got to the point where the only thing hanging out with him was doing for me was making me grateful I was no longer with him and confirming I’d made the right decision by leaving him.
Part of the reason we split up was because he had a mean streak and was always saying nasty, critical things about other people. No one was ever good enough for him, no one was ever doing their job correctly. I was tired of being his filter in public and explaining why he shouldn’t say certain things. I’d been exempt from his criticism when we were together; now that we had split up, criticizing me was fair game.
Naturally, I stopped inviting him over for dinner. I stopped showing up at his house for dinner, even though it broke my heart not to be able to see the kids. I just couldn’t stand the constant negativity anymore. Then one night, he asked if he could come over and talk. I agreed, and he brought up exactly what I knew he would: “Why aren’t we friends like you promised?”
I told him his anger has made him cruel and passive aggressive, and that hanging out with him makes me feel the opposite of how I feel when hanging out with someone who is truly a friend. It feels like an obligation, and worse, an obligation to hang out with someone who drops bomb after bomb of snide remarks, criticism, and blame.
I told him every time my phone dings with a text from him, my heart rate goes through the roof. Texts from friends don’t make me feel that way.
He agreed he’d been acting like an asshole and asked if we could start over. I told him I didn’t want to.
Maybe someday we could be friends again, real friends, but for now, I couldn’t do it, because I would be faking it and I’ve reached a point in my life where I refuse to fake anything for anyone. I told him it would take him a long time to earn back my trust. In the meantime, I told him I refuse to subject myself to his emotional abuse.
What I’ve realized since I broke my friendship promise is that, as part of our noble goal of having a conflict-free divorce, we aimed to accomplish something that we were never able to accomplish even when we were still a couple. We divorced because we were incompatible in a hundred different ways, and part of that was that he can be terse and narrow-minded, while I am constantly railing about the importance of kindness and inclusion. I’m a bleeding heart liberal and he’s a conservative. I like documentaries and romantic comedies (which he hates) and he likes goofy slap-stick humor (which I hate). I’m obsessed with reading and he thinks reading is boring.
We can’t be friends because we never were friends. For some reason we clicked when we were younger, probably because we were just a pair of college students getting drunk and hanging with friends and didn’t know anything about anything, and we had a connection. But we never had a deep, true friendship connection. I never called my spouse my “best friend” because he never was.
As much as I’d love to be this perfect separated family that still hangs out “for the kids,” I have to accept that it just isn’t going to happen. I hate it for the kids, but I also know it’s the right choice for them because they feel the animosity and tension too.
It’s also right for me. Foregoing a friendship with my ex is right for me, and after so long of sacrificing my own happiness for the sake of everyone else’s, I’m ready to put myself first. And, unfortunately, that means letting go of the idea that I can be friends with my ex.