The Case of the Deadbeat Fiancé

Advice on sticky friendship dilemmas.
Jan. 10 2012 6:53 AM

My Friend’s Fiancé Won’t Get a Divorce From His First Wife

He keeps making excuses, and it’s driving me crazy.

Friend_Or_Foe_standingIllo

Illustration by Jason Raish.

Dear Friend or Foe,

Lucinda Rosenfeld Lucinda Rosenfeld

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including I'm So Happy for You and The Pretty One, which will be published in early 2013.

My best friend "Amy" is living with a married man, "Gene." His wife left him five years ago for another woman.  Amy met him one year ago; they fell in love, moved in together, and are planning a wedding for the near future.  The problem is that Gene has made no move toward getting a divorce. He and his wife aren’t even officially separated. He's given Amy six ridiculous excuses over the past year to delay the divorce, and Amy has given him two ultimatums but never followed through with either of them. Amy is very insecure about her body image, and I believe she’s in love with the fact that Gene is attracted to her and adores her unconditionally. But they have no similar core values. She's Christian, he's an atheist. She's conservative, he's a raging liberal. She's money-conscious, he never files his taxes. She likes a clean house, he's a slob. 

I've been a very good listener over the past year and I've given advice when asked. But at this point the whole thing is driving me crazy. Almost no one else close to her knows that the guy is still married. So I feel like the grumpy single friend (even though I’m not) any time I express any concerns over their relationship. Would I be overstepping boundaries if I talked to Gene privately and told him that he needs to man up and get a divorce before planning a life with my BFF?

Sincerely,
Concerned Best Friend

Dear CBF,

I think you’re over-involved, need to butt out, and spend the extra energy learning how to knit or skydive. That, or seek out a long-term attraction to your own unlikely opposite. You’ve already expressed your concern to Amy and also your opinion that Gene ought to finalize his divorce before he starts interviewing caterers. Now it’s up to her to hold him to his promise. Most likely, the guy is well intentioned and absolutely means to get a divorce—just as he’s been meaning to pay Uncle Sam and clean his bathroom. Which is to say, based on the evidence presented, Gene’s main fault seems to be that he has a little problem getting things done. If your friend does finally haul him to the altar, no doubt the behavior will continue. He won’t ever quite find the time to mow the lawn or change the fire alarm batteries (or buy milk). But again, that will be Amy’s cross to bear.

The other possibility is that he’s still humiliated that his wife dumped him for a chick, and he’s stalling. Though I sort of doubt this is the case. My own husband assures me that, should I ever leave him, he’d feel far less emasculated if it was for a woman than a man. At least he’d know it “wasn’t him.” (He might even wish me good luck.)

In any event, what does it really matter if Amy and Gene secure a piece of paper from the state linking them in matrimony? It’s not as if Amy’s “chastity” is at stake. (This isn’t Colonial America.) She’s found someone who loves her and wants to cohabitate, love handles and all. Isn’t that ultimately worth more than a stroll down the aisle?

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

One of my close friends, “Brooke,” moved away three years ago to take a better job in our shared field.  While she was still here, she became friendly with a colleague, “Sarah,” whom I knew to be untrustworthy.  I told Brooke my concerns about Sarah. But once it became clear that she intended to remain friends with Sarah, I made the choice not to get into it any further. Now I’m wondering if I did the right thing. 

During the time that Brooke has been gone, Sarah has done everything in her power to destroy the professional lives of me and many people I care about, clearly believing that this sabotage is her only means to success. (Blackmailing and lying have both been involved.) I’ve managed to escape the worst consequences of her actions—though I’m not entirely unscathed—but friends of mine have lost jobs, income, and reputations. Because she went about all of this secretly, however, I have no firm proof that any of the events can be traced back to her. Though I have all the circumstantial evidence in the world.  No one I know disputes any of the claims against her, and they continue to mount.

Sarah and I are now simultaneously on the job market, while Brooke is senior in our profession. It truly sickens me to think of Brooke giving Sarah the same advice and support she's given me. Next month, all three of us are headed to the same city for a big professional conference. Is it wrong to tell Brooke what's happened in her absence or wrong for me to keep it from her? Please advise.

Best,
Enraged, Jealous, and Confused

Dear EJAC,

I’m guessing that you’re all in academia. As such, I’m dying to know what blackmailing even looks like in the lofty world of scholarship. Did Brooke ruin so-and-so’s chances of securing tenure at Harvard by sending an anonymous email to the chairperson of the search committee, threatening to reveal that her prize-winning account of midwifery in 17th-century Bulgaria was heavily plagiarized? (Or was someone enjoying extramarital relations with the head of the linguistics department who shouldn’t have been?) Whatever the case, my sense is that you’ve gotten yourself overly worked up about this Sarah person who, despite her vindictive and duplicitous streak, is likely not quite the Dr. Evil you make her out to be. Does she really have that much power?

Before you present the prosecution’s case at your private Nuremburg Trial, I’d be inclined to take a chill pill and/or one of those yoga class where you learn how to breathe again—and try to rise above the fray. You have no hard evidence that Sarah is the source of the alleged crimes, and unless she’s caused you particular harm—the details of which you can provide your mutual friend, Brooke—you’ll run the risk of sounding like a paranoid gossip. Moreover, it’s clear that your esteemed colleague has already formed her own judgments about Sarah, and it’s in the positive camp. As such, you’re unlikely to change her mind.

You say that you’re going on the job market this year. If I were you, I’d direct my energies at trying to get myself hired—and Seditious Sarah be damned. Though if you can’t seem to blow off the steam, a few off-handedly catty remarks to Brooke (about Sarah’s proclivities) probably won’t do any harm.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

Dear Friend or Foe,

During my first month at my new college, I met "Lindsey," who had the same major as me, was also a commuter, and had recently transferred as well. We also shared two classes. It seemed like fate that we should be friends. Soon after we met, she began inviting me over to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend. She insisted he meet my boyfriend as well so we could all become "best friends." I found this request strange and even more so when, the following day, she requested a spot as one of my bridesmaids when I get married. I laughed it off—even after she assured me that, the following year when she marries her boyfriend, I'll be a bridesmaid in their big wedding. But it should have been my first red flag. (It wasn't.)

As the semester progressed, Lindsey began calling and texting me constantly. I’d casually mention shows I enjoyed watching and, suddenly, they’d be her favorite shows too—and she’d text me plot points as she watched her way through. On days I worked, she'd text me so much that I'd have to turn off my phone. On school days, she'd start calling in the morning to beg me to skip our shared classes and come over. Near the end of the semester, she must have sensed me pulling away and put on the full-court press. During a Christmas party for one of our classes, she butted into conversations I was having with other classmates until they walked away. Then she’d list why they were a) ugly, b) stupid, c) useless, or d) probably gay—in earshot of them, no less.

Now I want out of this toxic friendship, but Lindsey has fixed her class schedule for the new semester so it matches mine. If I make any alterations, I won't graduate on time. What can I do to put as much distance between myself and her without hurting her and without her hurting me? I’ve seen how those who cross her are subject to verbal abuse on a daily basis; under those conditions, having classes with her for an entire semester would be brutal.

Sincerely,
Fearing Wrath of Friend

Dear FWOF,

I have two syllables for you—one is “stalk” and the other is “er.” First and most importantly, you need to change your phone number and disable the old. Then you need to open a brand new gmail account that’s just for family and friends. Thirdly, put your head down and study. Imagine Lindsey is a fly—annoying when it buzzes near your head or lunch, sure, but no one’s ever let the presence of one ruin his/her life.

If Lindsey herself starts ranting and railing, in the politest and vaguest terms tell her you’re really busy with work, school, and other stuff and can’t keep up with all your commitments—you’re so sorry. She’ll be furious and insulted but far less so than if you spell out the truth. Which would be to say, “Lindsey, you are a complete psycho—please leave me alone.” If you’re still feeling stressed, ask your boyfriend to walk you to and from class. If she makes actual threats, you can always file for a restraining order. But my suspicion is that, within the semester, she’ll find a new “insta-bridesmaid” with whom to live out every moment of the emotional roller coaster that is Celebrity Wife Swap. There are lots of lonely people out there in the world. Hopefully for you (not for her NBF), Lindsey will soon meet one.

Sincerely,
Friend or Foe

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