Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Allowed to be bitter: I moved across country to be with my cheating boyfriend, and his sidepiece made it her mission to be my newest, dearest friend for close to two years. I am only now moving out of the emotional morass they left me stuck in. I heard through social media that my ex got canned from his job, and his lovely lady friend had her two front teeth knocked out in a car accident. It put me in such a good mood I bought a round at our local watering hole with, I admit, mean-spirited dedication to “karma getting the bastard and his better-sucking whore.”
Several of my friends made comments to me about being “bitter” and “the bigger person” (while taking me up on the free beer). It honestly left me floored. Do I really have to make nice to people who deliberately screwed me over for their amusement?
I don’t talk to them or stalk them online. I think that I am entitled to my anger. I was misled, lied to, used, and abused for years by people whom I loved and trusted. I don’t want to swallow my anger or my bitterness. What do I say to this?
I don’t want to alienate people, but dear God, I think I am allowed to wallow in spite for at least a few months after years of treachery.
A: What your ex and his new girlfriend did to you was clearly cruel and unkind, and your anger and hurt make a great deal of sense. You are not obligated to forgive them in order to be a good person, nor should you pretend to be less angry than you are in order to smooth over someone else’s discomfort. It’s also true that there is a difference between “swallowing” your anger and inviting your friends to celebrate it. Your friends may have been perfectly willing to get a drink with you and listen to you talk about your feelings openly, but they felt uncomfortable being asked to hoist a glass in honor of a stream of invectives against someone they don’t know.
There’s nothing wrong or inappropriate with the anger you feel, but that doesn’t mean any action you take as a result of that anger is necessarily healthy, appropriate, or considerate of those around you. If you want or need to vent to a close friend, ask if he or she is willing to help you talk through some of your feelings of betrayal and schadenfreude—don’t try to throw a party in honor of your own anger. If you want to see a therapist to give voice to some of your darker, more vindictive thoughts, then do so, and figure out both how to give careful weight and attention to your anger as well as figure out how to move forward. That’s not to say you have to speak well of your ex or that you’re obligated to rise above or forgive and forget. It simply means you have to find appropriate, timely outlets for your feelings.