My childhood best friend—I’ll call her Erica—got together with her longtime partner, Adam, in college. Then, when she and I were roommates for a year after graduation, the three of us were pretty much always together. Even when our respective jobs took all of us to different states, we stayed close. Let me put it this way: The day after they got married, I was sitting next to them on the couch, eating leftover wedding cake and watching Game of Thrones. They’re those kind of friends.
So when they decided to split up after a decade, it was tough (obviously, much tougher for them than for me, but that’s another story). Erica encouraged me to stay friends with Adam—she even went so far as to say she was glad he had me to help him through the process. But naturally, it was a lot more complicated than that. (I have a whole new respect for children of divorce, seeing how I could barely navigate it as a supposedly fully formed adult.) Here’s what I’ve learned from the experience so far.
I feel guilty most of the time (but honesty helps)
When I’m with one of them, I feel like a traitor—even when everything’s technically above board. Initially, I wouldn’t tell Erica every time I hung out with Adam, because I didn’t want her to feel like he was getting more of my time. But I immediately realized my mistake when she learned via social media that we’d been together and she hadn’t known about it. Sneaking around was not the answer, even if said sneaking was platonic. Now, I make sure to keep everyone informed—and when the day comes that they no longer need a heads-up, they’ll let me know.
Boundaries are necessary
At first, my conversations on both sides centered on how they were coping with the split. But then came the inevitable return to dating, and that very quickly got…awkward. What do you do when your oldest friend’s ex wants you to workshop his Bumble profile?
I haven’t found a clear-cut answer here—asking Adam to censor what he says around me feels counter to our friendship, but on the other hand, I don’t feel comfortable hiding information from Erica (and vice versa). Eventually, I decided to make it clear that I’m not going to lie if the other person asks—and since then, I get the impression they both keep things closer to the vest than they would otherwise, which isn’t the share-everything dynamic I’d ideally want with my friends. But it’s better than the alternative of sitting on information that could ultimately hurt someone.
It does get easier
It’s been almost a year since their breakup, and while the situation is far from simple, it feels like it’s starting to approach some semblance of normal. They ask about each other a little less; they have new, separate experiences they want to catch me up on.
Granted, the biggest obstacle hasn’t happened yet: the moment when one of them starts their next serious relationship. Fingers crossed it happens for both of them at the exact same time (if only), but if not, I’ll be sure to reestablish the aforementioned boundaries and make it clear I have no intention of acting as a double agent.
It’s taught me a lot about relationships
The funny thing about this process is that it’s something of a role reversal. Throughout the past decade, the two of them counseled me through various dating struggles. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes feel it was unfair that they’d found their person so young, while I was fumbling through my 20s on my own.
Now, of course, the present colors everything that came before it, and I’ve learned that no relationship is ever really set in stone, whether it’s been ten months or ten years. But I can also recognize the successes of their time together: They supported each other through major career changes, cross-country moves and a million other challenges and still managed to love and respect one another after everything. Can you blame me for wanting to keep both of them around?