Thursday, 14 October 2010

Lie back and think of your friends

Over the summer there was a study carried out that found divorce among friends can be contagious; apparently the effect known as divorce clustering means that there is a 75% chance of divorce among couples whose friends have split . Scary stuff and although I’m relieved to say that I cannot attest to its accuracy having witnessed a few separations in my social circle this year, I can nonetheless see how my friends’ relationship breakdowns have had an adverse effect on me and my relationship.

Perhaps this says a lot about me but I often find that if I spend time with a friend who pours her heart out about a bad relationship, the tendency is for me to empathise so much that I will pick a fight with my husband when I get home. It’s not necessarily a conscious thing, it just always seems to work out that way, and it may be because I am over-thinking all the reasons why my partner is no better than my friend’s. I may be alone in experiencing this although I doubt it. I suspect it’s simply human nature for us to empathise with other people, especially those we care about, rather than sit back and gloat (a la Chanté Moore in her song “Chante’s got a man”). Admittedly the empathy is taken to the extent of trying to find fault with our own relationships.

It probably makes sense to show concern for my friends’ well-being but there is also an indirect personal loss that you feel following a friend’s divorce or separation. For starters, there is a perceived threat to the tight-nit social circle that we cherish so much. There’s a question of who will take which side, will the newly separated couple still be invited to social events and what if they want to bring new partners? The breakdown also calls into question the strength of our own relationships and although this is a very selfish reason for feeling sad or angry when someone else is clearly going through emotional turmoil that is valid, it doesn’t make our feelings any less real. While sympathising with my friend, I simultaneously think but if it could happen to them, then it could happen to me. There were no obvious signs in their relationships, they seemed as happy as anyone else and had known their partners and been married for even longer.

On two occasions this year when the marriages of some of my friends broke down I felt saddened. I also felt very angry at their partners for giving up so easily and if I’m honest In a way I also mourned the end of the status quo although I know for a fact that change per se is not the issue. I know this because when a friend gets a new job in a different country I’m filled with excitement rather than dread. What worries me with separations is the knock on effect of divorce on everyone, their family, their children, and for many women in their 30s and older, I worry about their dating prospects. It’s a harsh reality whether we want to admit it or not. I now see the merits in the advice of older African parents which was provided he does not mistreat you physically; you should be able to work out everything else. I would extend that to as long as he doesn’t abuse you emotionally or physically then you should try and work things out if you’re both committed. In short I’m saying be practical. I know some would say that’s rich coming from someone who is happy, who did marry for love but I think I can put my hand on my heart and say that although I married for those reasons, I stay married for reasons that are far more grounded. I couldn’t say what would happen if I did fall out of love or felt unhappy but I know for a fact that feelings fluctuate. I was encouraging a male friend to settle down this summer; I started by telling him that the coup de foudre (love at first sight) was highly overrated. I gave the example of a guy I had dated who I spent the first few days not wanting to be separated from; we would stay up all night talking and making each other laugh. I was convinced that was It. Then one day I woke up and saw him in a completely different light. I don’t know what happened, I don’t understand when or how it happened but I suddenly looked at him and thought, wow aren’t you dull. It was an incredibly sobering experience because I went from ‘I can’t live without you’ to ‘I really need to get away from you’. It saddened me somewhat but I couldn’t help myself and so I moved on. I have no idea what would have happened had I given our relationship time to get back to what it was or tried to find what I saw in him in the first place. A few boyfriends later, I realised that I had to temper my excitement with a huge dose of realism and practicality especially when family and children and dare I add friends all have a stake in the success of my relationship/marriage.

The last thing you think about when agonising about whether to break up with someone who may have once been the love of your life, is what will my friends think or how will they feel? I know it may be a bit of a stretch to ask people to think this way but I do think it’s not too much to ask for people to consider those who will realistically be caught in the crossfire – the kids, the parents, the in-laws. As we acquire more, more freedom, more knowledge, more options, we also become increasingly hedonistic. We’re often unwilling to make sacrifices or compromise because we feel we’ve earned the right to put ourselves first. That’s all well and good but whatever choices you make in life, you will end up having to live with for the rest of your life so if there is a shadow of a doubt that you may wrong or simply having a moment of capriciousness, then surely you owe it to yourself and those who love you to stop and think before causing irreparable damage.

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