How do you split mutual friends after a break-up

Sunday, 13 November 2011 - 11:45am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Do you stay in touch with your ex’s sister or should you stop meeting all mutual friends? What if your friend is breaking up — should you side with your ‘cheater’ friend or his ‘victimised’ ex?

What do you do with the gifts you got from your ex before he/she became an ex? Return to sender? ALL of them? I just returned an e-book reader to my ex. It was too expensive to keep, and gifted at a time when things weren’t, shall we say, A-okay. One wise friend — vehemently against exes returning gifts, big or small, cheap or not — came up with a brilliant touche counter to my argument: “Why just the Kindle then? Why don’t you also return all the software he put on your laptop?” Granted. It’s a toughie. You can never return everything. Borrowed books? Sure. But you can’t return half-used perfume bottles. In any case, the material stuff doesn’t really count.

What about people? Can you cut off ties with everyone you knew through the ex? All his friends? All her friends? Even the pretty ones? The ones who ‘got’ you? The ones who’ve seen cold coffee spray from your nose and land on their plates because you laughed so hard? And how do you dispense with cronies of the ex who turned up for a funeral in your family? What is the procedure here?

‘Give up all mutual friends’
The editor of an online magazine — let’s call her Paramita — says, from bitter experience, ‘Yes, absolutely!’ to the dispute over cutting ties. After her divorce papers came through, Paramita took stock of her life online, and did a vigorous clean-up on Facebook. “I had to just suck it up,” she says, “and not give a damn about losing some 65 mutual friends — even the ones I had a great rapport with. I wanted nothing and no one to remind me of him.”

She does confess in a weak moment to — “not missing, but, you know, ‘remembering’”, her sister-in-law, to whom she was close. But to not be reminded of the ex-husband, she had to compromise on that closeness with the sister-in-law. Not for her then, this amicability nonsense that freshly-split Scarlett
Johansson-Ryan Reynolds seem to favour.

She has laid down boundaries — reinforced with barbed wire, so to speak. Today, she doesn’t meet their once-common friends. Nor does she go to parties where he or “his people” might be. To the extent that when a friend from days past is spotted at a parking lot or buying whole wheat from the same store as her, the tactic is to pretend to not notice and look away.

The end of a marriage is, of course, more complex than the collapse of even a long-term committed relationship. More paperwork, for one. The similarities lie in how people close to the once-couple react. And not everyone takes as clinical an approach as Paramita. At times, a friend from the past will fall through the cracks — in a good way.

‘Won’t end my friendship’
Like 29-year-old Mahesh Vengarkar, for instance. A student and researcher for a development bank, Mahesh didn’t take sides when two of his ‘colony friends’ ended their 4-year-long relationship. Marriage was on the cards for Anish and Piyali. Vengarkar was close enough to both of them. So much so that they even joked about a hypothetical dilemma: at the wedding, would he attend from the girl’s side or the boy’s?

He’d known them both since school. One of the two had been unfaithful. Mahesh says, “It could’ve been easy for me to turn righteous on the friend who basically ruined it. But nobody needs blame at a time when emotions are scattered anyway.” It was infuriating for Mahesh. “It was sad to see a beautiful relationship of two people I love dearly come apart like that.” He did talk to (read: lecture) the one who cheated, but “it’s not like I was going to take sides and end my friendship with either just because one was a reckless idiot.”

The worst part was the disintegration of a group dynamic. “Yeah, we’ve lost that — our conference calls/chats and midweek meets. I’m still great friends with them separately but I don’t talk about one to the other and we don’t meet together anymore.”

‘How dare he manipulate them’
When it comes to cheating, and only cheating, the matter of blind loyalty rises. What’s the MO? Side with your ‘cheater’ friend or sympathise with the ‘victim’? Counsellors, books and a healthy percentage of people agree: sympathy is okay, but you should side with your cheater friend. That’s what friendship is. Stick by your person, no matter how deserving of a slap s/he may be.

If there was no cheating involved, it’s simpler: side with your person. And if you know them both for equally long, don’t carry tales. Shut up. Listen. Don’t judge. And don’t take sides.

When friends of Kirti Prabhakar, 26, a marketing professional for a shampoo brand, were still pally with her merchant navy ex, it pissed her off. “I know it was childish,” she says, “But these were my people. How dare he try to manipulate them, and think they’d become better friends with him than me?” Even three years after the relationship ended, Prabhakar has nothing but disdain for navy boy’s attempts to “steal” her friends.

The navy boy, Prateek Singhania, sings a different tune, even in retrospect: “I don’t see why she had to be so petty. They were my friends, too. We’ve all been on trips together.” There’s no quick solution, but step one in a crash course in relationship etiquette: let the friends decide.

Prateek says that since it’s all in the past, it matters very little now, “but I still sometimes think about it… bitter break-ups make you lose great people.”

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