My best friend's husband insulted me

I don't want to lose her friendship, but I can hardly forgive this nasty, gratuitous attack.

Published March 16, 2007 10:27AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a very best friend, more a sister than a friend, for over 40 years. We met at my first term of college. I even introduced her to her husband, W. I had met him and a friend of his at a social event and brought her over to introduce her and they were engaged four months later and married six months after that.

We have been close through all of our life-cycle events, such as moving out of state, births, deaths, divorce (mine), etc. We live about two hours apart and we wish we lived closer. I have recently become engaged and it has been mine and my best friend's great pleasure that my fiancé and the husband of my friend seem to genuinely like each other and enjoy each other's company. Her husband has a cranky and loner type personality so this appears to be a good thing. W does not like many people.

Since I am now a couple with my fiancé, we have been in their company a little more frequently, maybe once a month or every two months. Last time we were at their house, when my friend went out to buy something for breakfast and my fiancé was taking a shower upstairs, her husband asked me to sit down and said that he wanted to talk to me. This is what he said: He told me that he was having a difficult time being in my company. I said that after all these years you are telling me this? After that he continued: I make noises and cackle, I laugh too loud, I'm offensive, I'm too boisterous, and maybe I should walk around with a microphone to hear myself. And to add more insult, as if this were not enough, he noted that friends of theirs also have difficulty in my company. What could I say? I would never deliberately offend anybody. I was numb. He blindsided me. Needless to say, I couldn't look at him through breakfast and said nothing to him.

My friend called me the next day and told me that W had told her what he had said to me and they had a big fight, she cried and she wasn't talking to him. She said that I have to talk to him and that we have to make this right. He will never come between us. He did not know what he was saying. He's an idiot. I told her I don't want to talk to him and I never want to be in his presence. He can come to my wedding as your escort and I will see him again at his funeral. I would meet her and spend time with her and we would continue our friendship without him. Too bad for the guys.

I do not want to check my personality at the door and worry about offending him. Could I do this? Should I?

W did call me and my friend did tell me that there would be no way that he would call if he did not want to. He would try and I should try. I should try what? He would try to put up with me? I just turned 60 and he is 64 years old. Don't you think that this is a little impossible at our age? He knows I am his wife's best friend and he would not want to hurt his wife. He admitted that he has a problem with assertive and strong women. The upshot is that he kind of apologized but he nevertheless did mean what he said.

My question to you is this: Can this genie ever get back into the bottle?


Dear Heartbroken,

Ancient codes of conduct might have required your fiancé to challenge your friend's husband to a duel.

We settle things differently today. Today we do the standing emotional broad jump.

The standing emotional broad jump is not taught in elementary school, nor is it performed in a pit of raked sand with wooden sides and a coach with a tape measure stretched to the crater where your heels landed. (I loved the standing broad jump when I was a kid; I secretly believed that one day I would jump and not come down. Later I tried for many years to jump and not come down but that is a different story.)

The standing emotional broad jump is performed from a standing start or it can also be performed from sitting in a chair. You focus on the other person and quiet your breathing. You feel the tension in your legs. You wait until you are ready. Then in one swift moment of stillness you leap out of your self, perform a half-twist in the air and land directly where that other person is, facing back at yourself. You do this silently, without any visible movement of your body. It only takes an instant, but in that instant you feel what it is like to be this person looking at you. (Actually, an instant is about all a human being can handle, so intense and dizzying is the sensation of leaping out of oneself and landing, as it were, inside the camera of another.)

Having landed there you instantly sense that it is a messed-up camera. Everything is him. That's what it feels like in there. It's very cluttered and distorted. It's not a good place to be. But he is in there. You wouldn't want to be there and he is not happy in there. You get a sense of how uncomfortable it is to be him and you get, if not empathy, at least a disengaged acceptance of the sad and painful little room he lives in. And you see for an instant how these hurtful words might have grown there. You see the dark, damp, airless medium of their genesis. And you see how harmless he is, and how trapped. And you notice this, too: that from inside his camera, your visage is blurred. He can hardly see you! In fact, the person you see from inside his camera is not even you! You realize he has no idea who you are. He has no idea who he was talking to. He doesn't even know you. He was talking, as it were, to a stranger.

So you have the fleeting sense that this very hurtful, personal attack was a random event, as though you passed one of these crazy people on the street who shouts profanities.

This is the uncanny value of the standing emotional broad jump: At the same time it provides an intimate glimpse of another person, it also depersonalizes the relationship by showing you just how distorted is the other person's view of you.

It still hurts. But now you know: He has no idea what he's doing or saying, nor does he have any idea who the person is that he's saying these things to.

Your friend's husband acted like a fucked-up fool. And he hurt you deeply.

But the most important thing is to keep your friendship. Somehow you have to put that genie back in the bottle.

And so you live with this for a while: He has no idea what he's doing. He's a little out of control and a little like a child. He hurt you in a moment of anger and would like to undo it but he can't. So he is trapped. As long as you view it as a deeply meaningful personal affront, you also are trapped, and your treasured, long-held friendship is at risk.

That should not be. Your friendship is the most important thing. So you have to come to view it as something less than personal, as something that although aimed at you is not really about you.

Does this mean you are letting him off the hook? In the sense that you are not encouraged to mete out punishment, yes, I suppose in a way it does mean you are letting him off the hook. But does it mean that we are being dishonest, that we are whitewashing what happened? I do not think so at all. He did a terrible, nasty thing. He has a terrible, nasty little inner life that you have now glimpsed. He is not a pretty man inside. He can be hurtful, spiteful and capable of the worst judgment. There is something wrong with him.

How we differ from the ancients, who would have insisted on a duel, is in our choice of remedies.

Rather than revenge, we favor detached comprehension. The absence of a dramatic defense of your honor may make modern life seem cheaper; it may seem like a hollowing-out of the honorable self, that the connection between esteem and behavior has disintegrated. But I think the old concept of honor was simply lost in the vast multiplicity of self-representations available in the media age. We are not limited to the self known by the village and our personal friends. So we do not have to kill every person who gives affront, however egregious.

Some of these hurts we just have to put into perspective, and work to preserve what is most valuable in our lives. I think you can do it. How, precisely, is up to you. But you begin with the standing emotional broad jump.

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