Do I have to shun my cousin's ex?

She's still focused on how awful he was. Am I wrong to hang out with him?

By Cary Tennis

Published January 29, 2009 11:40AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have been in the midst of some family drama for about a year and half and am not sure how to bring closure to the issue. A year and a half ago my cousin and her long-term partner ended their 13-year relationship. The ending of this relationship was not a surprise to my cousin, but of course, still very devastating. We talked endlessly about all the "wrongs" he did to her in their relationship and her anger had its own presence in the room. Shortly after the breakup, she found a new partner and has been gloriously happy with him and they are talking marriage. However, she continued to negatively focus on her ex every time we got together. Finally I had a candid discussion with her in which I said I thought it was healthier for her to focus on the positive with her new partner, rather than on the constant negativity she felt in her old relationship. That did not go over very well. She has not spoken to me since (about seven months now).

My social network has always included my cousin's ex-partner. While he and I do not often hang out alone, we do hang out on occasion with a few other folks. As luck had it, I was invited on two European vacations this year with our mutual friends. My cousin's ex-partner also joined in on the vacation. Through the grapevine, I understand my cousin is now even more furious than ever! Even my mother is very "disappointed" in my decisions. I have absolutely no romantic interest in this man and he has no romantic interest in me. We are simply friends and having him in my life is not me trying to make a statement that I've "chosen" him over my cousin.

I've gotten my cousin to agree to meet soon to discuss why she has distanced herself from me. My question to you is, how should I handle this conversation? Did I do something wrong? Is it even necessary to categorize this behavior as right vs. wrong? Should I be expected to give up a friendship because of her everlasting anger toward this man?

I look forward to your advice!


Dear Torn,

In times of crisis and loss, people need to believe. Sometimes it is hard to have faith. You cling to some belief as a way to get through it. Before she goes to sleep at night, she needs to kneel by her bed and say, God, he really was a fucked-up asshole, wasn't he?

She doesn't need her cousin saying, in essence, we seem to be able to pal around in Europe just fine, so maybe he is not a fucked-up asshole and you are just an angry bitch who can't let go. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Or that there's anything really between us.

After a breakup or divorce, you divide up the friends and relatives. One partner gets this person, one partner gets that person. All the blood relatives have to side with their kin. You don't do it maliciously. You just recognize that, for the time being, you can't hang out with both.

She got pretty upset, didn't she? Here's what probably happened. When you told your cousin you thought it was "healthier for her to focus on the positive with her new partner, rather than on the constant negativity she felt in her old relationship," she felt like you were telling her what she should feel.

She might be thinking, Wow, I never thought I'd be this upset for this long, either, but I am. And my cousin should stick with me! Or she might be thinking, Wow, she's never been through this so she doesn't know what the fuck she's talking about.

A person sometimes can't stop feeling what she's feeling. It was a 13-year relationship. It would be great if she would get over it. A year and a half sounds like a long time. But even a short relationship can take years to get over. You don't mention any relationships you have been in that took a long time to get over, so you may not have experienced this. If it happens, then you will know. You will be able to put yourself in her shoes.

Right now, she needs to believe that there is indeed order in the world and there is a reason bad things happen to good people and the reason is that certain people are fucked-up assholes.

Let her have her beliefs. She needs them now more than ever. She doesn't need that little dissenting voice in her head. She needs you on her side.

Family matters: Read p. 39, 71, etc.

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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