You slept with my sister!

My best friend broke up my sister's marriage and I'm supposed to forgive him?

Published July 19, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

It's been a rough year.

I moved to Omaha five years ago, and while I love it here, I felt for some time the void of a truly close "buddy" in my life. I had plenty of friends, but no one who knew everything about me or who I would run errands with.

All that was solved two years ago when my best friend, "Dave," visited, fell in love with the town, and decided to move here. We went grocery shopping together, we didn't have to explain years of history to each other ... it was great for a while.

Dave had become friends with my sister and her husband of seven years through our friendship, so much so that he was included in family gatherings to a great extent, and my entire family came to love him. When I got divorced last year, he let me stay in his apartment for four months rent-free. Dave would have done anything for me, and I would have done the same for him.

Then in February, my sister confessed to her husband that she and Dave had slept together during a drunken evening at home. I should point out that Dave is a heavy drinker who frequently drinks himself stupid, and while my sister is a lighter drinker, she gets really stupid when she drinks as well. My brother-in-law, Paul, and I severed ties with Dave, and Paul tried to fix his marriage with my sister.

It worked for a while until my sister decided in May to leave Paul and rekindle an old relationship. After that revelation, Paul decided it would be OK to hang out with Dave again, and he began to do so. I was astonished, and so were other friends and family who knew the situation.

Dave wrote me a letter of apology after I found out about him and my sister, and I know from our years of friendship that he would not have made that same decision sober. He's like Lenny from "Of Mice and Men," really. He doesn't mean any harm, and he's got nothing but love in his heart. But he doesn't know how destructive he can be when he drinks. I hoped losing his closest friends would make him change his ways and think about giving up drinking, but have found this to not be the case.

I have seen Dave a couple of times, once with Paul and once last week when we hung out just the two of us for the first time in five months. He talked about drinking the same way he always has, and I found myself thinking, "I wonder if you ruined anyone else's life the last time you were drunk." But I loved hanging out with him, having my best buddy back, even though it was a little awkward. Other friends and family members look at me with disbelief when I mention the idea of forgiving Dave, even though Paul and my sister both believe I should.

Am I wrong to consider forgiving a person who played a large role in breaking up my sister's marriage? Is this a relationship I should even try to repair? I love Dave, but am I being selfish for wanting his friendship back?


Dear Confused,

I have to be honest with you: I'm not sure what the rules are here.

I do know that forgiveness, in general, is a good thing. It allows us to let go and move on. Forgiving doesn't mean you condone what he did or think it was a swell move. It means that you allow, in your heart, for this person to be imperfect, to make mistakes, and you allow yourself to love an imperfect person; you allow that we are all imperfect and we could all use, on occasion, a little forgiveness. In that sense, forgiveness rocks.

But something's clearly bugging you.

For starters, the guy slept with your sister. While she was married. Which led to the breakup of her marriage. Yep. There is that. Maybe that's enough right there. Our emotional connections with family members are such that it just might be something you're not going to let go of. It's kinda primeval or tribal; there's some kinda taboo energy there. And if that's what it is, fine. Just admit that you can't be friends with a guy who got drunk and slept with your sister while she was married.

That would mean a friendship breakup. Do you know how to do that? It's weird breaking up with a friend. Lots of times we don't really break up with a friend like we'd break up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. But if he really stepped over the line, and you can't forgive him, you may have to have the conversation.

But here's another thought: Maybe what's bugging you is not so much what he did but that he does not seem to fully appreciate the gravity of what he did, that his manner is disrespectful, that he acts like he got away with something. Does he joke about it or laugh it off? That could be offensive, regardless of the right-and-wrong of the act itself. If that's the case, maybe you can have a conversation with Dave in which you tell him that while you may be over what happened, his attitude about what happened still offends you. I mean, that was your sister!

Here's another thought: Have you considered why it is that the two offended parties say they have forgiven him? Is it possible that Dave actually hastened an already-evolving separation and that Paul and your sister realize that in some unconscious way -- that they view him as an unwitting messenger?

And why, as essentially a bystander, are you taking this harder than they do? Perhaps your blood ties to your sister are more powerful than their marriage bond. A marriage bond is after all legal and perhaps spiritual, whereas the brother-sister bond is existential.

At any rate, both affected parties suggest you forgive Dave. But still this is bugging you. I think your best move is to just be honest with Dave, tell him you love having him as a friend but you're not over this whole deal. If you really want to go for it in the honesty sweepstakes, you could add that at times you really don't trust him, and you don't approve of how much he drinks. But be careful with the whole honesty thing, because at a certain point, it's like you're starting a fight or really doing the friendship breakup.

Don't pile it on if you really want to stay friends with him, but do try to tell some friggin' truth.

OK, so like I said, I don't know what the rules are, and maybe I haven't given you very clear instructions, but that's not how I work. It's your life. I'm just giving you some things to think about.

By Cary Tennis

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