A friend of mine left her husband, Chris, about five years before my own marriage broke up. His reaction, understandably, was one of anger and pain, and he turned to his best friend for solace, a man he would go rock climbing with. They would also go biking or play racquetball, the typical manly stuff. Two weeks after his wife left him, Chris was having an affair with his friend’s wife.
The relationship had begun innocently. Listening to his tale of woe, she had tried to console him, and one thing led to another. The friend found out and all hell broke loose. In the end, Chris lost his marriage and best friend. The friend in turn divorced his cheating wife. There was so much acrimony that the kids from both households were deeply affected, having to listen to one set of parents bash the other set. We all stood on the sidelines helplessly watching this train wreck, asking Chris, "Why, why?" His reply, unbelievably, was that he couldn't help himself.
Chris’s situation leads me to rule number one in the dating game: Don’t date a friend, or the ex-spouse or significant other of a friend, no matter how lonely or hurt you are, or how much you are tempted. The repercussions are usually not worth it.
I have experienced this situation first hand. I began dating a man I’d known for a long while. He and his girlfriend had been very supportive over the years. They never lived together and after 6 years of seeing each other, it was clear that the relationship was in limbo. I asked my friend if he was every going to marry Lisa. He hemmed and hawed and mumbled something about her kids and his kids and complications in scheduling, blah, blah, blah. I had also noticed a distinct tension between them the last time I saw them together, which was three years ago. When I realized that I was attracted to my male friend, I disappeared rather than complicate matters. This was easy, as I lived in a different city.
Last year he drove through town on his way back from the beach. We caught up on recent events, and he mentioned everything and everyone except Lisa. We explored a romantic relationship for about 6 weeks after his visit, mostly be email and phone, and a few overnight visits. I assumed, because he is a decent and honorable man and because I wanted their relationship to be over, that he and Lisa were no longer a steady item. My girlfriends, when I voiced my doubts, were very supportive of me, telling me that all was fair in love and war. I wanted a relationship so badly that I went against my own instincts and fell head over heels in puppy love.
It took another few months for our romance to completely peter out. After our affair was over, I surmised from a few verbal slips (using we instead of me) that he had taken Lisa to some big events, such as a wedding and college reunion.
This short relationship affected the quality of my friendship with him. Where before it had been laced with humor, natural ease, and tons of affection, we are now quite polite with each other. And my friendship with Lisa is completely over. I had not seen her for quite a few years, but we had kept in touch through an occasional email and yearly Christmas cards. I cannot (and would not) be so hypocritical as to pretend that nothing had happened. Feeling an enormous amount of guilt, I stopped communicating with her altogether. This is the first time in over a decade that I have not received a Christmas card from her.
In the end, I wound up altering my special close relationship with one friend and losing another because of a short- term and ultimately meaningless dalliance. Was it worth it? In my estimation, no. Had I listened to my inner voice and maintained some control over my emotions, I would have realized how foolish my actions were.
We lose so many friends after a divorce. This is natural, as some people will gravitate to your spouse, or others will feel so uncomfortable with the situation that they drop completely out of sight. So before you begin to date someone who travels within your social circle, ask yourself, "What repercussions can I expect if we break up?" "Would other friendships be affected as well?" "Can I live with the consequences?" If you don't like the answers to any of these questions, then don't even think about dating that person.