Dearest Ms. Applebum,
My brother-in-law is getting divorced, and I have a deep, close relationship with his (soon to be) ex-wife. It's not one of those amicable divorces, either, so I know trash will be talked and she will not be a part of the family anymore. How can I stay loyal to my friend and my in-laws? Is it shady if I go visit her during the holidays? If I'm honest with them about keeping my relationship with her, will it just cause another rift or hard feelings? I want to believe I don't have to "choose sides," but this family likes to talk, and who knows what conclusions they'll draw.
Missed Her Sister-in-Law
Personally, I don’t believe that people always have to make hard choices like that. Choosing between friends and family can be tough and messy, but it’s not necessary for those of us who live truly autonomous lives. I certainly think it’s possible for you to maintain a friendship with your future ex-sis-in-law while remaining close with your brother-in-law and extended family, but that would require them to be types who don’t meddle. Talking shit is one thing, but I’d hope that they wouldn’t give you 21 questions or try to police your movements during your holiday visit.
I’ve had friends and relatives split up with people I was very close with, and in the past, I’d felt very beholden to the idea of loyalty and cut these people off without a thought. But is it really disloyal to a relative to maintain a friendship with someone they don’t like? Well, that’s subjective—a few definitely deserved it, but I feel terrible for cutting off women who made allegations of abuse against former friends of mine. I let my own internalized misogyny make me act like my worst self, and I deeply regret that. I’ve had friends split up so one of them could get involved with a different friend of mine, and it sucks to have the jilted party staring in your face and expecting you to disown someone just for going on a date. When I was young, that would have worked, but now that I’m in my 30s, I simply do not play that shit. No one gets to tell me whom I can and can’t be friends with. That’s not a decision I make out of loyalty to others, but out of a desire for my circle to be full of good people whose lifestyles and choices I can respect. I have been known to cut off friends who didn’t personally hurt me, but who cheated on or abused other friends of mine. It’s partly an atonement for not supporting women in the past, but it’s primarily about keeping trash energy away from me.
That said, you probably wanna do some digging. Is there anyone on the periphery of this situation—another in-law, a cousin, the future ex’s family or friends—who can give you some unbiased insight? I think you need to find out more about what happened. Maybe their love just naturally faded, or perhaps she cheated and stole money and assets. Maybe they were both cheating. Maybe he lured her into a pyramid scheme. Maybe she pulled a Bernadette and set his BMW on fire. I’d be pretty pissed if my in-laws stayed friends with an ex who manipulated, cheated or abused me, so if I were you, I'd be sure that nothing like that happened before continuing a relationship with her.
But really, it’s your life, and these are your relationships to nurture and maintain. My advice is to always make sure that your friends are good people, so look at both your brother-in-law and his future ex’s behavior. Talk to someone who’s not in involved, and talk to them both personally. I don’t recommend letting him know you want to stay friends with his ex, but do check in with him about how he’s coping with the situation. You’ll get a better sense of the gravity of this divorce and whether it’s worth it to cross this minefield.