My ex and I are friends. Why won’t his wife accept that?

Lindsey Oliver and Nicole Pries, (a couple) stand during a ceremony performed by Robin Gorsline outside the John Marshall Court's Building in Richmond, Virginia, United States, October 6, 2014. REUTERS
Q: Twenty-five years ago, I ended a long relationship. Eventually, my ex and I became dear platonic friends. Over time, I married a wonderful man, and he married, divorced and began a new relationship. We used to socialise as couples and include each other in major life events. But his new wife, who seems delightful, appears unwilling to do that. When I extend invitations to them as a couple, my friend shows up alone. We weren’t invited to their wedding, which many mutual friends attended. Now my relationship with my friend is limited to phone calls. These feel unrewarding when there is little likelihood of meeting in person, and it’s painful to hear about events my husband and I might once have attended. Is there anything I can do to improve this situation? — Kitty

A: Life is change. We lose things as we go; we gain things too. And often, the gains and losses are entwined. If you hadn’t called it quits with your former partner, for instance, you may never have fallen in love with your husband. Now, don’t misunderstand me: I’ve been in your shoes, Kitty. I know how painful change can be.

It doesn’t sound as if you’ve spoken directly with your friend, though. He may feel the same as you. Approach him in a genial way: “I’m sad about the way our friendship has diminished. Do you think there’s anything we can do to restore it?”

Assuming you haven’t inadvertently alienated his new wife or she doesn’t feel threatened by your former intimacy with her husband, perhaps you and your friend can renew the relationship as couples. Or maybe you can invite the wife to lunch on her own to get to know each other better. But if she’s dead set against the relationship, try to get comfortable with its new shape. Like much of life, friendship is not within our sole control.

Let’s not and say we did

Q: Our new neighbours invited my husband and me to their home for a drink. It became clear that evening we have different interests, hobbies and values. In fact, a couple of their statements led us to conclude they are racist. We have no desire to become friends with them. But they are surely waiting for us to reciprocate with an invitation to our place. What should we do? — Anonymous

A: I get this question a lot lately. We don’t have to be friends with anyone or reciprocate their invitations. But there’s no need to vilify others to justify our decision, either. Many of us have cordial relationships with neighbours who have different hobbies and interests.

More concerning, of course, is your statement about their “values” and the remarks that led you to believe they are racist. You haven’t shared those, so I can’t evaluate them. But I hope you give your new neighbours the benefit of the doubt, for now, if their statements were open to interpretation or not clearly racist. Whether you reciprocate or not, repaying their hospitality with hasty judgment is unneighborly.

No wedding? No friendship.

Q: One of my best friends is getting married in December. My husband, our toddler and I are all in the wedding party. We have to travel by plane to get there. (We’re hoping the trip will feel safe come December.) Today, unprovoked, my friend said that if we don’t come, our friendship will be over. I’m in shock! I replied: We wouldn’t miss it as long as it’s safe for us to come, and we expect it will be. No response. I hate to lose an otherwise great friend. But I’m not excited about taking on bridesmaid duties or planning our trip in the face of an ultimatum. Help! — Friend

A: Your friend is likely coming face to face with the frustrating uncertainty of event planning during a pandemic. (Who can say with certainty where we’ll feel safe going in two months’ time?) I get that her ultimatum was aggressive and upsetting. Here, your primary responsibility is to the safety of your family.

Still, the bride-to-be is one of your best friends. Try to be generous with her. Call and ask how the wedding plans are coming along. Let her vent if she needs to. We can be sympathetic to the disappointment of others even if we have no intention of putting ourselves at risk by attending their parties.

Unclaimed heirlooms

Q: Last week you suggested that a mother ask her teenage daughters if they wanted heirloom pearl necklaces as a way of dividing up her estate. Well, I’ve been asking my children (who are much older) for years if they want various family heirlooms, and all I get is, “I don’t care.” So what do I do? — Martha

A: Unless you have reason to believe your children are not being forthcoming (it can feel creepy to say, “I want that after you’re dead!”), take them at their word. They don’t care about the heirlooms. This leaves you with three options: Do your best to allocate them fairly; let your heirs divvy them up later; or sell them and buy a trip around the world (or, at least, a very nice lunch in honour of your ancestors).

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