Straddling the Fence
Shared Spirit

Straddling the Fence

When friends divorce, do we have to choose sides and turn one away?

Rachel Stein

Toco Hills resident Rachel Stein writes about spirituality and, working with readers, tries to help community members deal with dilemmas.

New Bistro set to open in late fall will replace Broadway Cafe in Toco Hills.
New Bistro set to open in late fall will replace Broadway Cafe in Toco Hills.

Longstanding traditions add zest and flavor to life. So it was with a sense of excitement that I drove to Broadway Cafe for my usual celebration with Laura, my dear friend, on her birthday. Somehow, every time we met over our salads and soups for our biannual lunch date (we went for my birthday, too), we rued the fast pace of life.

“We should really do this more often,” we chorused, chuckling.

But this time was different, and a lightning bolt of shock sliced through me when she told me her news.

“Bob and I are getting divorced.”

“What?” I exploded, eliciting curious stares from fellow patrons.

“Sshh.” Laura put a finger to her lips. “Sorry. But you heard right.”

The bottom of my world had just dropped out, and I was free-falling into a gaping chasm. How could it be?

Lenny and I had known Laura and Bob for 20 years. They had always presented as a smiling, devoted, happy couple. We had shared many a Shabbat meal in their home, as they had in ours.

Our children went to the same schools, and we shared the joys and challenges of raising our families together. When the time came for our children to get married, Laura and Bob opened their beautiful home repeatedly to host our engagement parties and Sheva Brachot (the seven wedding blessings).

Without fail, Bob and Laura always seemed perfectly synchronized, perfectly happy — the quintessential couple.

I shook my head and inhaled a spoon of soup. But somehow the flavor was gone.

“This has been going on for years,” Laura said. She regaled me with hair-raising stories of Bob’s narcissism. I felt like I was seated in front of a horror movie that I was being forced to attend, and tears sprang to my eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

My pain and disillusionment were intense. I felt betrayed. Laura and I had always been so close, yet how could it be that I didn’t know anything about her real life?

“I couldn’t,” she said. “Don’t you understand? You and Jerry are the best couple. I didn’t want to appear pitiful.”

I didn’t really understand. To me, friendship equals sharing and honest communication. But I tried to shelve my feelings and focus on Laura and her needs. After all, what are friends for?

Over the next few weeks, I tried my best to be supportive. I listened to the endless barrage of complaints and tearful renditions.

“I’m here for you, Laura,” I assured her.

At the same time, I determined to remain impartial. After all, just because Bob and Laura couldn’t get along, did that mean Lenny and I had to take sides and, in so doing, lose our other friend?

Following my heart, I made the call and invited Bob for a Shabbat meal.

“I’d love to come,” he said.

Knowing that word travels fast in our insular community, I figured I should just be upfront with Laura.

“YOU DID WHAT?” Laura demanded, her eyes flashing. “After everything I shared with you? All the abuse, the venom, the suffering he inflicted all these years? How could you invite him?”

“I guess — well, I just thought …”

“I thought you were my friend,” she said.

The picture was clear. We had to make a choice. We, too, would have to divorce Bob if I wanted to remain Laura’s friend.

In true toddler style, I wanted to throw myself on the ground and thrash my arms and legs. It simply wasn’t fair.

After all, in most cases, there are two valid sides — unless real abuse was perpetrated, physical and/or verbal.

How do you feel about this situation? Have you ever encountered something similar? Is it possible to straddle both sides of the fence, even when a divorce isn’t amicable, and remain friends with both sides?

I welcome your input as I continue to befriend Laura, yet my heart aches. I want to be there for Bob, too. Must he lose his wife, his home and family life, and his friends?

Please respond to to have your suggestions printed in the next column. Wishing you a joyous Chanukah and a happy, healthy winter break.

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