It seems like there are two kinds of divorces: the ones where the split is amicable, or at least free from a restraining order, and the ones you get caught in the middle of – where the pain, hatred, contempt, frustration, mistrust and loathing go on long after the marriage ends.
Staying neutral can be a challenge for even the most savvy and diplomatic, but usually – eventually – you’re sucked in:
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: Can you believe my ex-wife! She’s such a selfish, spoiled, careless, mean, stupid, cow. Don’t you think?
YOU: Uh… I couldn’t say.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: Trust me, she is. I’m sure you’ve seen her act that way. You can admit it, she’s a heartless, bossy, mean-spirited, nitpicking, ego-centric, man-hating shrew.
YOU: I.. uh… I guess I haven’t really seen that side of her, but.. uh… I’m sure you know here better than I do.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: ‘course I know her: I was married to her. And trust me: she’s a first class bitc-
YOU: Hey! Will you look at the time? I really have to go.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: What’s your problem? You’re on her side, aren’t you?
YOU: I’m not on anyone’s side.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: My God, she’s turned you against me, too.
YOU: I barely even know her.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: Yeah, right – you think she’s a saint and I’m an abusive, controlling, foul-mouthed jerk.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: That’s the exactly the same thing she’s done to our friends, that clueless therapist she dragged us to go see, her lawyer, the neighbors, even my kids. Well you know what? Screw you.
As ugly as these conversations can be, at least they don’t require you to anything more than walk away. What can be worse is when you’re pressed into service:
BITTER EX-WIFE: Say, I’ve been meaning to ask you: you see my ex-husband when he picks up the kids, right?
YOU: Yeah, at the playground after school.
BITTER EX-WIFE:: Interesting.
BITTER EX-WIFE:: I say “interesting” because I’m hearing some things that are just a little troubling.
YOU: I’m sorry to hear that.
BITTER EX-WIFE: Not troubling because I still secretly want him back, or blame him for ruining my life and am looking for ways to exact revenge, but because I’m concerned the children might be exposed to something inappropriate.
BITTER EX-WIFE: Have you ever seen him with a girl that’s much too young for him?
YOU: I can’t say.
BITTER EX-WIFE: If you did, would you let me know?
YOU: I don’t think it would be right for me to spy on your ex-husband.
BITTER EX-WIFE: Oh, heaven’s no – I’m not asking you to spy: just keep on eye on him and his whore for me. And if you can get video or a picture, that would be even better.
Fortunately, there is one benefit to being caught in the middle of this kind of animosity: it reminds you to treat your own spouse with a little more kindness and compassion, if for no other reason the last thing you want is to put your friends, neighbors or even acquaintances in the position of being the “you” in any of the exchanges above.