The Vine: August 28, 2013
In honor of my wonderful friend A's birthday this week, I decided to ask a question that has kept me up nights for almost a decade.
A and I met online nine years ago this month (thanks, former pamie.com forums!). Since then, it has been PMs, DMs, iMessages, Gchat messages, Skype, Facetime, and even good old snail mail between us.
We have never met in person.
When we first began talking, I was a 19-year-old who had no money and was temporarily living at home with my strict parents; the thought of me flying across the country to meet him seemed dangerous and too expensive. A year after that, I met my now-husband, who knew fully about A and about our close friendship. A few days after our wedding, my husband informed me that he felt my relationship with A was inappropriate (girls shouldn't be BFFs with boys, etc.) and that I was to stop all contact with him.
I raged against that particular idea, but have gone in and out of complying with his wishes over the last seven years –informing A that we wouldn't be speaking ever again and breaking contact for a few months (once, it was up to a year) before deciding to rekindle our friendship. My groveling has become a top-notch skill, but all of the credit goes to A's forgiveness powers. We catch up on the time lost, then pick up our usual habits again. All of this is in secret, however, because if my husband found out, he has claimed in the past that he would leave me.
My friendship with A has been a major sticking point with my husband throughout our whole marriage. I consider myself an independent woman and have never hidden that from my husband, even before we were married. I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place: keeping my husband's trust and keeping a friendship that is important to me.
Additionally, nine years feels too long to be friends and to have never met. I feel like this is the year I am going to make it happen, but there is no way to approach it without lies, deceit, and potential scandal. A has been unemployed for a few years and hasn't wanted to come to my city because the sneaking around would annoy him to no end.
My question is: how can I reconcile this inflammatory situation and how can I meet my friend, finally?
Intimate E-Pal and IRL Stranger
Forget meeting A, you need to deal with your marriage, and specifically the fact that your husband thought, correctly, that he could forbid your friendship with A. You have enough red flags there to make a string of bunting, seriously, and your cutesy phrasing of "girls shouldn't be BFFs with boys" fails to hide that that's sexist, mistrustful, and deeply controlling. And you know it is. And so does Husband, because he waited until a few days after the wedding to spring it on you.
You went along, which is a problem, but then at the same time you didn't exactly, which is also a problem. You married a guy who didn't trust you or respect your existing relationships; bait-and-switched you once the rings were on with "oh, by the way: that isn't appropriate," like you're seven years old; and emotionally blackmailed you into obedience by threatening to leave you if you stayed in contact with A. I mean, unacceptable. You should have dealt with it, using that word, years ago, or called Husband's bluff, but you didn't, and I think you have to ask yourself why, because you don't actually talk that much about what makes A's friendship valuable to you in the here and now. Not that he's not a lovely person with whom you have a lot in common, but you…don't really talk about that.
What you do say is that you struck up the relationship when you didn't have much else going on…and that he forgives you for waffling on whether you want it in your life, quite possibly because he doesn't have much going on (he's unemployed for years; he keeps letting you/your husband yank his chain). Nothing about things you both like or his sense of humor or anything like that. So you have to look at what A's friendship really satisfies for you, because I think at this point? It's drama, and putting one over on Husband.
Go to counseling, by yourself, and talk about the situation, because it's not really about A and it hasn't been for years. It's about you going from a "strict" family of origin to a new family with your husband where he thinks he can not only make rules about your friendships, but change them once you made your relationship with him legal; it's about you not feeling like you have any agency in these situations, and kind of unconsciously thumbing your nose via this friendship, which because you've never met and Husband has forbid it has a strong whiff of danger and drama. Again, A may have many worthy and appealing qualities, but 1) a backbone is not one of them and 2) you need to figure out what you get out of the sneaking around, and find a healthier and more direct way to set boundaries with Husband.
So. Reduce your contact with A and tell him you need to work some things out, with yourself, so that this isn't an emotional affair. Take a few appointments with a therapist and talk about how to manage the situation with Husband, because I think you need to figure yourself out before you decide whether/how to tell him the truth about your ongoing contact with A — yes, the initial request was unreasonable across all fronts, but you acceded to it and then lied for years on end, so he's going to be furious and he'll have some right to that response. And think about what you want from Husband, why you married him, whether something about his bossy conservatism appeals to you viscerally and whether you want to continue dealing with that as an adult.
And then I think you tell Husband the truth, and if he leaves, in my opinion it's a mitzvah, but of course I know nothing else about him either, so get yourselves to couples counseling first and maybe try to tell him in that safe space so he's not immediately flinging his shit into a suitcase all "I TOLD YOU," but: for real, you should have lanced this boil the day your husband "informed" you that you weren't to have male friends. You didn't; now it's infected. Go to a doctor. Get some help finding agency in your life, because "wonderful" aside, your friendship with A reads more to me like teenage rebellion against your spouse, and everyone involved deserves better.
Tags: boys (and girls) friendships Pamie