Q. I have a good friend of eight years. She is married with a child. Her ex-boyfriend came to town. (They were engaged briefly.) He and I ended up hanging out all weekend and had a blast together. I informed my friend that I had feelings for him, figuring she would want me to be happy and it would not be a problem since she has moved on. Instead, she said I disrespected our friendship.
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He and I are now dating seriously and talking about marriage. He is the love of my life. But I miss my friend dearly. I realize I made the decision and ultimately sacrificed my friendship with her because of him, but I still want to be friends with her. Should I try to reconnect with her or should I just say goodbye and realize she was not a true friend after all?
A. If it’s worth it to you, try reconnecting. But be prepared for it not to work.
People can be very territorial about past relationships, “laying claim” to a boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if they knew that person first.
In a middle-school setting, or even a high-school setting, there is sometimes an unwritten rule that if a girl has gone out with a boy, once they break up, he is off limits for any other girl in the class. This idea — that if he was once mine he is forever mine, and a friend won’t take what’s mine — is quite immature.
To be fair, most people know the awful feeling of breaking up and hoping that their former paramour doesn’t find somebody else. Or, if he does, they hope he secretly continues to pine for them. Only if someone feels guilty after having blown someone off is that person glad and relieved when their ex finds someone else!
Your friend might not be deliriously happy in her marriage. She might wonder, “What is wrong with me that I couldn’t make it work out? What does she have that I don’t have, that he likes better?”
Maybe this ex-boyfriend has a good quality her husband doesn’t have, like better looks or a better job, and this very positive quality keeps alive the fantasy that she can sort of “keep” him. In some ways, it feels to her that you have “taken” something from her.
She might also feel, “My friend can be happy as long as her happiness doesn’t detract from mine.” This is another immature feeling, but it’s common in not very intimate or evolved friendships. In other words, she is glad to be your friend, as long as nothing too good happens to you and makes her feel vanquished in some way.
At this point, it sounds that you are in the delicious throes of wonderful new love, while your friend has settled into a routine of marriage and family life. (Also wonderful, I might add, but without the giddy highs!) This crosses out her enjoyment of the fantasy that she could have married her ex and her life would have turned out better, happier and more fulfilled.
I suggest you be realistic about what the friendship is and what it provided you in the first place. Was this someone you could talk forthrightly with, sharing other successes of yours? Or did she prefer it when things were not going well for you? If she was only a fair-weather friend, maybe you are not losing much without her in your life.
If you feel guilty about “taking” her ex-boyfriend, ask yourself why. Do you in fact think you did in some way steal something that was hers? Did you badmouth him in the past when they were breaking up, and now find yourself praising him to the skies? Do you talk about him endlessly? Is your own behavior somehow rubbing it in her face that she failed with this ex-boyfriend while you succeeded?
There is little downside to approaching her and acknowledging that this bothers her, but that you hope she can be happy for you. If this man were not your boyfriend, he would likely be someone else’s. Thank her for introducing you. Be kind, and give her a chance to come around. She might or might not.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Friends can harbor jealous feelings when other friends fall in love or get along better than they “should.”
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.
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