The Magazine

Ex-Friends

Jun 19, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 38 • By DAVID SKINNER
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MARRIAGE, I had foolishly believed, would save me from ever again experiencing the worst part of being single, the most wrenching, pimple-causing, sleep-destroying vexation incident to bachelor life. I am talking about getting dumped. C'mon, what other reason was there to "forsake all others"--the comprehensive, preemptive dumping with which marriage seals its lifelong commitment--than the reward of never again having to hear the lying words, "I just want to be friends"?

Of course marriage itself isn't absolute, foolproof protection against this misery. There's always divorce, the lung cancer of dumping. But aside from that, tying the knot, I thought, was supposed to mean that you were in the clear.

I was wrong. Even if your marriage is secure, you can still be dumped--by friends. Now, this shouldn't have surprised me. I myself was once a fickle playmate. When I was eleven, my friend Paul told me what another friend, John, whom I had stopped hanging out with, had said about me: that soon I would get tired of Paul, too, and start hanging out with someone else.

These days I am much more cherishing of friends--all of them, my buddies, my and my wife's "couple-friends," every last assorted character. Still, all is not joy and dinner parties in my social life. I have recently been forced to confront a new humiliation, one to whose existence marriage had blinded me: couple-dumping, as when one couple dumps another couple with whom they have been friends.

Z. and J., the couple-friends in question, were funny people with lots of good stories, many about themselves, like the one in which they got engaged--on their first date. The husband, Z., was a physical therapist and had slightly crazy views about health and what he described as the unleashing of one's great inner self. The two of us disagreed about everything, but we amused each other. Our wives had once worked together, which is how the four of us got acquainted in the first place.

The last time my wife and I saw Z. and J. was several years ago at a party at their house. I remember we made a special point of going because they were thinking of moving again, out of town.

At the party, guests toasted Z. and J., who were newly married. One fellow got up and for about ten minutes wandered in and out of a song whose words and tune he clearly could not remember. Thinking this a most unfitting salute, I got up and made a short speech listing reasons the couple should stay in town. Z. and J. came over and gave me a big hug.

But after that night, they vanished. I called a few times, leaving messages proposing dinner or even teasing them for not returning earlier calls. Their machine was on, but they never got back to us. My wife and I finally assumed they had moved.

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law was over at our place, telling us about someone in the medical office where she works, a physical therapist who had said something funny. She mentioned his unusual name. It was Z., our old friend. Or should I say "friend"?

Z. and J. hadn't moved away after all. Realizing this, I immediately foresaw what would happen next. My mischievous sister-in-law, though asked not to, would mention us to Z. He, being a candid person, would own up to the fact that they had dropped us.

A week later my sister-in-law was back, as expected, with the story. Z. had volunteered that he and his wife had intentionally ended the relationship with me and my wife. The reason? His wife had had issues with my wife. (I rather like this detail, because of the two of us, my wife is much the more likable.) His wife was once my wife's supervisor, but since then my wife had become J.'s professional equal, which for some reason made J. uncomfortable--and led to you-know-what: our friends' decision to be, as dumpers say, "just friends."

My and my wife's immediate reaction was straight from the jilted lover's handbook (see chapter on disbelief): They dumped us?

The difference between couple-dumping and regular dumping, I now know, is that when you are dumped as a couple, you have someone else to help you argue away the possibility that the dumping in any way reflects your actual worth and desirability. My wife and I have made the most of this consolation of married life.

--David Skinner