DEAR JANE: My best friend hid a vile secret about her past – I don’t think I can ever speak to her again

Dear Jane,

I’ve found myself in a devastating situation with my best friend of nearly 20 years and I’m hoping you can help me untangle it.

For background, I’ve been inseparable from this friend since we were 14. She’s always been the person that I’ve gone to for advice or support during tough times, and over the years she’s become more like a sister.

One of the hardest times in my life was when my parents got divorced, seemingly out of the blue, when I was 17. It hit me like a truck and for months, I was miserable. But my friend was there to help pick up the pieces and it brought us even closer than we already were.

A few days ago, I was having dinner with my mom, who had one too many glasses of wine I think, and I was talking about vacation plans that I’m making with my friend. Now my mom has never been the biggest fan of this friend, but as I was speaking, I could see her rolling her eyes and getting annoyed.

When I asked her what was wrong, she initially tried to dodge the question, telling me she was just ‘in a mood’ and had too much to drink. But I knew something was up – so I kept pushing. 

Dear Jane, I discovered a horrifying secret about my best friend - and it's made me question if I can ever speak to her again

Dear Jane, I discovered a horrifying secret about my best friend – and it’s made me question if I can ever speak to her again

And that’s when it came out… she told me that the reason she and my dad got divorced was because she caught him having an ‘affair’ with my best friend. She said she’d found messages that the two of them had been sharing and images that they’d been sending one another – and confessed that the discovery had triggered their split.

I was absolutely disgusted. I didn’t know what to say or think. I had so many questions – like, how could they not have told me this? My mom said she and my dad agreed they didn’t want to destroy a friendship when they knew my life was already going to be thrown into chaos, and she said my dad insisted that nothing physical ever happened between him and my friend.

I’ve spoken with her about it in more detail over the past couple of days, and, while I still can’t forgive her or my dad for keeping this secret, the person I’m most hurt by is my friend. She was by my side when all of this was going on, acting totally innocent, speculating with me about what had happened to ruin my parents’ marriage… and the whole time she knew exactly what had gone on.

I haven’t been able to bring myself to talk to her yet because I really don’t know where I’d even start.

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers' most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

International best-selling author Jane Green offers sage advice on readers’ most burning issues in her Dear Jane agony aunt column

The idea of cutting her out of my life without confronting her over everything feels wrong. But how do I begin to explain to her how disgusted and hurt I am by this whole thing? Especially when it happened so long ago?

Please help.


Tangled Web

Dear Tangled Web,

There is nothing worse than learning that a close friend has betrayed you, and I am so sorry for the pain this is causing you.

There’s no way to make this pain go away, but a couple of things occur to me. 

The first is that you don’t actually know what happened, only the version of the story from your mother’s point of view, which includes the fact that nothing physical had ever happened between them. 

Which doesn’t make it any less…icky, but the truth is that you don’t know the truth, and it’s worth trying to put your emotions aside to sit down with your friend, and your father, to find out what their version of the story is.

Whatever the story, I also want to say that we all make some pretty awful choices when we’re young. 

Science now tells us that our frontal lobe – the bit of the brain that controls our impulses – is not fully developed until the age of – at least – 25.

There may be no excuse for your friend’s behavior, or, she may have been going through something herself, something that made the attentions of an older man feel flattering or validating.

I can’t tell you what to do here, but if she has been, as it sounds she has been, a good friend for these past two decades, it is worth listening to what she has to say with an open mind, and heart.

Dear Jane,

I am a single mom of two young teens and I’ve been on my own since my youngest was born, having cut off my emotionally abusive ex-partner soon after the birth of my second child.

I have a full-time job and, while things aren’t easy, I manage to pay my bills and provide for my kids without any help from my ex – who refused to pay maintenance when I relocated with the kids. In the early days after we moved, I fought him for the money, begged him to be in our kids’ lives, but honestly life is so much calmer without him, I gave up after a few years.

I’m proud of the life that I’ve built for myself and my children – but apparently that isn’t enough for my parents, who constantly criticize every element of my lifestyle whenever they come and visit. 

They say my house isn’t clean enough, I don’t do enough with the kids, I’ve taken on too much by getting a dog, I’ve let myself go physically… it just goes on and on.

My mom has told me that she thinks I have depression, despite having no medical expertise, and both she and my dad insist that the only way I can ‘turn my life around’ is to move back to my hometown. They send texts and emails pointing out all of my faults – and have offered to have the children stay with them to allow me time to ‘get back on my feet’.

I have tried to reason with them and I have had very challenging conversations and eventual arguments pointing out that they paint such a negative picture of my life and actually I’m happy with my life. It’s far from perfect but I manage. There are times I am overwhelmed, tired and feel utterly exhausted but I would say that was normal for a single parent working full time, in a challenging profession.

I live for my children and they have everything they need. To shoot me down as a parent is the most hurtful thing they can do. I have such a great relationship with my kids and I am far closer to them than I ever was to my parents.

Dear Jane’s Sunday service 

Life is too hard for most of us to put up with people who question our choices or make us feel bad about how we are living our lives. 

Whether it’s family, or friends, it’s vital that we surround ourselves with people who value and support us. 

Telling people this can be excruciatingly hard, but it is what we need to do to protect ourselves.

I have zero desire to return to my home town. I have built a life for myself and my children. They are happy, I am happy. I enjoy work because I have adult conversations and I socialize and I genuinely don’t feel like I’m missing out on an adult social life.

My question is where does this go? I’m happy to have a different view to them but ultimately I’m in my mid 40’s and I don’t want them constantly trying to bring me down. I’ve tried the nice way, the not so nice way. I’ve spoken to them face to face and sent emails. Nothing and I mean nothing has worked.

Do I just give up and accept that I will never have a reliable relationship with my parents? I don’t see them changing and I can’t just shrug off their hurtful comments.


Clipped Wings

Dear Clipped Wings,

There is a very famous Philip Larkin poem, This Be The Verse, which starts with the line, ‘They f**k you up, your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do…’

I’m reminded of this as I read your letter, and all that you have accomplished by yourself. 

Raising children as a single mother with no financial help is one of the hardest and most challenging things we can do. I take my hat off to you, and applaud everything you have achieved. What a strong and fearless woman you are.

Call upon that courage now to tell your parents that you will no longer tolerate criticism of any kind. 

Whether it’s in person, on a phone call, or in a letter, a clear boundary needs to be set, with the consequence being that if they can’t respect your choices, you will not be able to see them. And then stick to that. 

This doesn’t mean the children should stop having a relationship with their grandparents, but you no longer have to expose yourself to their criticism.

You’re carrying a heavy load, and you do not need to feel guilty about telling them this. Unclip your wings, and allow yourself to fly.

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