Hello Miss Kori!
Here’s my dilemma. I can’t stand my new husband’s best friend’s wife. My husband and his best friend had been estranged for almost 10 years because my husband’s ex-wife forbade them to get together. (How someone can have control over another person like that is beyond me, but it happens.) When we met, I actually got my husband and his best friend back together again, and they have vowed never to have something like that happen again.
They value their 30-year friendship very deeply. But the best friend’s wife is, hmm, just very odd. We have nothing in common, she has no hobbies, and she does not allow her husband to do anything with mine unless she can be involved, and then complains about the activity. So you see what I’m dealing with here?
Most recently, for my wedding, we specifically asked for no gifts, rather a donation to be made to our place of worship which was very generous and accommodating for the wedding. She told me she didn’t want to do that, she wanted to give each of us a gift separately, and that she already had something picked out for my husband, but needed me to tell her what I wanted. (I thought that by mentioning our wishes in our wedding invitations, that would have made clear what we wanted as gifts…) With so many other things to prepare for the wedding, and specifically NOT wanting gifts, I didn’t have time for this. But I found something online she could pick up for me. Well, one excuse after another. That gift suggestion didn’t work for her.
When they come to visit, they stay overnight, and she brings all her own linens and food. I gather that she’s a bit of a germaphobe, and perhaps a control freak. The only food I have ever seen her eat is Nilla Wafers, Yoplait strawberry yogurt, Oreos, Cheez-Its, and Honeycomb cereal (everything is brand specific), and if we go out to a restaurant, whatever she gets has to be completely plain—plain hamburger, plain pasta, plain plain plain. So I’m not even sure I can woo her with a delectable dish.
Trying to maintain friendship with her is exhausting, but I know it’s imperative for my husband, and I genuinely don’t want to do anything that would threaten the newfound relationship he has with his friend. Any suggestions, or words of support, would be a big help.
Dear Married with Estranged/Strange Friends,
Congratulations on your recent wedding! It’s wonderful to hear that your husband was able to celebrate this new chapter of his life with a lifelong friendship mended; helping to bring an estranged friend back into his life was a wonderful gift for you to give him. So much of sharing each other’s lives in marriage can be sharing each other’s friends, and I think it is great that you are asking for some help with this sticky situation, in order to make living in (friendship) harmony easier.
There’s a lot to unpack here, which I think you must be feeling, too, and I will do my best.
You begin your letter to me stating that you “can’t stand” your husband’s friend’s wife. That’s a very strong statement. We’ll get back to that, but let’s just start by making the note: while the tone of your overall letter is more of frustration and annoyance, and you clearly are asking for assistance in making this relationship work, your first point is that you “can’t stand” her. That matters.
It is clear that both of these men share something in common: they have at one point in their lives chosen spouses who greatly shape their behavior with their friends. You mention that your husband did not see his friend for years because his previous spouse “forbade” them to get together. You now observe that your husband’s friend cannot participate in any activities with your husband unless his current wife is there. Even the positive outcome—the reunification of their friendship—happened because you worked to bring them back together. If given their own druthers, what would these men do to maintain their friendship? If they were single, that would be one thing, but they aren’t. They are married men, trying to balance the primacy for their marital union against the need to develop and grow important outside friendships.
I’m (gently) picking at this point—the involvement of the husbands in their own friendship—despite the fact that it isn’t your main question, because ultimately, whatever happens moving forward is in their hands. You are not friends with his wife; you are not “couple friends” with this couple. Your husband has a friend, you may (or may not) have formed a friendship with your husband’s friend, and his wife may (or may not) have formed a friendship with your husband. You certainly aren’t friends with his spouse, nor is she with you—not wanting to buy you a joint present, and then not having any idea what to get you, speaks volumes as to the way she understands and connects with both of you, currently.
I understand that a tight-knit group of friendships among all of you would be ideal to help your husband and his friend maintain their rekindled friendship, but once again, your current assessment of the time spent together as a group is that it is essentially intolerable. You’ve stated that she is unable to listen to your requests (i.e., the wedding gift debacle.) You’ve noted that she may have some underlying concerns that make it difficult for her to spend time as an overnight guest at your home; her need for control may be something that requires some help to ameliorate, or it may just be her personality—only she can decide if this is something that negatively impacts her life and/or the lives of those around her.
In any other circumstance, you would likely not become a close friend of this woman, nor would you and your husband become close couple friends with this couple. Mutual friendship among all four of you is not required here. There is nothing wrong with that.
Remember, “I can’t stand my new husband’s best friend’s wife,” is how you began this letter, and that seems like an honest assessment of how you feel. I would own that, ask yourself how you wish to treat a person who you do not presently like very much but who deserves kindness and dignity, and act accordingly.
Be kind. Let go of judgements about the little stuff—the choices of food, the need to bring her own linens, etc. Sure, those could be interpreted as hurtful if you really dug in and analyzed those actions, but why give them the energy? People’s behaviors usually have to do with their own needs, and are likely no reflection on your hospitality. When she says something funny, earnestly laugh at her joke, even if this happens only once in a year. When you can give an honest compliment, do so. When she arrives, have Nilla wafers and Yoplait yogurt and Honeycombs waiting. If she brings her own and never touches them, send them home as a care package; if she refuses, donate them after she leaves.
While it is important to keep the door open for friendship—always look for the best in people, and give them the benefit of the doubt—it isn’t actually imperative for all of you to be besties in order for your husband and his friend to make the choices necessary to stay close. Let go of the expectation that you have to make this work with her, and embrace the ways you can simply be a loving person. It is only critical that you be the kind person you want to be (which is under your control), and that your husband and his friend make their friendship a priority (which is entirely out of your control.)
My recommended dish for you is both symbolic and delicious: soufflé. You have been working to literally breathe the life and structure into these friendships, whipping air into them even as they are finicky and delicate. You have practice making soufflé, already!
Soufflé also involves the separation of yolk from egg white, taking each piece of the whole apart from the other, treating them differently, then delicately folding them back into reunion. Your husband and his friend’s relationship was disassembled years ago, through no involvement of either of their current wives—it is their job to gently fold the pieces of their friendship back together, and your job to keep your fingers crossed and hope the resulting dish will continue to rise. Practice making soufflés makes them easier to do consistently, just like all things (friendship included.)
I hope that either a simple cheese soufflé or a decadent chocolate soufflé will be tempting to even the most plain-flavor loving guest. There are no fancy spices, no tricky vegetables, no exotic textures. You may want to ask which brand of cheese or chocolate your husband’s friend’s wife prefers, then show her you are using those to make one (or both) of these recipes.
If nothing else, distracting yourself with the process of making a soufflé will give you something detailed and focus-consuming to do if things start to feel miserable while they are visiting. Rise or fall, you will get some time alone in the kitchen to whip and fold, and that may be good kitchen therapy.
I’m directing you to Epicurious for these recipes (see links above), one of my favorite sites for reliable recipes and techniques. Should you want to explore different soufflé options, they have a bevy of other delectable soufflé recipes available.
I wish you luck in your marriage and in your soufflés! May both continue to grow and delight.