If ever there was an emotionally charged concept, it is loyalty. Faithfulness to one person can mean abandonment to another. Can you be friends with your friend's nemesis and still be loyal to each? Can you maintain a relationship with two people who dislike each other? To what length does one need to go to prove loyalty? Should one have to prove it at all? I've recently confronted these questions when I and others were accused of being disloyal by someone very dear, who I'll call Judy, for attending an event to which she was not invited. The party host did not want to invite Judy's husband, and, as the other half of the couple, Judy, too, was excluded. I agreed with Judy that they should have been invited. In fact, I advocated for their inclusion, but there was no changing the mind of the party host. The party was in honor of someone very special to me, someone I care about a great deal and who cares equally about my family and me. This honoree remembers my family's birthdays and special events, and has never missed an opportunity to share in my life. Judy, a lifelong friend and confidante, is not speaking to me, furious that I did not boycott the celebration in solidarity with her and her husband. My attending the event felt hugely disloyal, and therefore, hurtful to her.
In all honesty, it never occurred to me to boycott the party. It never occurred to me that another person's guest list would require me to choose between two relationships. It never occurred to me that attending a party was proof of my disloyalty to anyone.
Have you ever been friends with two people who are angry with each other, or who just don't like each other? These scenarios get more complicated when it is family and lives intersect. Have you ever felt you had to drop your relationship with one half of a divorcing couple? What is your allegiance to the warring parties? Do you have to take sides?
Sadly, requiring someone to choose between two people never ends well. Like many an angst in life, the problem is typically more than what appears on the surface. The person demanding the choice typically does so out of insecurity, misdirected anger, or both, neither of which underlies a healthy relationship. If a person meets the demand of "choose them or me," then the result can only be resentment in the long run.
Ironically, the person being perceived as disloyal, which in this case is me, feels betrayed, too. I went from shock to days of soul searching, eventually landing on "huh?" Did I exclude anyone? No. Did I try to include everyone to a party not of my making? Yes. Have I kept confidences? Of course. Am I responsible for other people's relationships? Heck no. There I was, living my life, maintaining my own relationships. It never occurred to me that doing so was disloyal to anyone.
I am deeply distressed by Judy's pain because she is very important to me. However, I did not create the scenario, and I am as loyal a friend as the day is long. After forty plus years of shared intimacies, it is astounding to me that our relationship became so fragile as to fracture over a party not of my making. I am sad but my conscience is clear.