No one tells you about the other in-laws you acquire when you get married.
Until about five years ago, I got along with basically everyone. Sometimes, I knew, people didn’t care for me, but my impeccable get-along instincts and crushing fear of confrontation prevented things from coming to a head very often. And if I didn’t like someone, I’d try to never let them know, because even if the sight of them made my stomach curdle, I still wanted them to like me. I’d attempt to wear them down with relentless kindness until one of us moved to another city or died. But all that changed when I met my wife, who taught me the fine art of having enemies.
Here’s the thing. Under the best circumstances, as a relationship progresses, your life merges gently with your partner’s. Your friends become each other’s friends. Your families become one another’s families to whatever extent is desirable or possible. You grow in your capacity for joy and love, as well as their corollaries, the potential for loss and grief.
All this is common knowledge. A truth less frequently expressed is that along with your expanding set of group text chains and work parties and framed concert posters, you acquire an increasingly vast assortment of enemies. Enemies-in-law, to put it more precisely. Childhood bullies. Estranged best friends. Snotty adult cousins. Professional nemeses. Celebrity grudges. Unaffectionate neighborhood dogs. These may be your partners’ enemies, and if you’re devoted, they’ll become your enemies too.
Not that this happens right away. When you start dating someone, you don’t have to hate the people that person hates. You can accept your date’s resentments without making them your own. You show sympathy when he tells you about his weird roommate whose video-game chair monopolizes the living room. You smile and play along when she won’t watch any movie starring Joaquin Phoenix because he has too much of what she calls “chaotic Scorpio energy.” But as your relationship broadens and deepens and solidifies; their enemies become yours. And whether or not you hated them before, you certainly hate them now.
That’s part of what love is. When the person you love decides that someone in the world brings him or her only frustration and pain, that person is your enemy, even if that person has always been cool to you in the past, or you’ve never actually met the person, or your partner has never actually met the person. The more you love someone, the more ardently you should feel not just obligated but driven to want to destroy the people your loved one wishes ill.
My wife’s enemies are now mine, and the rationale behind why doesn’t really matter. Reasons great and small both count, not equally but heavily. A sampling of these new enemies includes a friend of a friend who came to a party at our apartment and was moderately unfriendly, a man who said a sexist thing to my wife in a business setting, a dog who I’m told barked aggressively at our dog, a former colleague who isn’t a bad person but is just kind of a lot, several exes but not all of them, several friends’ exes (basically all of them), some gross former bosses.
It started with her description of one friend’s former husband, a gateway enemy who I would never meet. I could comfortably acknowledge he was bad news without any negative ramifications. Then there were the people who were mean to her on the internet, more actively annoying but often far away, and again safe to dislike from a distance. But as we grew closer I got to know the full array of professional adversaries, frenemies, and objects of legitimate disgust.
When these people (or the dog) come up in conversation, I have nothing kind to say about them. It’s an inversion of the popular advice: If I can’t say something mean, I say nothing at all. I do not publicly engage with or privately enjoy their work. I steer clear of them at parties and speak ill of them to mutual friends. I don’t do these things out of a patriarchal obligation to “protect” my wife. I do them out of a loving desire to support her. If she decides that someone is bad, then I trust her; they are bad. And it is my avowed duty to help her ruin them, just as it is my spousal responsibility to cheerlead her professional accomplishments or perform household chores.
Swearing to hate my wife’s enemies has made me a better, more rounded person. Not only does it give me a benchmark for measuring my loyalty to her, but it’s made me more resolute in my own beliefs. Because all the spiting and snubbing of her foes has shown me how much colder I could be to the people I already didn’t like.
Pointedly ignoring my wife’s nemeses at parties and badmouthing them openly has given me the courage to take on enemies of my own. It’s been like training wheels for hate. I don’t feel compelled to talk to a friend of a friend who has always been weird to me just because we’re at the same social event, nor do I feel compelled to couch my distaste for that person with reluctant compliments about his or her better qualities. If someone I’m on stand-up shows with is consistently weird and aloof, I don’t have to bend over backward to give that person the benefit of the doubt that maybe he’s just getting in the headspace to perform. Maybe I think he’s a dick. It’s okay to straight-up not get along with people sometimes.
I’m not great at having my own enemies, but I do my best. And I don’t worry too much, because I know that if there are people who really rub me the wrong way, my lovely wife will destroy them.