TEMPE, AZ—In a decision that further depressed an already down Justin Garre, Stephanie Kasich won custody Monday of all shared friends resulting from their recently ended 4 1/2-year relationship.
After less than an hour of deliberations, Kasich was named primary friend to 11 Tempe residents aged 22 to 30. Additionally, Garre was barred from any third-party social contact which could possibly lead to an accidental encounter with his former girlfriend or result in the exchange of information regarding either partner's current dating status.
"It's not like I don't want Justin to have any friends, but it would really suck for both of us if we were to bump into each other," a victorious Kasich, 24, said shortly after the verdict's announcement. "Maybe in a couple years we'll be able to handle seeing each other and the whole gang can hang out again."
For now, the 26-year-old Garre has been ordered to remain at least 100 yards from any social gathering held at the home of any of the shared friends named in the decision, as well as avert his eyes downward and become preoccupied with his jacket zipper if he should pass one of them on the sidewalk.
Garre did manage to keep custody of friendships made prior to meeting Kasich in June 1994, except for those who over the past 4 1/2 years also became close with Kasich. He may also keep any friends with whom he spent the majority of time in a sports-related capacity during which Kasich was not present.
As stipulated in the settlement, Garre will also avoid The Tap, Kasich's favorite bar, and resist any communication attempts made by Kasich's brother.
"Exclusive custody may seem harsh, but it's the only way to deal with the fallout associated with the end of a serious longterm relationship like this," said Harvard University friendship-custody expert Nathan Mimms. "Shared friendship responsibilities are rarely a viable solution. Both parties are too stressed out to deal with hearing about the other right now, much less the awkwardness of interacting with people who are in regular contact with his or her respective ex."
According to Mimms, Kasich won custody largely because she consistently proved herself more capable of handling the responsibilities of friendship, not only during the relationship, when she was the partner who made sure to send birthday cards and keep in touch with long-distance friends, but after the break-up, as well. Of the 11 contested friends, nine knew exactly how hard the breakup had been for Kasich and what she thought went wrong, while only two had such conversations with Garre.
Also helping Kasich's case was her sustained post-breakup participation in friend-group traditions, such as X-Files night and Friday happy hour at Kirby's Klub. Such patterns of behavior contrasted sharply with Garre's antisocial withdrawal into himself.
"Kasich's longterm pattern of being a good friend, her sustained contact with friends during the immediate post-breakup period, and her retention of the same apartment and phone number were enough to win her full friendship rights," Mimms said. "These friends need the security of a familiar, stable environment after experiencing the shock of the separation of two people they were all convinced made the perfect couple."
Garre is so estranged from the group, he is not even expected to take advantage of the temporary visitation rights he was granted for his two closest male friends. The rights include three 15-minute drop-by visits during the first month and four awkward phone calls, during which the former friends will be permitted to express concern for Garre's mental health but may not mention Kasich's name at any point in the conversation. To avoid an accidental meeting with Kasich, Garre is strictly prohibited from exercising the visitation rights during holidays, birthdays, weekends or any organized social event at which more than two friends are gathered.
"I'm really going to miss hanging out with [former friend] Craig [Boros], but his girlfriend Kelly [Leetch] is one of Steph's best friends, and there's no way I'm going to hang out with them as a couple," Garre said. "I don't want Kelly to go back and tell Steph how pathetic I am."
Leetch said she thinks it's "sad" that the longtime couple split up, but is fully prepared to abide by the ruling. "Justin is a great guy, but I'm going to have to stick by Steph," Leetch said. "She's been there for me so many times. I really have no choice."
"It's been so tough for both Justin and Steph. Now they need to just get on with their lives," said Pete Ogden, a friend of the former couple who has already switched health clubs and rerouted his drive to work to avoid crossing paths with Garre. "I still think Justin is a great guy, but what am I supposed to do?"
"Breakups are always hardest on the friends involved," said psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Lynette Isaacson. "They feel as though they're caught in the middle, forced to choose between two people they love. Luckily, a lot of the guilt that Justin's friends feel will be alleviated by the fact that they'll never see him again in their lives."