I’ve never been the girl who runs with the masses. I hate girls’ nights out, group dinners, ladies’ weekends away. Parties stress me out from the time I get wind that one might happen up to the point I have to walk in the door. And from RSVP to entrance, there’s a high chance I will find a way out of actually having to participate. Mind you, I’ve done these things. I’ve worked the corporate job where this type of thing was required. I was married to a man in an industry that’s lousy with boondoggles and who finds every excuse to socialize, gather, and otherwise waste valuable evening hours that could be spent in soft shapeless fabrics, prone on a cozy bed or couch engaging my pleasure centers with such things as books, Real Housewives or crosswords. Oh-and add some Breyer’s cookies and cream-heaven! But I digress…
My point is that though I may not be a sorority type, I have a solid handful of friends whom I value more highly than anything. I’d like to think I’m a good friend. I reach out, I listen openly and try never to judge, I support, share, do not envy. Given the family dynamic in which I was raised, being a good friend is immensely important to me, as you may come to understand soon enough. When I finally separated from my ex, my handful of friends had very different reactions. I think it’s safe to say that the only relationships that didn’t change were with those whom I had a friendship prior to my marriage. And for those that did change, not all for the negative!
First, there was a close female family member. (Perhaps she doesn’t fit cleanly into the friend category, but she is an ongoing part of my life.) I told her we separated, and she told me my decision was too rash. A fifteen year decision including three years of individual therapy, some couples counseling and many months in sex therapy didn’t feel rash. When that didn’t work to make me reconsider, she asked me if I had considered the financial ramifications on my life from such a move. Yup, considered it fully, and that fear was probably responsible for staying at least six of the fifteen years during which I was deciding, but ultimately there was no amount of money worth my sanity or happiness. Not only did I get not one word of support from that phone call, but I felt criticized and like I had somehow disappointed and angered her personally. I’m not sure if the separation was a reason or an excuse, but we didn’t speak after that for many months, and even today things are strained.
Another interesting response came from my friend Sandra. Sandra and I had been very close since our 15 year olds were infants. We’d been through a lot together, and led quite parallel lives in many ways. She is one of the kindest people I know and has truly taught me how to be a good friend in life. Her response was that her husband was uncomfortable now with her being around me. She couldn’t explain it more than that and I didn’t push her. “He’ll come around, and I don’t care.” But I knew at that point I wouldn’t ever be going to any more dinners at her house. We’d remain coffee and lunch friends.
Andy’s reaction felt straight out of left field. I was a few months into the separation, and we were taking a walk. I think I was actually lamenting the fact that my social life had changed so much and I didn’t see friends who I once considered very close. I was saying that I missed the connection I used to have with certain people. Well, in her always positive and bright voice she didn’t slow down one beat as she said, “Well, you know, that’s what happens. You understand that. You have to find people in your same situation now. That’s what people do.” Is that really how friendships work? You’re divorced and so am I, let’s be friends? Does it matter that you enjoy building ships in a bottle and playing minecraft and think that gays shouldn’t marry, and I want to go for a hike, learn to box and read Malcolm Gladwell?
The biggest shocker for me came from Mary. I love Mary and her husband and their two girls. Mary is positive and happy and such a source of encouragement and support for me. We talk about almost everything. Another day, another walk. This time the ex and I were further down the road in our separation. I was dating, he was dating. Things had gone unbelievably well for the first year, or until his dating came in to play. It seemed to me at the time that some men could not date without sacrificing parental responsibilities (but that’s for another time, or maybe a FEW other times). Anyway, I started to explain to Mary why I was so upset with the ex and his very poor choices (which were obviously not his, but coming from his new piece (**for those of you just getting to know me and may not appreciate my sarcasm, know that this was exactly how I felt THEN and is an attempt to point out my state of mind at the time**)) and she cut me off abruptly. “You have no right to feel that way.” I had no right to my feelings? I’m sure her words were different, but the sentiment was the same. In the long run, her reaction was probably the slap in the face that I needed at the time, but delivered in such a way that I knew there were now certain topics that were off limits for discussion with certain people.
Every one of these responses was truly a lesson learned. And I do believe in my heart that they all came with the best intentions. Certainly not everyone will see things through my eyes, and though the timing may not have been ideal for me to hear these reactions, each of these women has driven home the importance of at least trying to put myself in others’ shoes before reacting or judging. Having different opinions doesn't mean that the friendship has to end, it just may need to change a bit, at least for a time.
One friend who supported me through my separation in the best way she knew how, recently found herself in a somewhat similar situation. Of course I wanted to be there for her however she needed, and I couldn’t help but identify with so much of what she faced. One night I received the best text I could have imagined. "Now I understand what you needed me to say to you during all of S's bullshit. Thank you for teaching me to be a more supportive friend. I'm sorry those were not MY words to YOU back then." What exactly did I say to her? I listened to all that her ex was doing and how it was affecting her, and though he had always been a nice guy to me, it didn't matter because my friend was hurting so much at that moment. "I'm so fucking angry at him right now for what he’s doing to you!" I really was. And she's right, all I needed during those darkest times were some arms around me from friends telling me they had my back. Nothing more.