This story is many years in the making. I’m sharing it now for someone who told me a similar story recently. I didn’t share mine back. I know she maybe could have used to hear it. I hope this will make her feel better and/or feel that she isn’t alone.
Four years ago my social life was entirely different than it is now.
I was in playgroups with my kids and some really great groups of women (and their families). I grew up with only brothers and studied mechanical engineering. I’ve always had some female friends, but besides sports teams, I really never hung out in groups of women regularly before becoming a mom. In these groups we met at playgrounds or someone’s house, had picnics, barbecued in backyards, with the parents hanging out while kids of all ages played or watched movies together. We also went out to dinner or hung out in the evenings with just the moms. Four years ago I was also on soccer teams and sometimes we would head out for drinks and hanging out after games. I met friends at the gym before the sun rose. I had coffee with neighbors. I went to movies and concerts and Red Sox games with friends. I hosted games nights, served on committees, went to fundraisers and attended many many many multi-level marketing home sale parties put on by friends.
Three and a half years ago, one of my good friends dumped me. We did not have big fights or arguments in the couple years of friendship before that. I did not see it coming. It didn’t occur to me that adults broke up friendships suddenly. I wanted to work it out. She did not. She told me that she “just didn’t like” me. She said there was nothing I could ever do to change that, because what she didn’t like about me, was what made me me. She did not want to be around me. She didn’t want me to call, email, text, or talk to her… except in public, then I was to act like nothing happened so “it didn’t seem weird.” I don’t like to pretend like that. I did not feel the same way. About any of it. I rather enjoy what makes me me, and I know I’m a good friend. I didn’t want to pretend nothing happened. I did not want to not ever speak. She did not want to work it out then or in the future. I really didn’t believe it, or accept it and thought she’d get over it, we’d work on it, and we’d still be friends. She followed up with some not to very nice things to push me away and make me believe. I needed that to believe, but I still didn’t and don’t understand and it all hurt a whole lot.
We live in a small town. We have kids in the same age range. We have almost all of our friends in common. We live in the same neighborhood. We are both active volunteers in the schools and in our town. I cannot go a day in town without running into her existence somehow.
Immediately, I pulled back. A social life is more important to her than me, I conceded the parties and the friends to her. I rearranged my kids’ schedules, pulled back from some mutual friends and people who had more history with her than me. I shifted my volunteer efforts and involvements away from hers. I gave her the right of way in every way and I steered clear. It takes a lot of effort in a small town to avoid someone who lives down the street. I could not have done a better job staying out of her sight. I figured she’d have her space, cool down and we would make up. But that did not happen.
A little while after that, I had some bigger health issues. I was sleeping 18+ hours/day for a few months, and have been sidelined a few times similarly since then. It forced my social life into an even slower drip. Even when I was feeling better, it wasn’t enough that I wanted to go out in the evenings or even talk to anyone. I stopped going to any social events. I stopped playing soccer. I didn’t spend time on Facebook. Physically, I was in rough shape, but it turned out to be good emotionally. I didn’t have to put effort into hiding anymore. I didn’t run into people talking about her as much. And then my kids all entered elementary school and playgroups stopped. I didn’t have to pretend like nothing happened with our common friends, I didn’t have to squash blurting out, “shut up about her, already” when friends went on and on about how great she is or how much fun they had with her. That all felt good and freed up a lot of energy.
And I still had friends, like Sarah, who showed up and would drop off a meal randomly. I have family and neighbors who got my kids on and off the bus for me, dropped off a surprise coffee, checked in that I was okay, took me on car rides to get me out, and ran errands for my family. I wasn’t alone. I didn’t feel alone. I still knew I really was a good friend and someone people do really like because of what makes me me.
Because of my health, I stopped drinking alcohol altogether. It’s not a deal breaker for going out, but I definitely didn’t (and don’t) get (or accept) as many invitations to hang out, since alcohol is such a part of social life culture. That’s fine too.
And then I felt better, and it was still easier to stay home and not have to hide. I like being home. I have lots of projects that keep me busy, motivated, challenged and happy. I love being with my family. My kids love board games as much as I do, and they are old enough and clever enough now that we can play some really fun stuff. I like being in bed early. I’m wholly content on that front. I’ve found the ways I really love to spend my time and serve my family and community (most have to do with kids and books), and I spend a lot of my time very happily doing it. I have some great friends.
BUT when I walk my dog a few times per day, I generally have to walk past her house. When I walk in the other direction, she has to drive past me to leave or enter the neighborhood. Her name is mentioned at least once every handful of conversations I ever have in my town. She remains great friends with my great friends, we are invited to the same places on a weekly basis through friends or schools or whatever. If I look at Facebook, her face is there. Her name is listed in the school emails. We attend the same church. We pass at drop offs and pickups. I am constantly reminded of her existence.
And with this reminder comes the reminder that someone that I love, admire and adore, just doesn’t like me for who I am.
I hear what a great wonderful, caring, giving, generous, loving, fun, open to everyone, does anything for anyone sort of person she is ALL THE TIME. Letters come home from the school saying so. My best friends say so. The people I value and trust, all agree, she’s kind, accepting and caring. But in her eyes, I’m not good enough.
I haven’t badmouthed her (and I’m not intending to do that here). I haven’t egged her car or left my dog’s turds on her lawn. When I walk my dog in the winter, I have thought “I can totally give her the finger with my mittens on and no one will ever know,” but I have never done it. That’s as malicious as it’s gotten. I’ve tried to get mad, I’ve tried to hate her, but I can’t, it all just makes me sad. I’m super sad at the loss of friendship. I’m sad I didn’t see it coming and scared that it might happen again from someone else I care about without warning. I’m sad that as adults we can’t work on relationships that mean something. I’m sad one of us just won’t go away for a few months (or longer!) and I can finally get totally over it instead of having a reminder shoved in my face every day.
Because I still respect and care for her feelings, I’ve played along with her request and mostly kept it a secret. I told a few people a couple years ago, because I thought saying it might make me feel better, and it mostly didn’t, but sometimes it did. I haven’t asked or even suggested that the friends who know pick a side. Most friends probably couldn’t pick a side, I still think she’s rather great, and I know that I am at least a little bit of awesome too. It’d be a tough call. Our mutual friends think as highly of her as I did, I have wondered if more folks knew, would they start to wonder what’s wrong with me too?
But I know it’s not me.
I truly and wholly do believe that I’m at least a little bit awesome. I feel good about myself. I feel good about people, as in all people. I do a good job. I get along with people. I put a lot of time, thought and effort into my friends. I’m a good friend. I’m still a good friend even to her – I truly go out of my way to respect and accommodate that she wants me to stay away. I care about other people and their happiness and I do stuff about it. I make time to be helpful. I pay it forward. I pay gratitude. I give the benefit of the doubt always. I believe everyone is capable of learning anything, and that I can learn a lot from everyone. I’ve never really fit in anywhere, and at the same time, I can find a way to feel comfortable anywhere. I love, value and appreciate what makes us all unique and different, and what makes us all the same. I enjoy discovering those things about people. I don’t mind making mistakes and I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong. I like working hard. I really like to learn, grow and improve. I assume everyone lives this way.
She’s the only one in my entire life to complain about my friendship skills.
But I know it’s not her.
Something about me made her feel that way, disgusted her, upset her, made her feel so uncomfortable to need to completely cut off communication. It may not have been me and what makes me me, but it was because of me.
Over three years later, the hurt hasn’t completely gone away. Three or four or a dozen times every day since then, I am reminded that I suck. There is an annoying telemarketing robo call to my brain repeating her words, “I just don’t like you for you, and it’s the part of you that you can’t change,” every time her car passes me when I’m out walking my dog. Whenever a friend shares a story of some supportive thing she did for someone else or just how great she is, I get the annoying emotional spam message, “But you aren’t worthy of that.”
I’ve called it a blister. I don’t notice it the vast majority of the day, but the same wound rubs open again and again and again. It’s not horrible can’t-keep-moving-on pain, it’s just a really annoying sore.
I’m watching my daughter navigate through middle school social life. She does have groups of female friends, as I never did. I wonder if I had had more practice as a kid, if navigating female relationships would be easier for me now, or would make me react differently, or I would be used to this sort of thing.
I’ve heard stories from other friends in my town and further away that are going or have gone through this same thing – some important friendship breakup as an adult that leaves a big hole of sadness of the loss, rattles self-confidence, makes no sense and doesn’t get repaired and they have no idea why. Because of small town living with younger kids, it can’t be ignored and they have the same blister. Friend A can’t go through stages of grief and loss, because Friend B is literally standing next to A at least once a week. B doesn’t want to talk to A for some reason that doesn’t make sense to A (or was never explained). B just stopped answering A’s calls one day. I’ve heard this story from both A and B. I’ve heard it from C and D, and E and F. And others. Sometimes it starts with something involving kids, and sometimes not, sometimes no one knows why it started and no one knows how to fix it. Sometimes it’s just one and sometimes its both parties that are every day remorseful, sad and feeling down on themselves. Same as me. I am not alone.
And this sucks. We are grown ups. No, as adults, we do not have to and should not have to be in friendships that we do not want to be in and do not make us comfortable or happy. We are all aware that there are people that just don’t like us, and we have had to go through rejection. But we should be able to exist without this much extra pain in established friendships. We should be skilled enough in people and negotiation by now that the solution is not some form of the silent treatment, or ignoring it until it goes away. I have absolutely no idea at all how the other party feels at this point in my situation (and I’m not looking to reconnect right now), but in most of the A and B and C and D situations, both parties aren’t happy with the outcome. I don’t understand why it has to be this way. These stories make no sense. You want to be friends, just be friends.
It’s so much easier to hang out with kids. And I’m so happy and so grateful, that I do get to spent a ton of time with kids. It doesn’t matter what someone looks like, how old someone is or what someone is wearing. Sometimes there may be questions or comments or observations about that stuff, grown-ups can get bent out of shape about the comments and questions sometimes, but that’s how people learn and understand about differences or things they don’t understand or haven’t seen before, and learning and understanding is a good thing. It’s not judgement, it’s data collection. Kids don’t care if you like all the same things or do the same things all of the time or talk about the same things, it’s fun if you do, but if not, that’s what makes you you, and that’s what makes someone else someone else and that’s cool too. You can still get along and have fun together. There’s always something you can find in common or teach each other. Kids are honest and accept honesty. You can say when you aren’t having fun and it isn’t meant to be an insult and it’s not taken as an insult, you just find something else to do together. You can be honest with kids and be who you are – no one is self-conscious about what makes you you. You can have a disagreement and then you can make up, there’s no grudge, both sides forgive and grow together. Kids don’t know to hide anything. There are no secrets when you are upset or pretending like something didn’t happen. You address the problem, acknowledge the feelings, apologize if necessary, adjust if necessary, and are aware for next time it happens, and move on. I like that. A lot.
I missed the part in growing up to understand where these things became complicated and these rules changed. I don’t foresee many situations as an adult where I can walk into a new place and say to a stranger, “Do you want to play?” and we instantly start running and laughing together. I know that it did get more complicated somewhere along the lines and the rules changed; I just don’t have a grasp of the new rules yet, and from what other people (especially A,B,C,D,E and F) have shared, I’m not alone.
I’m working on re-defining and resetting my social life now. My health has been on the upswing, so I’m easily awake the majority of the day now. My kids are all in school, and my days are busy with some great part time work gigs, instead of hanging out with friends watching our and preschoolers together. My evenings are at kids’ sports and dedicated to family. I like that. It makes me happy. I’m happy. I’ve made some really great and interesting non-mom friends while we are out walking our dogs. I have gone out with new and old friends here and there and returned to a few mutual friend parties. I could start having a drink here and there again, but I haven’t, and I’m not sure when or that I will. I’ve promised to reunite the mom’s games night crew, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I’m not in hiding anymore. As she told me, I’m never going to be able change the part of me that make me me. I know it does happen to be at least a little bit of awesome.