Why Losing My Friends Meant Losing Myself

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Like most people, I’ve lost my share of friends. Every move was a source of culling, intentional or not. Each time I changed schools, I left friends behind. I’ve lost friends when we drifted away from each other, when our interests diverged, and after unrecoverable fights.

The ghosts of my friendships past still haunt me to varying degrees. The losses all hurt in some way or another but the most hurtful time I’ve lost friends was after I became a mother. Losing them was painful. Depressing. Gut-wrenching. Four years later, I’m still mourning the loss of not just my friends, but what those friendships represented.

When we’re young, many of our friends are chosen for us. Whether by school assignments, activities, or play-dates, forces beyond our control dictate who we are surrounded by. But, as we age, we begin learn that friends are more than just people we’re obligated to be around. By the time we’re adults we’re able to choose our friends for the most part. They’re people who often share our beliefs and interests. Who make us laugh. Who care for us, have fun with us and make us better people.

And, most tellingly, our friends reflect where we are in life. When I went to art school, I made friends with creative, uninhibited artists. In my early, carefree 20s, my friends were partiers – we hit up bars and clubs at night; brunch was never before noon. A few years later though, I was looking for something more substantial. I wanted to have more meaningful friendships with people I could confide in rather than just yelling in their ear at 2 am, straining to be heard over the music.

I began to value and cultivate friendships with women who were just as much fun on the dance floor as they were chatting over cupcakes or flea market shopping. And I was pleased when we formed a group of all-around, all-day friends. Real friends.

Leaving my partying and single life behind, I got married and pregnant soon after. Everyone was happy for me and we, of course, intended to stay friends after my son’s birth. I wasn’t sure what motherhood would bring, but I knew what kind of mother I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to lose myself to motherhood. I didn’t want my son to consume both my life and my identity. After all, I was a modern, feminist, independent woman and there was no reason for a baby to change that.

But then I had a baby. A baby who wouldn’t sleep. And as I was swallowed by my deepening depression and an overwhelming anxiety disorder, my former life, complete with friends, ideas and goals slipped away from me.

My depression meant that I wasn’t the best mother I could be. Or the best wife. Or the best friend.

It’s not that I didn’t care about my friends anymore – I absolutely did – I just couldn’t figure out how to fit them into a new life that revolved around nap schedules, feeding schedules, and oh yeah, crying anywhere and everywhere.

Friendships without cultivation wither and die and that’s exactly what mine did. I had less and less in common with friends from my former life. They were in a totally different place in my life than I was. They didn’t understand what it was like to wake up ten times in one night or get up at four every day for a year and a half. My only priorities were about my family: making sure I could function on a day-to-day basis; keeping my son alive; trying my hardest to keep my strained marriage together.

My friends from my pre-baby life didn’t understand why I couldn’t meet them for dinner, drinks or shopping. They didn’t know that being without my son made me feel like I couldn’t breathe, like a physical part of my body was missing and that I was only whole when I was with him. Even though when I was with him, I was sure I was doing everything wrong. I worried about everything and anything and felt like nothing would ever get better, nothing would ever change. He would never sleep and I would never feel like myself again.

Fortunately, I was able to get help. Therapy, anti-depressants, and my son sleeping into the five o’clock hour allowed me to emerge from the deep pit of depression. Also of help? My “mom” friends.

I am supremely, unbelievably, fantastically lucky to have made several wonderful “mom” friends over the past few years. They were able to understand my challenges as a new mom and support me through them. I’m able to be a new Jen, Mom Jen, with them as we share stories about our kids, husbands and lives. But they haven’t replaced my other friends. I still care about them. I still think about them and miss them immensely.

But like I said, it wasn’t just losing their friendship that was devastating to me. It was losing what our friendship represented. I had lost myself. I often don’t feel like Jen, the friend and person anymore. I am Jen, the Mommy. My pre-baby life is gone. Everything about me and my life has been redefined. Wine glasses? Try sippy cups. Going clothing shopping means buying from sales online for my sons. I’m in bed before I used to go out. And any alone, art or writing time is at the end of the day, after the kids are asleep and the chores are done (are the chores ever really done?).

Four and half years after having my first son (and a year after having my second), I’m in a much, much better place. A good place. And even though I’ve embraced motherhood, I still think about the kind of person I used to be. The kind of person who wasn’t concerned with nose or bottom wiping, eating schedules, or missed naps. Who was fun, adventurous and spontaneous. I see glimpses of her every so often, but I know she, like her former friendships, no longer really exists.

Related post: Mommy Friends

This piece was written by Jen Simon as a companion piece to her essay in the anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends. You can preorder the book here

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  1. 1

    Bree says

    Wow! Thanks for writing this. I had such a similar experience being a new mum, particularly the depression, feeling overwhelmed and feeling like things were never ever going to change. I lost some pretty significant friendships around that time too. Like you, I made some new “mom” friends and things have really looked up since then (my son is 5 and a half now). Thanks again

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      • 5

        Kim says

        That’s a good question. I know for me (& I’m someone who puts my kids first) I didn’t “lose myself” because my definition of “me” has never been static. I never thought of myself as “young single partier” (though I’ve been that) or sahm (though I am that). I am just Kim at this stage in my life

        Though I suppose that is actually a MORE static definition of myself. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s a bit of both: not letting your current situation define you & having a solid core identity.

        Anyway. It’s a good question. I think I’ll think about it more. Because you’re right: it does seem that some women “lose themselves” and others don’t. I’m sure hormonal factors and depression are a signifigant variables.

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      • 6

        Donna says

        There’s nothing wrong with putting your kids first, nothing wrong with putting yourself first. The most important thing is that you’re a happy mom. If you are the kind of mom who wants to put your kids first, then you have to do that. But if you’re not fulfilled doing that, then you have to put yourself first. We all value different things and there’s no judgement in that.
        I struggled with leaving my career to become a work-from-home Mom, even though it’s exactly what I wanted to do. I couldn’t understand how some moms could have the career and still raise perfectly happy, content little people. A friend put it into perspective for me when she said we all value different things. For me, I valued being at the extramurals more than I valued being at a board meeting. Some moms value their time with their friends more than they value putting their kids to sleep every single night. You have to be true to yourself.

        If you’re happy with who you are, your kids will be happy.

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    • 7

      Didi says

      I think another huge reason that some lose themselves and some don’t has to do with the type of person they were pre-children. Someone who’s primary joys in life are joys or hobbies that can be adapted to young children might not lose themselves as much. Or perhaps you could have a difference between a natural homebody versus someone who is out more. There are (very few) moms who are able to easily find a balance right away as well, while others struggle with it. The point is NOT to lose yourself and not to judge those that do OR those that don’t.

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    • 8

      Steph says

      I think part of it may also have to do with what kind of child(ren) you have. I don’t feel like I lost myself at all, I just feel like I’ve added “mom” to my pre-existing identity. But apart from the usual sleep regressions, my daughter has slept reasonably well. She will nap virtually anywhere and is very easy-going. So I’ve been able to work a full-time job and still have energy to hang out with my friends. And because my daughter is so well-behaved and easy-going, my friends are always happy to do child-friendly activities, so I get to connect with my friends while still spending time with my daughter. I’m actually closer to my child-free friends after having a baby than I am to my mommy-friends, believe it or not.

      But if my kid had been a nightmare sleeper? Or if she wasn’t so easy-going and flexible? Things might have been different. I’d still have to work full-time, so I’d still have the career-oriented part of my identity, but odds are my relationships with my friends would have suffered. So I think a big part of it is actually just luck.

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  2. 10

    says

    If your friends can’t provide kindness, understanding and support during any major change in your life circumstances (e.g. having a child, having a serious illness/accident, becoming unemployed or needing to be a full time carer for a parent etc.), are they really friends? They may simply be acquaintances for good times, nothing wrong with that and you discover who your true friends are pretty quickly, which is a nice thing.

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    • 13

      says

      That happened to me, and it hurt. One of my first post-college friends (we met at a course we took together) and I had the best times, lots of laughs, and she was the sweetest person you could know. Even after I got married, I still made time for her and my other single friends. Then a boyfriend came into my friend’s life, they married, started having children, and somehow, she got sucked not only into his vortex (he is from an American-born but still culturally/religous Greek Orthodox family) but cut me off. I get a holiday card every year, but no note, no calls. It sucks.

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  3. 16

    says

    This is a wonderful article. They don’t haunt me though; I am not defined by my children, though they have redefined how I see things. I am fortunate that my friends are my friends no matter their position in life. My best friend is a state away and never plans to have children. But she loves spoiling mine when she sees them. And though it may be months between visits, nothing ever really changes.

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  4. 17

    Mel says

    This hits home for me. I too was the first of my group to get married and have a baby. I also recently moved out of my home city/state. I am close to my sister and my husband (fortunately) but all of my friends from days gone by have moved on (or not, depending on what you consider moving on). I hate that I have lost them as I wish I had someone that was not related to me legally or otherwise to talk to. They’ve started getting married and having babies, but that was not enough to bring us back together. I am painfully insecure and that manifests as shy which probably comes off as bitchy on occasion. I don’t think I am worthy of people’s friendship or that they are just putting up with me. It makes making new friends in my new home town very difficult. Thanks for posting.

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  5. 21

    says

    I had my daughter very young and thankfully my friends stayed around 😊 we partied like young woman do but they were still there at Bath time and day trips and teething. everyone’s now got children of their own so we see a lot less of each other but I still love them and know they love me too. I’m aware I’m very lucky xx

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  6. 28

    Mary says

    As your kids get older, you will get some of your self back. My child is six, and he plays independently sometimes, freeing me up to do something for myself! And if/when your old friends transition to the married/kids life, you might reconnect. But if you don’t, you will find new friends that share your interests, both as a mom and a creative professional!

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  7. 29

    says

    Very true and accurate article!!! It is really sad. But I still choose my children over anything. Its sad to lose friends, but my children aren’t going anywhere… And friends who don’t like it are gone very quickly.

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  8. 30

    says

    This makes me very sad. Yes, priorities get rearranged with kids, but one of those priorities must also be ourselves. Having a baby does not mean you have to give up nights out with the girls, you have to realize that they are as important to being a good, sane, and healthy mom as the things you do for your kids.

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