“Mommy,” my six-year-old quietly draws my attention. “Tyler said he’s not my friend. He said he was never my friend, and he doesn’t think I’m funny.”
My heart cracks. My first thought, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
He’s looking to me for answers. This is his first heartbreak, his first rejection. Sadly, it’s just the first in what, inevitably, will be many throughout his life.
I want to tell him about self-confidence, recovery, the courage to move on. I want him to be resilient, to be able to bounce back from disappointment and hurt.
It was only a few months ago that my son watched me deal with my own rejection. And, at this moment, when I am confronted by his heartbreak, I reflect on whether or not I lived up to the advice that I am about to give him.
Over this past summer, I received a Facebook message from a woman I considered to be one of my best friends, a woman who is the godmother to my son and was the legal guardian to my children. In essence, it was a breakup email. Even if I wanted to explain the reasoning behind her choice, I couldn’t, because I’m left confused. It had something to do with “differences in our parenting styles” and her “not feeling supported by me in the way a friend should feel supported.” We’ve never actually discussed the reasoning. We haven’t discussed anything, for that matter, since that day. But, the message was clear: she no longer wanted me to be a part of her life.
Having been with my husband since the age of 19, I believed I was done with heartbreak. But, no. I was as heartbroken as I’ve ever been. My baby was just 9-months-old, and I was just beginning to emerge from the throes of post-partum depression and anxiety. This event rocked the foundations of my tenuous sanity.
Ashamedly, I did roll around in self-pity for a few weeks. I cried a lot. Each night, I fell into bed immediately after my children were tucked away, exhausted by having spent my energy putting on a happy face to hide my grief. It was about all I could do to brush my teeth before flicking off the light and crashing into oblivion.
I had spent eight years investing in this relationship: giving her my time, my energy, my trust, my protection. I truly did love her as much as I could love any friend. And, for the most part, she seemed to return that love and effort. After all of that, it seemed to me that I deserved more than a Facebook message. I was crushed by this feeling of abandonment.
Soon, my depression and grief turned inward, and I attacked myself with every weapon in my arsenal: I am pathetic and unlovable. I rely too much on others to define my happiness. I am pitiable and a loser. I am desperate. I’m socially awkward. I’m such a fool; I should have seen it coming.
No matter how I tried to hide my loss, my 6-year-old knew I was hurting. “Why doesn’t she love us anymore? Why doesn’t she want to be my Godmother anymore?” he questioned, tears streaking his face. As his protective mama, his sadness pushed me from self-hatred into intense anger.
For a long while, a constant reveille of hateful thoughts raged loudly inside my head: “I don’t deserve to be treated like a villain. I’m a good person…She should grow the fuck up and confront the issue instead of running away. Coward!…She should have talked to me when these feelings began. I can’t fix a problem that I don’t know exists…These feelings are hers, and it’s really freakin’ passive-aggressive to blame them on me.” That anger, which felt righteous at the time, was a blessing in disguise. It pushed me away from any hope that the relationship could be mended. Letting go of that hope opened doors that I didn’t know existed – doors to new, healthy friendships, doors to reconnect with friends of the past. Those doors were hidden from me before because I had wrapped myself up, to an unhealthy extent, in just a few friendships. My life began to open up, but I was not healed completely.
Then, a much-loved colleague unexpectedly lost her child. My loss was put into sharp contrast. To obsess over my seemingly trivial loss in the face of this tragedy felt self-indulgent. I am fortunate and loved unconditionally by many people. This fortune is where I needed to refocus my attention.
As Leo stands before me with his heart on his sleeve, I draw on my own experiences to offer him advice: “I’m sorry that happened to you, Buddy. That really sucks! It’s ok for you to feel sad and hurt. It’s even ok to feel angry for a while. But, at some point, you’ve got to change your focus to the people who do appreciate all of the great things about you and who are willing to deal with the rough parts too.”
I’ve accepted that I can’t go back and undo the choices and mistakes I made that contributed to the end of our friendship. I’ve even come so far as to accept that she had to take care of herself, had the right to end our friendship if she felt that her life would be better without me. I’ve accepted that I will never stop loving my former friend, that there will always be a pang of regret when I think of the fun and the important moments we shared together. But, most importantly, I’ve learned that I’m resilient. I bounce back.
And, so will my son.