We have known each other for nearly 25 years. We were inseparable in high school, fiercely loyal to one another. We called each other sisters. She’s an only child, and I have one brother. We said we had always wanted a sister and so we became each other’s.
We even went away to college together, became roommates. We studied together and looked out for each other on our many drunken nights out. We supported each other in our early careers, sharing job contacts, encouraging each other when our confidence waned.
She married and had kids before I did, and I observed her experiences with awe and longing. She seemed to get everything right on the first try. It took me a while to get pregnant, but when I did, she was there to give honest feedback. To me, she looked as though she always knew what she was doing, but she told me the truth about how hard it is to be a mother. She is an aunt to my daughters. They adore her. We visited each other regularly, even vacationed together. Our kids are honorary cousins.
But, in the last few years, something has shifted. We both have families, but mine is changing. Last year I came out as gay to my ex, and a couple of months ago I moved into a new house. My ex and I now share time with our girls. They are adjusting well though my ex husband and I still struggle to get along. We are kind to each other in front of the kids, but this has not been what I would call a low-conflict separation.
And through this, my best friend has drifted away from me. Or have I drifted away from her? When my ex told me being gay was a sin and that he would fight to get sole custody of our daughters, that he didn’t want them to be exposed to my “lifestyle,” my best friend played devil’s advocate for him, saying he was just angry, he probably didn’t mean what he was saying.
While other friends of mine told me they would support me no matter what, that they understood I didn’t have a choice in my sexuality, that my children would be okay, my best friend worried about how my ex felt. Some of my friends who have been through divorce gave me advice based on their own experiences. They connected me to resources that could help me transition my girls from a single-home family to a two-home family in the least traumatic way possible. My best friend regularly wondered aloud how my ex was faring.
She and her husband have a rocky relationship. Last year she discovered he was having an emotional affair with a woman from work. It isn’t the first time it’s happened. She is in her own headspace and has her reasons for staying. I am there for her when she needs me and I’ll be there for no matter if she chooses to stay or go, but she and she alone can make that decision. I can’t tell her what to do.
Meanwhile, she gives me advice I didn’t ask for and don’t need or want to hear right now. I feel a thick wall building between us. It’s almost as though she feels that my ex has experienced something like what she experienced. A betrayal. As if my discovery of my sexuality is akin to having had an affair. “I get why he lashes out,” she tells me. “I have lashed out too and it’s just really hard to control yourself when you’re that hurt.”
I DIDN’T JUST DECIDE TO BE GAY, I want to scream at her. And then I wonder if she feels trapped in her own marriage and sees my leaving as something she wishes she had the courage to do. I can’t figure out why she keeps defending my ex.
Our differences have manifested in other smaller ways too. Her kids are enrolled in multiple extra-curricular activities, while my girls are content to read books and climb trees in their free time. I’m more than happy to let them do that, but my friend has said I should push them more. “Colleges want kids to be well-rounded,” she says in a tone I find condescending. My kids are in fucking middle school. Chill. But am I being overly sensitive? I don’t judge her for having a busy schedule and her kids having no free time even though I very much enjoy the free time I have with my girls. I think all kids deserve some free time. I think boredom is important and useful. But my friend’s way of doing things seems to work for her family, so I never comment on her busy schedule. Why does she comment on mine?
That’s another difference between us that baffles me. I don’t comment on our differences. I don’t suggest she change the way she does things to more like how I do things. Her family eats all organic, and last time she visited, when she came to my new house, she made a special trip to the store because my food wasn’t chemical-free enough for her. She asked if I “knew” what was in the icy pops I’d bought for the kids. I mean, it was a cheap treat to keep lots of kids happy for a single weekend. Who cares? Did she need to make me feel poor and like a shitty hostess?
It feels awful to say, but I have the sense she feels superior to me. She seems to think her life is picture-perfect, that there is something heroic about her determination to keep her family together, that her busyness and obsessive attention to detail make her better than me. But I can’t even be mad at her because I also feel a sense of superiority over her. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m not willing to sacrifice myself or fake it for a life that looks good in pictures only to suffer behind the scenes. I have found joy in a truth and simplicity that she seems not to know exists.
Or maybe it’s not exactly that I feel superior, it’s just that I feel it would be useless to try to explain myself. I’ve been through the ugly and have made it to the other side, and she’s still working hard to put on a show to prove to everyone how perfect and happy she is. And I guess none of that would faze me if she didn’t keep doling out unsolicited advice.
It breaks my heart that we’ve drifted away from each other like this. We called each other sisters and now we put time between our phone calls and texts. When we finally do talk, there’s a tension in our conversations.
It hurts. I wish I could have my old friend back. I wish she would have supported me better through my divorce, tried to understand my point of view rather than my ex’s. I wish she’d respect that my way of doing things isn’t and doesn’t have to be the same as hers. I wish she’d just love and support me the way I want to love and support her. I miss my friend that used to be unwaveringly loyal.
I miss her, and I hope we find our way back to each other one day.