As a mom to three kids in elementary school, the whole “friendship game” has remained relatively drama-free so far. Sure, we’ve had the occasional “so-and-so was mean to me” or “____ said she didn’t want to play with me today” but then it’s over and they’re back to swinging on the monkey bars and playing kickball at recess the next day.
But ugggghhh do I know it’s coming. Some days I feel like I’m standing on a cliff, watching a storm roll in, and I’m powerless. Just waiting. Knowing there’s a tsunami on the horizon and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
I know there will be friendship drama. Hurt feelings. Ghosting. Back-stabbing. And tears. I know, because I lived it as a kid, and as a teen, and even now, I go through it as an adult.
Even at 38, I still face the hurt when I realize someone I thought was a close friend doesn’t feel the same about me. And it saddens me that I can’t tell my kids, “Don’t worry! It gets better! It won’t hurt when you’re a grown-up!” because I’d be lying.
And I think the hardest part about living this reality on the adult side is wishing I was less sensitive. Wishing I had tougher skin. Wishing I didn’t feel like that same 7th grade girl who found out her friends went to the movies without her and conveniently left her off the invite list.
But the truth is, I am that sensitive. I don’t have that tough skin. And it hurts.
I made a “friend” a couple of years ago with whom I felt an immediate connection. We work in the same industry—one that, like many career fields, can be lonely and competitive. But she was different. She was also new to the game and we sort of linked arms (literally and figuratively) and helped each other find our way.
We ended up the same social circles and professional circles (sometimes they overlapped) and started finding ourselves vying for the same jobs. But I never felt competition with her, only support.
For a while anyway.
All of a sudden I started hearing that she got promoted. Why didn’t she tell me?
And I started getting wind of her meeting up with mutual friends of ours, without extending me an invite.
I tried to brush it off, but then I also realized when I looked back at our texts and Facebook messages, I had started all of our conversations for the past few months. When was the last time she reached out to me?
The final blow was when a large group of colleagues planned on attending a work event—she and I had talked about going together. I booked my hotel room and ticket, only to find out just a few weeks before the event that she planned to attend with someone else.
I had to come to terms with the truth. Maybe I had said or done something to offend her, but, I think the more likely scenario was that she just preferred other friends over me. And it stung.
She didn’t like me as much as I liked her.
She didn’t want to be close friends like I wanted to be.
She didn’t want me on her short list for a GNO or weekend trip, even though I had put her on mine.
When we crossed paths at that work event, she wasn’t rude or unkind. She greeted me with a hug and the standard, “How have you been?”
But it took all my courage to hug her back. To force a smile and say, “Fine, thanks. You?” because honestly, did she even care? Did she actually truly wonder how I’d been since we hadn’t spoken in so long?
I have spent hours upon hours obsessing over where this friendship went wrong. Finally, however, I had to let it go. I knew if I confronted her she’d probably say something like, “What are you talking about? Of course we are still friends!” which would have caused guaranteed awkwardness every time I saw her in the future.
So I decided for my own mental health to accept that I just wasn’t her cup of tea and try my hardest to stop analyzing why. Much like when my kids come home from school in tears after finding out that their “friends” had a sleepover or had a birthday party and didn’t invite them, sometimes the people we think are close to us really aren’t. Sometimes, for reasons that often remain unknown, that feeling isn’t reciprocated.
I was talking to my husband about this friend recently and he asked why it bothered me so much. I had plenty of close girlfriends, an active social life, a book club and lots of MNO events on my calendar. I had old friends who had been there through thick and thin for 20 years and new friends I’d just made through volunteering at my kids’ schools.
Why was letting go to this one person so hard?
I think it was partly embarrassment. How long did I chase her down without realizing that she was trying to blow me off?
And I think it was partly disappointment. I want to be in that circle of friends who went to lunch last week or who took a long weekend shopping trip to Chicago.
But most of all, I think it was frustration with myself. How can I toughen up my kids and show them how to love themselves and believe they are perfect just as they are, even if a friend breaks off a friendship? How can I teach them that when I can’t do it myself?
In the end, this person probably felt a more natural connection to other people. Or maybe she just found me downright annoying. I guess I’ll probably never know. But next time we cross paths, I am going to remind myself that I tried. That I was a good friend, and am a good friend. This friendship that didn’t quite work out as I had hoped will not define me or dictate how I feel about myself. I won’t let it. I can’t let it.
I owe that much to myself and to the example I set for my kids.
So next time we cross paths, I will hug her back. I will tell her that I’m “doing fine, thanks” and we will go our separate ways, linking arms with our real friends.
And maybe that’s just how it’s meant to be.
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