Falling Out of Love with a Friend

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve written a blog here, even though I’ve thought about it almost every day. I keep thinking of things I want to write about, share, toss into the void and see if they echo back. But I’m always off doing something else when those thoughts occur, and by the time I’m around my laptop again, I’ve got other things to do. You know how it goes.

But there’s been something on my mind for about a month now and while I’m in the middle of putting together a shopping list for my kid’s class party next week, I think I’ll let myself get distracted and write about it. So this is a story about falling out of love with a friend.

I met L last year at pick-up. I don’t know how we started talking, but I was immediately struck by how beautiful, outgoing, and kind she was. She basically adopted me – it’s a classic story of Extrovert meets Introvert. Day after day, she’d seek me out on the lawn as we waited for our kids to be released. She was always so sunny, so happy, so excited to talk with me. We clicked right away, and then we even discovered that two of our best friends were best friends with each other – we had a whole Friend Train chugging through our town! We drive the same kind of car, and she and her husband had even been through to look at our house when it was still on the market a decade ago. Crazy!

L had recently started her own non-profit group and was working super hard to fulfill her life’s dream. But after a disastrous panel discussion she organized in the spring, her spirits came crashing down. People she’d trusted, people she’d relied on and looked up to, were saying that they wanted nothing to do with her or her organization, and were accusing her of all sorts of untrue things. It was all a case of misunderstood intentions, but it destroyed L for a while. She wasn’t sure if she should continue, or how. Months later, she was still dealing with nasty emails and ghosting from former allies.

And I was there for her, as much as I could be. I liked her so much, and I wanted her to know that it was okay to cry with me, to hash and re-hash everything that had gone wrong. That I could be that friend for her.

Months went by, things got better, life moved on. Then L and her family caught Covid. Thankfully all their symptoms were mild, but they were still quarantined and miserable for two weeks. I brought food, toys, and books to help break up the boredom and stress of sitting in a house with two boys under the age of seven.

A few weeks after that, L took a work-related trip to South America for two weeks and came back with diarrhea from drinking contaminated water. When she found blood in her stool, I took her to her doctor’s appointment, then rejoiced with her when she was told she was not, in fact, dying of dysentery.

Because she’s such an awesome, important member of the community, she was invited to give a Ted Talk this fall. She was nervous for weeks, preparing her speech and her outfit, trying to figure out how to best present her cause. I immediately bought a ticket and surprised her that day by showing up in the audience to cheer her on.

Because that’s what friends do, right? You show up. You put their needs above yours. You consider their feelings when making decisions. You help. You support. You’re there.

So of course something’s gone wrong with this friendship. Otherwise this post would have a different title, right? Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago, my husband and I threw a party. I invited a dozen of my closest friends and their families. This was a HUGE deal for me. I haven’t thrown a party since college – almost 20 years ago. There’s a lot of reasons for this but the most important one is that I’m always worried that nobody will come, a deep dive into my self-esteem that I’ll save for some other day.

But EVERYONE was coming. About 30 people – all my FAVORITE people. I was so excited. My husband and I are huge over-planners, so we had all the details worked out a week in advance. How much food per person, how many vegetarian sides we needed, how many drinks and what kind, and when they should be cooled down and how – over ice vs. in the fridge, etc. We rearranged furniture, cleaned the house from top to bottom, studiously researched cocktail recipes, shopped for festive plates and napkins, and bought WAY too much beer.

And then the Wednesday before the party, one friend dropped out. Her son’s boy scout troupe was camping that weekend and so she had to go. Fine. I wished she had checked her calendar earlier, but oh well. So that was one family down.

The very next day, another friend and her whole family came down the flu. So they were out too. I was starting to get really bummed, but I understood, of course.

Then another friend said her husband wasn’t going to be able to come, and possibly one of their kids.

And then on Saturday, two hours before the party started, I got a call from L. Her son was in the same boy scout troupe as our other friend, and, of course, she needed to attend the camping trip, as well. She told me repeatedly that she was very sorry to cancel last minute and she really wanted to come to my party, but she just wasn’t going to be able.

The cliché “my blood boiled” fits so perfectly here. As I listened to her explain and apologize, I told her it was fine. As I struggled to keep the anger and disappointment out of my voice, I told her to have fun. As I unknowingly divorced myself from her, I told her I’d see her soon. And then I hung up.

My anger festered for two days, another branch sprouting from a tree that took root back in sixth grade – the first time a friend and I called it quits. And L doesn’t know anything about Middle School Kate. We haven’t been friends that long. She doesn’t know about all the times I asked people to hang out and they wouldn’t respond at all, or even worse – they’d say okay and then not show up. She doesn’t know about all the times I’ve listened to friends cry on my shoulder, or more recently, cry through hours-long texting conversations, only to have those same people say Hey can I text u back later? and then forget when I reach out to them with my problems. In her mind, she just wasn’t able to show up to this super casual, no-big-deal party. Oh, well.

But that day, she went from being one of my newest, bestest friends, to just another woman.

Even though what she said on the phone to me that morning was “I’m sorry” and “I wish I could be there,” all I heard was, “I’ve known I wouldn’t be able to make it for at least a week but I didn’t think you were important enough to tell until just now,” and “Whatever commitments I make with you will always be overridden if something else comes up.” This party was the first time I’d ever asked her to show up for me. To support me. And she didn’t. Maybe L has thrown hundreds of parties in her life, and always had all her friends show up. Maybe she just saw herself as one out of a couple dozen invitees and didn’t think I’d notice if she wasn’t there.

But as someone who has been ditched by countless people throughout my life, it matters so much to me when people show up. I am truly grateful for each and every person who shows up for me, each and every time. I do not take my friendships for granted. Each wonderful woman in my life is a gift. And the logical part of my brain knows that what L did was really quite small and meaningless. She didn’t mean to hurt me. She’s a really sweet, awesome person. She really is. And if we had been friends longer, this probably wouldn’t have mattered at all. If we’d been friends for years, instead of just months, there probably would have been other opportunities where I would have leaned on her, asked things of her, and she would have been able to give me what I needed.

But she’s no longer what I’m looking for in a friend. I don’t love her anymore. I can’t help it. A part of me wishes I was still angry with her. Anger is passion. Anger is caring enough to feel something. But two days after the party, those volcanic emotions cooled and hardened into smooth obsidian. I’m not angry; I just don’t care anymore. She’s apologized once or twice since then, but there’s nothing to forgive. She’s just another woman milling around at pickup now. And as much as I realize it’s weird and not fair to feel this way about her for such a tiny mistake, I can’t help it. The part of my brain that recognized her as a friend was damaged, and I can’t fix it. I’ve fallen out of love with my friend.

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