It’s a thing — that your wedding will be the last time you see some of those friends of yours. Or maybe you stay friends for months or years after, but looking back it’s clear that your wedding day was the start of a slow slide into oblivion.
It’s okay if you’re okay with the fact that friendships fade as your priorities shift. But the tone I hear most often suggests that there’s a lot of bitterness about those people who used to be so close.
I’ve heard the death knell of friendships when I was left off of the guest list for childhood friends whose names I’d never heard before. I’ve also been in the wedding party of people who I never heard from again, because suddenly they were too busy for friends.
Marriage is one of those times when habits are broken and priorities shift. Fair enough, it’s a big change. But sometimes I’ve been surprised to discover that the people who stopped bothering to return my calls think I’m the one who stopped talking to them.
A few months ago one of these former friends called me out of the blue. Her marriage was falling apart and she was distraught — could we meet for lunch? I set things up so I could take the train two hours to meet her. Only she didn’t show up and — an hour later — called to say she hadn’t yet left the house.
When I told her I couldn’t wait another 30 minutes for her to show up, her response was that I just didn’t understand what it was like to be a mother.
I could have had two kids since the last time we’d seen each other, yet this woman felt safe assuming I had unlimited free time and an unlimited budget for transportation and lunches out. But she walked away from our friendship thinking that I was the jerk who just didn’t understand how hard her life was.
And it’s true — I have no idea what her life is like. But I understand that everyone is busy with things and feels like they’re pulled in a million directions at once. Caregivers, parents, students, everyone is busy. Any time someone is spending with me is time they could be doing any number of other things, but they’ve decided that I was important to them.
When I hear people talking about their false friends who stopped coming around when their husband got sick, I wonder what their friends think happened. I wonder if they stopped bothering with their friends when they got married and only noticed when their husband got sick. Or if they forgot that their friends are also people with things they’re struggling with.
If there’s someone you think deserted you in your time of need, take a few minutes to think about it from their perspective.
Were your friends the people you just happened to bump into all the time? So many people are great at being friends when you live down the street, but forget about your existence the moment you’re out of sight.
Were your friends the people you had so much in common with? And then your interests changed and you had nothing to talk about.
Were you friends or activity partners? If your tennis partner stops calling when you stopped playing tennis or your drinking buddies stopped inviting you out when you joined AA it’s because you were never actually friends.
Did you try to include your husband in everything? Suddenly your BFFs are pushed off your priority list by the idea that your husband should be your best friend — and you insisted on bringing him to everything. Until you stopped getting invited.
Being Facebook friends with someone is not being friends with them. You know this. Every Facebook update is an invitation to start a conversation — to pick up the phone and ask how that thing went, to set plans for next week and actually keep them.
You’re more than a caregiver. There is no one topic I want to talk about all the time, no matter how important or interesting I find it. If all you talk about is illness or all you do is complain, even the most patient friends will stop coming around.
Do you know what’s going on in your friends lives? Yes, you’re a caregiver. What about your friends? Are they dealing with their own health issues? Worried about covering the bills each month? Struggling to get pregnant? Dealing with a bad situation at work? The situations you’re dealing with may be more dramatic than theirs, but it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your support. Yes, it’s hard to listen to someone complaining about how hard it is to plan a wedding when you’re dealing with one crisis after another, but if you care about a person that means taking their problems seriously.
People can only manage so much. A friend who is dealing with their own crisis might not have the mental energy to support you through your crisis. Sometimes people are too upset about what’s going on in your life to be there for you.
This isn’t a caregiving problem, it’s a people problem. Everyone is talking about how they’re so so busy and so so lonely. So do something about it. Or admit that it’s not important to you.