This time next year my best friend and I will have been friends for two decades. She’s always been the jelly to my peanut butter; she an outgoing introvert with geeky proclivities who could pass for normal and me a shy extrovert often mistaken for a nerd (is it the glasses??) who would rather watch reality TV than play Settlers of Catan. Our lives have been odd parallels, while still being a study in loving opposites.
We started dating our future husbands within a week of each other our sophomore year of college, though her new beau was a stranger at a party and mine was an old friend we’d known since middle school. We got married within months of each other seven years later. She had a secular ceremony with surprise handwritten vows, a beautiful couture gown she lusted after for a year, and a kids-free banquet hall reception for two hundred with a killer DJ and boozy dancing late into the night. I had a religious ceremony with traditional vows, a “this will do” chain store dress, and an all-ages restaurant reception for eighty with an iPod “DJ” that I shook my booty to with one or two friends until 9pm.
This time last year she left her office job after a decade of feeling stifled and began bartending. I quit my decade of bartending and with a huge sigh of relief began my professional corporate career. This time last year my husband and I very deliberately chose to “start a family,” as the saying goes, feeling secure in our marriage and joyfully wanting to add a new member to our unit. This time last year was the first time my best friend used the word “divorce” out loud to me.
That’s not how our parallel lives were supposed to go. My husband and I were supposed to have a baby and buy a house in the suburbs while she and her husband adopted a dog and moved into an updated apartment nearer the downtown area of their city. She was supposed to be doting on my daughter, her new niece, while I lived vicariously through stories of her nightlife adventures, not barely holding herself together and spending all of her resources (time, money, energy) on going to counseling and fighting with her husband. It was supposed to be okay that I was distracted with this new huge chapter in my life and had less time for my best and most dear friend, not neglecting her (however much by necessity) when she needs support the most.
It’s so easy to get caught up in a narrative, that when something makes a hard left it can take some time to find your footing. I am still flailing around, unsure of how to help this woman I love so fiercely. Our lives no longer have this weird and beautiful symmetry, and twenty years of quirky comparison suddenly seems very cruel in light of the stark differences between the states of our marriages.
I’m not sure there is a relationship lesson to be drawn from our two roads, the effortlessness of my happy marriage has mostly been due to the sheer luck of two people growing in the same, compatible direction, and the combustion of my friend’s is in spite of years of hard work and tireless communication. But I am learning a lot about friendship and what it means to truly be there for someone whose experiences and choices are so alien to your own. It’s become clear there is no one right way to be married, and what happens in someone else’s marriage does not actually reflect upon your own (no matter how coincidental the timing of things may be).
I don’t know if my friend’s marriage will survive this roughest of patches. My heart breaks for her every day, and despite the lessons being learned above I still feel an almost persistent guilt that my road has been so smooth and seemingly only continues to improve. For now however, I just listen to her and metaphorically hold her hand through it, since our physical hands are a thousand miles apart.
While we never stood in front of our community to pledge “until we are parted by death” like I did with my husband, my commitment to her is so much stronger than the convenience of parallel paths. She’s off in a new direction now, one that I will hopefully never be able to relate to, but I am still with her on this journey. Anywhere she goes, shall I go too.