There are few things that make us appreciate friends more than the period of time immediately after a relationship ends. We started this month with a post about a woman who lost friendships during an emotionally abusive marriage, and had no one to call when her ex showed up threateningly on her doorstep. We’re closing this month with a story from Meaghan O’Malley about how her friends helped her survive her sudden divorce. But more than that, Meaghan encourages us to use wedding planning as a time to dust off our friendships, to re-invest, to deal with old issues, so we can move forward with the strength of all kinds of love around us.
Throughout the eighteen months I spent planning my wedding, I got lost in the prevailing assumption that my marriage would complete me; that it would reflect the greatness that is me, my capacity to love, and my ability to create an inextricable bond with another human being. I was focused squarely on the expectation that my spouse would be my best friend. After my marriage ended, I dedicated a significant amount of time deconstructing the meaning of it and trying to determine whether my wedding was a complete waste of time. While I never quite lost touch with the reality that I had other tremendously important friends, I took for granted the security of those bonds, especially within the context of my marriage.
When the rug was pulled out from beneath me, I was suddenly grateful for all of the hard work I had done to maintain my friendships. Consciously or not, I had taken time over the years and months before my wedding to make sure that the people standing next to me on my actual wedding day would be the same people scraping me off the ground when my ex decided to leave me. In retrospect, I learned that combing through my friendships and dedicating energy to repairing them, reenergizing them, or (if nothing else) starting a dialogue to get the process started meant that I would have the support system I needed in my marriage and when it crumbled down around me. I had, in effect, done the work I needed to do in order to have an Emergency Response Team braced and ready.
You see, weddings are the perfect excuse to comb through the back files of your friendship. Weddings are not just the transition point for our love lives. In theory, your entire life progresses into a new phase. Yes, you have an incredibly wonderful and supportive partner standing before you who will be there with you when life’s challenges are too hard to face on your own. Yes, you’ll have a willing and delighted co-parent (for babies or animals, obvs) who will navigate things like nursing pads (or puppy pads), potty training (or potty training), and co-sleeping (or co-sleeping). You’ll always have a date to outdoor concerts, other people’s weddings, and Great Aunt Lucille’s eighty-fifth birthday party. You’ll have someone to blame when the dishes aren’t done, too. You’ll have someone there.
Until you don’t. Because they left you. Or you left them. Or “irreconcilable differences” happens. Or, heaven forbid, they die.
When your marriage disintegrates less than six months after your wedding, it’s incredibly difficult to find a way to reconcile the labor involved in putting together a wedding in the first place (let alone the months/years you dedicated to the relationship itself). When my ex left me, a cacophony of feelings erupted inside of me and left me feeling overwhelmed to the point of almost being immobile for many weeks. One of the most prominent feelings was that I, nay we, defrauded our friends, family, and guests. Wrestling through that in therapy has helped bring me perspective. I’ve also encouraged myself to not feel guilty because my dedication to my ex was authentic, my commitment clear and true, and the energy I put into planning our wedding was honest.
What left me feeling most unsettled, though, was this seemingly unanswerable question: who do I have left?
Navigating that emotional terrain felt, well, daunting. The conclusion to that process, and my reality, is that I have a tremendously strong family, which consists of chosen friends and actual biological relations, who showed up the moment the rug was pulled out from under me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason these people were surrounding me with love (pizza and vodka, too) was because I had invested in them. I had connected with them. They weren’t brushing my tears off my cheeks and throwing a bunch of empty affirmations my way. They were confident in my ability to be resilient and face challenges because they saw me do it throughout the course of each of our individual and completely unique connections. Connections that had been through it, if you feel me.
I think that we’re acculturated [as girls and young women] to collect friends without necessarily focusing in on, or assessing the value of, the connections we create. Often our friendships are borne out of mutual interests, geography, shared history, or simply the sheer pleasure we feel when around another human being. There are really incredible friendships, of course. We have friends who keep us entertained, who lift us up, who remind us of our value, and who nurture us for no other reason other than it feels good and it feels right. We have friends who would show up in a millisecond if we called them in tears for any reason at all. We have friends who tell us we’re beautiful, friends who tell us that our choices for the floral centerpieces are spot on, and friends who remind us to eat a little something as we’re spinning around like a euphoric whirling dervish on our wedding day. We have friends who are honest with us, even when it hurts, because they love us.
We also have friends who suck. We keep in our company people who don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart, and sometimes we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing. There’s the judgmental friend who always manages to make you feel like shit about whatever you’re saying/doing/wearing whenever you spend time together, but you’ve been friends since you were in second grade together so you tend to just brush it off. There’s the friend who never lets a moment pass without reminding you how much she hates your fiancée, even though she’s never dated anyone worth mentioning mmkay. The friend who lies to you, about anything and everything, just to keep the peace. There’s the SO HOT friend, who inflates you with superficial niceties and compliments instead of keeping it real, and expects the same in return. There’s the friend who shows up late to everything, all the time, or who sometimes forgets to show up at all. There’s the friend who uses you as the butt of every joke. There’s the friend who fights her way into your wedding party as though it’s some sort of social badge of honor, without regard for your vision for your day or awareness about your true connection to one another.
But truth be told, most of our friends are a combination of all of the above. The good and the bad mixed up, and we are reticent to address the problems because we perceive friendships as a balance rather than a growing, living, breathing organism that needs to be nurtured. We don’t look at these people and say, “Hi, um, please stop. I love you and you are being an asshole/your delivery sucks/my grandma just died, give it a rest Brenda!” We let these friends exist in our lives, step on our toes, break our hearts, and trample our dreams because we are afraid. Or we just let things slip because OMG LOL no big deal. What are we afraid of with regard to massaging our friendships back to health, or back to life? Dr. Meaghan’s hypothesis: we’re afraid of being alone.
So let me tell you all something: There are benefits to being married or single, but both things suck tremendously and feel pretty damn lonely without good friends.
Let me tell you another thing: Stop being afraid.
Make sure that you invest as heavily in your friendships as you do in your future spouse. Be honest and clear. Teach people how to treat you. I cannot stress how absolutely vital to my survival my friends and family have been since I started navigating this Single Lady Road almost four months ago. And the reason these people exist in my life is because I have worked, pretty damn hard, at making sure our connections were strong and bubbling over with a commitment to one another of mutual growth. If there is someone in your life who isn’t meeting your needs, that is absolutely okay, but you need to do something about it. Speak up! Your wedding party, especially, should be a reflection of that hard work. Those people who stand next to you will be there to see you through all of life’s challenges, which might include things like divorce. Don’t settle when it comes to who you have by your side, and don’t bow to pressure. You need to make sure that the tool belt you wrap around yourself as you walk down the aisle is filled with a lot of really valuable things; nothing, though, is as necessary and integral to the success of your life, as a married or single person, as really fantastic and solid friendships.
Photo: Emily Takes Photos