During the past couple of years, I have been growing apart from “Joy,” one of my best friends for more than two decades now. I’m godmother to her children (whom I love deeply), we share many mutual friends, and we have a lot of the same interests. But she really, horribly failed me about two years ago, and it seems like I cannot get over it.
What happened: After about three years of expensive, emotionally grueling fertility treatments, I went in for one final “hail mary” attempt. I’d tried hard not to vent all over everyone about the psychological ups and downs of this, but I had definitely told Joy that this was the last try, that I was pretty scared about it, etc. She was supportive, though not on a very close level–which at the time I wrote off to her being really busy with work concerns, and not trying to “get my hopes up” or something like that.
Well, the final treatment failed too. That night, I texted her to tell her the bad news, and said something like, “I’m feeling really blue and would appreciate it if we could spend some time together tonight.” Her response — and I am not making this up — was “Oh, poop.” Then she said she’d helped her son fix some stuff in his room and was kind of tired, so she didn’t want to get together that night.
Probably I should’ve been angry at the time. But I was so miserable that it hardly even registered. I spent the night alone, crying.
A fairly significant depressive episode followed, but through therapy, drugs and plain old making peace with never having kids, I’ve pulled myself together again. As I’ve done so, though, Joy’s total failure to reach out to me that night or at any point thereafter has loomed larger and larger in my mind as being Not Okay At All. I try to rationalize it–like, I know I’m not the best at asking for emotional support, etc. — but dammit, that was one of the times I actually did it right! And how emotionally numb do you have to be not to get that the last fertility treatment’s failure would be devastating?
What makes it worse is that I had been a person she called on during past significant troubles in her life. After her husband left her, I sometimes spent an hour a day on the phone with her, for a couple of months, letting her vent. When she miscarried a baby years ago, while her then-husband was out of the country on business, I was the one who picked her up at the hospital, took her home and settled her in. What I’m saying is, I showed up for Joy when it was really rough, a lot of times, and the one time I needed that from her, I got “oh, poop.”
I’m not the best at dealing with conflict ever, but I’m okay generally. In this case, I was so devastated by the fertility failure that I didn’t even have the emotional energy to focus on this until so long after the fact. Now I’m really resentful of it–and I know Joy has sensed my greater distance and displeasure. But only last week–where we were at a girls’ lunch and she blithely started talking about how she thinks would-be single moms are “all crazy”, that I realized she didn’t even remember that I’d tried to have a baby on my own. I mean, the information is in her brain, but apparently she had so completely disregarded my experiences that she saw no reason whatsoever not to spout off. (She’s not a deliberately hurtful person, generally — I think.) Whatever reason she thinks I’ve backed off–well, I have no idea what it is, but she obviously hasn’t recognized the truth.
So now I’m like, do I say something this long after the fact? Is that going to wreck the friendship? Because I don’t think this is like an issue where we “work it out” — I mean, I think she just totally fucked up and would need to apologize and try to do better. And I don’t know that I trust her to do that any more. The worst part is–you know, I love her kids. I’ve been a babysitter/chaperone/adult friend to both of them throughout their lives, and we are all three very close. If I confront Joy about this and she pulls back, do I lose them too? (They are no longer small, but also not quite old enough for me to feel sure we’d continue our own independent relationships.) I feel like I haven’t spoken up for so long that the scar tissue can never really heal, and maybe I should just … accept that she’s a hang-out friend, not a truly deep friend any longer. But am I wrong about that? Can you bring up something so long after the fact and work on it constructively?
I’m trying so hard to learn how to talk more about what I need, but this one has me depressed and confused. Any thoughts?
I’m not Joy, so I can’t possibly explain what was going through her mind that night years ago, or when she said her recent oblivious comments. But I am going to tell you that she probably doesn’t understand why you are upset or even really remember the night of “oh poop.” Either she was legitimately exhausted after a long day with her son and had nothing left over for you, or she didn’t really understand how important it was to you, or she figured you’d talk more about it another day but that day never really came, or she knew she fucked up and then didn’t know how to mend fences afterward. Whatever happened, she has a different memory and a different story about that time than you do, and this much later, and it is very unlikely that a spontaneous apology where she realizes how much she hurt you and brings it up with you is coming.
You’re worried about wrecking the friendship by speaking up, but doesn’t your anger about this already wreck it, for you? You’ve got to either pick off the scab and lance the infection of anger underneath, keep drifting away, or decide in yourself to forgive her in a way that allows you to let go of the anger but hold on to the good parts. Waiting in silence, pulling ever-so-slightly further away, waiting for her to notice what’s wrong isn’t going to get it done. So think your first step here is to figure out what you want your friendship to look like going forward. If things could be fixed, how often do you want to see her? In what contexts and venues? Do you want to be as close as before, or do you want to find a more arms-length resting point where you still have your history and relationship with her children, but you look elsewhere for that deep bond? If you got an apology for what happened, would it be enough for you to move forward? What does “fixed” look like?
If you decide that you do want to mend fences with your friend, and you want her (and her kids*) in your life, talk to her. “Joy, the other day at lunch, you said something that really hurt my feelings. It was about people who want to be single moms being ‘crazy.’ Do you not even remember that I went through three rounds of fertility treatments so I could become a single mom? And is that what you think about me?”
Listen to what she says and tailor all of this so it’s responsive and makes sense in your own words.
“I’ve been racking my brain trying to imagine what would make you say something like that. Back when the last treatment failed, I felt like I reached out to you and really needed your support, but you responded ‘oh poop’ and were too busy for me. It felt like you didn’t get how important it was to me, at all. I’ve been angry about that for a long time, and it’s been affecting how I feel about our friendship, and your words the other day really brought it to a head in a painful way.”
Hopefully she’ll say something that has the words “I’m sorry” in there somewhere and y’all can figure it out. While it’s not your responsibility to make amends to yourself, anything you can do to let her know what would clear the air for you, what would reassure you, what support you would appreciate, etc. is helpful. In the face of others’ grief, sometimes people withdraw because they don’t know what to do or say. Not knowing doesn’t make it okay, or make the pain less painful for the person who feels deserted, but if you can somehow help your friend complete the apology conversation circuit she will probably be grateful.
If you think you can and want to have that conversation, and if you think that you can be okay with whatever comes out of it, then no, it’s not too late to try to fix the friendship. Rebuilding things will take some time and patience and effort from both of you, so don’t pressure yourself to be all smiles all the time right away. I hope you find some peace and the friendship and support you deserve, whatever you decide.
*Unless the kids are adults or close to it, I don’t think you can African Violet their mom and still plan to be in their lives.