“If you don’t like something, change it.”
A long time ago when I was going through a bit of a hard time (and no doubt causing others a hard time… for which I’m truly sorry) I came across this manifesto for life, and it resonated with me.
For so much of my life I felt like I was letting people down, and not being the person they wanted me to be. And I would try super hard to be that person, the one who’d be the best friend they ever had and would never be unfriended. And that led to a lot of disappointment, because like King Canute I discovered that you can’t hold back the tides. The times they are a-changin’, and friends change more than almost anything else.
If I look at my friends now, they’re not the same as the friends I had 5 years ago. They’re not even the same friends as I had 3 years ago. I have some friends who’ve stuck by me through thick and thin (literally, haha) and some who are new and amazing and some who are old and fading into other people’s orbits. And I’m okay with that, I think… Although I still think of the old ones, the ones who are lost.
In the beginning, when I was at school, I would cling hard onto those friendships because I wanted everything always to remain the same. I would do everything in my power to make sure that we would never be torn asunder (*dramatic adolescent me*)… I would write long letters and think of brilliant presents and I’d always do my utmost to be the bestest friend in the world. And I was rewarded with some pretty great friends. Which is great because a lot of them have stayed with me till adulthood.
As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve become more realistic about friends and I’ve come to the understanding that you can’t cling onto every single one of them. I just don’t have the time or the emotional resilience to do that. Plus you learn to let them go when there are good reasons to. There have been some who’ve left me because of the simple fact of geography – old work colleagues who I don’t see every day any more, or people who’ve moved to the other side of the country or world, where you just can’t keep up the connection. There are the ones I think of wistfully, like my ex best friend (well, not best friend exactly, because I don’t like to rank my friends, but up there with the main ones) who I don’t even see any more. We never fell out – we just drifted apart. We didn’t have that old yearning to meet up again and again any more. I feel like you should always try and have that excitement and want to meet up with people. I try and infuse my friendships with that.
You definitely manage to sift out some friends when a relationship breaks up. Or, more accurately, they sift you out. I tried not to be too upset about those friends because I felt that I was “the bad one” and that the one who leaves also deserves to lose friends. I picked myself up and I carried on. And I made some really good friends during that dark time. (Some not so good ones as well, but that’s another story!)
But the ones who I really feel that I’ve lost, who almost without exception have stopped being friends without me even trying: The Mummies.
I first recognised this phenomenon when my friend asked if we could meet up and she brought her 4 year old and I realised I hadn’t seen the child before – and she then had another child who I still haven’t seen. There are loads of them:
…There’s the friend I haven’t seen since she was on her way to meet me for dinner (it was her shout, I remember that, as I’d paid for our last very expensive meal and she’d promised to pay the next time!). That day she found out she was pregnant so she cancelled on me – and I’ve never seen her again, in person. She now has a kid at school and another one who’s a toddler – I still haven’t seen her since.
…There’s the friend who never told me she was pregnant and I found out via social media that she’d had a baby. She knew about my fertility issues and maybe she was being nice by not saying anything. I haven’t seen her since either. It’s like she just dropped out of my life.
…There’s a score of other friends who’ve had babies, friends who I eagerly send huge care packages of presents to on the birth of their children… and who I never see again.
Is it me? Am I avoiding all of my friends who have children?
I think maybe it works both ways.
I’m pretty sure they see me as a horrible un-child-friendly person who doesn’t want to hang around with babies or talk about breastfeeding all the time. I don’t have anything in common with those people and maybe I come across as unenthusiastic or unfriendly about it. I just can’t bring myself to spend my rare free time with people who are carting babies and toddlers around – the idea fills me with dread.
I’m a terrible person.
The thing is… I don’t want to spend time with those people because I don’t want to be reminded all the time that they have what I don’t have… I don’t want to hold your baby and I don’t want to watch you breastfeed and I don’t want to do anything which makes me feel again and again that I probably won’t ever have that. I don’t want you to look at me in pity and I don’t want you to make assumptions about how I “hate” children, because nothing could be further from the truth and I’m tired of having to make out I’m happy and/or explain myself all the time.
I’m sad and I’m jealous and I don’t know if I can still be your friend.
And maybe they feel that. I think that’s why friends with babies start avoiding friends without – because they are a reminder that it doesn’t always work out. They’re so happy with their new baby and they don’t need that kind of forced happiness in their life. Because I really do try… I’m the biggest fairy godmother in the world – I spoil the children I know. But there’s a kind of sadness there and maybe they’re worried it’s contagious and they don’t want to have to deal with someone else’s sadness.
And the only ones who stick around are the ones who know and can feel it. The ones who are super sensitive and generous with their children and don’t try to force them on me or me on them… Who can just let us be friends, with or without their babies being there. Who try and preserve the friendship even though this big huge thing has happened to them and they can’t stop smiling, but who are sensitive to the fact that I can’t begin to comprehend this and sometimes it might make me act a bit weirdly.
And maybe that comes across as me being really petulant and selfish and I really try not to be, because I want to be happy for them, I really do. But it’s hard not to feel helpless when the loss just hits you every now and then. That everyone in the world is pregnant apart from me. That maybe this is punishment for not being the best nicest person I could be, and I don’t deserve happiness – I have too much of it anyway and I’m luckier than I deserve to be. The idea that I’ll maybe never know anyone I’m genetically related to. (Most of the time I’m fine with it, because I never have, but every now and then it’s like: kapow!)
Ultimately, I don’t know what I’m trying to say here. It’s more a random rumination on loss, or more accurately, missing something I never had. I guess I’m really thinking… I wonder if I’ll ever be a part of that club? Will I ever be a mother?
So… Back to the manifesto. If you don’t like something, change it. I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to be a good person and a friend I would like to have. (I rarely ever live up to my own expectations, but at least I’m not as bad as I used to be.) I can’t quit my job as then I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent, but I’m trying to make the best of it… I’m trying to have an open mind and heart. And I’ve seized the opportunity to make things happen, to make a baby happen. I’m lucky in love. I’m living in one of the most developed countries in the world. I have a job and I can look after myself. I have lots of amazing people (and animals) in my life so it’s not like I’m missing out on love or snuggles.
I’m doing okay. I’m doing my best. That’s all any of us can do.