(Not literally. Can you imagine? A massive friend pile up.)
Yesterday I braved the public transport system into town, as in The City, as in The City of London, as in The Square Mile… Yes, the business/financial district of London. As anyone who’s spent any time working in the City will tell you, navigating Bank station is a complete nightmare at most times (steps! crowds!) and even worse at rush hour, so it was quite a brave move.
A friend from my old job wanted to catch up, so I thought we could meet and I’d tack on another couple of friends as loads of people work around Bank. (It’s the heart of the business district in London. And extremely busy.) I decided I’d travel in after morning rush hour and take the sling, which worked fairly well. I got a seat on the tube and felt fairly pleased with myself, and B duly snoozed away.
I installed myself in a lunch place and people came to me. I always thought parents who did this were smug ****ers, but it turns out they were just being practical. Babies are portable, for sure. But their surrounding paraphernalia, less so. Also it turns out that the City is not set up for babies. Both the places we installed ourselves in yesterday didn’t even have bathrooms! (For the inevitable apoocalypse we went to Pizza Express and asked nicely to use the bathroom.)
First up was my best friend from my current work. She’s actually a client so doesn’t work for the same company, and she’s a PA. I find it weird that people don’t expect managers to be friends with PAs, as people have commented that it’s unusual. We just kind of clicked and she’s the only one I particularly miss from work. We aren’t alike at all – she’s a bit older and kind of broad speaking, speaks her own mind and doesn’t take things too seriously. Well, maybe we are!
We had a good catch up about work and non work over pizza and she held B and played with him. I was conscious how nice she was being – she also bought him a present before he was born – as she told me that many years ago she’d had a stillborn baby. She doesn’t have any kids now and she’s probably past the age to have kids. She said she’s resigned to not having kids. Anyway I felt it was bittersweet to see her with him as she was so nice and seemed happy about it. But I guess it must hurt in a way also.
Then randomly I realised there was a guy in the pizza place who was a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in years. So I went to check it was him and he was! We had a quick catch up (obviously we have seen each other on fb) and it turns out he lives really nearby. We worked out the last time we saw each other was at my wedding party. Yes – the one where I’m not married any more!
The third person was a friend from my previous job. (For those of you who followed my blog from the beginning, that one.) You may recall I went through some pretty bad stuff there. Dealing with operations, IVF and subsequent miscarriage with not an ounce of sympathy or understanding.
Anyway it turns out my friend (who is black) was also bullied and ended up resigning. Not without raising a grievance. (I didn’t bother. I just left.) They just couldn’t really deal with women of colour there. We realised there were at least four women who left in quick succession because of the bullying culture. Not nice to know it’s happened to more than one of us, but sort of reassuring that it wasn’t just me.
She ended up being on paid leave for months due to the stress of being bullied by them… Horrible stuff, but at least she was paid for that. As she put it, “They can pay for me to sit in the garden!” I kind of can’t believe that they still think it’s okay to discriminate against people who aren’t white men, but it’s that sort of company. Pretty prestigious but some rotten aspects. I’m so glad I left – my company now isn’t as prestigious but the people are nicer and I get paid more!
My final friend was a friend from my first job. We must have met when I was really young, and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s recently taken a job in London so took the time to pop out and meet us. It was great to see her as she lives outside of London so I don’t see her very often.
We talked about how it is to be a woman who doesn’t have children. She said she’s made her peace with it, and I was really glad because I knew she’d really wanted kids with her ex. With her new guy they have very active lives and he has his kids and didn’t want any more, so she has resigned herself to not having any.
I’m always amazed at the men who are against having kids and whose partners end up not having them. It just seems such a big thing to give up for someone – but I understand that there are plenty of women who don’t want kids. Which is fair enough. I just don’t like to think of women having to pick between their relationship and kids if they do want kids.
Anyway, it was a big catch up day. And in the usual fashion, I posted a pic on fb of each person who’d come to see B. My fb is fairly locked down and I only post to a subset of my friends so it isn’t that many people who usually see my statuses.
This morning I saw that an ex friend had “liked” the photos. She was someone who was friends with my ex and for all I know, still is. I “lost” her in the split as she sided with him and defriended me. (He blocked me on fb so I have no idea.) As I discussed in a previous post, I haven’t told him about B. The general consensus seemed to be that there was no point. We split a long time ago. He was upset and told me not to post stuff that might upset him (including pictures of my dog that our mutual friends had “liked”). So I’ve tried not to upset him.
So this morning I had a moment of panic. I realised because one of the friends who I’d met with was also friends with her, this ex friend could see the post. She could see that I’d had a baby. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Anyway I went in and changed the settings on the post so only my friends could see it (not friends of tagged). I don’t know how I feel about her knowing. I guess “liking” it meant some sort of approval… but she defriended me in the split so I feel like she kind of lost the right to be looking at pictures of my kid. And it also made me think of privacy and whether I’m happy with friends of my friends seeing pictures with them in, holding my baby. I don’t know. There’s a balance.
It is a strange sort of feeling when friends and ex friends collide…
You’d be forgiven for thinking that it is always about me. I mean, that’s what stuff is like in blogland, right? Unless you have a blog that’s looking at specific issues or topics, it’s most likely a stream of consciousness open journal thingummybob and mine is no exception. (I’m so vain, you probably thought this blog was about me…)
Anyway, today I wanted to talk briefly about girlfriends. As a younger child and adolescent and – probably – in my twenties, I failed to see the attraction of girlfriends. As someone who was very badly bullied at school, I really didn’t trust girls. I mean, they were the ones who treated me terribly and made my life a misery and changed from day to day how they felt about me (usually: most hated or second most hated – boy, did I live for the days when I was only second!). Girls are kinda fickle. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Fast forward a few years. (Twenty – cough.) And I’ve somehow transformed over the years from “one of the lads” (British term for being one in a bunch of men… often used in a semi-complimentary way to describe females who hang out with men) to being one of those women (possibly I’m a bit too old to be called a girl any more – oh, sod it) who has a bunch of female friends as her main friendship group.
I’m not sure exactly when it changed… I think for a while when I was in the screwed up years, I purposely cultivated a big bunch of male friends, most of whom had some fairly dodgy ideas of what friendship was. (Mainly: shagging.) And I still love men – I really do. There’s something to be said for the kind of male camaraderie you get in a big bunch of men, but of course I only ever get to experience that as that female, one of the lads… so I’m sure that’s a slightly artificial situation. What I mean is, I have female friends who have come and gone, but some have really stood the test of time and I’m pretty sure will be friends for life.
Take my first friend: my sister. I mean, she’s completely aggravating in the way that only sisters can be, but she’s mine, and I’ve known her for the longest time. She’s the only one who knows almost as much about what it’s like to be us as I do. (I claim eldest rights here!) She’s crazy and talented and I don’t know if we’d be friends if we weren’t sisters because we are sooooo different, but we are a lifetime pair.
And my best friend: I’ve known her since we were in junior school and even though we live in different countries, we speak on Whatsapp at least every few days. She’s pretty much the nicest, kindest person in the whole entire world, and I won’t hear any different. Put it this way: I’m not the only person who thinks she’s my best friend. I think there are many who’ve claimed her, but I started calling her BFF a few years ago and I make sure those pretenders know it! I know she would do anything for me… I would do anything for her, but she’s so together that I can’t think she’d ever need any crappy help I’d give! She’s like the most serene, funny, gorgeous person in the world.
Thing is, I have a whole bunch of these girlfriends and together they are the most amazing bunch of women I can imagine. Even though they are a complete mishmash of people I’ve met over the years. Some through school, some through uni, some through work, and even some through friends of friends (that special thing where you see someone else’s friend and think, “I’ll have her!”). They are amazing women and as a tormented adolescent I couldn’t see that’s what women could be.
And the thing I have realised over time is that everyone has their sh*t. I mean, as a twenty-something, I used to get absolutely heartbroken when my female friends would let me down for social occasions and meet ups. I took them really seriously and I couldn’t believe it when people cancelled. It was a bit tantrumy, really. I’ve never been good at controlling my disappointment!
But as I’ve gotten older I realised that people wax and wane and you move closer together and further apart. I used to think it was like planets in elliptical orbits. But I think it’s probably less regular than that. Thing is, I’ve had my own sh*t and I’ve had my times of having to move away from people (infertility is a b*tch, amirite?) and it’s made me more forgiving of other people’s previous moving away. I am also OLD and I know that the good ones come back! And sometimes the good ones also stay away, but I can be philosophical about it and think, I enjoyed that while it lasted.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m grateful for my girlfriends. Each and every one of them contributes something to my life. And increasingly (because I’ve always been a leetle bit self-interested, I admit) I have tried to look for ways I can contribute to theirs. I realised that everyone is fighting their own battles or experiencing their own joys and whilst it’s sometimes hard to understand where they’re at, as friends we can do our best to be there through the good times and bad.
Right now one of my friends is fighting cancer.
Right now my sister is fighting infertility and going through IVF.
Right now one of my friends is dealing with crippling anxiety.
Right now many of my American friends are in fear of what is to come under a Trump presidency.
I can do my bit and be there for them as best I can. And I’m just one in a big support network which spans their friendship groups and beyond.
But it’s not just for the bad stuff. Friends are there for the good stuff too, and sometimes we get so hung up on our own sh*t, or other people’s sh*t that we forget to celebrate the good things.
Right now three of my friends are planning weddings.
Right now one of my friends is in a new, exciting relationship.
Right now one of my friends has a great new job.
Right now one of my friends is drinking wine and wondering why I’m not there!
So here’s to being there through the bad times and the good! Cheers to girlfriends! (Non-alcoholic for me. One of my best friends made a special cheat to get me through my “Never drink alone” phase and would sit on the end of the phone and have a glass of wine whilst I had one my end in a different country, so I wouldn’t have to drink alone – now that’s friendship!)
Because friendship isn’t about supporting each other through the bad times, but also about laughing along with you through the good times. (When we think about it, we have more of those than we think!) I’ll be there for you (as the song goes) when the rain starts to fall… but I’ll also be there when you need someone to go wedding dress shopping with.
Just don’t blame me if you end up like this…
(I have terrible dress sense.)
A friend of mine has cancer. It had to happen sooner or later, because statistically it’s likely to happen to 1 in 3 of us I think – or even more. And one of my friends has already beaten some fairly depressing statistics, being told she had terminal cancer, then a 10% chance of survival, and then somehow managing to beat it (so far). A member of my family is currently battling a form that will probably end his life in the next week or so.
Cancer is an unfair motherf***er.
My friend who has cancer now isn’t a newcomer to it. Lightning did strike twice, even though she beat it once, many years ago. And coming relatively new to our friendship, I saw her as a cancer survivor – and I didn’t even know about that until last year. I kind of imagined you got your quota of cancer and then you were done with it.
A few weeks ago she found a lump. And we told ourselves it wasn’t going to happen again… that it would be fine. She is ever the optimist, and seemed to be cheery right up until the doctor told her the cancer had come back. We couldn’t believe it. She has to have chemo for six months and as a friend I hurt for her and can’t even imagine what she’s going through.
I know she’s beaten it already. And I know she’s a strong person who knows the fight she’s up against and is going to do her damnedest to beat cancer into submission once again. But even superheroes need a pick me up every now and then.
As a friend, I know my job is to try and be there for her as much as possible, and to do stuff that I can do that will hopefully make her feel better. I feel helpless, and it’s not about me – it’s about her. I want to think of ways I can help.
She told me that some of the worst help was people saying, “Let me know what I can do to help.” And some of the best help was from a friend who told her, “I’m coming over and I’m going to fill up your freezer / tidy the house / look after you.” Now, I’m terrible at tidying and our other friend has probably cornered the market in domestic goddessing, so I’ve kind of focused more on the cheering up.
So far that’s included:
- Sending her a 6 month flower delivery to last her through this round of chemo. (Bloom & Wild)
- A gingerbread doctor to mark the first day of chemo. (Biscuiteers)
- Postcards to say I’m thinking of you. (Touchnote)
- Ceramic heart “Remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you feel and smarter than you think”. (East of India at Amazon)
- Whatsapp messages to check in on how she’s doing.
- Lending her Dog for snuggles and licks. (Well, we were away at a wedding last weekend but they often look after him. I did check whether she still wanted him and she did. I believe he has healing licks.)
- Dinner out at the pub.
- Offered to go with her to the wig appointment and provide moral support.
- A meet the meerkats experience at the zoo. (She loves meerkats!)
- Face masks from Thomas Roth. She has been advised not to go to the spa whilst undergoing chemo so we thought she could do it in her own home.
I have tried to think of things to make her feel better, and if I see something that I think she’d like, I send it to her. I still wonder if that is enough or if there’s something useful I can do as well as to cheer her up.
Whenever I’ve been ill, my go to comfort is Dog. He is the best medicine for anyone feeling ill or sad! However I’m not willing to give him to her permanently, so I’m wondering what else I can do.
(Or: I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it… What makes you think I’ll treat your advice any differently?)
Well meaning advice and when not to offer it
(Clue: well meaning doesn’t always/ever equal useful.)
One thing I’ve noticed lately is people getting uppity when other people don’t accept their “well meaning advice” with open arms.
An example of this is a friend on FB who had a massive rant yesterday because a friend of his had told him to leave her alone when he offered her “advice” on dealing with her ME. He was absolutely “livid” that she had “had a go” at him for offering advice when he had been “only trying to help”. He also felt like she was “wallowing in self-pity” (because being housebound with ME and chronic pain is the kind of situation that you should just, y’know, snap out of).
This wasn’t about his friend. It was about him and the injustice he had faced because his friend with ME had not gracefully accepted his unsolicited advice. (He does not and has never had ME.)
(*Edited to say: I should have put Myalgic Encephalopathy / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (US) which is the full name. It is generally referred to as ME in the UK. Thank you to Ashley for explaining the US understanding in the comments below!)
Knowing him, and knowing how cantankerous and self-righteous he can be, I asked myself the following questions on his behalf. I call them the When To Offer Well Meaning Advice Test (WTOWMAT).
- Did the person ask for advice? – The answer was almost certainly no, given the reaction.
- Do I have any experience of dealing with this particular issue? – No. He doesn’t have ME. He isn’t housebound in chronic pain.
- Is the advice I am going to give likely to help the person to improve their situation? – No, given she’s housebound and his advice was apparently to get out of the house more and “stop wallowing in self pity”.
- Is the person I’m offering advice to likely to have never encountered this advice before? – No. Given that ME used to be referred to as “yuppie flu” and has only recently been recognised as an actual valid medical condition, and is still controversial – she has probably been told to snap out of it quite a few times.
- Am I particularly qualified to deal with the problem this person is facing? – No. He’s not medically or psychologically qualified in any way.
- Is the advice likely to make the person feel better about the situation? – No. Most people who are suffering don’t tend to react well to being told to snap out of it.
6/6 “No” answers. (I reckon if you answer no to any more than 2 of them, you need to stop and think if it’s the right thing to do, or whether it might be more useful to, I don’t know, make a cup of tea instead.) These are a few basic questions it’s easy to ask yourself before you offer well meaning advice. I’m sure there are many more but just answering these will probably give you a clue about whether the advice you’re thinking of is likely to be gratefully received or not.
So here’s my “advice”, which you can take or leave (I won’t take it personally): Before thinking of giving advice, put it to the WTOWMA Test.
It’s entirely anecdotal, but I’ve found that people are less likely to tell me to get lost and more likely to want to remain friends if I use this test before giving out any advice.
Well meaning advice is not expert advice
I’m always a bit wary of advice. For one thing, as Alice would say, “I give myself very good advice but I very seldom follow it”, so I’m not that great at taking advice full stop. For another, I’m often on the receiving end of well meaning but ultimately unfounded and unsolicited advice and I don’t take it very well (due to my inability to have given birth to a child and as a female in my thirties, which makes me something of a statistical anomaly and magnet for “helpful” advice from fertile friends).
It’s a well known fact that most humans aren’t very good at statistics. They tend to extrapolate from their experience to all experience. They tend to think that one off events are of greater significance than they actually are. The human brain is predisposed to see patterns – and so can’t cope with randomness without trying to make sense of it or attributing it to a benevolent/vengeful deity or a blind watchmaker (depending on your religious persuasion). And also, the majority of humans have a certain level of experience that doesn’t extend to the entire human race and tends to be limited to people who share similar characteristics to themselves – so in statistical terms, their reference group is not representative of the overall population.
So, where does this leave advice?
It means that:
- People often use anecdotal evidence to support an argument – “My sister’s cousin’s husband’s brother’s grandmother was having trouble conceiving but then they were about to give up and went on holiday/took some vitamins/adopted a child and they found out they were pregnant and now they have four kids! Have you tried doing that?”
- Humans are humans so they hope, rather than looking at facts or data, and they see hopeful patterns rather than looking at facts or data – “Everyone I know who has a baby also drinks water so I think maybe you should try drinking water more because I bet that’s the reason they are more fertile than you.”
- People want to feel useful so they will try and come up with solutions even if they are not tested or likely to work – “I read somewhere that if you eat kale whilst howling at the moon and covered in bodypaint made out of ground beetroot then you will ovulate and get pregnant within a month! Why don’t you try it?”
- People want to feel that stuff isn’t just random and that it isn’t their fault, so if they can possibly make it someone else’s fault then they will – because then they don’t have to accept a world where random good and bad stuff happens – and where you’re a reminder that bad stuff might happen to them – “It’s because you work so hard and you’re stressed. If you only focused more on having a family like I’ve done and stop being such a career woman then maybe you’d be more likely to get pregnant. Also you shouldn’t drink / eat chocolate / ever have any fun in your life… even though I conceived my two children whilst drunk.”
- People have something called a confirmation bias, where they see more evidence for stuff that supports what they think, and ignore / don’t see the stuff that contradicts it – “I have noticed that all the people more like me find it easier to get pregnant. (Apart from Marcie. And Helen. And Judy. And Rita. But I mean, we are all doing the right stuff and I’m sure they’ll be pregnant soon.)”
- A lot of people believe that there is a God of some sort who is controlling things so they just have to figure out what it is he wants, and pray a bit, and be good because their life must have meaning; it can’t just be random bad luck – “It’s God’s will that I haven’t yet had a baby. It’s because he has a higher purpose for me. I’ve been called to adopt / remain childless / do IVF… God never gives us more than we can bear and it makes me a better person.”
Massive generalisation, of course, but my background is in stats and data analysis and I have an interest in human interactions (and a human tendency to see patterns in things, ha) so over the years I’ve noticed these things. I’m also not keen on falling out with friends, which I used to do a lot when I was younger, so I have analysed a lot of my behaviour and realised that not listening / not empathising / trying to force people to do exactly what I would do – are all things that tend to make people want to avoid me.
Well meaning advice is not always helpful advice
None so more than in the context of people’s attitudes towards infertility. But this could equally apply to anything where someone’s going through something of which the “adviser” has no direct experience. Or if the advisee hasn’t asked for anyone’s help.
Here’s a clue: If it’s not an intervention, and they haven’t asked for advice – they probably don’t need advice.
And another one: It’s not all about you. Really.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who take it as a personal slight if I’m not interested in their well meaning advice on relationships / work / infertility / anything else. If your advice isn’t heeded: This isn’t because I think you’re a terrible person. It’s just that your advice probably isn’t that helpful to me and I’d rather you didn’t waste your time. I’m on it. Just be my friend.
Everyone’s an expert problem solver
You know when someone’s about to give you advice. It’s like it’s in slo-mo and you are just waiting for them to elicit some kind of personal information from you (“I’m infertile”, “I had a miscarriage”, “I was adopted”) and use it as an excuse to expound their Theory of Everything. (Assumption #1: Your level of acceptance of their advice is a direct correlation with how much you love and respect them as a person, and also how clever / smart / empathetic / wonderful they are.)
Firstly this means that they often think that there is a solution, and that solution is something that they are likely to come up with in the five minutes it takes to have a conversation with you that makes you feel worse about yourself. (Reality check: Some problems don’t have immediate solutions. Some shared experiences are not asking for solutions. Some problems you don’t have the solution for – and that’s okay.)
Secondly, there’s an implicit assumption from people who’ve never experienced it that there must be a reason why they’re okay and you’re not. And that reason is usually that you just haven’t tried the solution that they cleverly came up with a minute ago after thirty seconds of thinking (or probably no thought at all) and all you have to do is implement it, silly. (Reality check: For anyone dealing with something “heavy”, which let’s face it is the usual scenario which elicits the aforementioned well meaning advice – the chances are they’ve been dealing with this for a while. And they’ve probably already thought through all the scenarios you could possibly imagine. And you telling them to try something, when they’ve already explored that, is probably making them feel bad and like you i) think they’re stupid not to have thought of it before, ii) make them feel as though you’re saying it must be their fault because they haven’t tried enough, and iii) minimising their suffering by suggesting there’s a reason for it. Which is not okay.)
Thirdly there is the assumption that because you’re in this situation, you just haven’t tried the solution they are offering (via that often welcomed medium of forced advice). If only you would just try and open your mind, and have the right attitude you would be fine. Just like them. (Reality check: If you are not in a very similar and directly relatable situation then ask yourself the questions on the WTOWMA Test. At a minimum, ask them whether giving this advice is 90%+ likely to give them the desired outcome. If they haven’t asked for your advice then maybe, just maybe, they don’t want it. That is okay, and no reflection on you as a person. Knowing when to STFU is actually a great reflection on your ability to show insight and empathy and friendship. That is awesome.)
Oh, now you’ve made me feel bad! I was only trying to help!
You know what? **** happens. Suck it up, buttercup. Your friend is going through a bad time and it’s your job as a friend to be a friend, not an expert adviser.
As a friend with a friend who’s going through a bad time or facing a problem, it’s pretty damn simple.
- Be there for your friend. Offer hugs, empathy, a shoulder to cry on, hot drinks or a place to crash / night out on the town if the going gets rough.
- Be someone’s 3am person. I know there are friends who, if I called them at 3am, would pick up the phone. I know people who would hop in a taxi / drive across country to save me if I was in a fix and asked for their help. I know others who would sit on the end of a phone and listen to me rant and cry and open a bottle of wine just so I never have to drink alone. Just because you’re there doesn’t mean you ever have to do anything – think of it as being on the stem cell register. Maybe you’ll never need to donate, but it’s enough to know you would if needed.
- Leave the door open. I have a friend who was told they had terminal cancer. It is absolutely horrendous and we don’t live close by or are even in contact very often, but I sent messages saying to call any time or see if we could set up a visit. I knew my friend would be inundated with requests so I didn’t take it personally that we didn’t speak for a while. When my friend felt able (and when the prognosis had improved, thankfully), we had a great, long conversation about everything. I wanted my friend to know I was there, but I also didn’t want to intrude when they were fighting the biggest battle of their life. It wasn’t about me – it was about them. (I’m not perfect by a long shot – but I knew in that case when to shut up.)
Thing is: All you can do is your best, and everyone gets that “well meaning” isn’t badly intended – it’s just that sometimes it hurts.
It hurts to be told when you have cancer that maybe you shouldn’t have tried that cigarette that one time in college, or eaten bacon or not gone to the gym.
It hurts when you don’t have a child that maybe you should just relax, or that IVF is unnatural, or that adopted children will never be like “real” children.
It hurts when you have a disability or painful condition to be told not to feel sorry for yourself and that positive mental attitude is what you need to get through it, by someone who’s never walked in your shoes.
If we know that things are hurtful then we can try and minimise doing those things. Nobody’s perfect, and life is sometimes unfair. But we can make it that little bit nicer by trying to understand the consequences of our actions and by not doing things that we know will hurt others.
Don’t knowingly hurt others.
That’s my free advice to everyone. Take it or leave it – I won’t take it personally!
“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.