My best friend and I have known each other since we were 11 years old.
We met playing on the same soccer team, and despite having different interests and friend groups over the years, we have stayed deeply and unerringly connected to one another’s hearts. No matter what.
We lived in the same city during college and even though sometimes we didn’t see each other for six months at a time, the second we were back together it was like no time had passed.
Like any duo of teenage girls, we experienced tensions and immaturities during high school about boys and borrowed clothes, but we were each others’ person.
The one who was safe when our family wasn’t.
The one who told us we were loveable when behavior from parents implicitly or explicitly made us feel the opposite.
The one who was what family is supposed to be but so few of us grow up actually getting to live inside of.
She’s been my person more than anyone else my whole life. When she first met and started dating the love of her life, I didn’t like him. I think this was more a reflection of thinking she deserved perfection in a partner, rather than any true shortcomings of his own. She’s married to that man now and I’ve grown to love him like he is my own family.
I love their relationship. I love being a supportive entity in their lives and I love that I am not just a friend, but their chosen family.
Contrastingly, I have been single or in and out of relationships my whole adult life. And this is where I first noticed some of the distance in our relationship.
She can’t relate to sifting through dating apps or having her heart broken multiple times. She shows up super compassionately for me when I need to process the challenges I’m navigating, but it’s been so long since she’s dated that it’s only a part of her world through proxies like me and our other single friends.
Conversely, I sometimes feel envious of her marriage. I think about the decade she’s gotten to have with her partner that I will never have. They grew up together in so many ways and have had so many years to explore being boyfriend and girlfriend, being best friends, then being husband and wife, and now, being parents together.
Every night they come home and there is someone there who thinks about and is invested in their well-being and livelihood. Even when they are frustrated with each other, they have a family to come home to.
I am not anyone’s number one. I have spent the majority of my adult life coming home to an empty apartment and no one to share my day with.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t loved my adult life—the freedom to travel often, to make last-minute plans for trips into the wilderness, or to move to Mexico. I make the most of and thrive in my independence. But as the years have worn on, the absence of that person has become louder and louder in my home and life.
Then, two years ago, she had a baby.
And to say I love her son is an understatement. The minute he arrived, I wanted to eat him up, chunky baby roll by chunky baby roll. If I went too long without seeing him, it would literally feel like my eyes were just hungry to see him. I would ache with missing him. And at the same time, something very real changed in my relationship with my best friend.
She became a mom and suddenly there was a part of her that I really, truly couldn’t know and be a part of, because I’m not a mom.
She longed for mom friends who would “just get it” and I couldn’t be that. And very naturally, I became deprioritized in her life. I think this is the right and healthy evolution. Her family needs to be her top priority. Her son needs her to be not just physically present but emotionally and mentally present.
I want her to focus on her family and I really value supporting her to make her family her top priority.
And at the same time, being deprioritized has been incredibly painful and lonely.
My joy for her and her family and my support of their inward focus doesn’t erase the immense grief I’ve experienced at losing the friendship we had and not yet understanding the friendship we have.
I have watched myself unintentionally pull away a bit. Partly to take care of my mental health during the pandemic, and also partly because being in the space of her family—something I want so achingly deeply for myself—can be an excruciating reminder of what I don’t have and what I secretly fear I never will.
I feel shame when I feel these feelings of envy and grief, and confusion when they show up alongside my genuine, bone-deep joy, and unwavering love for her and her family.
I have been holding my breath. Waiting for what comes next. I’m unsure of where I belong in the dynamic.
We’ve never been here before.
I’m not worried about losing our friendship. I know it will be there and be important to both of us until we are old and wrinkly.
Yet, I am undeniably grieving something that was lost and that will never be again.
I trust that this is right and good.
Growth is essential.
Change is essential.
Change is the death of what was and the birth of what is becoming. And yet, deaths beget grief.
So, here I am grieving and curious.
Hopeful and sad.
Afraid, and at once, totally trusting.