By Esther Mann, LCSW
Note: This letter was sent to me in response to last week’s column. It’s pretty powerful and doesn’t require an answer.
I always enjoy your column, but this week in particular it hit close to home. I have been the longtime best friend who was left behind on more than one occasion. I am writing this to give the best friend who is getting engaged and getting married an idea of what the experience is like for her longtime single best friend who is not.
This is excruciatingly painful. Of course I am happy for my friend; but I am also devastated. This feels to me like a death. Baruch Hashem nobody died, and I wish no harm in the world comes to my dear friend. The death is of our long relationship as we knew it. Losing that is more painful than I can describe. So instead, let me describe our relationship, and what I have lost, and maybe that will give you an idea.
For all purposes other than physical intimacy, we were each other’s significant other. We weren’t married, but we were as committed to each other in everyday life as though we were. Not only did we speak a few times a day, we were each other’s last phone call of the day. We didn’t live in the same house, but neither of us went to sleep without speaking to the other. We knew we could always count on each other. If either of us was ever sick (with the flu, etc.) we would take care of whatever the other one needed.
When her younger brother got married, I was there for every sheva berachos she attended, even the ones held out of town, in order to give her moral support. When my grandfather was dying, she came and sat with me in the hospital for hours on end. I took shifts for her in the hospital overnight when her mother was in a coma so that she could get some much-needed rest.
Like the writer of the letter and her friend, we would imagine the future. She always said that Hashem would never have one of us find someone to marry without the other one getting engaged at the same time. Well, suffice it to say, Hashem’s ways are unpredictable.
Put simply, I feel like I just lost my spouse. I know that sounds extreme, but that is what it feels like. Of course I am happy for her, at the same time as I am in pain for myself. But the pain is unbearable. I cry all the time. I know she didn’t intend to hurt me. I know that we never verbally committed ourselves to each other. We both knew in the back of our minds that one of us finding someone to marry was a possibility. But with all that we’ve each been through with dating over the years, each of us not finding our basherts, and each of us being one of those dreaded “older singles,” the probability seemed extremely slim that either of us would find someone.
To my friend who is getting married: I care about you so very, very much and always will. But this is more painful for me than I can possibly describe. While you are busy making plans for your future, I am wondering how I am going to emotionally survive this. Before I pulled away as much as I did, I gave it some time. I thought that maybe you wouldn’t abandon me in such a severe way as I feared. But now I realize that it was both unrealistic and unreasonable of me to expect you not to.
You are trying to build a relationship with him to last forever. So of course you and I can’t continue to be each other’s last phone call every night. Of course we can’t check in with each other or speak as often or as long as we used to. Of course you have him on your mind all the time, and of course you are going to forget about me often. Of course we didn’t speak before Shabbos for the past few weeks, because you were on the phone with him or with him for Shabbos. I realize that is the way it is supposed to be for you. But for me, it is more painful than you can possibly imagine. I went from being attached and always connected to suddenly being completely alone and on my own. And I had no control over any of it at all.
I know you are not trying to hurt me. I know you don’t want to hurt me, but your life decision is hurting me. Of course your decision is not only understandable, but appropriate. But finding your future means leaving me behind. I cannot talk to you without crying or without feeling like I am dying inside, so I am avoiding talking to you at all.
I’m sure it would help you to have your best friend now to share with and consult with for all the exciting things and even any frightening changes that you are going through. I am sorry I can’t be there for you in that way now. Please know that I am doing the best I can. I am trying to keep it together, to cope with this new reality. While you are gaining a new best friend for life, I am losing what you and I had together. This throws each of us one step away from the middle of that ladder—you a step up and me a step down. And worse yet, while you have someone to support you through it, I am doing it all alone.
So please be patient with me. At some point I will get used to all this. I can’t tell you when that will be; it may be many months, or possibly even years. But I love and care about you no less. I am truly happy for you, and my wishes for you are only for the best that life has to offer. We human beings are strange that way, in that we can feel completely different emotions about the same event. But I really can, and really do, feel deep happiness for you.
I don’t know what our friendship will look like down the road. But I believe we will figure it out in a way that works for each of us. We have gone through so much together and care deeply about each other. That hasn’t changed, even if all the other circumstances have.
So, please have patience with me while I navigate this whole thing. Please understand how devastating and life-changing this is for me. Please forgive me for not being as gracious as you thought I would be, and as I myself was hoping to be. Please give me the time I need to grieve what I have lost. And please give me the space to figure out how to cope with this and figure out how to move on.
The One Left Behind
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.