By Esther Mann, LCSW
Six years ago I went through the painful process of a divorce. I have three young children and an ex-husband who basically moved on with his life. Support from him for me or our children was virtually nonexistent, and he rarely cared enough about our children to stay involved in their lives.
When I look back, I can’t believe I survived those horrendous years. I had to build myself up in every way in order to survive—mainly for my children. I worked like a dog to put food on the table and tried to stay calm and loving for the sake of my children. I know I didn’t always do such a perfect job, but all things considered, I’m proud of myself and how I kept things together.
Though my family was supportive, I owe much of my survival and strength to my friend Joyce. I met her in the midst of my divorce. She too was struggling to free herself from an abusive husband and we became best of friends. Though my family and friends were caring, only Joyce knew exactly what it was like to be me, since she was in such a similar situation. She was the one person I could speak to honestly, because I didn’t have to hide any of my feelings or worries out of shame.
Thank G‑d we both survived, made something of ourselves, and began to build lives as strong single mothers within our community. We continued to be best of friends, sharing many Shabbos meals together, sometimes holidays and even vacation times with our children. We spoke on the phone several times a day. Just hearing her voice was often enough to get me through particularly difficult times.
Around six months ago, someone set me up with a widowed man named Abe. Abe was raising four children on his own and had been through a lot as well. Though I always dreamt of someday meeting a wonderful man, as did Joyce, we both agreed that it wasn’t likely to happen and neither of us were willing to settle for someone who wasn’t terrific, just to get married. We’d both suffered so much in our previous marriages that we weren’t going to take that chance again.
I took it slow with Abe, but quickly realized that he was a very special man. He is a kind and good-natured person and has many admirable qualities. We’ve been dating now for a while and things between us are getting serious. The extra bonus is that our children have recently gotten to know one another and seem to get along beautifully.
Here is the problem. As soon as I started dating Abe, Joyce started acting strangely. At first she discouraged me from going out with him, making comments like, “Why would you ever want to take on four additional children?” Or, “I don’t think Abe is nearly as smart as you are.” Once she realized that these comments weren’t going to change my mind and that Abe and I were really hitting it off, Joyce started pulling away from me. Suddenly, she wasn’t available the way she used to be. For years, we spoke every morning while I was on my way to work and every night before ending the day. I found I couldn’t get through to her, more often than not.
When I could get through, there was a coldness. Though I managed to get Abe and Joyce and myself together a few times, it was unbearable. Joyce was downright rude toward him and made Abe and me feel uncomfortable. Abe couldn’t understand why I was friends with such a woman. It was clear Joyce felt she had to pull away from me. Joyce has been my lifeline for so many years. I’m feeling bereft not having her in my life now in the way that she was for so many years. She means so much to me, and I can’t imagine my life without her.
I don’t have to be a therapist to figure out what’s happening here. It hurts me to think that Joyce is jealous of my good fortune and happiness and doesn’t want the best for me. I guess it’s understandable, but I can’t understand how she would undermine what we had together. It breaks my heart to think that our friendship may end at this point. I love Joyce, but I also have strong feelings for Abe, and the two of us have already talked about a future together. We are working on figuring out how and when to take our relationship to the next level.
I wish I could totally enjoy this new chapter in my life. It’s such a blessing and a dream come true. But it’s marred by the fact that I am losing my best friend, who got me through my life’s darkest moments and was the very best friend any person could ever hope for.
I know that I only want the best for Joyce. It seems that she doesn’t have the same hopes for me. Is there anything I can do to bring Joyce around and save our friendship, or am I asking for too much?
Of course you aren’t asking for too much to want your dearest friend to remain in your life while you move forward with Abe, who sounds like a dream come true. We all want our nearest and dearest to stay close to us forever.
This is a complicated and emotional stage that you find yourself in. For many years, you and Joyce were like two peas in a pod. Your lives were totally in sync, while you each struggled with similar gut-wrenching situations that few people not in your positions could ever truly understand. Having one another to lean on, to support, to cry with, and to cheer for, very possibly enabled you both to pull through and, despite difficult odds, create happy and functional lives for yourselves and your children. For many years, the system you and Joyce created for yourselves was working beautifully.
Now you find yourself blessed to have met Abe and it seems clear to you and to Joyce that Abe is a keeper. Times are a-changing. The dynamic that existed between you and Joyce cannot possibly stay the same. Of course you want to remain extremely close to Joyce and there is no reason why this couldn’t be possible. But Joyce is smart enough to understand that things can no longer be the same. She will no longer be your “go to” person for Shabbosos, yomim tovim, a wakeup call. Husbands always come first. It’s the natural order of things.
For you to define what is going on right now as simply Joyce being jealous and uninterested in your true happiness does not give enough credit to Joyce and to what the two of you shared. I suspect that Joyce is wrestling with dozens of emotions right now. Would she love to find in someone what you have found in Abe? Absolutely. Does she wish you bad? I doubt it. But it must feel to Joyce that the rug has been pulled out from under her and now she has to figure out how to regroup and fill the enormous void that will understandably exist as you grow closer and closer to Abe, and ultimately marry him.
Though Joyce was your lifeline for many years, don’t forget that you were her lifeline as well. Now you seem to be shifting your energy to a new lifeline, a new person to turn to and connect with. Joyce hasn’t found a new lifeline for herself, and that can be scary for her. You are feeling abandoned right now, but Joyce is the one who is probably having serious abandonment issues. At worst, it could almost feel like another divorce for Joyce. At best, this new chapter in your life is tapping into old wounds and feelings of loss that most likely have never fully healed.
As I’ve often said, hurt people hurt people. Consequently, happy people find it easy to spread their happiness to those around them. You have much to feel happy about these days. This would be the time for you to refrain from any sort of judgment of Joyce. Allow her to have a pity party. Understand her sense of loss. Let her know that you are still there for her, you understand that this new chapter in her life has got to be difficult, and that you are there for her in any way possible.
I suspect, with time, you and Joyce will ultimately regulate your relationship so that it can accommodate what the two of you had for so many years and also this new development in your life. It would be silly for you to expect the dynamic between the two of you to remain exactly the same, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be meaningful and nurturing.
G‑d willing, Joyce will someday meet an Abe of her own. If and when that happens, the two of you will once again find yourselves on an even playing field and at that point the two of you will be able to share a fair and balanced friendship. For now, it’s about establishing a new normal. Not what you once had, but definitely worthwhile.
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.