There is a kind of grief we don’t talk about much in polite society. But it’s one that is deep and painful and long-lasting: The friendship break-up. We all experience them in different ways. I can vividly remember growing away from my childhood friends when I entered high school and started spending more time with sports friends. There was guilt and there was pain—the realization that we were growing apart in our interests and in our paths was heavy and hard. I wanted to go where my new interests resided, and I wanted to stay in the familiar and known.
It happens all the time.
When I came out, my entire social circle was altered. There were a few friendship losses that felt like open wounds, bleeding and raw. I fought to keep them with tearful “Whys?” and angry “What happeneds?” and accusatory “How could yous?” But those fighting words were the wrong ones. They were too little too late. They were a last-chance grab at a gold ring that had already spun by on the merry-go-round of life.
Those friends had made their decisions about me, and I was left to sort through the detritus of what used to be. I watched online as they hosted parties without me—parties at which I was once a staple; parties that I didn’t need an invitation to because it was just expected and known that I would be there. I saw vacation pictures that I once would have been a part of; stretches of sand that were missing my toes and including others’ instead. I sat in local restaurants and bit my lip to fight back tears as once-friends walked by, pretending I no longer existed.
Erased. Replaced. Forgotten.
Those friends knew the white-picket-fence, mixed-marriage me. The proud mother of four. The keeper of the home. The cheerer at lacrosse. The loud clapper at the end of drama productions and choir concerts and orchestra performances. They did not know what to do with divorced, gay me.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to do with divorced, gay me, either.
It was when I needed my friends the most.
But many of them had chosen to leave when the white picket fence was burned to the ground.
And so I was left to pick my way through the remains, to figure out who I truly was, to rely on myself alone to find my way.
Those were some of the most challenging days of my life. When I think about them too much now, they still sting. If I delve too deeply into why, and how, and what the fuck happened, I can get lost in the muck of it all again.
And I don’t ever want to return there.
It’s been six years since I came out; five since my divorce was finalized; less than one since my ex-husband remarried. His wife’s online friends are familiar names, ones that used to be mine.
But that life is gone. And the life I currently lead looks so very different from what once was.
Because here’s the flip side.
In the most unexpected of places—the state where you can’t even “say gay”—I’ve found a new community. These people who kick my ass on the pickleball court and hold me accountable to pool therapy and bring desserts to my door and treats to my dogs, they know nothing of the white-picket-fence, mixed-marriage me. They don’t care who I love or whether there’s a rainbow flag flying at the end of my driveway.
They have no expectations of me.
And yet, I am embraced. I am invited. I am held. And I am loved.
I thought I would come here and help take care of Bobby, soak in some sunshine, and re-group. I never thought I would grow roots.
But these people, they help ground me.
They are the same people I raised my kids with in suburbia, just 20, 30 years down the road. They have no agenda (except maybe to make sure my dogs don’t bark incessantly), they have no image to uphold. They are here to live and love and drink and eat and party and connect. And to do it all over again the next day.
We remake ourselves in so many ways throughout the course of a life. It’s important to remember that when there is an unexpected turn, someone else will find you at the other end. What you left behind is precious and sacred and painful, but what is in front of you is what matters.
Whoever is beside you is who matters.
And they’ll stay as long as they’re supposed to. And you’ll stay as long as you’re supposed to. And when that road turns again, you’ll trust that the destination at the end of that route is exactly where you’re supposed to be.