How exactly are we supposed to feel when our best friend gets engaged? Not that there's a right way and a wrong way to feel -- but popular culture would have us believe that "normal" is some combination of excitement, envy, and that viral photo featuring a group of newly engaged women and their single friend miming a gun to her head.
My particular brand of best-friend-engagement-reaction has been sporadic heart-wrenching mania. I feel wired, thrilled and simply beside myself with love and excitement for her. I'm also totally apprehensive of the situation, giving it major side eye, and panicking over what it could mean for our relationship. The anxiety-inducing factor is my being decidedly not engaged and therefore faced with, for us, the exceedingly rare occurrence of not being able to relate completely to each other.
If you did the minimum of research, you'd find that Stacey and I are fundamentally alike in many ways; growing up in the same lower middle class but not totally deplorable part of a small town, going to the same subpar middle school instead of the one the wealthier kids went to. Stacey and I went to the same high school, graduated in the same year and shared some of the same friends.
We spent the summer after high school partying, drinking, exercising our freedom, newfound sexual power and fake ID's. We headed to the same community college on and off for years, while working full time, supporting ourselves and living on our own, once with each other. We both moved to the city, moved in and out with boyfriends, moved around and around in the same small universe. We dated older men, married men, hopeless men. We worked horrible jobs. We had fun.
While Stacey was in an ill-fated tumultuous relationship filled with constant disappointment and let downs, I managed to squeeze two in.
Both of us moved away from our unhealthy exes and in with older, successful women mentor-types while we healed, focused on completing our degrees, and felt ashamed for being caught watching reality TV and drinking cheap wine. Cue subsequent wild single phases for both of us, followed by dating mature, stable, loving, well-educated men and almost messing it up by drinking too much in social situations out of nervousness and insecurity.
We both completed amazing internships and, while I graduated last spring, she is currently in the home stretch. Give or take a few months between milestones and meltdowns, this has been the flow of our friendship for the better part of a decade. The fact that I moved across the country from her four years ago has not changed a thing.
After Stacey started seeing Andrew, our conversations about her love life started to change. No longer were we discussing whether she should stay or go or how to motivate/help/save her partner, but how gracefully he handled meeting her family and how well he treated her and how she knew she wanted to marry him.
Stacey joked that he couldn't propose until after he had met me and joking aside, I felt this to be absolutely reasonable. When I got to finally meet him last year, against all odds I found him to be worthy of her awesomeness and saw that they were amazing together.
For all of the years I've known Stacey, I had never seen her so at ease and content. Her mannerisms were relaxed, her tone of voice cheery and her entire being glowing. To see a couple truly in love like that is beautiful and rare. They radiated patience and caring toward each other. I knew they were really, really good for each other and saw that I wanted something similar.
When Stacey called to tell me about their engagement, my elated shrieking woke up my napping partner from a floor away. I immediately called my mom because I felt so proud and wanted to share the good news. Telling another friend, she thought that I had gotten engaged based on my excitement and breathlessness when saying "Guess what?!".When I told my roommate the news, he congratulated me like I'd imagine you'd do the bride-to-be's mother.
After this initial rush wore off, I started to notice the creeping sensation that something had shifted and Stacey and I were somehow different now. I actually took to referring to Stacey as "fancy engaged lady" which is more telling of how I felt than it might let on. I began to subconsciously feel like Stacey was in the clear now; settling down and I wasn't.
Gone are the days of reliving bad dates, sometimes while on those dates. No more frantic texts mid-fight with a boyfriend. There will be approximately zero hours logged of mutually analyzing just what a gift that is not an engagement ring means. All of that is over now.
How can I relate to that feeling of ultimate security? To her fancy engaged lady, I feel like an unpredictable 20something toddler, one drunken mistake away from totally sabotaging my love life forever. I started to feel paranoid that my fear of growing apart was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. My anxiety over this culminated into two nights of Stacey-related dreams.
The first was that I had been such an absentee friend, that her whole wedding party had devised and practiced a dance routine I had no idea about. The next night, a similarly toned dream that Stacey had given birth and although I had called to congratulate, I felt panicked when it dawned on me that I had not offered to visit her in person.
I realize what's happening. I'm terrified that our relationship will change and get distant and I wouldn't be able to bear that. With all of these thoughts, I'm at a loss when wanting to express to someone how I'm feeling because that person would be Stacey. I don't want her to think that her happiness and engagement is effecting me negatively and truth be told, it's not. Realistically, logically and emotionally, I know that our friendship will not change and if it does, it will be for the better. We have been through so much and during the lowest point in my life, she was the only one who stuck by me. Of course I will be by her side through one of the highest in hers.
Part of my anxiety is not about losing her, it's about wanting to do everything I can to help her during this time and being far away and feeling guilty about that. I'm scared I'll miss out on sharing this experience. I want to be the most helpful and supportive I can and I'm worried that she's somehow at a disadvantage not having her best friend in the same state to go dress shopping and deal with overbearing family members and look at floral arrangement colors in person.
Ultimately, the way I feel about Stacey being engaged is like the feeling of knowing your parents are healthy, or your brother got a promotion, or your partner absolutely killed it in a presentation; you know that they will be okay and secure and stable and happy. I feel extremely lucky that I don't have to worry about Stacey in this aspect of her life, I know she's doing amazing and will be loved. I'm comforted that she has someone exceedingly capable to have on her team forever, whether I am physically with her or not.
What's remained constant in the trajectory of our friendship is that we both face ups and downs and they're not always at the same time, but we help, advise and learn from each other. If anything I'm lucky that I get such an intimate look at a healthy relationship and have someone I can trust and rely on to give me all the dirty details about in-laws, reception song selection and what really happens on your wedding night.