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Rewind three years and you’d find Heather* and me living just miles apart, hanging out several times a week, thick as thieves. Zooming to the present, we are worlds away, physically and otherwise.
We met at work, and it didn’t take long for a friendship to form. We started going to lunch during the week. Eventually we made plans to go out after work, and that’s when we discovered that we lived on the same block. She was single and living alone. I was living with the guy who is now my ex, and I was miserable. She was a welcome distraction from life in my unhappy one-bedroom apartment.
When I finally worked up the courage to leave him, she was there for me. She assured me that I would be okay, because she had gone through a similar breakup and had been there and come out the other side. When I blamed myself for breaking his heart and pissing off my family -– who I swear preferred my ex over me -- she told me that I had done the right thing, and that my own happiness was paramount.
We eventually settled into a pattern; we met every Friday night to go to the same bar where we knew the owners, the guys at the door, the bartenders, and the other regulars. It was our spot. We celebrated birthdays there together for at least three years in a row.
And then it happened. The night that was the catalyst for the big change didn’t even actually involve Heather. I was on a date with a guy I had met at the aforementioned bar when in walked a co-worker with a few of his pals. I immediately hit it off with one of them, Lucas.
A few nights later, I was meeting up with Heather and another group that included Lucas. Also in the group was Michael, who is now Heather’s husband. That was the first time he and Heather met. Even though it was brief, it was the beginning of the end.
While Lucas and I started dating immediately and never stopped, it took awhile for Heather and Michael to get things going. There was one false start and a break that lasted until less than a week before he was moving out of state. Then Heather and Michael had what was meant to be a onetime hook-up before he moved; instead, they started dating (again), and this time it stuck.
They were inseparable during his last days in our city, and then the trips to his new hometown started up not long after he left. She would make the two-hour flight to see him on long weekends, holidays, whenever she could. She fell in love with his city, met his child from a previous relationship, and decided that being apart from him was no longer acceptable. Little did I know that being apart from me was.
I remember where we were when she told me she was going to move. I remember feeling like my stomach had gone ahead and dropped straight out of my body. I remember thinking to myself, “No, no, no. No.” I knew what that meant for our friendship, at least theoretically. I didn’t know yet the extent of the damage the distance would wreak.
At first, we stayed in contact regularly. While we had been living in the same city, we would IM all day. We would chat about everything from the mundane (“I bought a new cinnamon vanilla tea. It’s amazing!”) to the serious (“My parents might be getting a divorce!”).
I went to visit Heather and her new family on my 30th birthday. Lucas was going to be out of town and I was devastated, thinking I would spend my birthday night all alone at home with nothing but my dogs and a bottle of wine to keep me company. I was thrilled that she extended the invitation and happily accepted.
Her sister joined me and the three of us had an amazing time, and even though I was sad to leave her when it was time to go, I left feeling confident that we would be able to maintain our friendship. I was wrong.
Not long after that visit, Michael proposed. I was so happy for her! I knew they were meant to be together and that they were happy, so it made sense. She had uprooted her life and moved thousands of miles for him. We spent time chatting online about the wedding, sending links to venues back and forth, critiquing bridal gowns, the whole deal.
They thought they would have over a year to plan the wedding, but an opportunity came along and they ended up with just six weeks to put together a Halloween wedding! Lucas and I booked our flights and I bought a dress. She made bouquets for her sister, her step-daughter, and me.
When the wedding weekend arrived, I knew almost immediately that something was… off. Lucas and I had opted to stay in the same hotel as the rest of the wedding guests in our age group. We figured we would be spending time with them and that it would be worth it to be close. We imagined us all meeting up for breakfast, hanging out after the wedding, all that jazz. Once again, we were wrong.
It was among the most awkward weekends of my life.
There was no actual itinerary, so the morning before the wedding I sent a text to Heather asking about the plans for the day. She said that other than the rehearsal for the ceremony later that afternoon, there was nothing going on. Everyone was just chilling, she said. I later saw on Facebook that chilling meant that almost everyone had met up to go to breakfast and a downtown festival: Lucas and I just weren’t invited.
Realizing that Lucas and I were holed up in a motel room by ourselves while everyone else socialized felt like a punch to the gut. I did my best to smile and get through it, focusing on the joy that my friend was feeling and that she deserved.
At the reception, Heather and Michael jumped on the bar to dance and invited a few others up with them. Lucas and I watched from below, never getting the “Come on up!” signal everyone else in the group got. We stayed to wave goodbye to the happy couple and give them a final hug, and we left for home the next morning.
Heather and I still talked after, but not as often. A few months later, I brought up the idea of making a road trip with Lucas to come visit. She brushed it off, saying how busy they were. I never broached the topic again.
On her first birthday after getting hitched, I sent her a text message at midnight wishing her a fantastic birthday. I asked what they had planned, and she told me they were keeping it low-key, visiting a local spot that they frequented with a few friends.
Later, I saw that her sister had flown up to visit. (Another big thanks to Facebook for keeping me in the know.)
I was completely taken aback. Heather and her sister are really close, and they live so far apart that it’s a big deal for them to get a visit. The fact that she hadn’t made any mention of it stung, and it really put things into perspective.
While we had once been close enough to be sisters ourselves, our relationship was no longer important enough to even mention significant happenings.
And then, I had a blowout with one of my siblings. I was a distraught mess and I sent her an email about it one day because she wasn’t online to chat. She never responded. When I casually mentioned the riff weeks later, she said she had never even opened the email. I had already been feeling as though our friendship was one-sided, and my being ignored in a time of need sent me the message loud and clear. Friendship over.
I went back and forth trying to decide how to proceed. Do I let her know that I’m hurt? Do I let go gracefully? In the end, I decided to opt for the latter. I went back through months of chat logs and saw that it was almost always me initiating our conversations and almost always her ending them. The writing had likely long been on the wall with me willfully ignoring it.
I stopped sending a daily “Hi! How is everything going?” message. That was about seven months ago. We’ve probably talked three times since.
The Heather of today is no longer the high maintenance city girl I met when W. was still in office. She’s a flats-only wearing country girl who focuses on art, her husband and her stepdaughter. She hikes and ditched her beloved tea for coffee. She became a vegetarian. She’s got new friends, although I have no idea who they are. I had no idea that that night when she met Michael, a night that seemed so insignificant, would lead to changes to her very core.
When Lucas and I eloped a few months ago, she didn’t know ahead of time like a few select people. She found out on Facebook along with everyone else. I eventually hid her from my Facebook feed -- not because I hate her, because I don’t.
I did it because I still miss her. Because I still wonder what I did wrong to make her essentially dump me. Even now our lives are so intertwined and we have so many mutual friends that it was one way to ease the hurt.
Ending a tight friendship as an adult is similar to ending a romantic relationship in that it’s a major life change. The difference is that when I left my ex, people understood that it was a difficult time for us both. There was an outpouring of sympathy and people around to help pick up the pieces.
We don’t acknowledge the loss of a friendship in the same way, even though it can be just as devastating. No one softens their voice and tilts their head and asks, “Have you talked to Heather lately?” There’s an assumption that my life is unaffected, which just isn’t true. It gets easier as I get farther from the day when it clicked that our friendship was over, but it will be a long while before I’m well and truly “over it.”
*All names have been changed.