For those of you who have read some of my previous posts, you already know that I have been separated from my husband for nearly a year. A lot goes on in a separation that might be taken for granted by outsiders looking in. The couple makes the announcement that the decision to separate has been made, and then nobody really knows what’s going on behind closed doors (because nobody wants to know) until the couple makes the announcement that the paperwork is complete, the judge has affixed his stamp, and the separation is now final.
It’s a well-known fact that divorced and separated couples split the “marital” or “mutually-acquired” assets. Money gets split pretty evenly down the middle, and retirement packages are divided and redistributed. Value is placed on everything, and the question of “who gets what” becomes the only topic of conversation that seems to matter for a while. Obviously, the children are shared as equally as is realistic (and not cut down the middle, if possible), and someone usually ends up with the house. Each person keeps his or her own car, but the rest of the “assets” have to be designated to someone.
In many cases, the couple hopes to amicably settle the “who gets what” without much disagreement. The items in question might include the piano, china cabinet and its contents, artwork and maybe even season tickets to sporting events. Much of the rest of it falls neatly into a “his” or “hers” pile: pilates DVDs, the autographed hockey jersey, framed diplomas, and even jewelry.
But what about the friends? Those “mutually acquired assets” that have been part of the couples’ life for a dozen years or more? Surprisingly, and sadly, those decisions are typically made for you by the friends. One of the most heartbreaking parts of my separation has been to see who chose me, and who chose him. In only the rarest of cases did the friends choose us both. And those have turned out to be the rarest and most valuable of friendships. But those other friends, the ones I mistakenly thought were lifelong “acquisitions”? Make no mistake, most of them do choose. And most of them chose him. I never realized that “who gets what” quickly turns into “who gets who”. I never would have guessed that any choosing had to take place at all.
Little clues of lost friendships seeped in slowly at the beginning. I would call and invite a “friend” to lunch or coffee, hoping to have a shoulder to lean on in my time of confusion and grief. That’s what girlfriends are for, am I right? But maybe I leaned a little too hard, because unreturned calls and texts became more and more frequent. Sure, they made excuses at the beginning as to why they couldn’t meet up with me, but then they stopped contacting me altogether. They stopped waving from their cars when we would pass on the street, and turned down the produce aisle to hide if they saw me headed up the dairy section at the grocery store. I felt like a leper.
But as for my husband, suddenly he was being invited to dinner at people’s houses, happy hour at the bar, sporting events, and to other forms of entertainment and companionship with these same friends. First the male half of the couple reached out to him, but then it became obvious that both halves of the pair had “chosen” him. Friends I had introduced to him. Friends who I had consoled during divorces and family deaths. MY friends. And they abandoned me in favor of my husband.
Now, my husband is a great guy. Likable and friendly, handsome and kind. And, maybe most importantly, emotionally stable. If I were them, I would choose him, too. Me? I’m a wreck. Most of our friends know I’m bi-polar and they also know I have not handled our separation well at all. I’m messed up. I have cried in nearly every restaurant and coffee shop and bookstore in town, to nearly every friend I thought I had. Maybe that’s the problem. These “friends” don’t want to be reminded that other people have troubles. It’s too much work to be friends with someone who is grieving or sick. And my kind of “sickness” does not evoke sympathy, like the bubonic plague or appendicitis might. People don’t jump at the chance to bring meals or offer to watch kids for people with a mental illness. They back away as if it’s contagious. And a newly-separated bipolar person? Forget about it. That seems to be the worst possible combination. Apparently, it’s easier to simply back away than to engage and offer help. And friendship.
Today, a graduation announcement arrived in the mail for the daughter of a couple who my husband and I met at the same time. It was addressed to him, and only him. For whatever reason, this caused me half an hour of wasted tears. I don’t even LIKE this family, but just the thought that a simple graduation can’t even be “announced” to both of us slid swiftly into my heart and caused me a great deal of sadness.
Maybe I’m blowing this all out of proportion. Maybe they chose him because he’s simply a more desirable person to hang out with. Maybe they just tolerated me because I was with him, and maybe they figured I had to be OK if a great guy like that had stuck with me all of those years. But when he decided he’d had enough, so did they.
And it broke my heart.
But during the last few months, my realization of who my TRUE friends are has emerged. They are the women who text me weekly (even daily!) just to say hi, to check in, to update me on their lives and make sure I’m still involved in mine. My REAL friends return my calls, ask me to the movies and send me Christmas cards with more than just a generic name stamp at the bottom. My FOREVER friends have stuck with me through the good and bad (and it seems like it has all been bad for the last year), and if they grow tired of my tears, they don’t let on. Three of them have been divorced and they know what I’m going through. Others I’ve known for a couple of decades and maybe it’s an “I knew her before he was around” kind of deal, but the fact remains that they remain. And I really don’t see them going anywhere soon. This group may be very small, but they are worth their weight in gold to me and I wouldn’t trade them for a world of “convenient” friendships.
As for the rest of them? Good riddance. It think it’s safe to assume they were never really my friends to begin with. When the going got bad, they got going. And I don’t need them in my life. That kind of recognition hurts, but it’s reality.
So in terms of “who gets what”, I think I got what I deserved. And it’s enough.