I saw them sitting there as soon as I walked into the restaurant. I thought briefly about turning around and walking out, but a sudden change of plan late on a Saturday evening would have been difficult.
So I smiled at the maitre d’ and carefully turned my back to the people who I’d once thought of as close friends.
Five years ago, the hubs and I had become friendly with another couple. They were older than us, settled into a twenty-year marriage with three teenage children, whereas we were still relative newlyweds and had yet to become parents. But despite the apparent disparity in our lifestyles, we got along well. They were funny and clever, well-read and well-traveled. They laughed good-naturedly at their own middle-class pretensions — for spandex-clad road racing and the latest nouveau-foodie style — with the self-deprecating humour of people who knew who they were, and were comfortable with themselves. In short, they were who we hoped we would become one day.
They had a young-teenage daughter of whom I was fond. An adorable knock-kneed, crooked-smiled girl who I had taken to the movies or out walking our dogs when her mother had been out of town.
The wife and I had each lost our mothers before our children were born, so we had bonded over that shared experience of loss. An unenviable club, but a sorority of women who knew the value of friendships — or so I thought.
When our eldest son was an imminent arrival, the wife, daughter and I went shopping for baby gear. As an adoptive mum unsure of whether the baby would be coming home to stay, I was nervous about that tentative foray into the world of layette sets and Moses baskets. Knowing my trepidation at the prospect of having a new baby and no mum of my own to call on, the wife assuaged my fears, assuring me that she could be counted upon for all those middle-of-the-night new-mum quandaries.
But a few weeks after our son arrived, the hubs had a serious falling-out with his friend. As is so often the case with these things, there was a financial element to their disagreement, but at the heart of the matter was a question of mutual trust.
On hearing about their gripe in the midst of the fog of newborn sleep-deprivation, I recall shrugging it off, expecting a few weeks of the silent treatment and some stand-offishness at our next get-together.
At first, I carried on as normal, assuming that the storm would soon blow over. But when several weeks went by and my messages to my friend still went ignored, I slowly realized that for all the promises of support and guidance through the murky waters of new-motherhood, our friendship had been merely an auxiliary to that of our husbands. Though I knew that sometimes couple friends are a package deal, it took a long time to fathom how “standing by your man” might sometimes require letting your friends down, even as they needed you most.
And so I learned how devastating the loss of friendships can be.
Whereas the end of a love affair fits a paradigm in which grief is manifest in socially-acceptable ways, the demise of a friendship is rarely recognized or outwardly mourned. Being dumped as a friend can also feel like a profound personal rejection, cutting to the core of who you are.
Just as with a romantic break up, I had to let my broken friendship-heart heel. Eventually other people came into our lives, old friendships were reborn and new ones crafted. And even in spite of the craziness of life with three small children, I have tried (and failed, but keep trying) to nurture these relationships because I now know how much they mean and how much they enrich my life.