What is it that hurts so much when an old friend decides to part ways? Is it that you are aghast that your gift of unconditional affection, loyalty and steadfastness has been refused? Does it come close to a repudiation of your worth? Does his or her unwillingness to continue on a shared path of knowing and closeness make you think you are now essentially unworthy of any sustained meaningful contact with any other fellow human being?
I have spent many hours wondering what it is that I may have done wrong – did my becoming a parent do it? I do remember quite well how another friend and me were puzzled by how dramatically different a third friend of ours had become after becoming a parent. And how in some ways we were hurt for no longer being part of her inner circle in the way we were used to. Until her life changed with the coming of her first child, we were a close threesome who’d find ways to have walks together, coffee together with lots of silly giggling and shared laughs with not much worry about how time flew.
Is the fact that my life is arranged quite carefully now irksome? Is it an irritating sign of an illiberal, unexciting, rather drab life that my friend feels ashamed of being associated with through any extended contact with me? Because it’s true I can no longer step out on a whim and stay out for as long as I want. (It’s another matter that I never did very much before either.) Nor can I agree to meet anybody without thinking through what it would entail and what effects it may have on my immediate family. Especially if my friend decides to invite me to meet him/her when special security arrangements have been made in a part of our city in view of an extraordinary political situation: I would then be thinking of pretty dull stuff — what kind of commercial vehicle on rent will be safe enough to ferry my young daughter and my elderly mum and me to the proposed, undoubtedly hip but not convenient venue of meeting? Will there be access to clean washrooms on the way? Will there be the possibility of buying finger food if the need should arise? How long will the journey take? How much will it cost with waiting time?
Or does my managing various responsibilities seep into my conversations that are then wholly uninspiring and putting off? Should I be focusing instead of having interesting conversations about what books I have recently read; which coffees I have recently tried; whether I am planning to include long leaf tea in my morning breakfast. Or talk about the trendy new craft shops that have sprung up in our vicinity; the organic colours they use; how increasingly planet friendly some of our small businesses are becoming.
Should I be watching more carefully how much time I spend sharing my pride and joy at the hilarious things my little girl does or says including loving things she has to say about my friend; should I try to remember that not everyone is equally fascinated by what the theosophists have to say about the open nature of children; should I be more cautious that the insights I think I have gained about human beings at large as a parent are not somehow relevant unless the person listening to them shares a fundamental love for young ones.
Do the personal and professional choices I have made seem utterly unworthy of continued association? Should I have been clearer, braver, and spunkier to be currently leading a more unfettered life than the one that my friend thinks I seem to do? Does my ambivalence and willingness to experiment with unforeseen possibilities come through as a sign of cowardice?
Should I be feeling apologetic that my friend is not yet a parent? Could he/she possibly be envious that I am? Does the fact that my little girl adores his/her parents make it hard all round? Should it? Don’t most of us love children who love people?
Or is it just a break that some friends feel the need to take when the differences get all too much and can then there be hope of a return to what an old friend of mine once called the ‘refuge from life’?