foul-weather friendship


I wrote this essay seven years ago and just ran in to again under my Notes on Facebook which have gone by the wayside. So. copying here with minimal editing.

The demise of long term female friendships is tricky. We don’t have templates or rituals how to navigate it and often suffer in silence. We don’t even have a name for it. Which makes it harder than divorces in some ways. Anyway, here it is, just as I wrote it in 2016. I hope it helps someone else out there going through something similar.

Many of the names have been changed, including that of my former friend, as I’m not here to out her. I’ve been married, happily, for eight years now. I wonder if she’s disappointed or what she thinks. It’s liberating to realize I no longer care if she reads it or what she thinks. Neutrality is the goal in these situations I think.

Foul Weather Friend

Last year I did something so heinous, so destructive, so unforgiveable, that it caused me to lose one of my best friends. I fell in love and got married.

Sandy and I had been friends, good friends, for nearly fifteen years. We’d been through many things together—the birth of her two children, milestone birthdays, holidays, business transitions and family trials and crises. Like most good female friendships, ours was based on sharing good and hard times.

I was single through nearly all of our years, traversing these hills and valleys and let’s just say, most of my dating life involved me tripping over one stone or another as I fell back in to the same valley of failure and despair. At least that’s how it felt to me. Sandy was always there with an encouraging word, which usually meant both of us bitching about the shitty man of the moment as I licked my wounds and prepared for battle again in the dating world. She remained steadfast as one of the few people in my sphere, who showed up on my doorstep with chicken soup, unsolicited, when I had the flu.

Sandy included me in most of her family functions and, in many ways, her family adopted me as one of their own. Without a prospect of becoming an Aunt myself through my siblings, Sandy’s girls became like nieces to me and I was often a permanent fixture alongside their Mom at sporting events, birthday parties and performances. It was a fun and warm vibe all around, right up to the moment I met John.

“I think this could be the one Sandy,” I excitedly shared in her living room that early December day. “But Kathy, he lives in rural Pennsylvania,” she reminded me with a look on her face as if she’d smelled something bad. I scoffed at this reaction for two reasons. 1. This was not an unsurmountable issue for me. It wasn’t like he was married or in prison or something like that. People meet in cross-country ways all the time. 2. I was in love and this response didn’t alter my groove. Like many couples in this new world of technology, John and I met online. Not through a dating site, but in a small, intimate writing group on Facebook.

I had begun writing and attending writing workshops and often thought that would be a cool way to meet someone, someone who shared this interest. That’s exactly what happened, but through the internet. I loved our “how we met” story, even though some of my friends were, understandably, concerned.

One friend bought his memoir to better understand who he was. She phoned me in tears saying “this man is perfect for you—he’s been through the hard kind of life you have and I get it. He’s the one person who could understand you like no one else”. Case closed. She was in. My best male friends, a couple, instead took another tack. They got me drunk on martinis one night at their house and insisted I travel with one of them, to the East, on the same flight, to meet John, weeks before we’d planned our first in person meeting. Robert later said that when he walked down the aisle of the plane with me as we disembarked in Rochester, headed to meet John for the first time, that he felt he was walking me down the aisle of my wedding. He met John that visit and was not surprised at all when we reconnected at the airport in Rochester a week later, that I’d become engaged.

Yes, our engagement happened fast. Six weeks after we’d initially made contact kind of fast. On our first meeting face to face kind of fast. I can see it being a lot for people to digest. Yet, I’d been single at that point for nearly two decades, had never been engaged to anyone else during that time, was not a person who impulsively ran in to a serious commitment with a man. In fact, I had never lived with a man during those 20 years of solitude. It was a moment of knowing that something was right. And we both felt the same so went for it. I had no ambivalence and people could see that, including my own family.

The night before I flew back to Arizona, wearing his father’s wedding band he’d proposed to me with, John and I sat in a little jazz club sipping wine sitting close. “We need to change our status on Facebook now!” I quipped to him. “I know, right?” he laughed back, “when should we do it?” Facebook was our domain, seeing we’d met there, so this held more symbolism for us. Even as middle-aged farts, we wanted that moment. “Let’s pull the trigger,” John said, “right now.” We both pulled out our phones, having told only one person who intuited this might happen before I left, and demanded “I better not find out you’re engaged on Facebook, you better call me!” and we hit the button that said “engaged”. It was perfect. But not for everyone.

Rob helped me look at wedding bands via the inflight wifi as we flew across the country catching up. As we sipped cocktails during our layover in Chicago, I had a niggling feeling I should let someone know personally and privately. Not a member of my own family who I planned to tell in person, but my friend Sandy. I had sensed she was struggling with the whole idea of my relationship, and this might be hard for her, so I sent her a private text, announcing my news.

Three days later, I’d not heard back. No response from the text and no acknowledgment among the hundreds of “thumbs ups” and congratulatory comments on Facebook, Sandy remained radio silent. I was preparing that week to take a month sabbatical so was busy closing up my business, home and family issues so maybe it wasn’t so obvious I’d not heard from her until the text came in “So I guess congratulations are in order as I see on Facebook—the girls and I would like to get together before you leave”. Months later, after all had fallen apart and I was doing the post-mortem on this friendship, another friend pointed out “yeah, she said congratulations were in order, but she still wasn’t offering them”.

Married now, over a year, Sandy never offered me congratulations on meeting the love of my life and my wildest dreams, nearly abandoned, coming true in obtaining a darling 3-year-old stepdaughter in the process. I had long given up on ever becoming a parent, one of my life’s greatest regrets, now given the new breath of a miracle. My own family, finally.

“I feel like all of your Facebook posts are passive aggressive slams at me for not being happy enough for you” was one of the first missiles she launched, as I sat in the dealership waiting for my oil to be changed, prepping for my road trip. I had responded that my time was very limited before I left on a cross country drive for over a month but could talk on the phone. She claimed she could meet in person, with her girls, but not talk on the phone because she was “coming down with something.” Nothing made sense.

Shocked, I scrolled through my Facebook posts to see what she could be referring to—there were my usual pictures of food and flowers and of course photos of my new fiancé and me. I found one post where I addressed what I knew would be obvious concerns about a fast engagement we had just launched. I reflected on how every major decision in my life happened very quickly like that—the good ones. I bought my house the first day I went out looking, I changed my entire career on a decision made in one day, I moved my mentally ill brother to live near me on a split-second decision in a parking lot—things like that in hopes of reassuring people who might be worried. Including Sandy, to whom I was still giving the benefit of the doubt. I just didn’t realize yet, how angry she was. “You know me, I worry” was the one and only explanation she ever offered for her dismissive and demeaning stance on my relationship. Yet I never knew what was worrying her so. And she didn’t read as worried to me. She was hostile.

“Well, Facebook is great and all but not the way you want to hear about your bff getting engaged. So excuse me if I don’t want to join the hundreds of your adoring fans on Facebook, wishing you well.” I was struck dumb. How do you respond to such a thing? I was expecting questions and concerns but not this. “I am thinking you maybe didn’t get my text I sent the day after we got engaged”. “Nope” “I hate to do this but I’m going to,” I texted to this long term bff who was refusing to speak to me, as I sent her a screen shot of the dated text with the line underneath indicating it had been “read”. “Well I didn’t get it until a couple days later when I reset my phone,” she replied.

None of this made sense. And I didn’t have the time to deal with it. I literally did not have the time. It was if she was intentionally trying to make me feel guilty or as if I’d betrayed her somehow during the happiest moment of my life since she met me. It was completely disorienting. Confrontations such as this often take their time to bloom in me, the feelings I mean. Later that night, as I reviewed this bizarre exchange, I was no longer confused. I was pissed. I mean, how dare she? She knew I was taking off in two days for a huge odyssey planned for a year, all by myself on the road for days with my thoughts and this was my send off? Bullshit, I said to myself, I’m not taking this on the road. I wrote her an email late that night, letting her know how I felt about all of this including a line something like “Not happy enough for me? How could that be possible as you’ve expressed not one shred of happiness for me at all!” Truth. But, why?

Sad to say, now being happily married for over a year, I still don’t have the answer to that question. But, as the months went on, it got worse with Sandy, way worse. Kate, who’d insisted I let her know if I got engaged on that trip, made another demand on me. She was going to throw me a bridal shower whether I wanted it or not. Kate and I shared one thing in common: we are both siblings of a murder victim. In fact, that’s how we met. “If your sister was alive, she would be doing this, so I don’t care if you think you’re too old for this, I’m going to do it”, she insisted. There was no negotiating. In fact, she planned this thing from across the country, and flew in for it.

That shower was the most elaborate event I think I’ve ever attended. Held at a 5 star historic hotel, she’d pulled out all the stops for an afternoon ladies’ high tea. Custom fresh flowers all over the table included a tiny arrangement for each of the 9 guests adorned with their calligraphied name, and our own tea sommelier who gave us detailed instruction about every single thing we ate or drank. The elaborate affair lasted over three hours with hats and champagne and gifts and loads of good wishes. You see, each woman at that table had witnessed my struggle in the love department for so long. My finding love, at age 55, was akin to winning the lottery. Many shared that the fact I never gave up, was inspiring to them.

The energy around that table was so high and love filled, people were stopping as they passed by to just bask in it. With the exception of one small black cloud. You guessed it, Sandy. I struggled about whether to put her on the guest list or not. I knew that if I didn’t, I was giving her a reason to back out of the friendship while casting blame on me for its demise. I also was in extreme denial that her disconnect over my major life shift would last. I just kept thinking she’d come around. So, I put her on the list. I was actually surprised when she said she’d come. Which she did, sort of. Her first display of resistance was her refusal to RSVP for a couple of weeks past the requested date. I felt awkward about the shower, being a 55-year-old bride who was eloping to Niagara Falls, so was trying to stay out of it after giving Kate the guest list.

Kate needed a head count though, so I suggested she ask another friend to contact Sandy. Sandy finally responded that she would be there, yet let me know “well, finally a name I recognized” explaining why she’d dismissed Kate, the host’s, request for RSVP. She didn’t know who she was, so felt she didn’t need to respond apparently.

Sandy walked up to that gorgeous flower filled table flanked by chatting women in pastels and finery, 20 minutes after the start time, wearing black and holding up the side of her hair “sorry, I’m late, at least I made, it but my hair is wet” she displayed with a chuckle. I was relieved yet cringed inside at the same time. The tea started and Kate asked all the women to begin by going around and saying how they knew me, a reasonable ice-breaker as not everyone had met. During the heartfelt sharing that went on tangents about feelings and how happy my friends and family were for me, Sandy lifted her face, opposite me, and snickered, “don’t let your head get too big over there now.” I think I heard a gasp next to me as I chuckled back “I know, my Grandma’s hat is getting pretty tight right now” refusing to let her see how her zinger had pierced me. It wasn’t the last time I said to myself “I’m not going to let Sandy ruin my day”. She begged out after an hour, before the gifts were opened and group pictures taken, which didn’t surprise me. I did question my decision to invite her, but none of her behavior impacted the joy of that amazing day. It did impact our friendship, in the end.

Like the demise of most important relationships, mine with Sandy, slowly trickled toward its ultimate fracture but not without one event from which there was no recovery. At least for me there wasn’t. Three weeks after that brilliant shower, I was on the plane headed East to meet up with my soon-to-be husband and head up to beautiful Niagara Falls to get married. I’d had a gorgeous dress custom made and friends and family had given me all kinds of treasures to carry with me on our momentous day. Mandy had made a locket with pictures of my sister and mother inside along with a “borrowed” gold bracelet she’d worn in her wedding. My father had given me a couple of tiny family heirlooms from my Grandma to carry in a small pouch sewn from her wedding gown. A new friend had unexpectedly stopped by the day before to loan me a handkerchief carried in weddings for decades around the world from her family tree.

My carryon bag was at my feet filled with all of this love, and my heart was just as full. It was so amazing to finally have found love like this but to be celebrated like that just took it over the top. I had not seen Sandy since the shower and the only contact I’d had in the days before leaving were several text requests from one of her daughters to get together via Sandy’s phone. This was not unusual as she would occasionally send me quick notes like that and many times I’d be able to spontaneously to meet them for ice cream or head over to their house to watch Project Runway.

This week was completely different though. I was heading out to get married in a few days and her nine-year-old daughter who I’d known since before birth, didn’t seem to know this. It was awkward, but I explained to Sandy that, again, I had no time for spontaneous get-togethers that week, considering all that I had going on and asked her to explain to her daughter that I wasn’t blowing her off, I was just busy preparing to travel and get married in four days. “I know you are, but you know Susie, she just keeps hoping” was her response.

“Hoping for what?” I wondered. That I’d not leave, not get married, not notice that none of them were even addressing this major life event unfolding? To this day, I don’t know if Sandy even mentioned my wedding to her younger daughter who had never experienced a Christmas morning without a gift from me or a birthday party without my attendance front and center. It’s hard to say to someone that you deserve acknowledgment, but in this case, I did.

I sat on the plane as it taxied in Philly for my connecting flight and turned on my phone like I always do. I had texts and well wishes from friends and family who knew where I was headed and, to my relief and trepidation, a text from Sandy as well. Relief because, in my denial, I thought she had finally come around and was going to send me off with some kind of “Best Wishes”. I was completely wrong.

What Sandy sent me was a forwarded private text Kate had sent her that morning. Kate, who had organized and paid for that elaborate shower and witnessed Sandy’s rude behavior, had taken it upon herself without running it by me, to address Sandy directly. I had vented to her how bizarre all this was and how I had no idea how to address it. Paraphrasing, Kate’s private text went something like this. “Thank you for coming to Kathy’s shower. I know it meant a lot to her that you were there and you and your girls are very important to her as I’ve heard a lot about you all. It was pretty clear to many of us there though that your heart wasn’t really in to it. My husband and I have met John and he is a wonderful person and treats Kathy like a Queen. Isn’t that what we all want? For our friends to be happy and well-treated by the one they love? I’m going to ask you to find it in your heart somehow to wish her well. I know this would mean the world to her coming from you and your girls. Thank you for considering this. Kate”.

Attached to this forwarded text, were these words from Sandy directed to me, “Just thought you should know. I have no intention to engage.” These were the only words my bff of 15 years sent me off to get married with. And with them, the bottom fell out of our friendship.

I later shared that a piece of my heart closed to her that day and I knew we’d never get that back. She used this text as a mechanism to somehow make me feel bad that day—upset at Kate for having sent it or upset that poor Sandy had to receive it. I knew my friend had made a choice, of all the things she could have chosen, to launch something never intended for my eyes, to try and hurt me on that of all days. I knew, deep down, that our friendship was over.

Again, I said to myself “she won’t ruin my day” and replied with “I don’t know anything about this, and I don’t want to be involved”. I wasn’t about to offer her some kind of apology on Kate’s behalf which I felt she was begging for. In reality, I agreed with Kate but wouldn’t offer that either. I followed her lead and chose not to engage.

I phoned Kate from the airport who gasped. She had no idea that Sandy would send that to me saying “I didn’t tell you I was sending that on purpose as I knew you’d talk me out of it”. She explained that she thought her intervention would be some kind of wake-up call and Sandy would in the last hours, find a way to step over what was bothering her so and offer me some kind of well wishes. She apologized thinking I’d be mad at her.

I was annoyed, but it was because of the way Sandy had chosen to use her message, but I was ok with Kate and let her know that. I knew she meant well. “I envisioned you, on your wedding day, opening your phone and seeing a photo from her of her girls holding a sign they’d made saying ‘Congratulations Kathy! We love you!” That was about the last thing that would ever happen as it turned out.

I heard nothing from Sandy for weeks. I posted pictures of my wedding day, beautiful honeymoon, and times with my beautiful new 3-year-old stepdaughter and John’s adult children, while she remained steadfast to her own commitment: boycotting it all.

 I never received one well-wish or congratulations or a “like” on Facebook. Nothing but that forwarded text. I don’t know how Sandy thought our friendship could survive that. I kind of wish I’d asked her that, like what was in her mind as she made that series of decisions. I do, at times, still wonder what was in her head. Why she thought I deserved that. But then I know it would only confuse and hurt me more.

It was just something she couldn’t get through or accept, and I believe it had little to do with me. She was the one person in my life who took this position and I let her know that when, months later, I wrote her addressing the fracture and explaining I had let go of the friendship. I struggled the most with how to manage this with her daughters. Likely, that’s why I hung on as long as I did.

One month after I was married, I was hit as a pedestrian by a drunk driver in a parking lot. Miraculously, I survived with relatively minor injuries. Sandy who had managed to not offer one word of congratulations on my marriage, got it together to call a florist, pull out a credit card, offer words for a note and sent me flowers. I sighed as I opened the card and shook my head. “It’s like this is what she’s celebrating” I thought to myself, “my injuries”.

I sent her a text of thanks through my heavy heart and received back a consistently bizarre response “I’m sorry I can’t be there with soup and DVDs and magazines and a visit from Susie (her daughter) to cheer you up but it looks like you are in good hands.” She was referring to my husband, of course. She lives 10 minutes away from me, was not out of town, and had become so engrained in her tale of disconnect that she thought I actually knew why she “couldn’t” stop by. Like John had an infectious disease she couldn’t expose her child to or something.

I was too much in pain and sedated on pills and frankly, too apathetic about her by that time to try to even clarify that and replied with “yes, he’s taking great care of me” and left it at that. So many words unspoken. Months later, after superficial texts about recipes and events, like nothing had changed in my life or our dynamic and the myriad of frustrating feelings that had risen inside me, at my Psychologist husband’s suggestion, I wrote Sandy a letter for my own closure. One of those letters you write for yourself without intention to send to find resolution. I knew there was no going back.

There were moments and milestones that had either been lost or defiled so that recovery, for me, was not possible. “You have way more tolerance than I do,” John said to me after I’d shake my head in disbelief after receiving yet another notice of a movie coming out or cookie recipe, avoiding the elephant in the room. “I’d have pulled the plug on this months ago”.

I sent that letter to myself where it sat for several weeks in my Yahoo account, until one day I just knew what I had to do. I had stopped replying to these superficial acquaintance-style texts for weeks yet they would still trickle in. I couldn’t transition to this new world with Sandy. There was nothing left in me that could excuse her behavior or pretend none of it had happened, including my new life. “I saw in all the ways you showed me that this was not a train you could board, so I left the station without you” I ended my letter on and forwarded it to her, showing I’d been struggling with this for weeks when I’d written it, but that it was time. It was over.

Like any relationship that ends, there is ambivalence. For me though, it’s that I’ve viewed the entire friendship through a more objective lens. Sandy was usually there for me when chips were down. She often steered me toward relationships with men that were clearly terrible for me, encouraging me to give them a chance. I remembered the time she invited me to a get together with another woman encouraging her to share with us the play by play of a doomed relationship that had spanned over 20 years. How this woman had decided to give him just one more chance and was asking my opinion. It was obvious to me that a pattern of abandonment was fully established with this man so, being a near stranger to me, I suggested she dig a little further to find out what was different this time for him. Inside I knew though that the odds were ever against her favor here.

Yet Sandy sat across from her cheering her on “I think this time he really wants you! He is serious about you! This is your time!” she cheerleaded on. I hadn’t moved my car out of the parking spot that night before Sandy called asking what I thought of the evening and this gal’s story. After all, I was an expert by that time on failed dating having been in the field for two decades. “I think that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and I’m concerned she’s headed for a fall again” I replied. “I know, right?” Sandy almost gleefully responded. “I feel so bad for her. She’s headed for a brick wall!” Yet she sat there all evening gleefully encouraging this woman to dive back in to a clear disaster.

I reflected on this evening when I ended things with Sandy, along with her “Get Well” flowers. She is most comfortable when things are falling apart and that’s when she is really there, I concluded. But when dreams are coming true, big dreams like getting married, she not only disappears but she attempts to sabotage on the way. I remembered seeing her do that with other friends who, for example, landed a dream job.

That kind of friendship is slippery and hard to detect. At least with a fair-weather friend, you know the deal. They can’t or won’t be there for you when the chips are down but they are good-time party friends. If you know that score, then just expect that from them and you can still have a good time! But if you have a fox in the hen house, a foul-weather friend, secretly or overtly betting against your dreams, that’s more dangerous I’ve decided having navigated these waters with Sandy. They appear to be there for you, but what are they gaining by celebrating your failures and foibles?

I have guesses about the psychology involved but the bottom line is these are the ones to weed out. Even with their doorstep chicken soup deliveries, it’s not healthy. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s toxic. Like steroids make you feel a boost in the moment, while they are tearing you down on the inside. At the very least, it’s not enough.

I don’t regret my decision to end things with Sandy and all that came with it. I can’t imagine her in my life now and all of the awkwardness I’d have to endure to not create discomfort by sharing my happiness. That is not the kind of relationship I want to have with anyone. Moving forward in life often involves lots of letting go. Not everyone makes the cut to the next level of evolution.

Sometimes trees have to fall for the forest to flourish. A dead bloom has to be plucked from a bouquet to not spoil its continuing fragrance. Not everyone boards every train yet, in time, we can look back in fondness for beautiful memories and forward into the sun and open track of a bright future at the same time. What’s important is to keep moving. We owe no one the sacrifice of our happiness and if that’s what it feels like someone is demanding, then it’s time to let go. That gives the time and space necessary for reflection and a jumping back in, clearer or making space for someone who will hold your hand or cheer you from the sidelines as you step boldly toward your dreams.