“You aren’t the person I thought you were.”
“It’s like we don’t even know you.”
The words hit me hard. Almost like an actual punch. I felt nauseous and speechless. And the words still roll around in the back of my mind even now, years later. I don’t remember what exactly provoked them. I’d told my closest friends I was leaving my husband, and the following weeks were full of long, emotional group messages and texts. But I do remember who said them and it was a shared sentiment. My heart shattered as I realized for the first time, the gravity of my loss.
I’m much less charismatic, sympathetic, (and, ultimately, manipulative) than my husband. I was ending my marriage, and in turn, losing six of the closest friends I’d made since college. I felt like the ground was giving way beneath me.
I stopped hoping after that conversation.
I’d held on to this idiotic hope, that eventually they could, maybe, understand where both of us were coming from? If I just waited for the shock of my decision to wear off? Then they’d empathize?
I was making the right choice, but it still felt so selfish–and terrifying. In their defense, I did distance myself at first. Ultimately, because of my guilt, I felt didn’t deserve my friends’ support. My husband was their friend too (even if he met them because of me, we were all friends with each other), he needed friends and support. I thought I needed to be stoic and accept the sadness I’d caused this whole group of people I loved. I had to come to terms with my feelings of failure. I hadn’t realized by that point, I was the villain of this story. My friends were understandably hurt that I didn’t confide in them before my decision.
I only called my mom and Sam because I wasn’t sure if considering divorce was maybe just another bout depression, or feeling isolated in a new town, or lonely for my friends from the island, or if I was–in fact, truly unhappy with my marriage. The idea of leaving that sense of security, and my predictable stable future felt a little insane. We seemed like a great couple. We never fought in front of others, we joked around all the time, and he could make me laugh. I needed time to think and more objective people to talk to.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them. Of course I trusted them. They were the closest thing I’d ever have to sisters. I simply didn’t want to put them in an awkward position. It was unfair to expect objectivity. And, had I decided to stay, I’d have selfishly put them in the uncomfortable situation of knowing I considered leaving–especially, if I didn’t want to tell my spouse.
He was (and presumably still is) super funny, charming, and loyal friend, so my perspective and situation seemed utterly unbelievable to them, especially when they were primarily getting his side of things. They couldn’t empathize with me.
If I’m not the person you thought I was? Then who am I? What did he say? You’ve known me for years? What did he tell you? My mind wasted hours hours and hours thinking back on memories of disagreements, when I frustrated him, when he hurt me–what could have been twisted to suit his narrative? What was left out? What was actually just the truth. The mental exercise was obviously a fruitless endeavor, but your mind goes where it will sometimes.
I can imagine bits and pieces of how their conversations went, during his group-skype-weekly-wine-nights-with-the-ladies, or the one-on-one comforting phone calls he regularly received. He probably explained the difficulties of loving someone like me, someone with anxiety issues and depression (because, yes, it’s hard). He likely emphasized how I could be irritable, or oversensitive, or simply sad for no reason, and how supportive he was despite it all. And he was. But he also called me “Over-Sensitive Retard” as a pet name. (Which, honestly, is something I’ve been hesitant to admit because I’m embarrassed I even allowed another person to call me that. I hate that I didn’t have the confidence to call out his dismissiveness of empathy and callousness towards those with intellectual disabilities.) He might’ve said I did something hurtful–and I probably did, or I didn’t. And my friends would have been hurt and appalled on his behalf. And he would have been ever-gracious and forgiving, “Don’t be upset with her, I’m not.” It’s a clever move. He ends up looking good in two ways.
But in my defense, I held myself accountable when I hurt him.
I acknowledged the inappropriateness of my behavior and I’d apologize. But over the years I realized I’d have to apologize when he hurt me too. I’d apologize that I misunderstood, that I was so sensitive, or I was too analytical. I’d apologize that I misunderstood and my feelings got hurt. I’d apologize just to try to end our conflict.
But in reality, I’ll never know what version of me was decided upon amongst all of them. Perception is reality, he’d say. He was right. That concept holds more weight to me now.
I’ve made peace with the loss. As time passes, the hurt, disappointment, and anger fade. I stopped checking their social media accounts almost a year ago. They all seemed happy, last I checked. I actually hope they are. My resentment is mostly gone. They look gorgeous. Their jobs appear to be going well. Their pets are super cute.
The problem is, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the shared memories. What do I do with all the photos of our travels, wine tastings, art openings, parties, hikes? How do I reconcile the amazing memories with the heartbreaking reality of our falling out? I can’t figure out how to feel when I remember visiting mosaic-land in Barcelona, dancing in New Orleans, grooming stray dogs, sewing nights, and laughing over three-hour meals at our favorite Azorean restaurant by the ocean.
I was so full of love. I’d found my humans–who got me, other weird people I could be my full weird self around. I knew at the time it was fleeting, life would never be quite like this again. All of us, amazing friends, living so close to each other, on a beautiful island. But I knew it was beautiful and I treasured every moment.
I wasn’t who they thought I was. Those words made things very clear. All friends will choose a side. And it wasn’t mine. Not for a moment.
Since my mind doesn’t know how to reconcile the contrasting memories, I just try to ignore all of them. Sometimes, they still sneak up on me. The good and the bad. Those hilarious perfect moments that felt unreal, and the harsh things that were said years later.
Genuinely, what do you do–simply try to appreciate the amazing memories even when you know the people you’re remembering think you’re awful?