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I didn’t use to like country and western songs. But now, I can suddenly identify with a whole bunch of the lyrics, including “You stuck my heart in an old tin can and shot it off a log,” “If you want to keep your beer as cold, leave it next to my ex-wife’s heart” and If the Jukebox Took Teardrops.
After 32 years, Diana has tossed me out with the cantaloupe rinds. (Is this the beginning of another catchy song title?!) Diana has decided to call it quits. I had no idea that the bond between us was as thin as granny’s old sock. I had no idea that her future and my future were cart tracks heading off in different directions. How could I know? She didn’t tell me.
Diana was not my girlfriend or my wife.
If she had been my romantic partner, gaggles of friends would have come rushing over with beer, chips, peanuts and unconditional support. We would have spent the whole evening talking about why I am probably better off without her and which flavour of ice cream is the most comforting. I could have confided to bus drivers, cashiers, my other exes … just about anyone would have felt my pain. My Facebook page would have been lit up with sad-face emojis and images of hearts with stab wounds.
If we had been married, the protocol would have been even more clear-cut. First, our official “separation” would have involved the services of mediators, counsellors and other divorce-land professionals. Friends could have purchased appropriate greeting cards, such as “Best wishes on your upcoming divorce” or “We never actually liked him/her. Glad to hear that you are available” in both stationery stores and online. I could have joined divorcee support groups in order to release all my negative emotions through story, song and foreign-language curses. And – most importantly – I could have hired a lawyer to represent my legal and financial interests (and get back the beautiful seashell tray)!
But Diana was my friend. (Well, actually she was my best friend for 32 years, but let’s not quibble.) I was literally paralyzed after reading her last e-mail message: “No, I am not free for dinner on Thursday. After much thought, I’ve decided not to explain my reasons for choosing to end our friendship.”
How am I supposed to tell people? Mentioning that my friend “dumped” me sounds a bit juvenile. It sounds like I wasn’t invited to a fifth-grade birthday party. Or that there was a big fight in the schoolyard. Feeling crushed because you have been struck off a list of friends is the stuff of childhood.
Clearly, I won’t invite her to my next birthday party. And I can definitely count on my friends to “not” choose her for the dodgeball team.
But seriously, which rules apply when you are dumped by a 56-year-old friend? What is the protocol?
Should I return 32 years’ worth of gifts? (These books/dishes/artworks are so integrated in our life that it might be hard to find them all.)
Should there be “visiting rights” for our children? (I would love to stay in touch with her kids whether or not she wants to stay in touch with mine.)
Can I ask my employer for two weeks of paid leave for mourning?
What do I do with all the photos of us looking happy together?
How should I refer to her? My “ex-friend” Diana?
After the breakup of a romantic relationship – and once the scathing text messages and teary midnight phone calls have tapered off – there is usually a point at which the former lovebirds discuss whether or not to “stay friends.” Darn! That option is definitely not on the table. You can’t “stay friends” with someone if you were never more than friends in the first place.
The pain is not easier to bear because Diana was “just” a friend. A lot happens during 32 years. I clearly remember cradling Diana’s son when he was just a few weeks old. Diana was by my side several years later for the arrival of my first child. Over the course of 32 years, our children have grown up together amid summer picnics, Shakespeare in the Park and New Year’s Eve festivities. Our husbands bonded, too. For 32 years, I have cheered the rise and evolution of Diana’s translation business. And Diana has cheered my writing and documentary film careers.
And yes, of course, we were there for each other when times were bleak. When one of my old friends died prematurely and later when Diana’s marriage took a nose-dive, we supported each other. Diana and I didn’t merely understand each other, we felt as close as conjoined twins. Scratch that. I thought that we had an indivisible connection, I guess we didn’t. I still wake up in disbelief. Will Diana really be absent from all future joys and sorrows?
Friendships – unlike romantic relationships – are not weighed down by the pressure of societal expectations. Being a friend simply means “being present” for each other. We don’t expect our friends to empty the dishwasher, change dirty diapers or remember to fix the muffler. We don’t expect them to help pay the mortgage, look sexy or attend a boring office Christmas party. But we do expect friends to be by our side, to be present during life’s journey.
Why is Diana no longer interested in being present in my life? Has she reached some kind of quota? Does it conflict with her cycling schedule?
The hole in my heart is so big you could ride a chuckwagon through it.
Megan Durnford lives in Montreal.
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