When I was in my forties, I got divorced. Those were very tough times. Another woman in the area with whom I was casually friendly — I’ll call her Miriam — was also getting divorced at about the same time. Naturally, we became very close friends.
We shared our similar struggles around surviving our divorces, dealing with being single mothers and so many other challenges that arose daily. It seemed like no one else could truly get me at that time the way Miriam could, and vice versa. She was the first person I called whenever I felt overwhelmed, needed to cry to someone, or needed advice or comfort. I truly don’t know what I would have done or how I would have made it without her.
During the past ten years, we’ve both had our ups and downs; we’ve shared optimistic times and panicky times. It all seemed to even out over time. But something dramatic has recently happened and I’m totally out of sorts and behaving really badly.
About six months ago, Miriam met a really wonderful guy. So many of the men we each dated seemed to have so much baggage and were not really marriage material, but this guy Miriam met seemed to be perfect for her, a real mensch. He’s kind and thoughtful and actually makes a living! They plan on getting married within a few months.
Honestly, while I’m very happy for Miriam, of course, I’m finding myself green with envy. I am so jealous that her journey as a single mom will be ending soon, and I’m in the same old rut that I’ve been in for ages. My jealous feeling is definitely outpacing my happiness for her. I feel it and I can’t seem to contain it.
Miriam has always been such an amazing friend to me and I truly don’t know what I would have done without her. And yet I find that I’m not able to be the friend she needs right now because I can’t help feeling terribly upset that her story is having a happy ending and mine isn’t.
It feels so unfair. We both went through similar hardships and both worked really hard to hold it together. And I can’t help asking myself and the powers that be why she is finally being given a reprieve from her fear and pain and I’m not. Why can’t I have a happy ending also?
I would never utter any of these words to anyone! I know they must sound so awful and disgusting. But I feel I can vent through the anonymity of this paper and take advantage of this forum to ask how to move forward.
How can I stop feeling so jealous, angry, and infantile? I want so much to be there for Miriam fully and to be as happy for her as I’m sure she would be for me. And yet I’m having such a hard time disguising my pain. When a situation in life is so unbalanced and you feel as though you’re getting the short end of the stick, how do you rise above it? I’ve dealt with so much during my life, but somehow this seems to be something that I can’t get past. We were neck and neck for so long, and suddenly I’m left in the dust while she’s flying high — without me!
Where do I go from here?
I’m wondering, first off, who you feel has abandoned you. That’s an interesting choice of words. Surely, you don’t think that Miriam has abandoned you. You wouldn’t expect her to turn her back on a wonderful man just to stay “neck and neck” with you. So if not Miriam, then who? I think perhaps we both know the answer to that, and it’s no doubt spiritual in nature. If in fact you are struggling with anger and disappointment in this area, I suggest you speak to someone capable of giving you helpful inspiration in that regard.
But from a psychological perspective, let’s analyze your experience a bit. You and Miriam were living parallel lives for many years. Though you were both dealing with a lot, you had the comfort of knowing that your best friend was walking in the same shoes as you, and, as the saying goes, “misery loves company.” It is easier to manage adversity when you are not alone, when someone you feel extremely close to is on the same journey as you, and, together, hand in hand, there is a mutual support.
Suddenly, you learn that your alternate self, your mirror, your soulmate, is off to begin a brand-new life, and you are left very much alone in some significant ways. No, it’s not another divorce, but it can sure stir up some old feelings of abandonment and fears of being left alone. Of course, you feel scared and threatened. But the anger you feel, which you are possibly directing at Miriam right now, is misdirected. Your anger is no doubt a product of your anxiety and apprehension surrounding concerns of being left behind.
There are many healthy ways you could and should view what is happening right now. For one, even though Miriam will be getting married soon, there is no reason to think that she will no longer be there for you as a confidante and as someone who will continue to truly get you. Secondly, the fact that Miriam met a wonderful man should be a source of hope that there is life after divorce and that if Miriam can meet someone wonderful, there is no reason to believe that it can’t and won’t happen for you. Your “happy ending” may be just around the corner.
However, in general, it’s never really a good idea to compare ourselves to others. When you talk about being “neck and neck” with Miriam, it sounds like two people who are in a race and there will be a winner and a loser. The only true race any of us participate in is with ourselves, to do our own personal best. It’s not a competition with others. That way of functioning never works out well. Therefore, it’s not healthy for you to see Miriam as the winner and see yourself as being left in the dust. Again, it’s not a race!
It’s good that you decided to write this letter and do some much-needed venting. There is a lot going on inside of you right now that needs to come out and be processed. However, you will probably do well to also speak with a professional, so that you can say everything you need to say and work through your feelings around how unfair life feels for you right now. Sometimes it takes time to get it all out and understand your feelings on a deeper level and figure out what other life experiences may be adding to your pain.
Also, I think it might not be a bad idea if you had an honest conversation with Miriam and explained to her that you’re having a hard time right now dealing with her engagement and the feelings it’s generating in you. My guess is that anything you might share (you don’t have to go into all the gory details) will not surprise Miriam in the least, since, if the tables were turned, she might very well have a similar reaction. But by talking about and getting these feelings out in the open, you will free yourself up and create the space needed to be in touch with the joy that I know you feel for Miriam, thereby continuing to be the wonderful friend to her that she needs at this point, perhaps now more than ever.
You’re human; give yourself a bit of slack — and then work it out! Lick your wounds and show up for Miriam as you know she would — and she will — someday show up for you!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.