Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friend, Thy Name is Narcissus

Are you up for a long story today?

Being that most of you reading this are childfree, I know I am not alone in lamenting the loss (or demotion) of good friendships once a friend has children. Many times we feel as though we've been dumped once children come into our friend's picture.

Here's my question for you today: have you ever dumped a friend after he/she had kids? I did. Here's the story.

Paula was someone I had met in 7th grade when I started at a new school. We became fast friends and were best friends through 7th, 8th and 9th grades. We were inseparable. Then in high school we split off and went separate ways for many years until we later reconnected as adults.

It's interesting to reconnect as adults with someone you were friends with as a child. You never know how it will work out - if you will still be compatible. I was confident Paula and I would still be compatible - many things about her were still the same and many things about me were the same. But there was one big thing that had changed. Paula was desperate to have a child.

I didn't think this would necessarily be a problem. I may be staunchly childfree, but I have had several successful friendships with people who have children. However, Paula's desperation to have a child was more intense than anything I had witnessed before. This was illustrated by a comment she made to me in a letter stating that if she can't have children she would "rather die". I was worried, but she soon became pregnant and all was right in her world.

What was not right was what happened to our friendship. From the time the child was born, and for a few years after that (until our friendship ended), Paula was obsessed with her child to the point that I felt invisible in our friendship. Much of our interaction took place in letters to each other. She was a prolific letter writer, and I enjoy writing too, so we would send letters back and forth, about one per week. What really started to bother me was that in Paula's lengthy letters to me, the entire 5 pages were about her child - endless details about everything from the brand of diapers she uses to the child's sleeping schedule, to the temperature of her fevers, to the evaluation of day care centers, and on and on and on - lengthy, boring tedium that nobody in their right mind would subject another person to.

Now of course, I expect that a mother will talk about her child - the child is a big and important part of her life (as it should be). What was troubling was that in all 5 pages of each letter and in our interactions in person, she talked about nothing else. Not her job. Not her husband. Not current events. Not any interests. Nothing. If that was not bad enough, she showed no genuine interest in me and the happenings in my life. It was completely a one-way friendship.

So in response to her 5-page letters about her child, I would write back, politely commenting on the things she wrote about and then updating her on what was going on in my life. In return, in her letters to me, she did not acknowledge anything I had written about my life, but instead spent another 5 pages updating me about her daughter.

Needless to say this got old after awhile.

I turned to a close friend for help and at his advice, I began to turn the faders down on our friendship. I didn't feel comfortable coming straight out and telling her, "look, I feel completely ignored in our friendship and you show interest in nothing other than your child". So I figured, I'll just quietly ease away from the friendship. I undertook a deliberate plan of action to make her tire and lose interest in me. I took longer to reply to her letters. I shortened my letters. When I did write back, I didn't spend much time acknowledging the things she had written about. I took her approach and began to talk endlessly about myself, spending little time focusing on her. I figured in time she would either get the hint, or just get bored with me (since I would not be fulfilling her need for an active audience) and drop out of the picture.

Thinking back now, I was being a coward and a weasel. I didn't want to hurt her feelings so I figured I would just try to ease myself out of the friendship. My reasoning was that since she didn't have a sincere interest in me anyway (I was just a sounding board for her to rattle on and on about herself and her child), she wouldn't really care or notice.

But it didn't work. No matter how short my letters became, how little acknowledgement I gave her in my letters, how much time lapsed between letters, or how self-absorbed my letters became, she'd write back with full gusto - her usual 5-page dissertations about her daughter. I realized she was using our letters as a writing exercise - a diary to document her life. What's worse, she was actively pursuing me for in-person get-togethers which were just as bad as the letters, only in person which was more agonizing.

I was at wit's end.

The final straw for me was when I had mentioned (in an e-mail to her) that I was really excited because I got an A in my first graduate school class and her response was, "Oh, I didn't know you were in graduate school." Well, of course I had told her I was in graduate school in one of my prior letters. This just illustrated how little interest she had in me that she did not remember such an important fact. It was clear she didn't care, because her entire commentary on my being in graduate school consisted of just that one sentence and she was off and running on another lengthy diary entry about her daughter.

I was so exasperated by this that I forwarded her e-mail to my close friend (the confidant who was trying to help me figure out how to extricate myself from her) with the comment, "CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?!!!" Well, fate must have stepped in at this point to help me out (in the form of a blessing in disguise) because somehow I did something (perhaps hit "reply" instead of "forward"?) and the e-mail went right back to Paula and she discovered I had forwarded her message to another person.

Of course, a blow-out immediately ensued and she was extremely hurt that I had betrayed her confidence. At that point, I could do nothing but be completely straightforward with her. I told her exactly how I felt - that I felt alienated from her because she seemed to be interested in nothing other than her child, and showed no genuine interest in me or the goings-on in my life.

Her reply? "Of COURSE I am interested in my child! She will always be the center of my life!" (I think she missed the point). And then, she lambasted me for telling her the honest reasons I no longer wanted to be friends with her. "You couldn't have just told me something like 'I feel we've grown apart' " - you had to be TRUTHFUL and tell me I bore you and show no interest in you!"

And that's when I stopped feeling badly because it was at this moment that she illustrated the precise reason I wanted out of the friendship. Even at this moment, when a friend was ending a long-standing friendship with her, her thoughts were only on herself, on her feelings, with no concern for her friend's unhappiness or what led her friend to want to pull away. She didn't care about my feelings or why I no longer wanted to be friends with her. She would prefer be lied to than to know how her behavior had driven away a friend.

So that was the end of that friendship.

This happened about 7 years ago and it came back to mind when I was writing my recent post about Baby Mama Facebook Drama. I realized there is a common thread between that story and this one. Some parents believe that the second they give birth, the entire world revolves around them and every detail of their lives. They believe that the life of childrearing is so scintillating and engaging and captivating to everyone that we are all hanging on the edge of our seats, salivating in anticipation of the next detail. They give a pitying nod to anyone who has any interests, endeavors and pursuits other than childrearing because none of those remotely compare to the earth-shatting importance of parenthood.

They believe this because this is what is drummed into our heads from the moment we are born - that the most important and gratifying role in life is that of parent. All roads lead to parenthood. It is the ultimate goal. It is the purpose of marriage. It is the purpose of sex. It is a love like no other. It completes you. It defines a woman and makes her "whole".

Given this thorough brainwashing, is it any wonder that parents (especially women) believe they are God the second they pop out a child? That trumpets of heaven will sound the moment they become parents? That everyone around them will bow down in worship? That we will be hanging on their every word and action? That their role as mother trumps all else?

Thankfully, there are parents who do not fall under this brainwashing spell - they are small in number, but they are out there (some of them are friends of mine). In the meantime, it can be difficult and hazardous navigating our way among all the others.

11 comments:

Sabrina said...

I'm amazed she ever bothered to write at all! I have some friends who might as well shut off their internet connection because they rarely respond to emails. I wonder if their kid ever naps or they just spend the whole day chasing it around.

redwings19 said...

I have a former friend that is like that. A once intelligent woman got married and pregnant and she seemed to have nothing else to talk about but her darling children. They are cute, but I missed our conversations. I felt smart just being around her! And then the kids.

A very good friend of mine just had her first baby later in her life. She had been on the fence all her life but had gotten pregnant with this in her late 30's. While I miss the happy hours and the long phone calls, she seems to want and need to keep our friendship alive. She makes beautiful jewelery and has to put this on hold until the baby is a wee bit older. I'm hopeful that we can stay connected now that her life is changing. I'm like you - I'll celebrate my friend's lives, but it has to be a two way street.... a give and take.

Luasol said...

The fact she did not acknowledge or ask how things were in your life is good reason to end a friendship. You were taking the time to ask about her life.

A cf friend and I had a conversation about how we always make the effort, make changes in our schedules to reach out to married friends with kids, but how we are always the ones doing the work. The married parents rarely make any effort on their end. In the rare event I see them, always on their terms. It's sad its come down to this.

I believe friendship is a two-way street and a lot of marrieds with kids lose sight. I realize things change when children are involved, however it would be nice if effort would be made on that side once in a while. I don't think its asking too much.

Laura said...

I've been through this soooo many times! It's so bad that last summer when a friend announced she was going to try for a baby,I said, "it was nice knowing you."

Schrodinger's Kittens said...

When my best friend from grade school had a baby, her previous identity--distance runner, cello player--was gone; it was all about the baby now. I understood it was different for her now, and since I was in college we weren't as close as we had been, but we were still pretty tight. So I stayed quiet during all the navel-gazing and platitudes about motherhood and baby stories told over and over.

The day our friendship ended, she said something that started with "When you have kids..." We had been best friends since first grade. I knew since third grade that I wasn't having kids. When I reminded her, she gave me that simpering smile the CF know so well and said, "When you get more mature, like me, you'll change your mind."

Well.

I was going to school, working, paying my bills and looking for my first "real" job after graduation, and here I was being lectured by someone I had loved like a sister, who was now dismissing my choices because they were different than hers. I had put aside my judgment and been happy for her because she had gotten what she wanted, even though I didn't share that wish for myself, and I wanted to see her happy. So I got up, said I had to go, let myself out, and never looked back. Later I found out through the grapevine that I was "jealous" and "bitter at her success because I was doing nothing with my life". Just typing that, I feel as sad and angry as I did when it happened.

I'm not sure if I was dumped, or did the dumping, or let myself be dumped. But after having my decisions for my life dismissed like that, it was beyond repair anyway.

Childfreeeee said...

Wow, I am glad I am not alone! I like the "nice knowing you" line. Maybe I'll use that next time a friend announces she's pregnant.

Shrodinger's Kittens, what a story. I think of everything, the condescending pity that we receive, when we are very happy with our lives, is the WORST - being treated as though we are just soooo confused and lost. And JEALOUS!???

Yes, I guess there is a little jealousy - jealousy that our childed friends are accepted, validated and understood while we are looked at like poor, misdirected fools. But jealous of a childed person's life? Never!

Whiskey Tango said...

It's almost compulsatory that friendships end with women I know who have a baby. They can't.stop.talking.about.their.kids to the point where I wonder if they pushed out their brains along with the kid. Shrodinger's Kittens, your story is unbelievable! To me, you're someone I would want to know because you're doing SO MUCH with your life - much more interesting than the amount of formula Junior ate on Thursday.

Why is it so hard for the childed to accept that our choice not to have children is NOT a reflection or a judgement on their choices? We're expected to "put up and shut up" so why can't they? It's so frustrating.

Childfree Chick said...

Just added you to my blogroll ;-)

Anywho...my BFF just had a baby a few days ago and many aspects of this really apply to my life right now. I'm trying to exercise patience about the Facebook thing since it's been less than a week since the little munchkin arrived but the endless photos and updates are TRYING my patience! Ugh!

Janine said...

This is all too familiar for me too. When my BF told me she was pregnant for the first time, I burst out in tears. I did all the friendship work for the first 2, but when 3 came along, I decided to see what happened if I stopped working so hard. It has been 7 years since I heard from her, after being friends for 25 plus pre-kids.

After several incidents with others, I instinctively step back from women wanting kids. Very sad, but once burnt (well, every time actually)...

HawkMom said...

"Given this thorough brainwashing, is it any wonder that parents (especially women) believe they are God the second they pop out a child?"

Absolutely. I cause quite a stir on the military wife forums, as I haven't put myself on a pedestal for giving birth. It's a natural function: "It was amazing, but it's not rocket science." That's my mantra.

Anyway, I'm guilty of this a little bit. For one, the military has taken me away from all of my friends. For the most part, though, I just don't know/trust anyone well enough to leave HawkBaby with them, so I take her everywhere. We tried a movie this weekend (*ducks for tomatoes*), but she started to fuss during the trailers, so I took her out and drove her around while HawkDad enjoyed the show. It sucks, but I chose this. No need everyone else having a terrible moviegoing experience all because *I* spawned, you know?

jilren said...

OMG...I JUST DID THIS TOO.

And yes, I felt a little weaselly about it, but she was SO INTENSE, the whole time this friend was trying to get pregnant, and then when she finally fell pregnant I was given endless (truly, hours long!) stories about : ovulation, gestation, procreation, lactation, fertilization, copulation, dilation...you get it. I am no prude...but describing the best position, in detail to conceive in? With hand gestures? Calling me to let me know they "did it" and this might be THE BIG ONE.

Ick, it really made me cringe. Unnecessary visual anyone? OVERSHARE.

And I know she was fascinated by this whole process, indeed, it can be interesting... but I DO NOT WANT TO SIT WITH A HIGHLIGHTER PEN AND LOOK OVER YOUR OVULATION CHART FOR AN HOUR. I am not interested in a "mucous plug." (phew!)

I had only known this woman through my husbands work for a few months too...this was not a long and enduring friendship or anything.

Long story short her endless narcissism and neurotic behavior was making me crazy. So...I did the same, one word replies to texts, longer and longer periods without returning phone calls...etc. (I actually fibbed and said I was taking an online course so she couldn't "pop" in on me for coffee anymore.) I know,I know... for shame.

Here's the thing, we are expats in a foreign country, and in this weird little world your social circle is VERY small. So I deliberately tried to be as passive and patient about untangling myself from her as possible. I was never rude, never outright ignored her. Intentionally.Carefully. Thoughtfully. So I KNOW I was a nice girl about it.

But...I did drift further and further from her reach. I hadn't seen her but once in probably four months or so.

Baby got born, blah blah, I made the right little cooing noises over the pics on Facebook, all of that towing the line stuff. And it's true, the baby is cute. The spit of it's father... who she secretly sort of hates...(ha.) but that's another story.

And just two days ago I was sent a 1000+ letter about how selfish I am that I never came to visit her or bring her presents(!)for her new baby. "The most important thing that has ever happened." Endquote.

WHAT!

And riddle me this...how freaking happy can you be if you have the time and inclination to compose a two page letter to me detailing every tiny infraction, (there was a mention of how I said I would bring her a gift from our honeymoon,but she annoyed me so much I kept it. She remembered.)

She has a healthy, beautiful 8 week old baby!

Get over it...AND LEAVE ME ALONE.

"Friend, Thy Name is Narcissus" indeed.

PS- you have a real gift with naming these posts Childfreeee...I always smile...

:)