Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My best friend and I have known each other since kindergarten when her family moved to my hometown. Nearly 30 years later, we’re still incredibly close and have consistently seen each other at least a couple times a month for many years. Since she and her partner had a baby about five months ago, however, that’s completely changed.
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen her, and I can’t tell you how many times she’s cancelled plans with me at the last minute. When we talk on the phone, it’s just for a second, and I always feel like she’s distracted. I’m really trying to be patient with her—I do realize that having a kid is tough—but feel like my needs are not being met. Should I tell her how I’m feeling? Will we ever get back to where we were or have I lost my best friend to motherhood?
Missing My Friend
Dear Missing My Friend,
When my friends had babies, I used to offer to come visit. I’d show up, bring a gift for the baby, sit on the couch, hold the baby, ask to hear the birth story, chat about what’s going on with me and then, after a bit, I’d leave. I’d reach out to my friends to hang out sometime later, to go out for dinner. “You can get a babysitter! You deserve a night off,” I’d helpfully suggest. And my friends would say yes, that would be nice, but maybe later, in a few months, when things quiet down. And then we wouldn’t see each other very much anymore.
I used to think that my friends who had children had morphed into new people, people I no longer knew or understood. They weren’t normal friends anymore, they were parent people. They were always tired and busy and, for some reason, unwilling to tell me exactly what was now going on with them. It was like the child arrived and a part of their personality left. My fear of becoming a parent person is what made me swear to everyone that, when I was pregnant, I was not going to change. “We’re still going to hang out all of the time,” I assured my friends.
But I lied.
When a baby arrives in your world, your ability to just walk out of your front door leaves. Think about that. You can, as a parent, no longer just get up and go. You have to make plans, arrangements, assemble a diaper bag, snacks, and find tiny shoes. You are beholden to a small life and, with that, you are no longer free to come and go as you want, or to spend time as you want.
After I had a baby, people wanted to come over to see him, bring a present, hang out. But I was on the other side of the equation, and now, as the new mother being asked to host a friend, I usually said no. I said no because I was having a really hard time and couldn’t fathom the idea of hosting anyone on top of everything else I was doing. Breastfeeding wasn’t going well, I was exhausted, and I had post-partum depression eating up whatever was left of my brain. I couldn’t let anyone into my home unless I was comfortable with that person both seeing my nipples and watching me weep.
A few friends did come over and politely not stare at my nipples as they were sucked in and out of the breast pump. These friends brought my family dinner and hugged me as I cried and, most importantly, did not ask me to talk to them. At all. They sat and held my sleeping baby while I ignored them—took a shower, swept the floor, washed dishes. I would like to hereby formally apologize to all of the new parents I visited before I had a child myself—I’m sorry I made you talk to me. I’m sorry I let you serve me coffee. I’m sorry I didn’t use that time to help you manage your new child in your new world. I was an asshole and I didn’t know and I’m sorry.
Missing My Friend, I need you to lean in close and really listen for this part: Your friend isn’t being a good friend to you right now and that’s 100% fine. You feel as though you aren’t as important to her as you used to be and you’re right. Because you aren’t. You want her, but you don’t need her, not right now, not this second, not in order to live. You’re able to feed yourself and go to the restroom on your own and otherwise fully function in the world without her aid while her tiny child absolutely cannot. So when she’s about to head out and see you but her child isn’t eating, or is screaming, or has a fever, or didn’t sleep for a single second the night before, meaning your friend also didn’t sleep, then she’s going to cancel on you. Because she has to.
Children take all of you plus 44% more. You know that myth of Prometheus? He stole fire from the gods and gave it to man and the gods punished him by chaining him to a rock to have his liver eaten by birds every day. The pisser is, the liver grew back every night, only to be consumed by birds again the next day. Replace the birds with the baby and Prometheus with your friend and you may understand why she’s not calling you back right away.
Having a child is the largest, most sudden change you can make in your adult life. It’s a line with a very clear before and after, and the after is so different, so mind-bendingly all-encompassingly brand new, that it’s hard to talk about. It’s like trying to describe living in Japan to someone who’s never been there—you can do your best in words, but unless you’ve been there and seen the wholly different way of being, you cannot fully understand.
When I became a new parent, I talked about it. A lot. To everyone who would listen. Friends said, “Wow, you’re being really honest,” and I was. I felt like I was being mauled by a bear every day and saying “This bear situation kind of sucks,” was the best way I could figure out to cope.
The way to get your friend back is for you to become a better friend to her. That sounds unreasonable and unfair—her life changed, why should you have to do more? Because, sweet love, you have the capacity to do more. She doesn’t. Stop expecting your friendship to click back into place, for her to resume being the person she was before. That will happen, but not until her child can drive herself to soccer practice, and there are decades between then and now.
Stop expecting your friend to come out with you the way she used to. When you have a kid, going out at night has two significant obstacles:
- Someone has to be with the kid. Which means you need to negotiate with your partner, “Hey, I’m going to go have fun and spend our money on something you can’t do because you’ll be home doing an extra five to six hours of childcare and then tomorrow you can go do something while I do an extra five to six hours of childcare.” Or, someone has to be with the kid, which means you need to hire a babysitter, which means that your super fun dinner and drinks comes with a $60 cover charge for your friend. Would you still go to that restaurant if you had to pay $60 just to walk through the door?
- 6am is real. Children don’t sleep in, not on the weekends, not ever. They have a wake up time and that wake up time tends to be 6am. Would you go out for dinner and drinks if you knew for sure you had to wake up at 6am? Your friend has to wake up at 6am…Every. Fucking. Day.
Your friend took on these obstacles when she had a child, which is not your fault, but understanding the obstacles will help you chill out about why things are now different between the two of you. It has nothing to do with her love for you and everything to do with her complete and utter lack of capacity.
You really want this friendship to keep on, so you need to meet your friend more than half way. First off, read The No-Bullshit, No-Drama Friendship Manifesto, which always make me cry a little bit out of sheer relief each time I read it. Second, realize that the kid isn’t going away. The kid will become less work over time, and less likely to accidentally murder herself when left alone for 20 seconds, but the kid is now a permanent fixture of your friend’s life. Invite your friend out for coffee and ask her to bring the kid along. Show up to that coffee with some dollar store new toy for the kid and enjoy the snippets of conversation you’re able to have while your friend is trying to keep the kid from shoving crayons up her nose. Third, ask if you can have dinner, but at your friend’s house. Bring some wine, let your friend cook for you, or order takeout. The kid will go to sleep, her partner will go to another room, and you’ll be able to sit together in the same place, finally, and talk, really talk, without her attention being pulled away and snapped back like a rubber band.
Your friend wants to be your friend, and she needs your friendship even if she’s too overwhelmed to let you know right now. Cut her some slack and actively work to be available to her in those few minutes when she is able to talk. And then, one day, when you’re drowning in a sudden life change, she will surely do the same for you.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.