| Double Take |

Friends and Fault Lines 

Why did my friends drop me just because I got married?

 

Estie: You say things haven’t changed… but they have.
Tehilla: Does my sheitel mean we can’t meet for ice cream?

 

Tehilla

When they talked about shanah rishonah, they never told me about the quiet.

They talked about adjustments and compromise and the First Fight. They talked about cooking his favorite meals and getting along with his mother (or not getting along, as the case may be) and reminding him about your birthday. But no one ever told me about those long, boring, empty stretches of time — Shacharis and Minchah and Maariv, first seder and second seder and night seder, all that time listening to the clock tick slowly on in your gleaming kitchen and wondering how you never noticed how loudly your shoes slap on the floor .

The evenings were the hardest. I had a part-time secretarial job in a real estate office and I was getting my degree online. It’s not like I was bored. But I had no social life. I was the only secretary in the quiet office, and while I’d gotten my BA in a local frum program together with friends, my master’s program was totally online. If I didn’t count the cashier in the grocery or my visits to my parents, I had no social interaction to speak of. I used my free afternoons to cook supper and fold the little laundry we had, and when Meir left for night seder, I usually had coursework to do, but sometimes, when I looked at the computer screen, I thought I would scream.

“Why don’t you get together with friends?” Meir asked me one evening, on his way out the door. “Chill a little, relax, enjoy yourself... what about your whole chevrah? Or Estie?”

“I invited Estie over a few times. It didn’t work out for her.” I frowned, realizing something as I said it. “Wait, that’s funny, she really hasn’t come over in what, three months? I haven’t seen the group in ages.”

Now that I thought of it, it really had been a while. The last we’d all been together was probably my sheva brachos, the one that my aunt — Estie’s mother — had made. Estie’s my cousin and best friend, and, till I got married, was my neighbor down the block, which is about as close as you can get without being sisters. (Maybe closer, if you take sibling rivalry into account...) We were part of the same group of friends throughout high school and seminary, and stayed close afterward too. The last few years, there were five or six of us, same age, same stage. We did a ton of stuff together — bowling, shopping in the city, Motzaei Shabbos pizza parties, and of course, sharing a never-ending stream of dating sagas.

And then the dating saga ended — for me at least. I had a whirlwind engagement and before I knew it, the group of us were dancing up a storm at my wedding. Estie and the others turned up with full gear, shticks and pictures and customized T-shirts, balloons and confetti and all, and we danced the night away. I danced with all of them together and each one individually, and after tight hugs I made sure to let them know that “this” — my transition to the world of married women — wasn’t going to change anything between us.

Except that it did. I hadn’t expected that. After all, I was working the same job, living in the same town. Okay, so my schedule would be a little different — bein hasedorim would be sacred — but there was plenty of time outside of lunch and supper hour, wasn’t there? I hadn’t realized then just how overwhelming it would be to have to deal with keeping up an apartment and cooking lunch and supper, and for the first few weeks gourmet breakfasts too, until Meir had pity on me and told me he was fine to eat cereal. Then there was the master’s program I’d started pretty much as soon as sheva brachos was over. It was serious; so different from the chilled Sunday BA program where I’d laughed with friends as much as I’d taken notes. Life definitely got more intense after my wedding than I’d anticipated.

But now, a couple of months in, things had settled down a bit. I’d gotten better at cooking, and meal prep took a lot less time. And while I spent plenty of time on my degree, I’d settled down enough to realize that I really missed my friends. Things had been so quiet recently on the social front. Had the group disbanded or something?

I tried to think back. There’d been a text from Devory a few weeks after my wedding, the gang was getting together on Friday night to chill at her place. I was out of town that week, by my in-laws, so that didn’t work out. Then there was a message from Estie, we used to go power-walking every Monday morning, was I still interested? I would’ve loved to, but it clashed directly with our short breakfast time together. I’d texted her to see if we could change the timing, but she wanted to do it right before work, and I couldn’t manage the timing, so that didn’t work out either.

Still, what about the shopping, restaurant dates, evening schmoozes? Even a phone call or two? I needed some company around here before the quiet made me lose my mind.

After Meir left one evening, I called Estie. Her cell phone went straight to voicemail.

“Hi, Estie, it’s Tehilla, what’s up? Wanna meet up tonight, or tomorrow, let me know. It’s been forever!”

Then I spent the evening slogging over a tedious research paper and chatting on the phone with my mother.

Estie texted me around midnight. Sorry didn’t hear your message until now. Will speak.

I called her the next day as I was leaving work. “How about tonight?” I offered when she picked up the phone.

“Sorry.” She really did sound regretful. “I have… something on.”

“Oh? You mean, something?” I was surprised. In the past, she’d always shared with me when she was dating.

“Something…? Oh, no, not a date,” she laughed. “Nope. Not tonight. Actually, it’s a small shiur… more of a chaburah. With Rebbetzin Weingot, you know her?” She was talking very quickly. “We asked her to give us a private class, just a few of us, you know, it’s on Wednesday evenings, so that’s why I’ll be busy tonight….”

Just a few of us? She meant the chevrah. My chevrah.

I tried for an airy tone, but my voice came out thick. “When… did you start this?” I asked. “I mean, it’s a shame I didn’t know. I’d love to join.”

Estie went quiet for a moment. “It’s… I mean… it’s about shidduchim, emunah, that sort of thing,” she said, finally. “I know you enjoy shiurim and stuff, but this isn’t really the type…” She trailed off.

Oh.

“So that’s Wednesday nights, okay, I get it,” I told Meir, over stuffed eggplant boats that looked nothing like the picture in the recipe book but tasted, well, edible, at least. “But like, what about other things? Shopping, pizza, chilling out… we were always doing stuff, hanging out together. I feel so uncomfortable asking all the time. I wish they’d just keep me in the loop, let me know what’s going on.”

“Just tell them,” he offered helpfully.

I stopped just short of rolling my eyes. Men. “Want a drink?” I asked, changing the subject.

Later, I sent Estie a text, after deleting and revising the wording three times. Let me know when the group gets together next. Would love to see all of you guys.

She called me the next evening, just as Meir walked in. I signaled to him that I’d be a moment.

“Tehilla, hi, just wanted to let you know, we’re meeting up at the coffee place in a few minutes. Want to join? I could give you a ride.”

I looked at the table, sweet-and-sour schnitzel and Chinese rice and steamed broccoli, and calculated furiously. “I can join you in about half an hour. Would that be okay?” I could get a black coffee and a croissant or something, even if everyone else would be indulging in creamy lattes.

“Well, you could come over if you want, but everyone’s meeting there now, Bassi’s got something on later, so I’m not sure how long we’ll be there….”

The food was going to get cold. I signaled to Meir to start. “Listen, Estie, I gotta go, we’re just about to eat supper. I guess I’ll have to leave it for tonight. Maybe next time if I knew in advance…” I trailed off, feeling like a loser. Why had things shifted so drastically? We always accommodated each other’s commitments and schedules. We always managed to make it work, getting together. Just because I was on a kollel wife schedule, everything had to change?

I tried to judge favorably. I really did. But even when they did let me know about their plans, it seemed half-hearted and belated. Just letting you know we’re going to the city tomorrow afternoon, wanna come? Or, Hey we’re at Riva’s, come over! And a text from Estie: Raylie’s bday tonight, we’re celebrating at The Sushi Bar at 7:30.

We’re going, we’re celebrating, we’re at… I got the message. They were making plans without me, getting together as a group with the old, easy dynamics, and sliding me out of things. Oh, they let me know what they were doing, but the timing never worked out and it was often last-minute, and how was I supposed to make arrangements if I didn’t have any time to figure things out?

Sorry can’t make it tomorrow… I wrote regretfully, passing up on the trip to the city because I knew how these things worked. None of the others had homes to rush back to or supper to prepare, more often than not we’d just eat out when we got hungry and get home hours later than intended.

Wish I could be there, I replied to the next one as I turned down the flame under the soup and checked the salmon in the oven. But part of me didn’t wish it at all. I could envision the group lounging around in Riva’s basement — surely they didn’t all simply turn up there, she must have invited them, they had made some arrangement. Why wasn’t I included from the start? What had happened, anyway, they were all sitting there and someone (Estie?) remembered, Oh, hey, we should invite Tehilla, it’s been forever? Was I an afterthought, a duty invite, a reject?

I made it to Raylie’s birthday party, Meir having insisted that it was totally fine for him to eat supper alone for a change, and I needed to get back into the social scene. But I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself. On the outside, everything was comfortable and familiar: I got compliments on my sheitel, my shoes, my bag, we chatted about work stresses and how cold it was outside. But then Bassi launched into a story about her fourth date with some guy who had just said no to her — everyone else seemed to be intimately familiar with details of the first three dates — and suddenly, I felt conspicuous. Like I didn’t belong. I wanted to say something, make a joke, even sympathize — but I felt awkward, like it wouldn’t be appreciated. Had they all forgotten that I’d had my fair share of dating horrors, that I could well understand what it meant?

Still, better to err on the side of tactful. I spent most of the evening trying to say the right thing, find my place again. Maybe it had just been too long?

When I rehashed the whole situation with Meir, he suggested that I take the initiative more. “Why don’t you arrange a get-together, make it natural, make it comfortable,” he said. “You could have them over one evening, even. Or on Shabbos, after the seudah?”

“Hey, that could work,” I said, suddenly feeling excited. Before, Estie had often come over to my parents’ house on Shabbos afternoon, and the rest of the gang naturally gravitated there too. Why not do it here, in my own living room? I could bake, put out nosh, pull out the selection of games that Meir and I never seemed to have time for.

I texted each of the group individually, hoping it would make them feel personally invited. Nothing too over-the-top — I didn’t want to sound needy — but just a warm, sincere message, It’s been a while, I’d love to see you Friday night, anytime after 8….

I checked the time at least 20 times during the seudah, until Meir suggested we skip dessert and just bentsch so I could set up for the party. I had brownies and coffee cake and cute little dishes of candy and nuts, which took about 11 minutes to arrange to my satisfaction on the newly cleared dining room table. I looked at my watch; it was only just past 7:30. Giggling, I went to offer Meir dessert.

He left the apartment at ten to eight, thoughtfully offering to learn in the beis medrash down the road for the duration of the big event. I picked up a magazine, put it down again, checked the time. Two minutes to go.

But eight o’clock came and went, and there wasn’t a single knock at the door.

Did I give them the right address? Time? Had all of them forgotten? Were they coming later on together?

Hey, it’s just been five minutes, relax, I told myself.

But it was hard to relax as I paced between the laden dining room table and the door. I put the drinks back in the fridge, then took them out again. I checked the time. I rearranged the napkins and decided to put away two of the games, it looked like too much.

At eight forty, Estie showed up. She shrugged off her coat and looked at the table, a fleeting expression of pity crossing her face.

“Oh, wow, this all looks so good,” she said.

I smiled widely, fakely. “Yeah. Glad some of us are going to get to enjoy it.”

She picked up a brownie, played with it until it crumbled onto the tablecloth, and finally took a small bite. “Yum, this is really good.”

I bit my lip. What was I supposed to do now? Ask her about her week? Ask if she knew where the others were? Dig for information, was this a scheduled boycott, did they all text behind my back, planning not to come? After all that work, effort, time, planning… what would I tell Meir? My cheeks burned. How humiliating.

We made conversation, but it was stilted by the obvious elephant in the room. Finally, I couldn’t resist asking casually if she knew whether any of the others would make it. “I texted them all, Bassi and Riva said they would try come, I thought you guys would all be hanging out together anyway…”

Estie played with the edges of her scarf. “Oh? I… don’t really know…” she said slowly. Then, coming to some sort of decision, she said, “I think they’re, you know, uncomfortable. I mean, face it, Tehilla, you’ve moved on, we’re still single.” She made a gesture to encompass the living room, wedding picture by the candlesticks, my sparkling apartment, me. “It just doesn’t work to pretend it’s like the old times. We can’t always accommodate a totally different schedule… you know what I mean?”

I gaped at her. “So, you mean they just ignored my messages? They all decided not to come?” I was having a hard time wrapping my head around it. These were my best friends. A group boycott? Had they discussed it? Laughed about it, at me? Tears stung my eyelids.

“No, no, really, it wasn’t like that,” Estie said hurriedly. “Bassi was too tired, I went past before and she said she needed to sleep, and Raylie’s married siblings are here for Shabbos… I don’t know about the others, they said they would try to come.”

Small comfort.

I looked around at the beautiful display, all my hard work to show my friends I was still the same person, the same friend. To tell them that I didn’t want to lose my whole social circle just because my life circumstances turned out differently than theirs. But it seemed no one was ready to listen.

If I could tell Estie one thing, it would be: I’m not a different person because I got married, and I still need friends.

 

Estie

Let’s be straight out about this.

Things are not the same after you get married.

Tehilla and I were always super close, more like twins than cousins. But when Tehilla got engaged — after the requisite squeal-shriek-aaaahhhh! and running over to the l’chayim — I realized it was never going to be the same.

It’s not like I wanted it any other way. Tehilla’s chassan — and then, her husband — was her first priority, naturally taking the place of close friendships. Exactly how it was meant to be, and exactly how I hoped it would be for me, when my time came. There wouldn’t be nightly DMCs till all hours of the morning, spontaneous trips after work, birthday celebrations at upscale restaurants. I knew all that. I also knew that with time, we’d probably find some sort of balance, but the early days of marriage weren’t prime time for hanging on to old friendships.

So when Tehilla floated off into the sunset, after three months as a dreamy kallah, I was pretty much ready for it. Luckily, I had a great circle of friends who were still single, so I didn’t spend too much time mourning my close relationship with Tehilla. The first few times she didn’t turn up when the group got together were a little strange, but I figured she was super busy with her new life, and we would just have to get used to it.

When we met up at a family event or something, she was glowing and dreamy, chatting to me about her apartment and asking the requisite questions about work, dating, life. Somehow, though we’d always been so close, I just didn’t feel so comfortable anymore, sharing my latest shidduch frustration or moaning about the “singles ceiling” at work. Tehilla had received a promotion at work shortly after she returned with a sheitel. The group had had a field day with that one, dissecting the societal discrimination and suggesting outlandish ideas how to change it.

We weren’t just busy having fun, either. After Tehilla got married, Bassi suggested we start some sort of weekly shiur or chaburah to learn something on emunah. Raylie’s aunt, Rebbetzin Weingot, is a well-known speaker, and she agreed to give us some time each week to learn Shaar Habitachon together.

I was sold after a week. The session was small and intimate, just the five of us, and Rebbetzin Weingot had prepared a beautiful shiur to share with us — as if we were a large audience! Riva brought along cookies and muffins, and we ended up sitting with the Rebbetzin for more than two hours, talking about emunah and shidduchim and some of our recent difficult shidduch experiences.

The chaburah brought us a lot closer as a group. I drove Bassi home after the shiur, and we ended up sitting in my car outside her house discussing it until past midnight. The next night, I went power walking with Riva, and on Shabbos, we all got together at Devory’s place.

So when I got a voicemail from Tehilla a few nights later, I was surprised. She hadn’t reached out for a while, and neither had I. But now she was calling to ask if I wanted to spend some time together. It was… nice, I guess. But I was so inundated now, with work and dating and my busy social life.

It actually slipped my mind to call her back, so when she called me in the middle of the afternoon the next day, I picked up, even though I was still at work.

“Hi, Tehilla, what’s up?”

“Hey, you busy tonight?” she asked without preamble. In the past, we’d hung out together all the time — probably almost every day — but now, things have changed. And tonight was Wednesday — our shiur with Rebbetzin Weingot. Suddenly, I felt awkward.

“Sorry, I have something on tonight,” I told her, trying to be vague.

I heard the interest spark in her voice. “Oh?”

Ugh, now she thought I was dating. I hurried to correct that notion. “No, not a date. Not tonight,” I told her. Then I shrugged and thought, It’s not a secret, is it? “Actually, it’s a small shiur… more of a chaburah. With Rebbetzin Weingot, you know her? We asked her to give us a private class, just a few of us, you know…” I trailed off. I was just making this sound worse. Now she was going to be offended.

I tried to salvage the situation by explaining that the whole focus of the shiurim was shidduchim and emunah, but it came out sounding lame. How could I explain to my best friend that it just doesn’t feel the same to get together with one of us as a married woman?

“Well, enjoy the class tonight,” Tehilla said finally. She sounded hurt. “I guess you’ll let me know when you have a free evening.”

I hung up the phone, feeling terrible. But she’d just checked out of friendship for a couple months, and my life had moved on, too.

We tried, we really did.

I texted her when we got together, we invited her to eat out with us, even when it was really uncomfortable, even when she airily told Bassi not to worry, she would know the right one when she meets him, it’s just going to click. I bit my tongue and watched the conversation get more and more stilted.

“Is everyone okay?” Tehilla asked me once, when I drove her home. (Yup, I’m one of the group chauffeurs, being privileged enough to have my own car as opposed to sharing with other family members.) “I mean, like, Raylie was really quiet… and Devory looked distracted too.”

I shrugged. It’s not them, it’s you, I wanted to tell her. They feel uncomfortable. You don’t share our challenges anymore. It’s not working to pretend everything’s the same with all of us. You can’t force a social dynamic that’s changed direction.

But of course, I couldn’t tell her that.

Eventually, I got sick of it. I might be her cousin, and I might have been her best friend, but I honestly didn’t have the headspace to be the go-between all the time. I felt like I was constantly getting negative vibes from the group for pushing them to include Tehilla, and then getting backlash from Tehilla for not giving her enough advance notice or for forgetting to tell her about some social event or another. I wasn’t her keeper and I’d had enough.

“If Tehilla wants to join us more, she should just let everyone know herself,” I told Bassi, in a rare moment of betrayal toward my cousin. We were out for ice cream, the others hadn’t arrived yet, and I was feeling bad that I hadn’t let Tehilla know. But this was a comfort-food, pseudo-therapy session for Devory, whose younger sister was dating seriously. She’d invited all of us to come and join her pity party, and wasn’t it her prerogative to choose who she wanted to be there?

Bassi agreed that I was right, and we turned our attention to perusing the menu.

But it didn’t make things any easier to handle when my phone buzzed 20 minutes later, and Tehilla texted to ask if the group was getting together, she was bored out of her mind and wanted to go out with us.

I ignored the text. But every time the door of the ice cream store opened, I glanced around guiltily. What if she found out? What would I say? And why was all of this my problem?

And then came the Friday night disaster.

At first, when I got Tehilla’s invitation, I thought it was just for me. But then the others messaged me, and I realized that she’d invited everyone over.

You gonna come? I texted the others, hoping to sound casual. I was sure this meant a lot to Tehilla, I hoped it wasn’t going to turn into another whole situation where people would get hurt.

Hopefully. Will try. If I can, came the first couple of replies.

I don’t think so, my married siblings are home this week, Raylie texted me.

Okay, well, if all the rest of us showed up, it wouldn’t be too bad.

I went to pick up Bassi on my way. She came to the door in a long Shabbos skirt and comfortable top, yawning widely.

“Estie? Yikes, you schlepped out of your way for me? I’m so sorry… I’m just too tired. I’m gonna give it a miss tonight….”

“Sure,” I said. “What’s been happening?” I knew she’d been dating, it was getting serious.

She shrugged. “Who knows. I have another date Motzaei Shabbos. Honestly, I’m just so unsure about this.”

We chatted for a while, and then I noticed the time. “Wow, we’ve been talking for ages! I hope Tehilla hasn’t been wondering where I am,” I said, feeling a little bad. We waved goodbye and I headed over to my cousin’s apartment.

From outside, I could hear the silence. Was no one there? I knocked, and Tehilla opened the door too quickly, like she’d been waiting there the whole time. I peeked past her, saw the table set to perfection, Tehilla-style. She must have worked so hard on this. And no one had bothered to show up.

“Wow, this looks so good,” I blurted. It sounded awkward. Loud in the stillness.

“Yeah,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “I guess some of us will get to enjoy it.”

I sat down, complimented the brownies, and thought furiously. Should I say something? Excuse everyone? Where were they, anyway? I mean, Raylie was home, Bassi was tired, but the others? They’d said they would try to come. Maybe they just didn’t feel like it.

And as I strained to make conversation past the elephant in the room, I realized: I could understand the others. I really, really could.

If I could tell Tehilla one thing, it would be: We don’t mean to hurt you — but you’re not in the same boat as us anymore, and that changes the way it feels when we do things as a group. 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 846)

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