When good friends – male or female – get married, so much changes.
Just the other night, in a discussion about singleness as an unexpected way of life, one 27-year-old woman commented, “Each time a close friend gets married, my whole relational framework morphs. My social life is affected because that person is less available. So – goodbye spontaneous Saturday night movie fests or ice cream runs. She (or he) now has a new and permanent primary relationship, and I know I am secondary.”
Letting go is never easy under any circumstances, but I think it feels more difficult when it seems like you’re letting someone go toward more and you are being left behind with less. (Though friends in difficult marriages remind me that sometimes less is more.) In any case, what other choice is there besides letting go? Getting angry? Getting clingy? Getting detached? Throwing a self-pity party to be beat all pity parties? There are elements of short-term pleasure in each, but none of them will do the real trick: i.e., keep the loss at bay. Nope, letting go with grace is the only way forward.
What does it look like, letting go with grace? I imagine that there are many manifestations, but I think it can look a little like this: being willing to face the ugly, empty, scared parts of your own soul – no matter how ridiculous or embarrassing – and naming them aloud. Usually for me, this sounds something like telling God and a friend, “I’m insanely jealous and feel highly ripped off and left out.”
Then there’s asking for the help to change. Maybe even wrestling with God, and your own soul, long and hard enough until he blesses with you with the capacity to say honestly and joyfully to a dear friend, “Congratulations! I am so happy for you!” And sometimes, along the way, you might just need to march forward with a little pain.
I remember coming home to my house late one evening, noticing it was pitch black but that my roommate’s soon-to-be-fiancé’s car was out front. A sinking feeling came over me. One can only walk into a dark house with one’s roommate and boyfriend cuddled up on the couch in front of the fireplace so many times without starting to feel a bit third-wheely at best, or nauseated at worst. Taking a deep breath, I reached for the handle of my car door and then froze. I couldn’t get out of my car and go in that house. My heart couldn’t take watching Ryan’s hand gently caress Dana’s as the two of them otherwise graciously attempted to converse with me. Somehow, though our conversation was real enough, each of his curlicue finger motions on her forearm was like a screaming reminder of my own intimate love gaps. And that maxed out my pain-O-meter.
But I didn’t want to sleep in my car, and my bed was in that house. So, feeling like an idiot, I called a friend, explained the situation, and declared, “Jeannie, you have to pray me through the door.” She, with great understanding, obliged, and a few minutes later I left my car and, with much banging and clanging, let myself in the front door.
Maybe this is not so much a picture of letting go with grace – which somehow connotes effortless, decorous ease – as much as it’s an image of letting go by grace, which isn’t always pretty. Only Someone bigger than I am got me inside that door and able to genuinely engage with Dana and Ryan. Only Someone bigger than I am could keep me from being a royal snot, from copping an attitude of vague disdain toward their shared tenderness. Only Someone bigger than I am could enable me to know in my gut, “This is a good gift my friend has been given. Let her enjoy her gift.” I’ve needed that grace in the crevices of my soul where the temptation to cling and control relentlessly resides.
Actually, nothing has taught me dependence on God like letting go of people. I don’t think it’s simply because I’m a chronically codependent, enmeshed, dysfunctional relational junkie. Perhaps there’s some truth in that. But honestly, letting go can just be hard on the heart, and sometimes I need help. I need help trusting that if I, like a trapeze artist, let go of one swinging ladder and free-fall through the air, another ladder will come to my hand when the time is right. David, the second king of Israel, once said, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalms 37:25). I wish I could ask him if his observations applied to food for the soul as well as for the body.
I know I have had some serious hunger pains since my friends started marrying off fifteen years ago. There have been many lonely, dateless Saturday nights when I’ve wanted to call a friend but she’s out with her husband. There are annual moments at family beach gatherings when my brothers and their wives go out for long walks, and I’m left watching another VeggieTales video with their children and my parents. Honestly, at times it has felt like getting whacked in the heart by an emotional hammer. Strangely, though, it’s as if the pattern of loss has actually softened my heart. Though I would never have chosen it (and would melt down that hammer if I had the choice), letting go again and again has pounded tenderness into my heart, keeping it from growing leathery and tough. As a result, as crazy as it sounds, my heart has actually grown more fertile.
Somehow, I now have Dana and her good gift in my heart. It’s like my friendship with her got reapportioned and then multiplied, especially as children have come with her marriage. Or now, when I meaningfully connect in relationships with other friends who have married off, like with my friend Del or with my brother, it’s far richer and deeper because their respective marriages (and parenting experiences) have left each of them as even more loving and wise people. It’s as if the cutbacks have in fact spawned more growth.
Recently I went to the post office to pick up my latest bridesmaid dress (one I think I really will wear again). Unboxing it at home and shaking out the wrinkles, a strange thing happened. Instead of freaking out or getting that “I’m stinking sick of being a bridesmaid!” feeling, I found myself quietly smiling, anticipating my friend’s wedding day. Miraculously, as the bridesmaid-once-again tried on her dress, the drama queen was at rest. Lingering in the pale blue – not white – dress, I found myself silently concurring with King David: in spite of the real loss of intimacy with many close friends whose lives changed with marriage, I had not been forsaken. I had not been left behind. I had not become an emotional beggar. I was not some pitifully depressing, lonely, old, tight-hearted spinster. To the contrary. As I looked into the mirror, I reflected: my heart was more full than ever. Something deep in my soul was tasting satisfaction. Plus, my smile grew bigger because, well, between you and me, I thought I looked hot in that dress.
Adapted from "Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn't Expect," © 2006 by Connally Gilliam. Published by SaltRiver Books (an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers).
Connally Gilliam earned a Master's of Teaching (English) from the University of Virginia and has taught high school and college writing. She now works for Navigators as a Life Coach for Twenty-somethings in the Washington, DC, metro area. She loves sharing coffee with friends and discovering how God is real, even in a crazy, changing and unintentionally single world.