There used to be a great bar in New York’s Chinatown called Double Happiness. It was a swanky place with red velvet couches and an assortment of martinis — a strange, elegant counterpoint to the gritty streets of Broadway below. Back then I drank chocolate martinis laced with sweet cocoa shavings and made two happy birthday toasts. One for me, and one for my sister-in-law, since we have the same birthday.
That was the last big bash I had in which all my friends were present. I was just about to turn 30 and it was just before my sister-in-law got pregnant. In those years, living in New York was a true high. I could meet up with friends from all walks of life, gather in the “city” for a night of debauchery and still manage to get up for work the next day.
Those days are gone. Friendships have shifted as life marches on.
At first I was the one altering our relationships, dashing off to see the world, with my friends feeling left behind. But when I returned to New York in my mid-30s, there was a significant shift. My friends had gotten serious boyfriends.
Often unlucky in love myself, I enjoyed meeting the men who were making my buddies so happy. I imagined double dates and weekend getaways, but that was rarely the case. Instead they moved in together and got closer to their beaus, while we drifted apart.
Soon my weekends were filled not with festive brunches and movie nights but with searches for other people, single people, to hang with. I found them, but we were unable to connect in the same meaningful ways. They wanted to be out – drinking, clubbing — and I wanted my old companions back.
Strike two came when my coupled-up friends got married and started getting pregnant. Many of them still managed to waddle around and attend functions, and they offered a careful ear to my stories and shared stories of their own, but there was a tectonic shift. Girlfriends became mothers-to-be, their boyfriends became fathers-to-be, and their infants-to-be needed nutrition untainted by alcohol.
I get it. I don’t need cocktails to make me happy. I do, however, need my friends.
Then when the babies were born, this baby girl found herself lost. Seeing your oldest friends give birth is life-changing and glorious, but suddenly I realized that there was no place for me in this new phase of their lives.
Their new friendships were based on mommy groups and play dates, and their conversations reached a level of intimacy I was unprepared for. I’m fine hearing about their sex lives, but long discussions of bowel movements and diaper-sniffing became too much. Still, it hurt being excluded.
I was accustomed to so much love and attention from my friends and now strangers replaced me, just because they had children and I did not. While I understood the need for companions with kids, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be a part of their lives anymore. Would a child really change things so drastically?
“I used to think work was important until the baby was born,” I overheard a pretentious woman say at a barbecue. What?, I thought to myself. Is work unimportant? Is all life before a baby not relevant, and does that include friendships, too? If her philosophy is true, not only are all my relationships worthless, my life is as well.
I still had one married, albeit childless friend, who would travel with me once a year. She was adamant that she didn’t want children, and I felt comfort in having such a companion. That’s why I was stunned when she called me in her late 30s with the news.
“I’m pregnant!” she shouted into the phone.
“With twins, can you believe it?”
I wanted to scream and giggle with her like we were schoolgirls, but that never happened. Instead I cried, and quickly made an excuse to click off the phone and not ruin her moment. It didn’t help that I had just been ghosted after three good, intense dates — and needed a friend. After that call, I tried to apologize, but she ghosted me, too. “I don’t want anything upsetting my pregnancy,” she wrote. We didn’t speak for years.
By the time my 40th birthday rolled around, I had another big celebration and all my friends came with their significant others. All the women who came to my 30th birthday celebration in Chinatown are mothers now. Two of them have twins, bestowing a new meaning to Double Happiness. While we still are close, there will always be an invisible line divides us: those with children and those without.
In our 40s, things have pivoted. I’ve developed a thicker skin and a greater understanding of their new families. And now, as their children have grown older, they can relax more. They seem to want to hang out more and more, and it is I that sometimes says no.
I’ve learned that friendships can grow together – even if they drift apart for a bit. My true friends have come back in my life. Others I’ve simply let go of.