Survivor’s Guilt

Alice and I have been friends for a long time. With busy professional and family lives, we don’t get together nearly often enough. But it doesn’t matter because we always resume from where we left off, and never run out of things to talk about. Hours fly by like minutes.

The last time we got together was a few weeks ago, and this time I hadn’t seen Alice for close to two years. About an hour into our dinner conversation, Alice slowly put down her fork, looked straight at me, and said, ”You have no idea just how much I’m enjoying our chat; I hardly ever get to speak with a girlfriend like this anymore”.

Alice is in her mid 40’s and by any yardstick has it all including a husband she adores, two healthy happy kids, interests that keep her mind sound and body fit, and a close circle of extended family and friends. Things are good, actually great, in Alice’s little world – except for feeling guilty that her relationship has lasted, even thrived, while those of many of her girlfriends have crashed. As Alice put it, “I have survivor’s guilt”.

Take her BFF, Sarah, as an example. Sarah was continuing to go through emotional turmoil three years after separating from her husband. Alice was sensitive to their different fates, and of course would never rub Sarah’s nose in all the good things she has that elude her friend. But Alice was feeling less and less satisfied with their friendship.

What is the new relationship deal with her friend whose life once mirrored that of her own and now looks very different?

It was becoming clear to Alice what Sarah expected of her. She wants Alice to listen patiently as she continues to complain about what an asshole her ex is being. She expects Alice to validate her opinions, commiserate with how tough her life is, and offer sage insights – while routinely dismissing them outright as coming from someone who inhabits a cozy cocoon of domesticity far different from the hell she lives in.

But after several years of genuinely being there for Sarah through thick and through thin, Alice was starting to question the value of a friendship that had become so decidedly one-sided. Why is it that Sarah rarely asked Alice about the things that matter most to her – her family, her interests, her work?

Alice understands that friendship is not a tit-for-tat affair. It’s totally legit for the scales of friendship to be tipped in Sarah’s favour for the days, weeks and months Sarah needs Alice more than she needs her. But then what? Shouldn’t Alice have expectations of Sarah too? Isn’t friendship about reciprocity?

Is it too much for Alice to expect her BFF to look beyond her own dark clouds to celebrate the joy in her life? Alice values her friendship with Sarah but the survivor-guilt mixed in with the growing resentment that she is “giving” more than she is “getting”, and a growing frustration of Sarah’s refusal to move forward in her life is making their time together less enjoyable.

Are Best Friends (BFs) really forever (F)? What do you think?

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