Girl Talk: Can A Friendship Work If One Of You Is Lagging Behind?

Of course I’m not actually “behind.” It’s not as though life’s milestones have point values assigned to them. But, within one of my closest friendships, it had started to feel that way.

I’m 28 years old, I live in New York City, and I’m single, which might read entirely commonplace except that if we were to get technical, I’d tell you that I haven’t been in a serious relationship in about four years. (Maybe more, depending on just how technical we’re getting.)

My long-term single-dom doesn’t bother me.

I’ve never lived with a boyfriend; I have no idea what that’s like. So when my friend would bring up the intricacies and complications that arise from cohabiting, I’d be hyper-aware of my blank expression and lack of insight.

There are levels to said lagging. If you’re in a relationship, you’re only a step ahead of me, and that’s a head start I can handle. It’s when cohabitation comes in to play that I start to feel like you’re lapping me, and I take that figurative distance between us and make it literal, the way I did with my best friend this past year.

Believe me, when my best girl and her boyfriend first got together, distance wasn’t at all present, despite us even living in different states at the time. Like many best friend duos, she and I were known to spend hours on the phone recounting trivial details of an impossible crush or first date, so when she told me she had a boyfriend, and that he was wonderful, I couldn’t have been happier for her. It’s important to note that during their first year of dating, I was still completely and totally single, and I didn’t find my friend’s serious relationship to be wedge-driving in the least.

I’ve never lived with a boyfriend; I have no idea what that’s like. So when my friend would bring up the intricacies and complications that arise from cohabiting, I’d be hyper-aware of my blank expression and lack of insight.

It’s not that I wasn’t interested in what she was saying; it was that I was so completely unable to relate, because I’m so far away from having that. When I would offer my input, I was painfully aware of how phony I sounded. Ask me about football, ask me about shacking up with a significant other; I’ve got nothing.

It happened gradually. I started feeling slightly embarrassed, telling her about my trivial-seeming relationships — in comparison with hers, I was in the minor leagues!.

Soon, going to her boyfriend-shared apartment felt like visiting another world I’d never live in. It got to the point where eating dinner at their adorably set table made me wonder if she resented having to eat on the couch while at mine. Eventually, she and I were barely speaking. I’m lucky, because a few months later, I received a note from her in the mail. It said simply that she missed our friendship, and I recognized immediately that I did too, and had for so long.

When we got to talking, I explained that I’d been feeling like somewhat of a failure in comparison to her and her cohabiting, all-grown-up self. She listened, and said she understood how I’d feel that way, but assured me that she didn’t see my life happenings as any less significant than hers. She helped me remember that just because you and your friends may start out in similar life stages, this doesn’t mean that you’ll forever move at the same pace towards life’s main markers.

Last weekend, during a sleepover at this same friend’s Brooklyn apartment that she shares with her boyfriend (he was out of town for the night), I felt myself slowing down a story I was telling her about a recent guy’s lack of potential. I recognized that same old feeling creeping up, like what I was concerned with was trivial compared to the relationship intricacies she deals with on a daily basis. But as I slowed my speaking cadence, she took the opportunity to ask me a follow-up question, and then another, and I was reassured that while we might not be able to exactly relate to each other on every issue, we could still certainly spend hours talking. And let me tell you, I slept very, very well — on my friend and her boyfriend’s shared couch — that night.

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