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Every so often I give one of my best friend’s a threatening reminder: “When so and so has her baby, you better be prepared to step up your friendship.”

I give her that warning because my best friend of 20 years isn’t the type of girl I can text a random thought to at 2:45 pm and receive a response from by 2:46 pm — that’s how my other BFF, who’s actively trying to conceive, rolls. This friend is the type who can go a week (or even a month) without us talking and then want to play catch up in a three-hour phone call. She’s one of the last few people on earth who refuses to succumb to the draw of social media or acclimate to the fast-paced communication style that has become standard. She’s also my last friend without a husband or child and, as such, I find myself clinging to her in a way that shocks my independent nature sometimes.

Despite its many downsides, one positive of social media is its ability to connect people with shared experiences. A simple post from a stranger can provide assurance that you’re not crazy for feeling the way you do and remind you that you’re not alone. Case in point: I was scrolling around on Twitter one morning and just so happened to come across this thread that perfectly captured my sentiment of being the last single friend standing.

I saw these tweets about a week before a work trip to LA where the aforementioned friend of mine who’s trying to take her family from two to three was meeting me — with her husband. One morning my girl texted me asking when we were finally going to go to a retreat together like we’d been saying. I told her I’d be in LA for a girls’ self-esteem summit, and then she told me “we’ll” be there. It happened so fast, I didn’t quite know exactly how the girl’s weekend I thought up in my head had turned into a threesome in which I’d be a third wheel on my own work trip. That moment immediately took me back to a conversation we’d had a month or two prior in which we talked about planning a trip for 2019 and she happily declared, “Hopefully, I’ll have a little one to bring with me.” Our friendship as I knew it was over.

While on some cerebral level I understood things would change between my friend and I when she walked down the aisle seven years ago, I don’t think the reality of what that union would one day mean hit me until we were out to dinner in LA. My friend had invited a friend of ours from college to hang out with us while we were in her city and she showed up with two friends of hers. As they shared inside jokes and my friend and her husband nestled up in the corner, I was left making small talk with another guy from school whom I know they hoped would ignite some sort of romantic spark in me. He didn’t. In that moment, I felt a very tangible aloneness; an undeniable understanding of what it is to not have a someone, romantic or otherwise.

But this struggle isn’t about wanting what your friends have, it’s about adjusting to what they now have. Another friend of mine got married eight months before my 30th birthday. As a bridesmaid, I spent a good deal of time and money on the weekend’s festivities, which included a bachelorette party that not everyone put in on equally (you know how that goes). Regardless, my focus was on making sure she had a weekend that was as fun and stress-free as possible and it appeared I succeeded. When I sent out the details for my birthday getaway a few months later, I never dreamed she wouldn’t attend. However, after telling me she and her husband had a discussion about finances and decided celebrating my birthday wasn’t in the budget, she declined my RSVP. As a married woman, she had to put her family first. As a friend, I had to respect that, even though it hurt.

Unlike other milestones in life — getting your license at 16, graduating high school at 18, getting a college degree four years later — there’s no set timeline for when friends start to have their own families and those abrupt shifts can be traumatic, as Heather Havrilesky pointed out in her tweet above. When a friend calls out of the blue to say she’s gotten engaged or she’s expecting her first child, there’s no time to prepare. And, if you’re a good friend, the need to prepare for your changing relationship dynamic doesn’t even register in the midst of the excitement you feel for your besties’ next chapter in life.

There’s also the lies we tell ourselves about how things will never change — like when we swear we’ll keep in touch with our friends from Sophomore AP English. But change is inevitable. And if you aren’t making the same ones, i.e. getting married and starting a family of your own, the shift can be devastating.

Quite honestly, some period of mourning has to happen. This time in my life sort of feels like my first few years after graduation when every social experience I had hanging out with friends or going to a club failed to measure up to the college parties and undergrad life I was accustomed to. I was constantly wishing I was back in school again and questioning why I rushed to move away from the friends I’d made over the past four years and now missed. I couldn’t accept that those years were over and I’d never again feel the type of carefree, I-can-do-anything spirit I’d experienced as a student. It took until my career began to flourish — several years later, I might add — for me to be able to look back on that time of my life with appreciation while being grateful to be in the chapter that I’m in now.

I think a similar growth has to happen in our friendships. We have to be able to reminisce on wild nights out in our 20s while appreciating the fact that the girl who once comforted you while you were crying over a man who wasn’t worth it, can now give you sound advice from the perspective of a married woman who knows what real love looks like. We have to remember that, while we are no longer our friend’s entire world, having a partner or being a parent doesn’t absolve them of other shared concerns like professional growth, finances, or self-love and self-care over which we can bond and continue to help one another grow.

There’s also that other difficult realization that you may have to actually brave the world as a single woman not only trying to find a man but also trying to make adult friends. Your married girl just can’t be your wing woman anymore, it’s not realistic. But, somewhere, there’s another woman who’s the last single lady of her tribe wishing she had someone to hit the streets with and form a bond with over these traumas. Find her. Embrace her. You may not want to expand your circle, but when the friends you’ve come to know all of your life expand theirs, you have no choice but to spread your wings in other ways as well.

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