Dinner with Friends: Navigating my Empty Nest Sensitivities
Our oldest is away at college and our youngest, a high school junior, is away with friends for a couple of days, so last night Dan and I went out with close friends who we don’t get to see as often as we’d like. Their eldest is a senior in high school and their youngest is still in middle school so we, being the free birds that we were, happily went to meet them. Little did I realize that my own insecurities were going to make it a challenging evening.
Upon arrival, we hugged as friend’s do, ordered drinks and started catching up! "How are you guys, how are the kids, how’s work?" The usual, the fun, the comfort of old friends, the… provocation?!
“So,” my friend began… “We were talking the other day, you’re finally 50, right?!”
Wait, what? Why would she start with that? I can’t believe I’m 50! Sensitive topic somehow.
My issue, not hers, but somehow it felt like a body blow to the gut. I said yes, that I had just recently turned 50, and took a sip of my greyhound to try to suppress the lump that had quickly formed in my throat.
She followed with “And how do you feel about that?”
In my head I demanded, “How the f**k do you think I feel about that?!” and when she laughed and said she felt the same way when she turned 50 I realized I hadn’t kept that inside, I had said that out loud.
She was actually older than me so I knew she wasn’t trying to be hurtful but I was in this weird place thinking about how fast time goes by and was clearly feeling sensitive.
So, in order to save myself, I went for a diversion, their son, a senior in high school, and since they are currently in application hell (as all seniors in high school are) it was easy to move the conversation to essays and grades and such. But then my friend re-diverted. She asked me another question that felt like a jab to the chin.
“Wait a minute”, she said… “You guys are almost empty nesters! Can you even believe that?”
WTF? Did she REALLY just say that?
No! I cannot believe that! How is that even possible? Just yesterday my kids were home with the babysitter and I was happy to cut dessert short to go home to them.
This time I was able to keep my true reaction inside (though I could feel my right eye twitching) and responded that “Yes, time really does go by too quickly”, simultaneously thinking, screw my diet, and I reached for the breadbasket.
Next up - their little one. Safe ground. She was loving sixth grade and doing well. She really is absolutely adorable and I was thrilled to hear that she was thriving. I remember when she was born thinking how crazy it would have been for me to have another child then, six years younger than my youngest. But now, approaching the empty nest years it really didn’t seem so crazy anymore!
Back to us. “Is your daughter still loving college? Is she going to come back after she graduates?” In my head I continued this line of questioning, or will she move far away and get a job and raise a family and you’ll never get to see her? This one felt like a full-on punch to the face!
At this point I decide my friend must really have a death wish. Gritting my teeth, I waived down the waiter for another cocktail.
As the three of them moved on yet again, discussing work and summer plans, I got lost in my own thoughts. I wondered why a normal, run of the mill conversation felt like I just got jumped at the mall!
Why was I reacting this way to my friend? And then it dawned on me. I wasn’t fighting my friend. It was time that I was fighting. I was sensitive about these topics because there was so much unknown and because I didn’t have the power to slow things down. There wasn’t anything wrong with the questions and the comments. In fact, I’m sure I threw quite a few punches as well without even realizing it.
She was 50+ too, her oldest is in application hell and they don’t know where he will be going yet. And their younger one I’m sure provides her with other insecurities, after all she is a mom, isn’t that our specialty - feeling unsure at times. And I thought, I should enjoy this time because this too will go by too quickly! So, I leaned on Dan, put my head on his shoulder and snapped back into the conversation with a real smile, coaching myself to get over it and take a chill pill.
As we hugged and said our goodbyes we promised to get together again real soon and as I walked to the car, holding Dan’s hand I thought, and maybe we can discuss my colonoscopy.