I’ll never forget getting that text message.
It was about 11pm and my Nokia 3610 flashed up with some green backlit chunky black text – one of my best friends, that I had known since our first day of high school in 1991, had just been proposed to.
I squealed a little bit as I read the text for the third time. For a moment I dazzled in her sparkly news.
Then, as the text message flashed back to black and I was left in complete darkness, I burst into tears.
The hardest time to ever hear this kind of news is when you’re going through a long-term relationship break-up.
Fast-forward about a decade.
When I told my darling friend about my own engagement news, it was she that was going through a divorce.
I was blindsided by the turned tables.
She shrugged at me while I promptly turned to stone.
My mind raced to find some soothing, appropriate words.
‘What the actual fuck?’ was the closest thing I could muster.
Like the amazing person that she is, she warmly smiled and cooed, ‘now tell me again about how he knelt down with the ring and you thought he was just drunk.’
Umm, no, you don’t get out of dropping the D-bomb and not expect the Spanish Inquisition from me.
The thing is, I don’t do the Spanish Inquisition very well with personal matters. I like to think I do, but I don’t. I don’t tend to prod for the gory details. I just can’t ever work out what are the questions to ask and not ask, I just ask how they’re dealing with it and stay silent and let them fill in the space with what they’re comfortable to say.
Sometimes that space just stays silent.
I let her control the conversation in a way that when she was finished getting stuff off her chest, she would always let me know when she’d had enough talking about it.
This was the only person that never said ‘so how are the wedding plans coming along?’ without just trying to make small talk. The wedding plans gave her some actual respite from her own thoughts for a while.
It’s also alright that she may not truly be listening; she may be proverbial internally falling apart while outwardly plastering a smiley face.
Bride friends, this is where you do need to read the play a bit and realise that you might have to turn it down a notch.
If you are super-squealy about your wedding plans, just turn the dial from 11 (what up Spinal Tap fans) to a happy-but-contained 7.
No, try a conservative 5.5.
In fact, don’t just do this with your bruised-hearted mate, do this for everyone.
And a good rule of thumb? Sorry brides, but just shut it. This isn’t the time to bang on about tablecloths, centrepieces and sand ceremonies. This is about your friend.
But interestingly, like I hinted, brides and the love-wounded can actually be surprisingly perfect odd-couples.
Some dumped folk need respite from talking about the constant pain loop of the break up playing in their heads, and many brides are happy to bang on about sand ceremonies.
The trick is to strike the balance.
It’s like a gainfully employed, loves-her-job, go-getter meeting a friend who has an ongoing relationship with Centrelink, or you’re a childfree person heading to a dinner party at the Duggars, or you’re pregnant and run into a friend who just found out she’s missed the boat of fertility.
So how do you dance this dance?
Usually, it’s with great difficulty.
If you’re convinced that you’re the more ‘fortunate’ person in the scenario, then I’m afraid you come second.
Like Marge Simpson says: No one likes a gloater.
Someone has to lead first, and because you are the ‘fortunate’ one, do the right thing and let them.
They might think you’re the unfortunate one (amirite, Michelle Duggar?), hey that’s cool, that just means you can bang on about how you’re getting ‘too much’ sleep.
If you’re the one that has been love-trampled and you speak to a bride who says – even once – something along the lines of ‘don’t worry, you’ll be as happy as Mr Groom and I’, you have my full permission to calmly say ‘thank you so much for that but I have to leave now, I have to go home and scrub this patronising stickiness that seems to have smacked me square in the face, it’s really making me feel quite ill.’
Look, jokes aside, what I’m saying is, be smart and take your cue from reading the play.
The truth is, you and your friend are going through some different things at the same time. It’s all about taking turns and stay the hell away from any kind of one-upmanship. Don’t be that person.
Promise yourself that your friend is going to leave this conversation (either in person or on the phone) in better shape that when she arrived at the café or dialled your number.
If this doesn’t happen, fire up the computer or get out your cool letter writing set (that you promised your Gran you would use to send her letters, which you haven’t done and yes you feel immense guilt over it) and write your friend a letter on what she means to you.
That’s right, a love letter to your friend.
And if you even mention the word ‘wedding’ or ‘husband’ in it, you’re doing it wrong.
And my friend?
I hope when she reads this she understands how much I love her and can’t function properly without her in my life, with or without a partner in either of our lives.
But you might get it awkwardly wrong, like I’ve done so many, many times before.
These situations are so sickeningly messy and no one (other than, let’s be honest, Maya Angelou) truly knows what to say. There is no right answer to cut through the awkward and very rarely do we find ourselves saying something so inspired that we literally become bug-eyed and wonder if it was our mouths that wisdom nugget jumped out of.