The author with her friend Eitan, whom she’s known since they were 16 years old.Courtesy of Sarah Gundle
Seeing that I was unhappy, my friend offered to help me run away right before I got married.
My marriage didn’t last, but our friendship has been strong for 36 years.
More than anything else about my wedding, I remember him asking me if I wanted to leave.
I’ve always wondered why we don’t celebrate friendship anniversaries as we do with romantic relationships. My friends have defined my life far more than any romantic partner.
My marriage didn’t even last a decade, but my relationship with my friend Eitan is going on 36 years. In fact, the abiding memory I have from my wedding isn’t the actual ceremony — it’s Eitan’s offer to help me run away.
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Nobody understood my choice of husband — not my family, my friends, or even a graduate-school mentor, who demurred politely after I introduced them: “Well, what’s important is that you love him.” To them it was obvious we were entirely different people.
As a psychologist, I spent my life immersed in people’s inner worlds, while he, a financial analyst, lived entirely in the external world and had little curiosity about his or my psyche.
My friend and I met when we were teens
Eitan and I were 16 when we met. I was living in Seattle, he in London, but we both attended an Israeli summer camp. That summer we developed an intense friendship, which might have ended there but for our shared love of writing. For years we communicated through the post, our letters serving as a sort of diary for each of us.
More than a decade later, we found ourselves living a few blocks from each other on the Upper West Side of New York. It was there that I met my future husband.
In my early 30s, I was eager to start my next chapter. Tall and dark, he wooed me with grand gestures and the intimacy of speaking Hebrew together, its guttural sounds familiar and comforting.
Instead of developing a true connection with him, I played a game of make-believe. We moved into a cozy apartment, took long walks, and ate at a little café in the West Village where the staff knew us so well that we didn’t have to order. We had physical chemistry, shared values, and a common vision for our future. If we lacked real friendship and intimacy, couldn’t I find that elsewhere?
The wedding gave me anxiety
As our wedding approached, I found myself consumed with anxiety. Almost every evening I padded over to Eitan’s apartment to cry.
One night, meeting me at the door with a box of tissues in hand, he shook his head. “Sarah, I’ve known you for 16 years. You realize I have seen you cry more in the last month than in all the other years combined. What are you doing?”
Still, the wedding planning marched on as if I were a bystander, growing from the intimate affair I’d imagined to an extravaganza involving hundreds of guests. As I stood in front of the mirror in the frosted confection of a dress I had ordered from Vera Wang, I asked myself Eitan’s question: What was I doing?
The night of our rehearsal dinner, while my fiancé’s business-school friends toasted us drunkenly, Eitan leaned into me. “Sarah, you know you don’t have to do this.”
I laughed. “Do what?”
But his face was serious. “This,” he said, motioning to the phalanx of men stumbling about trying to take selfies. “All of it. He doesn’t know you. I’ll rent a car. It’s not too late. You don’t have to go through with this.
“Come on, let’s go,” he said softly but firmly as he stood and took my hands.
Even at that moment, bleary and exhausted after all the Champagne and phony, brittle smiling at dinner, I knew how brave he was to say out loud what most of my friends had thought. Some piece of me knew he was right, but I felt paralyzed, strapped into a runaway train.
The wedding didn’t last, but the friendship did
The next day, Eitan was one of the witnesses who signed our ketubah, pausing for a long moment to look at me after the rabbi handed him the pen.
A week later, on my honeymoon, my new husband and I had a fight that resulted in a stony silence between us for days. “You were right; I should have listened,” I emailed Eitan. It was an omen of the stark loneliness to come.
Six years later, after expending every ounce of effort I could on saving my marriage, I finally left.
Eitan and I are still close — his loving, courageous honesty still guides me.
All these years later, I barely remember my wedding or the years of recrimination with my ex-husband. What has stayed is Eitan’s friendship — except now when he calls me out on what I’m doing, I always listen.
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