The friends I’ve loved and lost have informed the way I make friends now, which is why I don’t exactly make them easily…
Initially, I wanted this post to be about how hard to it so be an adult woman without any really close friends. Now, I have friends. I have a lot of people around me who are kind, and generous, and helpful. However, for the most part, these people are all rooted in my professional life. In my personal life, things are very different. But in order to talk about where I am now, I have to talk about the friendships that were. That have been. I’ve had 5 “best friends” in my life. And I’ve lost them all.
It’s important to note that with all of these friendships, I don’t think I am blameless. I didn’t speak up or stand up for myself until the very end, when it was too late. I didn’t show up fully to each of these friendship. I didn’t trust my gut and my instinct. I went along with things. I swallowed feelings, pride, and a lot of bullshit. I allowed myself to be steamrolled. I let opportunities for growth and deeper connection pass me by through fear of conflict or rejection. I never understood that relationships were two-way experiences, because I was too afraid what might happen otherwise. Who knows how this fear caused me to behave, who knows whose feelings I hurt by seeming indifferent.
To respect their privacy, all names and any obvious facts about my former best friends have been altered or changed — my feelings and my experiences, however, have not. I’ve written this knowing that one day they might read it, and I’m OK with that.
My first best friend was a boy. It was my very first day of Kindergarten and I spotted a very cute boy across the room and, even at the young age of five, my brain went: “You. You are for me.” I made the simple decision that I absolutely had to make him mine, and I did. I don’t recall how we started talking that day or what I said to him or if he found me, but what I do remember is that we walked out of the classroom, down the ramp to our awaiting parents, holding hands.
From that day on, Paul and I were best friends. We spend hours at his house, playing with his pet rats. He gave me chicken pox, and lent me his copies of Lady And The Tramp and ET for me to watch while I was sick. We spent 4th of Julys at his cul de sac’s block parties, and his dad always had the best fireworks. We’d swim in his neighbour’s pool, and I’d cry when he’d kill tiny toads. He built us a seated fountain out of planks of wood and a garden hose — or, how I read it: a little loveseat with a water fixture. He used a wood burning kit to build a frame of our 3rd grade school photos, together. A pair. A set.
We were super close until the age when it got awkward for girls and boys to be so close, probably around 9 or 10. He had his close boyfriends and I had my close girlfriends. And because this isn’t a movie and we weren’t characters on Dawson’s Creek, we didn’t continue to be as close as we were when we were 6 when we were 16. In fact, we stopped talking the last year of high school.
For years, my true feelings for him were buried — it was the hot, burning secret I kept from everyone except my best of friends, even though everyone must have known. I was always advised dating would “ruin our friendship” — but it turned out that my volcano of unexpressed feelings managed to do that all on its own, without uttering a single word of confession.
Over the years he had many girlfriends, but it was the girlfriend with the same name as me — a shinier, happier, smaller and more popular cheerleader version of me, that cut the deepest. And after years and years of secretly pining after him, wanting to be more than friends, loving him, and wanting him to just know to choose me instead of having to do the impossible and tell him, I became insufferably jealous and no doubt acted like a complete asshole. Some gossipy busybody decided to tell him and his beloved that I was “talking shit” about him (the biggest high school sin!), and we never spoke again. Which, after all those years, was ridiculous. But I couldn’t possibly risk actually talking to him about it.
“What they didn’t realise was that I, too, was filled with love and protection for their son, it was just that I was heartbroken”
One of the most painful memories I have of this, is that his parents, who I once spent hours in the home of, pretended to not know me at Sober Grad Night, the party our school organised for the night after we graduated. No doubt this reaction to me was out of love and protection of their son — who knows what they had been told about me — but what they didn’t realise was that I, too, was filled with love and protection for their son, it was just that I was heartbroken. Whatever I had said, whatever I had done, it was because I was heartbroken. And that I had been for years. Years of pining, years of watching him pick every girl but me rendered me incapable of even pretending to be amicable towards the happy couple. And that’s how I lost my first best friend.
I sent him a Myspace message a couple of years after we graduated high school, apologising and playing into the idea that I had done something to make him cut me off. I finally had a boyfriend so I suppose I felt safe enough to message him. I’m sure he knew the real, buried, unspoken reason we stopped talking, but he didn’t respond. He did, however, accept my friend request.
I found some childhood pictures of us together the other week. I might email them to him someday. I might not.
My next, real best friend was someone who had actually been in a ring of girls that bullied me in Elementary School. She had really unfortunate teeth that her parents couldn’t yet afford to get fixed, and despite being friends with the mean girls at one time, they eventually turned on her, too, cruelly targeting her smile. Outraged at the injustice of making fun of someone for their looks, I befriended her while we were at a parent-teacher conference that had been arranged specifically by our parents to talk to the Regina George of the group and her parents. We had been through something together, and the experience bonded us. I chose to forget about the times that she inadvertently bullied me when she was with them.
She eventually got braces and a headgear she had to wear at night during sleepovers. I got glasses. We’d laugh at how collectively nerdy we were. Our families became best friends. She knew my secrets and she knew about Paul. Our moms bonded, our dads bonded. We spent Christmases together. She made me laugh so hard there were many times I thought I’d pee my pants.
The only problem was, even at 8, she was a pathological liar. She’d lie about the implausible –“My Aunt and Uncle own a flying carpet!” – to the ridiculous — “I met Macaulay Culkin in an elevator and he gave me his phone number!” She got angry and offended when anyone even slightly questioned the logic or reality of her claims. And because I didn’t want to upset her, I learned to just act like I believed her. I knew she was lying, but she made me laugh a lot and was my best friend, so it was OK.
Occasionally things like Barbie accessories would go missing from my room, or things would suddenly break. I’d ask her about it, knowing she had taken them, but she always acted like she had no idea what I was talking about. Sometimes she was physical with me, playing just slightly passed the line of being too rough. We’d get in an argument and she’d say horrible, mean things to me, but I hated conflict so I’d forgive her quickly and move on.
“I was in an abusive relationship with my best friend, without even knowing what that was.”
At such a young age, I quickly learned how to appease an unreasonable person. How to tread lightly with someone else’s fragile feelings, afraid of the next outburst. How to downplay my successes or interests I knew she wouldn’t approve of, to avoid scrutiny or a jealous outburst. I was in an abusive relationship with my best friend, without even knowing what that was.
This way of behaving went on for years. Slowly more space was put between us — she was really involved in sport and had friends outside of our school, and I was in the middle of my parents divorce. However, we were still friends and our parents were still friends, too.
That was until the lying went from childhood claims of white buffalos living on her grandparents property to, at 16, finding out she had told the parents of my new group of friends horrible and disturbing lies about my family. Lies that altered and changed the way not only my new friends treated me, but the way that their parents treated me and my mom.
Needless to say, I got over my fear of confrontation in the blink of an eye. I phoned her and completely lost my shit. At one point I even lost my shit at her mom, who had been spreading rumours of her own. The toxicity of our friendship hit new levels, and the years of treading light came to an abrupt end, and I did not pull any punches. When word got out of what she did, she was slowly cut out of social circles. She shortly after changed schools. Our families fell out. And that’s how I lost my second best friend.
She’s not on social media, with barely so much as a Google result. I have a feeling she changed her name. But, unfortunately, I also have a feeling she hasn’t changed anything else.
One of the friends that had an altered view of my home life due to the bullshit Best Friend №2 Danielle had told her, was my new best friend Kim. Kim was a cheerleader, but she was accessible. Friendly. She wasn’t overly popular, she just loved to cheer and was really good at dancing. We bonded over singing and pop music like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. She introduced me to the music of Susan Tedeschi and Jonny Lang. I introduced her to Reba McEntire and the Dixie Chicks. We’d cry watching romantic comedies, cry listening to Fiona Apple after break-ups and crushing Crush disappointments. We spent the summer of 1999 sunbathing, listening to Oops… I Did It Again, eating cheddar Chex Mix, McDonalds and Taco Bell, and adding Sun-In to our brunette hair. She was the first friend that I had the same real interests as. She was the first friend that really knew me. As much “me” as I would allow to come out, anyway.
But then, there was the mutual jealousy and envy. The boys that caused petty interruptions in our closeness. And, above all else, there was the social ladder she found so tempting to climb. Unfortunately for me, she started to climb the ranks of the popular crowd at the same time I became severely depressed. An overwhelming depression that I couldn’t quite articulate or name, even though I knew exactly what it was. I was drowning and expressing it through the classic teenage signals of thick black eyeliner, black cardigans (I only had one, so I wore that every single day) and Converse because somehow those were “alternative” in 2001. It didn’t suit me, I was sad, not a punk. I wanted to cry and listen to Tim McGraw, not The Alkaline Trio, but nevertheless I pivoted towards the weird kids who hung out under the tree by the school theatre, and Kim and her entourage pivoted the other way. This, combined with various spats with mutual friends that she refused to side with me on through fear of losing popularity points, I was vastly on my own.
“I had a world of ‘difference’ and ‘other’ inside me and my real life, and hers was a world of shiny, uncomplicated, Abercrombie & Fitch normalcy”
I became too much for her. I felt as though I had a world of “difference” and “other” inside me and my real life, and hers was a world of shiny, uncomplicated, Abercrombie & Fitch normalcy. She had two parents who lived together and ate family dinners together. At this point in time, I didn’t really have anything resembling that.
With the help of time, I eventually came out the other side of it, and she was seemed thrilled to have me “back”. Because I could smile and listen to pop music again, I was accepted back in the fold. I had to quickly learn all of the inside jokes she had made with her new, more popular best friends. And while it never went back to normal, it was acceptable enough for me, and so we went on the rest of high school like this. She had her popular crowd and her boyfriend. I had drama club, the school newspaper and my artsy/punk/Mormon friends. I was her secret best friend, and I pretended like that was enough for me and an agreed arrangement, rather than just how she treated me. I pretended like it didn’t make me feel like a pariah and that she wasn’t ashamed of her friendship with me. I pretended like I didn’t care that she was friends with Paul and his shiny girlfriend. It. Was. Fine.
Things continued this way for a couple of years after graduation. We were fine through various boyfriends and drunken incidents and obnoxious, mini betrayals. We were fine when she went to live at the dorms at the local big University while I signed up for classes at the local community college. We were fine when she joined a sorority and I started going to therapy. We were fine when I visited her apartment, smoked outside on her balcony, and told her I was moving to London to be with my British internet boyfriend. We were fine because I finally felt like I had something worthy of her praise — a cool boyfriend, a cool plan to live in a cool, European city.
After I moved to London there were random and sporadic Myspace messages from her, and it wasn’t until my very first trip back to Sacramento after six months of living in the UK and announcing that I was engaged that the reality of “my best friend” slapped me across the face: SHE IS NOT YOUR BEST FRIEND.
I was in Sacramento for three weeks, including one week without my soon-to-be husband — perfect for spending time with your best friend — and this girl could not find the time between all of her sorority events and quality time with her boyfriend to see me. It was a struggle to pencil me in. I was not a priority.
I freaked out the only way I could — on MySpace in a private message. I told her I couldn’t believe that she was once again putting things like her sorority and her boyfriend ahead of me, her best friend, who she hadn’t seen for 6 months. She said that I was belittling the things that were important to her, and that I was dismissive of how hard she had worked to get the life she wanted. I’ve not heard anything from her since. And, well, that’s how I lost my third best friend.
She’s now a teacher and married to the bass player from a local punk band we used to see play at the café I used to work at — did I mention my life was literally Lady Bird? I Google her name from time to time. If she finds this, I know she Googles me, too. Hi.
Diane and Kim actually overlapped, marking a particularly difficult period in an already complicated period of my life. I was friends with Diane in high school — she was one of the misfit kids hanging out with the punks under that tree by the theatre. We met when I was just coming out of my depression, and when I wasn’t with Kim, I was with her and our mutual friends. She was kind to me, welcoming. She’d drive me to gigs in towns I had never heard of. We skipped school one day and she donated blood and we went to thrift stores in the middle of the day, which felt novel. We smoked her brother’s cigarettes and watched From Hell in her mom’s bed. It was with her that I saw my first episode of Sex and The City. I remember going bowling with her on the other side of town and eating at Denny’s late in the evening, and then staying out even later, driving around, singing to the Dixie Chicks’s cover of “Landslide”.
We had a shared interest in England and were both anglophiles, so we’d practice our (awful) British accents in her car. We got along, we had fun, but there was just always something slightly off for me. She was either too clingy or too complimentary — there was just an air of something not being quite right, which I was confused about and couldn’t quite put my finger on. She talked at you a lot, and I I always felt really tired after seeing her.
We stayed in touch after graduation, checking in every once and a while. She was dating a mutual friend, so we’d all hang out here and there. It wasn’t until about two years after graduation that she told me that she was going to school in the north of England for two years that we started talking more. Months before I had broken up with boyfriend of 2 years, was now living with my mom and my step dad, and was generally pretty miserable. So, hearing about her new, glamorous life in England was somehow really motivating. It showed me people could get out of Sacramento, and do big things. We started talking more and more via Myspace, and she would tell me all about the men she was meeting, what fun she was having, how fantastic England was. By the time she came back for Christmas break that year we were talking daily, and it felt like a huge, momentous reunion when she came back home. I had tickets to a Keith Urban concert that same night, but I chose to ditch the tickets to drive to pick her up from the airport, instead.
By this time I had also booked a flight to Manchester to come and visit her. It also just so happened that in between booking the flights and Diane coming home, I had also started talking to a very attractive and smart man on Myspace who I was incredibly excited about. My life was suddenly full of possibility.
Weeks later, in the cold of January, I came to the UK for the first time to visit and stay with Diane up north, but to also come down to London with Diane and her boyfriend to meet the man that would become my husband. (Yes. Reader, I literally married him.)
“We ended up spending our last night together with Diane screaming at me down the phone, and in person, until dawn”
What unfolded over the next three days marked some of the most dramatic and ridiculous few days of my life. Fuelled by what I can only describe as unhinged jealousy, Diane behaved in such an deranged and controlling manner, that on my last night with the man I was now madly in love with and who lived 5,000 miles away from me, we ended up spending our last night together with Diane screaming at me down the phone, and in person, until dawn.
I remember standing in her hotel room leaning against the wall, while she sat on her bed and called me a “cunt”. She tried to convince me that my now-husband was “not who he says he is” and that if I stayed with him “all the therapy in the world couldn’t help me”. I also recall that she called him a “dirty asshole” to his face, which still remains to be the nastiest and strangest insult I’ve heard used in real life. That night and early morning, she behaved in a way that I had never seen from anyone, and have never been treated like since.
At this point in my life, I didn’t really know how to properly stand up for myself. I didn’t know that I didn’t have to stand there and listen to her calling me a cunt. She had recently inherited quite a lot of money, while I was still working at Starbucks, and I felt indebted to her as she insisted on paying for my room at the B&B we were staying at. She had given me a coat for Christmas for my trip. She had lent me a mobile phone to use while I was visiting. She was letting me stay at her flat when we went back to Manchester. Which, on one hand, was initially incredibly generous. But once things took a turn for the worst, I felt as though I had actually been controlled through money the entire trip, and I didn’t realise it until it was too late.
After tearful phone calls to my mom back in the States and many serious conversations with my bewildered British boyfriend, we decided that I would come stay with him in Surrey for the rest of my vacation rather than going back up north with Diane. I didn’t have to put up with that sort of treatment, but there was the small issue of my other suitcase being at her boyfriend’s parents’ flat. Thankfully, my boyfriend offered to drive me up to north to get my other suitcase the night before my flight out of Manchester.
When I got the suitcase to my Travelodge hotel near the runway at Manchester airport, she had clearly gone through all of my belongings. She had taken back anything she had given me, including the coat, and left me a gift: a battered Gonorrhoea home testing kit. To this day, I don’t know if she put the test in my suitcase and then crushed the box to make it look like it was mine before I came to the UK, hoping that my boyfriend would see it and recoil? Or was it some sort of weird slut shamming attempt, suggesting that I should get tested? To be honest it mainly bothered me because the insult itself was flawed.
So. That’s how I lost best friend number four. And this was all less than a year before losing Kim.
There were a few shitty phone calls and text messages from her afterwards, but nothing since. I know she’s back in the States and married. I hope she’s found peace within herself.
Moving countries as a young woman, where the only person you know in this new country, this new city, this new culture, is the man you’re in love with is really hard.
Back home, I didn’t have a group of close-knit friends that I left behind. I had friends, I always have friends, but I didn’t have any close friends when I moved. They were all ex-colleagues, and we kept in touch online. But in my day-to-day life, wandering the streets of Twickenham and Richmond, I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Not a single person to meet for a coffee. Eventually, through my husband’s network of colleagues and friends, I made some friends.
But let me tell you, FUCKING HELL were these awkward times. I got myself into so, so many awkward friendships with people that I actually barely liked or had anything in common with simply because I was lonely and was desperate for any kind of connection. But, the problem was, I was so, so American. I hadn’t really traveled much. We didn’t have a TV. I was so fresh, and so new, and would try to make any connection I could over pints of Stella or glasses of white wine spritzers. I learned how to make people laugh, the things to talk about and the things to not talk about. I learned not to look quizzically when someone asked, “You alright?” as a greeting.
It wasn’t until I started to write a blog, built my own network and community online, and eventually start working that I properly met people — my own people. I suddenly had people to get drinks and lunches with. I started getting invited to birthday parties and engagement parties and leaving dos.
It was in this period that I made a collection of friends, including my next best friend, Alice. The issue was that these friendships were based on a version of me that — like in my previous friendships back home — was accidentally inauthentic and boundary-less. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to fit in. And if there was someone like Alice who thought I was cool and wanted to be my friend — even my good friend — well fuck if I wasn’t going to make it work.
“She could make you feel like the coolest, most interesting person in the room, without actually revealing what she really thought or felt about you”
Alice seemed so chic to me. Posh. She ordered unapologetically complicated cocktails and ate steak frites. She could make you feel like the coolest, most interesting person in the room, without actually revealing what she really thought or felt about you. She would post photos of you together saying things like “best night ever!” when you thought you were maybe having an average time at best, but you’d hit the like button and leave a comment echoing the same.
About a year after becoming mates, we had a quiet, uneventful falling out — a case of being irritated with each other, and the irritation no doubt being fuelled with mutual envy — and we just stopped talking to each other for a while. And then “a while” turned into a couple of years. We saw each other again at a birthday party, and in a matter of weeks, went right back to being “best friends”. We then, a few years and a wedding later, fell out again. (But naturally never stopped stalking each other’s Instagram accounts.) And then, another year and a break-up later, we became friends again, giddy with our newfound friendship and the belief that after a traumatic life event for her and a year or so of therapy for me, we could be “real”.
We had an honest conversation about why I was so fucked off with her, and she apologised. I listened. She listened. I told her I was to blame, as well, for not really bringing myself — my actual self — to the friendship, which had so clearly been a theme throughout my entire history of friendships. She understood. But I don’t think she understood that she didn’t bring herself to the friendship, either. Not really. We were both lost, but whereas I was learning to tether myself to myself, my impression was that she was still tethering her identity to whomever her romantic partner was at the time.
This latest wave of friendship lasted just over a year, and it will shock you to know that we fell out AGAIN. This time for good. I said what I needed to say via a polite yet visceral email, to which she responded “I’m sorry you feel that way”. And that is how I lost my fifth best friend — over and over again. Russian Doll style.
It’s a shame, because if ever there was a person on paper that I would be best friends with, it would be her. But her “on paper”, the idea of her, is very different to what’s at the heart of her. And at our cores, we are very different people.
Years have now passed since our last falling out, and I only really think of our friendship when Facebook serves an “on this day 5 years ago!” memory into my feed, featuring a photograph of a “best night ever”. I look at my face, and while I’m always smiling — my eyes are unsure. She always made me feel unsure. And, these days, while I am many things, unsure is no longer one of them.