How many of you have broken up with a friend?
This style of break-up is, in many ways, worse than a romantic one. I didn’t think breaking up with my best friend could be any worse than it was. That was I until I realised I was splitting with our seven mutual friends at the same time.
By the time all the hurt and anger had passed through my body, it wasn’t our separation I found myself reflecting upon. It was the way it happened.
My best friend spoke for everyone when she said we couldn’t be friends anymore. Yet, it turns out her proclamation was a lie.
It’s then I realised the importance of having your own voice. And using it.
“Every one of our friends is angry at you.”
I remember Julie’s words like they were yesterday. The anger in her voice, the fierce delivery of her assertion. The women I called my best friends, my confidants, my allies in life and love, I had betrayed them. I let them down.
“And because of how many events you missed, especially the engagement parties, they don’t want to speak to you anymore.”
I felt like eight women had broken up with me all at once. Except the delivery was more powerful, more hateful than their individual voices. It felt like a million people were telling me they hated me, rather than a few frustrated women.
So with Julie’s words, I walked away from my friends.
A week later I ran into Anne. She was one of the voices shouting at me through Julie’s frustration. I saw her standing in a coffee shop and I tentatively approached her. “It’s so good to see you,” she said, “Do you want coffee? Let’s do coffee.”
I sat down with her, waiting for the same scolding I had received days earlier from Julie. But nothing. So I invited it. “Anne, are you angry at me? Do you want to talk to me?”
She looked puzzled. “Why would I be angry with you? We’re all good. I think Julie is the only one who is angry.”
I learned what hurt look like
It was undeniable what had happened. Julie’s emotions and temper got the best of her during our heated exchange. Whether she meant to or not, she included our mutual friends in her frustrations with me.
I couldn’t deny what Julie’s rage was telling me. She was hurting. She was hurting more than I was giving her credit for. For her to include the feelings of others, to intensify her argument with me, her pain was deeper than I was willing to admit. And it was obvious that when pain becomes this great, the people who care about you do anything to make sure you know it.
Suffering often leads people to say and do things that aren’t true.
I learned that speaking for others has a greater risk than reward
When we speak for other people, we’re bound to get it wrong. We’re bound to misinterpret feelings and sentiment. And more often we misinterpret the passion that other people have. It’s part of the dreaded whisper chain. Where the story and emotions become embellished as it’s told through the eyes of someone else.
The problem is realising that in getting it wrong, we can do permanent damage. We can cause greater arguments, and we can perpetuate emotions that aren’t real. But it’s so easy to get caught up in that instinct to make grand sweeping statements, especially with the feelings of others.
Sometimes it’s easier to say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. I’ve found in my marriage that I’ve used the ‘we’ excuse to say no to an event or to express when someone has annoyed me. It’s easier to make your point when someone is backing you up. It’s a lot harder to stand alone.
Yet, standing alone is truthful, and the truth is the most important.
I learned that it’s possible to rob people of their voice
In the same way, I have used ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, I’ve robbed my husband of the ability to speak for himself. Maybe he wanted to go to an event, or he didn’t care about the argument I had with someone. I’ve put words in his mouth, and I’ve taken away his ability to say what he thinks.
Julie did this for all my friends. She robbed them of the ability to speak for themselves. To have a voice, to say what they think. Regardless of whether they all thought like that or just one disagreed, we all have our own story to tell.
And when someone else tells it for us, our story loses its power.
I’ve learned that relationships aren’t triangles
There are two people in every relationship. Though we might have relationships as couples or as families, most relationships consist of you and the other person. And when we make it a triangle, when we insert ourselves into other people’s relationships, we can break relationships.
Julie put herself into my friendship with Anne. And with the other seven girls. Yet, it wasn’t her place to speak for them or to interfere with the way I interact with them. She turned each of the individual friendships I had with them into a triangle.
Triangle relationships, in my experience, breed resentment. You end up becoming angry at the person who has inserted themself into your relationship. And then it becomes impossible to have a real, genuine connection with the person you’re in a relationship with.
The third person’s damage is impossible to recover from.
I’ve learned to listen, but not to repeat
Sometime in my maturing years, I learned to listen to people. I prided myself on listening, remembering and repeating what other people said. Repeating in the nicest possible ways.
When my mother expressed her dislike for milk, I made sure to never offer her a drop. And when someone passes the milk at tea time, I tell other people to bypass my mother. “She doesn’t like milk,” I say proudly, and she would reward my memory with a smile.
Considering my mother’s feelings on an otherwise harmless topic was one thing. It was ok to repeat her displeasure for milk.
I thought speaking for my mother was a trait that I could consider noble, loyal and genuine. I could hold myself in high esteem based on my behaviour. A listener, an observer of other’s thoughts, feelings and tastes could only be a good thing.
But not every scenario is a milk moment. We need to learn when to speak for other people, and when not to. We need to listen but hold our tongues.
My best friend challenged every idea of speaking on someone’s behalf. And as much as I despise what happened, I learned a curt lesson in speaking for other people.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships by analysing my experiences. Some of the stories are altered to protect the people in my life. But my feelings are never compromised. /https://ellenjellymcrae.com/