What do you do when a friendship dies? What do you do when you realise in a heart stopping moment of clarity that the friendship you have known for so long isn’t there anymore? When you realise you would rather NOT invite them to your child’s next birthday party? What do you do when you realise that people you have loved, trusted, and cared about are, in fact, toxic?
This is something we experienced recently with a couple who were easily our best friends. Well, about three years ago to be precise. So why am I writing about it now? Well, I guess it was a big deal for me. This was a friendship that I was certain would last our whole lives. In fact I’m pretty sure we used to joke about being old women together. I thought I would see her children grow up, and she mine.
We were friends for a very long time, and there was no gathering or celebration in our home for fifteen years that they were not part of. And vice versa. We had a fantastic friendship for so long, which is probably why I’m still surprised today that it ended. There was so much laughter, and so much trust. We were on the same wavelength. She and I seemed like chalk and cheese to most people who knew us, but with her I could always be myself. She knew I wasn’t the goody-two-shoes most people thought I was, and I knew she wasn’t the obnoxious-loudmouth most people thought she was. Our husbands were best friends, our kids loved each other, and we never had an argument.
I know, right? Wtf happened?
In short, we changed. My husband and I changed, and so did they. And at the end of the day we grew away from each other. Our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors went in very different directions. It didn’t happen overnight though. First I started feeling like I didn’t really know her that well anymore. I didn’t know what her day to day life was like anymore. I didn’t know her friends anymore. She was unhappy in her marriage and seemed to be happier when I was having a shitty day. She stopped asking about my kids. When I poured out my heart and told her how much I wanted another child she brushed me off with “forget about it, not worth it, you’ll be sorry”. (Seriously, who SAYS that?). It started with a small distance, which grew. The last time they were in our home they managed to upset everyone in turn. They were rude and insensitive to my husband (in OUR house!), and offended our parents with deliberately offensive sexual jokes. I remember sitting there that night just observing the effect they were having on everyone in the room. The atmosphere was tense and uncomfortable, and at that moment I was sorry that these people were in my home at all. They were poisoning the whole room with their very presence. After they left it seemed that the whole room let out a sigh of relief. And for the very first time in all our years of friendship, ALL of our family point-blank asked us what we were doing with friends like these.
We began asking ourselves the same question.
We decided we needed some distance from them while we both decided what to do. Do we try talking to them? We had never had a bad word, and neither my husband or I thought at that point that the friendship was beyond saving. We could see that we had all changed, and were spending less time together, but I guess we figured we just needed a break from them until we cooled off.
Five months passed, with only sporadic contact. One day I received in the mail a birthday invitation for her fortieth. A dress-up party. So I called her up. We hadn’t spoken much recently, and I was actually looking forward to celebrating her birthday with her. We had talked about our fortieth’s for ages. She pointed out that the party was strictly no kids, and even though my kids were very disappointed not to go, I explained to them that it wasn’t fair that they should come when everyone else would be leaving their kids at home.
Or not, as it turns out.
Because when we arrived, the first thing her children asked me was why I didn’t bring my kids. I laughingly told them that I was pretty sure the party was no-kids, and what were they still doing there. They said I should have brought my kids anyway because other people had. I still didn’t think much of it, you know, kids being kids and all. We were among the earlier arrivals, and it wasn’t until a couple of hours later that I noticed something. There were in fact a good number of kids running around. Enjoying the JUMPING CASTLE. Children I had never seen before. Not to be unkind to those kids, but total randoms. Friends from work, neighbours, and the like. All I could think at that moment was that these were people who I thought actually loved my children. Who would welcome them above a neighbours child. Or a work colleagues’. In that moment whatever shreds of friendship were left just vanished. I knew it was over. It felt shocking, and painful. It was suddenly over, nothing remained.
The drive home that night was very emotional. My husband had noticed too and was angry, and we both knew that we were done with these people. I decided on a clean break. No explanations, no accusations, nothing. I figured they had checked out of this friendship by not making my children welcome while other peoples were. I had been a loyal, caring friend for so many years, but that night they messed with the Mama Lion that is in every mother and I was finished.
That was the last time I saw them or their children. There was a brief, strange phone conversation a few days later when she called to recap her fabulous party. I think I said about three words.
So it’s been three years, and you know what? I really don’t miss them at all. I wondered if I might, but the damage was just too much. I hear about them on the grapevine from time to time, and the things I hear just reinforce that we made the right decision.
My husband put it best: with friends like those, who needs friends?
P.s. If you’re still here, thanks for listening.