Growing apart from friends is tough, especially when you can still remember being so close. It’s sad, but here’s how you can tell your when your friendship is over…
It was when I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline one morning that I realised that one of my friendships had unravelled even more than I’d realised. It feels like a genuinely weird sentence to type, but here it is: my friendship is over. I’ve known for a long time, really, but I remember quite clearly the moment it hit home. I was on social media one morning, Facebook scrolling, when I saw one of my old university friends had posted a message on a group page. She was looking for advice on something; specifically, on having a home birth. My chest tightened at that moment. Why? Well, because I didn’t even know she was pregnant.
If this had happened a few years ago I would have messaged her and wished her congratulations and gushed that we must meet up soon. Not today, though. Today I clicked on the post and fervently read the whole thing alongside the comments that followed it, trying to glean as much information as possible, and that was it. I didn’t write a comment on the post. I didn’t text. I definitely didn’t give her a call. Which seems shocking. She had been one of my very best friends at one point, and I didn’t even know that she was about to have a baby. If we’re talking about how you know your friendship is over, we can’t get more real than that.
“I didn’t write a comment on the post. I didn’t text. I definitely didn’t give her a call. She had been one of my best friends at university and I didn’t even know she was about to have a baby.”
Its funny how much things have changed. I remember at one point in our lives, when we were 21 and living in a flatshare together, we were so in sync I even wrote about it in my diary at the time. I actually still have it, tucked away in amongst all the pages upon pages about the terrible break-up I was going through. It sounds silly, but one day I was so struck by a series of coincidences (stupid things like buying the same clothes or getting the exact same change at the corner shop) that I felt compelled to write about it. I still have it now; proof of the intensity of our friendship. Never then did I think I’d be writing this, that our friendship is over, gone, dead as a dodo, just a few short years later. But there we have it.
It was our similarities that first drew us together. We met just before our first lecture at university, our eyes meeting outside the crowded hallway, both of us struck by our mutual love of eyeliner. Beyond that, we were both Scottish and non-public school educated in a sea of plummy, pashmina-wearing Oxbridge rejectees, both studying the exact same joint honours degree in History of Art and English Literature. We went for lunch after the lecture that day and ate cheesy bean baked potatoes and never looked back.
“They were all like her; just a bit richer and more well-spoken than I was used to. I was intimidated by it all and spent a lot of time hanging out with normal people from another university in the city.”
I always knew we were different, however. While I had a student loan and a series of shit part-time jobs and never seemed to fit in with most of the people at university, she was never short of cash and went on European holidays with her boyfriend in the summer, added to that, had lots of well-to-do friends. They were all like her; just a little bit richer and more well-spoken than I was used to. I was intimidated by it all, and spent a lot of time hanging out with ‘normal’ people from another university in the city.
But it felt that those differences were minimised for a while. Even the rich kids still had to attend tutorials and live in halls, even if they did up sticks to New Town (one of the poshest areas in Edinburgh) as soon as they were done with first year. But it was when we graduated that the differences really started to show. While I was broke and had to move back in with my parents while I job hunted and did unpaid internships, she immediately got a job teaching English in South Korea with one of her university friends. It all seemed so thrilling and beyond my worldview; I didn’t even know that that was a thing you could do.
Now, I look back on that time and wonder why I hadn’t bitten the bullet and done the same thing – as I did do seven years later at the age of 29 – but the truth was I just couldn’t afford it. That was the first big thing I couldn’t do with her. Of course I couldn’t say then, definitively, our friendship is over, but all of a sudden something had shifted. We were heading in different directions. The gap that had always been there widened overnight, making itself unable to be ignored. I think that was the beginning of the end.
“I wondered why I hadn’t bitten the bullet and moved to South Korea too, but the truth was I couldn’t afford it. That was the first big thing I couldn’t do with her. That was the beginning of the end.”
When she got back from South Korea a year later the gap just widened. She promptly got a job in London and never looked back, meanwhile, I was scraping a living as a journalist on a magazine in a shit hole city that even my ‘normal’ friends thought was a lame place to live. It was a cool job and, in many respects, and it was what I wanted to do, but my world felt so small and dreary in comparison to hers. I was lonely, unhappy in a relationship and stuck. I didn’t feel like I was anywhere near achieving my potential. I was treading water at best and in some ways, her amazing life in the capital just exacerbated that.
The last time I saw her was at her wedding, a good few years ago now. I wasn’t a bridesmaid, my friendship status already pushed down a few rungs. It was lovely to see her, but then those old feelings from university of not being good enough reared their ugly head again. I felt anxious and like I didn’t fit in the whole time. I worried my dress wasn’t ‘right’, and that I was wearing too much make-up; it goes without saying she’d given up the eyeliner years ago when she got her first ‘grown up’ job, so we didn’t even have that in common anymore. I remember one of her friends asking me how I was and me launching into a five-minute rant about my new promotion, like one of those drunk aunties, when all she really wanted was, ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ But I was so desperate to fit in, to prove to them that I was good enough and that I was successful, even if I didn’t feel like I was.
“I was worried my dress wasn’t right and that I was wearing too much eyeliner; it goes without saying that she’d given up the eyeliner years ago when she got her first grown up job, and so we didn’t even have that in common anymore.”
Since then, a good few years ago now, we’ve only exchanged a handful of communications; a Facebook message here or there, a happy birthday post that is no longer responded to with a gushy private message saying, ‘Gosh, how are you, we should catch up soon.’ The truth is, as much as it hurts, I don’t know her anymore, and she doesn’t know me. I’ve only met her husband once, at her wedding, she’s never met my boyfriend at all. She doesn’t know I left that job, eventually, and found another one. She doesn’t know that I finally managed to buy a flat and that the city I live in is changing, regenerating, that my life is actually OK now. And likewise, I don’t know anything about her. That makes me sad.
Maybe I have to accept that it was a friendship I never really felt good enough for. I was always the less articulate, the less well-travelled, the less cultured. Maybe in some ways I’m tired of having to try so hard to fit in, and maybe I just want to hang out with people that I feel comfortable with, that I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not with. But I also want to be clear that none of this is her fault, or was ever her fault. It’s all me and my shit. She shouldn’t ever feel bad about anything, because all she’s ever done is live her life.
In truth, I would love to be friends with her again. I would love to be completely in sync with her again, like we were that one perfect summer. In truth, I can’t say for sure that the friendship is over forever. Our lives synced up that summer so many years ago, despite our differences, and so who knows? Maybe they can do the same again. Until then.