Ok. New years resolution - be more open, honest and vulnerable in my writing....(also write way shorter posts - but this one is LONG, because it needed to be. Respect! Sorry Readers!) So....
What brought me on this journey, and made me realise I wanted to bring attention to the topic of female friendship specifically? This is a question I am frequently asked and I usually politely say I noticed a pattern in my own social situations and those of my family and friends, and felt strongly that this issue was affecting women and nobody was talking about it. It’s not a lie, essentially it is 100% true….. However I feel I should come clean about the real catalyst.
To do that, I must start at the back, when I was getting it all wrong, and lead you to the front where I am now. That’s a pretty accurate analogy for how I was conducting my friendships anyway. Back to front, like that time I tried on the dress in Cue, and came out of the dressing room with the long zip at the front of the dress. The woman in the store put on the straightest face she could manage and complimented me, adding she had never seen it worn back to front like that before but that it looked “interesting.” I tell you I couldn’t get back in that dressing room fast enough, to correct my mistake. I was soooo embarrassed. I literally had no idea it was back to front. Cringe! If only I could have found some sort of portal as an exit from the shop so I didn’t have to face that woman again. Needless to say I didn’t buy anything that day! Priceless! Essentially this blog is a bit like my dressing room for friendships, where I needed to take the time to get it right. I hope we can figure it out together readers. Welcome to my proverbial changing room. Be warned that like most fitting rooms, the lights are bright, the reflections are many, and we may see some reflections we don’t really like. It’s ok though. Relax. Breathe. We are going to change what we can and then learn to love all our angles, even the less flattering ones, because we are who we are. And we are wonderful! Honestly.
Onto the story then….
After finding myself excluded from a group friendship, I was lost, confused, hurt and questioning my worth and my value. I found that despite having a very good, happy and full life, I was unable to escape this pain. The emptiness seemed to engulf me as my mind wandered over the details again and again. I tried to talk to my husband about it. Understanding and supportive as he is, his grasp on the depth of my emotional pain was loose, like a weak handshake that makes you instantly annoyed with the person on the other end of it. Other friends were supportive, however, some more than others, reluctant to get involved; and all in a hurry to drop the subject matter. There didn’t seem to be anybody to talk to, who could or would relate to this particular breed of heartbreak. Especially when taking into account the part I played in the deterioration of those friendships. Nobody wants to tell you if they think you got what you deserved. Certainly I don’t want to sit and play the victim. I was hurting, and so were my now ex friends. They lost something just as important as I did when our friendship ended. Let’s just say that it ended badly and didn’t reflect particularly well on any of us…(I have written about it in this blog before if you do want the details.)
So anyway, where do you turn when you have nobody to talk to? Yup, a psychologist. They have to listen and validate you, because that’s what you pay them for!! And being able to acknowledge my pain over this ending was such an immense relief. I wanted and needed to feel accepted and understood and heard and not to be told I was making too much of a big deal out of something minor, which was the general consensus outside my therapy bubble. Therapy. It’s emotional gold. (Physical gold for her. My psychologist drives a BMW. Enough said. She was going to keep cashing in on my pain as long as I would let her! Haha.) Along the way, these sessions became more about me than about the end of these friendships, and I started to feel stronger.
I felt hopeful when I shared a new connection with a woman who I felt could become someone very special to me. As I slowly opened up to her, and spoke of my experience with the other friends, she acknowledged my pain. She never made me feel immature, and never judged me. She let me feel whatever I felt. We discussed openly anything and everything as we each burrowed into the comfy little “friend love nest” we were building for two. The most beautiful thing about it, I feel, was that as we shared who we were with one another; we learned who we were for ourselves. As if for the first time, exposing our true selves. I was married and she was single, but aside from that, as luck would have it - we were pretty similar; even if she was the thinner, prettier, older and wiser twin. (It’s fair to say I idolised her somewhat) We understood what nobody else did. We thought the same way, sometimes the same thoughts. We spoke a secret shared language. We became the infamous BFF’S.
I can now acknowledge, the more she saw me, validated me and loved me, the more I felt those things for myself. What a powerful elixir indeed. She was the best relationship I never had. We were not a couple. We were not romantically involved in any way. We were not in constant communication or contact. We usually caught up on her couch once a week or so and talked until the wee hours of the morning – venting about our week and whatever drama’s happened along the way. If she needed to call in between visits or I did, then we would, but mostly we saved it up for our girls’ nights. Both of us recall these times with genuine fondness. What I didn’t realise then, was that co-dependency was planting its seeds and sprouting all around us. If you are interested in the topic and want to know the signs of co-dependency, I read a brilliant article about it entitled “How to overcome emotional dependency” you can read here: I highly recommend you take a peek.
Apparently it can happen with anyone, especially those of us with limited self-esteem and self-awareness, and the most dangerous thing about it is that you might not even notice it exists until you are removed from the source. To directly quote the article
“Sliding into dependency will make you feel like a stalker the moment they change their minds about having you around.”
I mentioned she was single. I wasn’t. It didn’t matter then, but it was naive to think it would never be an issue. Especially for people like me who struggle with change. The writing was on the wall. I was excited for her as she started her journey into online dating and enjoyed all the recounts of the dates; the good, the bad and the ugly. Eventually though, the dates became a relationship. I wasn’t worried, she loved me just as much as I loved her. I left my partner at home to share her company, I was sure she would do the same for me? I would be flexible and I would be rewarded, right…..? If only it were that simple. Because of his job, her schedule soon had to be dictated around his. This changed her availability significantly, and the frequency of our visits started to decline. That said, when he was working, I would be there, on her couch when she could make time. Unfortunately for me; I was now sharing her time more competitively with her other friends too, because the changes to her availability also meant trying to maintain the existing connections with other people in her life. (The audacity of her to try and maintain anyone besides me?! Lol) When we did manage to catch up, dating gossip turned into relationship venting, and although I didn’t see her as much anymore, (and the spaces between our chats and visits became longer) I tried to patch up the cracks with a healthy amount of denial and anxiously carry on. When we were together it was still as it always had been, we just didn’t see each other as often anymore. I felt very conflicted about this. Her engagement happened, and before you know it, she was moving in with him. This was good news for her, but I knew deep down, it was not good news for me. For us. She used to live close by, and now it is quite a lot further than that. Still I would happily leave my husband at home with the children when her fiancé was away and trek there. She was worth it. I still enjoyed our time together. (I still “needed” it. Ugh.)
Basically the more she pulled away, the tighter I held on to her. I started to question her time and how she was using it, because if she had a spare second, she OWED it to me, you know?! I was turning to social media to confirm my suspicions that she was lying to me about her availability or lack thereof. When you stop seeing someone’s intentions as pure or positive, your perception of everything they say and do on Facebook can and will be used against them negatively! Trust me, it doesn't feel good for anybody involved. (If you find yourself doing this please stop!) Plans started to get postponed to times so far in advance that they are forgotten. Oh, I didn’t forget. Score keepers don’t forget!!! You better believe I was keeping score by now. Healthy. Not... Lol. And so this describes my slow decline into feeling like a stalker, just like the article said I would. I was a detective on the case looking for clues and confirmation of what I already knew. We were over. Alas, I was not going to be forgotten easily, or without a fight.
It was my obsessive, sole mission, to fix this. When demanding answers or addressing the issue head on with her didn’t work, I turned to more underhanded methods. If there were a way to try and control or manipulate this situation into a favourable outcome for me, you bet your bottom dollar I tried it. All my efforts failed because you cannot force feelings. Most of the time you can’t explain them either. As my feelings and behaviours clearly demonstrated they can be difficult to control too. Pushing her for answers wasn’t helping. I was only pushing her further away. As far as she was concerned we were still best friends and her feelings for me hadn’t changed. Maybe this was true, but I no longer felt loved. Even if she did still love me, I no longer believed it. I felt abandoned, scared, alone, and as if we couldn’t be friends just because she said we were without her being actively involved in my life anymore. Resentment. I felt so much resentment for one of my favourite people in the world. That was an ugly shock. An ugly angle or reflection in the proverbial mirror. Like that roll of back fat I didn’t want to see! Ew. No amount of arguing my point, reaching out with gestures, frequent contact, no contact or any of the other ideas I found on the internet had worked. I was still desperately heart broken, to the point that both of us started to question at what point I had fallen in love with her? Surely a reaction this big could only mean I had been harbouring secret romantic feelings all along? How could I not know, how could she? Why did I only realise when it was all too late? I did love her, whatever that meant anymore, so how did it get so messy, so quickly? I didn’t understand myself. Along with continued counselling, I turned to books. Seems like the natural conclusion after all? The smarts will be in the books. Lol.
I read every book about female or just plain old friendships I could get my hands on. And something happened. I became so interested in the topic, and so fascinated by the things I was reading, I forgot why I was reading them. I realised I hadn’t read a single book that said everything I wanted it to say. I needed to write it. I started to read about self-esteem and co-dependency and triggers. I read about self-awareness and accountability. Accountability. I had been hell bent on holding my friend accountable for the betrayal she had bestowed on me by getting married (the nerve of that woman! Ha) that I hadn’t stopped to ask myself if I was being a good friend to her. Had I stopped to look at this from her perspective, thought about what she "needed" from me right now? No. She needed understanding, patience and the freedom and space to live her life without feeling like she was letting me down. Why did I feel like she was letting me down? Because my self-esteem was enmeshed in our friendship. I thought I NEEDED her to exist. To be happy.
My focus should never have been on her, or controlling or manipulating her actions towards me to coax her into meeting my "need." The only person I can control is myself - with effort I can control me, my perspective, my thoughts and my focus. My life. She was focused on her own life and happiness, and rightly so. Just because I was married already, did not mean I had no further purpose. I just hadn’t found it yet, obvious as it now seems. I was born for this and all my life has been practise, leading up to this conclusion.
My psychologist pointed out that whenever we have a really big reaction to something, it usually means a secret fear of ours about ourselves, a core belief, is being triggered. My secret fear was that I was unlovable, disposable, not worthy. And she triggered all of them, simply by creating space for herself to live her new life. What a powerful moment. To truly see that none of it was about me at all. To remove the power of those triggers, I need to work on those core beliefs about self. (And stop having an adult tantrum. Lol) I could choose to see it from her perspective. And if I could love myself, and be my own best friend, cliché as it sounds, I would never "need" her, or anyone else, ever again. (That is not to say I want to be alone with no people or friends, not at all. It just frees me from feeling that one particular person holds the key to my happiness as such.)
So I embark on this journey of accepting myself, forgiving myself, not blaming myself for other people’s choices, not limiting myself based on their choices and ultimately loving myself. I started to see my other friendship breakdowns in a new light, and understand some reactions from other people that I had not understood before. I saw some ugliness there too. Change the lighting in here, it is showing up every flaw?! The ugly truth was - I had done this to other women, and never even blinked an eye, oblivious to their pain, almost plain refusing to see it! This had come full circle. Oh how the mighty have fallen! (First her, then me! Lol)
My own experiences with female friendships alone were the basis of the book I am attempting to write, but why stop there? I want us all to share our experiences. I want your opinions. I want your stories. I realised I have something to say. That I have struggled with this issue my whole life and I need to use it to help other women struggling like I was. I realised that I was ok on my own. (Also that I was not actually on my own) I broke free of the prison I had locked myself into by thinking I needed her to be happy or loved or to exist. There is not that many books on the topic, not enough articles, and most of the self-esteem sites etc… focus on romantic relationships. Well my issue has never been with romantic relationships. I think a lot of women, people, friends, can relate to this, although it isn’t discussed. Yes, the things I explore can also apply to men and or romantic relationships for sure. Even just questioning when I fell in love with my best female friend, (I never did by the way!) raised some valid points, I feel, about the similarities between romantic and platonic love and the ways we define them. But that is another blog post all together.
Now that I could finally see the beauty in letting her choose for herself, I could finally let go of her. Let go of my investment in our future. Stop stalking her social media and looking for signs if we were still friends or not. I want her in my life. I no longer "need" her there. In fact I never did. But I believed I did. The human mind is a fragile thing. Be careful where you indulge it.
Telling her about my book idea was terrifying. We were already so fragile. Would this break us? Would she feel it was a personal attack on her character? I was finally able to tell her because I no longer needed to fix us. I was going to do this if it broke us or not. What difference would it make to my life anyway, as she had long since left it (well, almost) to be on her own path? For the first time I am loving me, without needing her to do it first. Without needing anyone to do it first. For the first time in forever I feel like I have my own path, and I believe in myself enough to follow it and lead the way.
It took me 2 years of thinking I was not ok without this person to realise I had been just fine all along. I still love her. She still loves me. It’s a gift to us both that I know this now, that I believe in it and feel it again. In fact, if anything, this has brought us closer together because I am not burdening her with my happiness, success, self-esteem and self-worth anymore. With my existence. I never meant to put any of that on her, but I recognise now that is exactly what I did. I remember our co-dependency with great fondness, but I don’t miss it anymore. I don’t even want to go back to that unhealthy place. My new mantra is “I got this. All on my own.” I’ve accepted responsibility and accountability for myself. Please come on this journey with me? The answers lie in the future, the lessons in the past.
While I am sorry for my strange obsessive behaviour, I don’t accept full responsibility for our issues. She and I have discussed this. There were things we could have both handled differently, better, for ourselves and for each other. We have fought, hugged, cried throughout this journey of self-discovery, and apologised for our mistakes. We have reached forgiveness. Nope. Bugger that, we have reached understanding. We have come full circle. And that is what friendship means. Getting through the hard times, by thinking more about her perspective, feelings, wants and needs than your own. (I am reluctant to still use the term “need” in relation to friendship, but there is yet another topic for discussion. Thank you universe! Lol)
This blog is for her. She knows who she is. Thank you for the love, the support, the kindness. For letting me exist when I didn’t think I could on my own and trying so hard to carry me when I got so heavy while you were trying to fly! (“Heavy” - AKA Intense, although rest assured weighty issues caused weight issues too! Haha) Thank you for understanding me the way you still do and for our ongoing friendship. You provided me the catalyst to change my life. You are my nothing, yet somehow, on some level, you are still my everything. Whatever happens from here, I will never forget you. I will always be grateful for you. You changed my life. I love you. Xx (And make sure you read my damned book! Lol)