How To Start Over With Friends

Corinne Redfern

In a society that fetishises friendship groups, what do you do when yours collapses? Three women reveal their own BFF break-ups and how they created a new social circle



‘DITCHING MY OLD FRIENDS WAS THE BEST THING FOR ME’

When she outgrew her social group, Giselle Wainwright, 29, made a conscious effort to create a new one

‘Last summer, I was in a bar surrounded by the same girlfriends I’ve had for ten years. One of them was arguing with the other, another was crying into her drink about a guy who “didn’t like her”, and I sat there thinking, “Why is every night like this?” Then it hit me: I had a choice.

That evening made me realise that I needed a social switch-up. The realisation had started as a little trickle of friendship issues and turned into an avalanche of problems that I didn’t want to deal with.

At first, I tried to simply ignore the squabbles, but after another argument on WhatsApp; another he-said she-said about a new boyfriend, I was exhausted. ‘It didn’t help that my personal life had taken a nosedive. Last year, my parents split after 37 years of marriage, and their emotional fallout weighed heavily on me. As I struggled to prop up each parent, I couldn’t take my friend’s ridiculous squabbles seriously. I didn’t care whether Sophie’s boyfriend “looked like he wasn’t going to be a good fit for her, and should we tell her?” I had no time for it.

I decided I would actively try to meet more people. I tried a spinning class with someone I met at a party (fun, but my white-wine habit got in the way of any meaningful meet-ups) and I tried talking to strangers in the pub. At the same time, I changed jobs and cemented a close bond with some of my new colleagues.

I’d always felt like my old friends leaned on me, but with my new work mates, Katie and Alexa, I felt able to talk freely about the stress of my parent’s split. Then I met Sarah, who I was sat next to at an event. We got talking and, as we began minesweeping the tables for alcohol, laughing like teenagers, I realised I was having more fun than I’d had in a whole year with my former mates. Now evenings like that are a weekly occurrence. Every time I meet someone I want to hang out with, I get them to introduce me to their group of friends, too – and it works.

I gently phased out my former friends. I made myself less available; sometimes I deleted someone’s number altogether and, when I didn’t hear from them, I felt reassured that I’d made the right decision. Nostalgia is powerful, and sometimes I do feel guilty about the situation, but I also feel lighter. I think we’re better off without each other ‒ it’s friendship evolution.’

'I MOVED ABROAD, AND HAD TO START FROM SCRATCH'
Lizzie Cernik, 31, has spent the past decade splitting her time between London and Dubai, switching up friendship groups along the way

‘At 23, my list of life goals was extensive: marry a Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike and own a pink Smeg fridge. But until
I was offered a journalism job in Dubai, the idea of moving halfway across the world hadn’t crossed my mind.

Admittedly I had reservations about the place, especially the prospect of making new friends. Just a few weeks in, my worst fears – that Dubai would be tasteless and obscenely capitalist – were confirmed. Most of the people I’d met through work were flaky, superficial, racist and rude.

By the end of my first three months, there was only one person in the country I could call a friend. I might have been surrounded by the glitterati crowd in a champagne-soaked theme park, but I felt completely alone.

Going home wasn’t an option, and with Skype banned in the UAE, I was racking up some serious international phone bills. So I took a deep breath and moved away from the flashy expat hotspots into a barely functioning desert villa that was impossible to find without a compass and a degree in orienteering. But my housemates, who I’d never met before moving in, turned out to be some of the best people I’ve ever befriended. They came from all over the world – New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and Syria. We clicked instantly and within weeks we became really close, sleeping in each other’s beds, sobbing over exes, rowing about the washing-up and drinking until the small hours. In fact, we rarely went out. Instead, we would lie under the stars in the 37°C evening heat smoking, singing and dancing till the sun came up.

Though my family came to visit, my friends from home rarely made the trip. We remained close, but like most friendship groups in their twenties, we developed our own independence. When I moved back to the UK after 18 months, I lived in London, rather than my hometown in Cheshire. But working 60-hour weeks for a start-up company made it hard to make friends and, six months down the line, licking cheese sauce straight from the pan had become a valid source of Friday-night entertainment. As much as I love saturated fats, they’re no cure for loneliness, so when I was offered another job back in Dubai, I was happy to return for a few more years of tax-free debauchery. Many of my old friends had moved on, but a few remained, which made it easier to develop a social circle.

I’ve recently moved back to London for the second time and while job struggles haven’t given me the easiest start, I feel more confident this time around. Fending for myself in a foreign country has made me more self-sufficient and open-minded about friendship. Dubai taught me the value of real friends. Now, I’m lucky enough to have a handful of close mates in every corner of the globe and, just like all those boys you kissed at university and wished you hadn’t, I can safely say it’s quality not quantity that truly counts.’

‘MY BOYFRIEND BROKE UP WITH ME - AND SO DID MY FRIENDS’
After splitting from her partner of eight years, Nilufer Atik, 39, found herself starting over in more ways than one

‘There had been four couples in our social group and, two weeks after Adam dumped me, the freeze-out began. Birthday invites, weekend breaks, even nights out down the pub became less frequent.

“It was pretty obvious you guys weren’t suited,” said Dan, who’s married to Katy. Iwas shocked by his blasé attitude. My life was falling apart, and he was acting like it didn’t matter. I’d given the reading at their wedding and considered them close friends, especially Dan, who I’d met before Adam.

Katy was more sympathetic: “Don’t worry, we’ll look after you.” I was thankful. I was also scared of feeling lonely, and that was partly why I’d stayed so long in a relationship that hadn’t made me happy. But when we met at their Essex home one weekend, it was awful. Dan didn’t know how to talk to me without my other half there. I rattled on about Adam for the entire meal, then glanced up and saw Katy give Dan an exasperated look. Embarrassed, I said nothing. After that, I sent a few lame texts asking how they were but got a, “Fine thanks. Hope you are well,” back. I realised I’d been thrown out of the “couples’ club”.

Asking the gang to unfriend Adam on Facebook probably didn’t help. He’d met someone else and I was petrified that he’d post a photo of her. In hindsight though, it was stupid to ask them to take sides.

I spent my weekend watching reruns of Game Of Thrones, crying and drinking wine. Not only did I live alone, I worked from home, too, so a few days could go by without me speaking to anyone. If I complained to the group, I worried I’d become even more of an outcast, so I kept quiet.

That is until I saw the Facebook post from Adam thanking Rebecca – one of my closest friends in the group – for the “fun BBQ”. I called, accusing her of being thoughtless. “You shouldn’t expect so much from people,” she said. I hung up.

A few weeks later, I got a surprise dinner invitation from Sarah and Steve. After checking Adam wouldn’t be there, I turned up with a cheesecake. It was excruciating. The conversation – trips to Ikea, having kids – felt alien. I barely uttered two words and left feeling empty. These people weren’t my friends; they’d been “our” friends, but there was no “us” any more.

I had to widen my social circle but, now in my late thirties, I didn’t have a clue. There was something tragic about going to bars on my own, and singles parties terrified me. So I went down the well-worn route
of joining groups: fitness classes, cinema groups on Meetup and short yoga retreats.

Yes, it was nerve-wracking at first, and it did occasionally go horribly wrong – at a pub quiz, I asked a Justin Bieber lookalike for the time, then his girlfriend marched over and shouted, “Piss off, granny.” But I made an effort at work events, and some contacts soon became firm friends. My Saturdays are now spent with new friends, going to festivals, plays, cocktail bars and on shopping trips. I’m happier and more self-assured. I rarely hear from the old gang, but I did spot a Facebook post from Adam, thanking them for attending his 40th. Honestly? I didn’t care, which just shows that I’m over him. But, perhaps more importantly, I’m over them, too.’

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