When friendships start to sour Olivia Foster advocates cutting the chord quickly. But why are we conditioned to believe this act is ‘unsisterly’ and ‘unsupportive’?
"You just don’t seem to support me." No, this wasn’t an uncomfortable conversation with a partner but an argument with someone I’d once considered to be one of my closest friends. The words spat at me across a crowded bar. And the thing I wasn’t supportive of? That she was sleeping with someone else’s boyfriend. Although I didn’t say it at the time that conversation was the beginning of the end of mine and Lucy’s* friendship, as the chasm between our moral views grew ever deeper.
At one point we’d been inseparable, meeting through work and bonding over a shared sense of humour and a shared dislike for being stuck in the office. We had wild nights out and long days lounging in her garden, sharing friends, holidays and all of our darkest secrets. But over time, as our differences revealed themselves, the cracks began to show.
She didn’t consider herself a feminist and thought my ardent championing of women’s rights was ridiculous and she would actively disappear any time she was dating someone, which left me feeling used. I found her both intoxicating and exhausting, she could be the most brilliantly funny, straight-talking friend, but only – it turned out – when she didn’t have anything better to do.
I found her aloofness hard to deal with and she found my sensitivity likewise. Any fall outs we had were often started by her, but ultimately my fault. Being lonely living in London I clung to our friendship even when I knew it was going south – probably leaving her feeling like I wasn’t in it for the right reasons.
It was, in many ways, like a bad affair and there came a point when there was no way back – we didn’t discuss it, one day I just decided to stop chasing her and as it turns out six months on, she didn’t seem to mind. Sometimes I wonder what she thinks about it, does she feel a sense of relief that the friendship is over, or does she ever want to pick up the phone and call? It can’t have been any easier for her to navigate our clashing world views than it was for me.
The fact that I view ending female friendships in the same way I view ending relationships can sometimes be faced with scepticism. Women are conditioned to believe that we’re meant to be supportive of one another and the idea it is unsisterly to stop being friends with someone remains strong. And while anecdotally we know it’s not uncommon, it’s still far less talked about than break-ups with partners, despite the fact that it can be equally as painful.
Friends are often the people we confide in, the ones who know us best, who share our achievements and see us at our darkest times. But I’ve noticed when trying to talk to people about why me and Lucy no longer speak – despite it being a sad situation which has caused me angst – it’s not given as much gravitas as if I was talking about a break up.
It can also be a hard thing to do at a time when more people feel lonely than ever before. According to research by Bumble BFF 84% of British people say they struggle to make new friends, while 73% say they don’t think they have enough. But for me, making sure I stay out of potentially toxic friendships has meant I put more time into the people who really matter.
I don’t have any ill will towards Lucy, we were two people who grew apart and just like a romantic relationship, sometimes, when that happens, it’s best to move on.
*Name has been changed
Originally published in January 2020.
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