Half-Hearted: On When Your Friend Gets A New Boyfriend...
The Debrief: 'It’s a pain we’re not allowed to talk about because, and I think wrongly, it's often mistaken for jealousy.'
There is a well-kept secret amongst women about the loss we feel when our best friend gets into a long term relationship.
I have a handful of very close friends, mostly women, who I count as extensions of my family. What I feel for them cannot be put into words. They are the greatest romances of my youth. I have cried and screamed about them, worked with them, dyed their hair, travelled with them, picked them up off of kitchen floors, shared baths with them and tucked them into bed. When I talk about love, I’m talking about them.
They sustain me and keep me in check and in turn, I do the same. Sometimes, I’ll admire one of them with fresh eyes from across a cafe table and congratulate myself: 'anyone who can call this person their best mate, must be an alright person'. I am proud, covetous, protective and territorial with them when I want to be and therein lies one of the age old problems with passionate love-possession. They are not mine and I am not their’s and that only comes into full sharp relief when one of them gets into a serious romantic relationship.
I don’t want this to sound like a Rachel Cusk tribute, but really and truly there is no pain quite like the pain of slipping, head first, down your best friend’s priority list. That sounds like a mundane dilemma, but for those who have experienced it, it’s akin to grief. It is a searing hot and private pain that lances your innards. It’s a pain we’re not allowed to talk about because, and I think wrongly, it's often mistaken for jealously. The feeling is much closer to looking over the edge of a tall building- it’s much closer to fear.
For a long time, I tried to suppress the absolute terror I would feel at the news that another of my closest friends had met someone. This is an awful admission but I remember on more that one occasion, feeling a sick feeling flood over me, as yet another friend told me how serious things were getting with their latest conquest. It’s bizarre but we’re conditioned at these moments to blurt words of congratulations as though your mate has just cracked a Rubric’s cube. I remember the practiced smile I would crack and the creakiness of my voice as I asked them to 'tell me everything- I’m so happy for you!'.
It’s not the jealousy of them having met someone that freaks me out (despite my long-term singledom, I’ve turned down potential boyfriends) it’s the inevitable loss, the six months of missed calls, the quieter weekends, the read message and the french exits, that will ensue. Because, invariably, despite each of my friends protestations to the contrary ('I’ll never be that girl that just goes off the radar')- sometimes, they are. Occasionally it’ll last weeks, or months and sometimes for years, and I’ve had to quietly take my place on the sideline and watch from afar as a best friend embarks on a new life without me. And you must never, ever complain, because that is churlish and ungracious.
But I tell you, it is possible to feel both happy for you friends and melancholy at the same time.
I’m not going bonkers either. I know that most people have felt their own friendships dissipate when their pals meet someone. There’s even research, research people, facts and numbers to prove that on average, you lose two close friends from your inner circle when you become involved in a romantic relationship.
I think what I’ve found the most difficult is the depletion of intimacy in my life. As a single person, living in London, loneliness, perceived or real, is a constant bedfellow. So when another friend moves on, into the 'next place' with a partner, there is the sense of transition or replacement and in its place, a profound sense of outsiderness settles.
We as humans, like to come in twos. The way we talk about relationships ('I’m alone' or 'my better half') is an insight into the way our culture puts couples on a pedestal- even if that pairing is platonic. So it’s not too far a stretch to consider that ceasing to think of yourself and your best mate, as a pair, can feel like a severance too. Your friend will now share their thoughts and feelings with someone else. You’ll unlikely be their plus one any longer. They will book holidays with their new lover and tell you they have no more holiday to take when you pitch a long weekend away 'like the good old times!'. They’ll tell you they’re not that 'into clubs anymore' and they’re 'staying off drink' and you’ll take it as an assassination of your own lifestyle. In fact, you’ll start to take it all personally despite knowing, deep down that it has nothing to do with you and that they’re sick on love. I know this because I was in a three year long relationship and for roughly 1095 days I couldn’t see past my exes beautifully sculpted nose (it was good). I abandoned mates, ignored family and stopped going out. And, I lived to regret it deeply.
In the best case scenarios, after six months most people resurface, happier, and ready to hang out again. I have friends who integrate me with their new boyfriends and girlfriends lives and in turn, their new social circles, and it feels good. I thrive off if being an ambassador for my friend’s 'previous life' full of anecdotes of what we 'used to get up to.' If it goes to plan, their partners welcome me in and we become friends. The End.
In worst case scenarios, they date douches or worse, they simply slip down the rabbit hole of Deliveroo and checking each other’s moles and puff, they vanish, and somewhere deep down in my stomach a seed of resentment is planted that won’t be uprooted.
Social media is of course an utter bitch in these situations. When a friend blows you off, but you find yourself swiping through Instagram stories of them at the pub with their new circle of friends, it makes you want to break shit. Also, while we’re on the topic of mobile phones, one of my greatest frustrations is my perception that texts as equivocal to face to face time. They just ain’t. Emotional connection wanes with lack of physical time spent together- fact. Mobile phones make us all lazier, I know, but nothing feels like a hang out with your best mate- not even a FaceTime.
Of course, the decisions your friends make are to be utterly respected. Wether they mutate into a Flakey McFlakerson over night, only hit you up when their boyfriend is out of town or go full MIA for a year, it really never impacts how much you love each other. You go on loving them hard, just from a distance.
Change too can be wonderfully rewarding. As your friend moves on and into love, the way your life looks, will change too. It’s a tough and difficult process- to acknowledge that your friend’s newfound happiness changes your life too, wether you like it or not- but it’s immensely rewarding. I think your friend temporarily 'dumping' you for a boyfriend can make you fiercely independent. I used to think of friendships as a kind of spider’s web, the stronger the silk, the greater the support, but sometimes a few threads get cut and that’s life. That’s what space looks like and what room to grow can feel like. You inevitably socialise with new people and flex your social muscles elsewhere. For me, I found I had more time to focus on work (dull but immensely satisfying).
In short, the problem is historic. Not to get too bogged down with politics and economics… but remember, whenever you’re missing your best mate, we’re all terribly socially conditioned to believe that we’re better in twos- from Noah’s arch right up until the tax break- Western civilisation, capitalism, determinism, neoliberalism— most of the isms- are happier when you comply with the rules and buy stuff in order to meet a better esteemed mate to breed with, when actually you’re doing a totally sterling job of just doing you babes. You’re friend, most likely, isn't going anywhere, or if she is, it’s only temporary. So pick up your phone and text someone you don’t see all that often and see if they fancy getting a drink, while also feeling smug about the fact that, as long as your single, homeless and childless, you’re like, a total threat to the status quo. And just because she has a boyfriend doesn’t means she doesn’t adore you too. You go Glen Coco.
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