I had my first friend-break up when I was 12. I don’t remember why we fought but it was very dramatic, in a way 12-year-olds can make life. There were a lot of arguments, tears, and calls on the landline. My father tried to get us to talk, so did O’s grandmother, but we were stubborn and we both believed we were absolutely in the right (again, as 12-year-olds are wont to do). We were miserable in school for a few months.
But because we were in school, and we saw each other every day, we eventually got back together. I don't remember what changed or how, but O and I are still friends and her grandmother is still amazingly kind to me whenever I visit.
I look back on this episode fondly, able to laugh at our 12-year-old selves and our stubbornness. I consciously don’t think about those months when I missed O and kept thinking about why we’d fought. However, I know most friend break ups don't have a happy ending. They're pain-inducing and lead to immense misery, loneliness, and countless hours of therapy.
Can you ever say exactly why a friendship fell apart? Or when? With boyfriends, the dates are important. We ‘dated’ from March to June 2016, you can say. With friends… Did we become friends in 2012? Or did we actually become friends after our dinner in Tibet Kitchen in early 2013? And when did we break up? Not 2015 because you came for my birthday party that year… I don’t know. And I also don’t know if it would be easier if there was a concrete date and reason.
I know people fall apart because of differing political views or a betrayal of trust. Are those easier to navigate because you have a tangible reason to hold on to when you’re hurting later and recounting the story? The truth is, it will still hurt. Whether there was one moment that led to a break up or if it was a slow process, it will hurt.
None of my friendships have ended in a tumultuous showdown. A just slowly stopped talking to me. I was miserable for months. I kept wondering what I’d done wrong. It took me time (and therapy) to realize that our expectation of friendship was not the same. For A, there was no scope for bad days and time-offs in the friendship. I had to be available all the time, living by her standards. When I couldn’t, she disappeared.
Yet, I believed that deep down, we were still friends who had just had a fight. I believed that she still held some affection for me; that if I reached out for help, she would agree. Many years later, when I was going through probably the most difficult time of my life, A found out. She didn’t reach out; I didn’t think of calling her. That’s when I accepted that our friendship had died.
The reason I held on for so long with A is because years ago, I hadn’t tried at all with B. B and I were friends in college – we were always together till it got stifling. I wanted my own time, my own friends, to be able to read a book without her picking it up too. I knew I had to maintain a distance, so I did it the only way I knew. I spent many hours listening to music and reading books so I didn’t have to talk to her. All I got out of it was a sense of discomfort, and a lifelong love for Regency Romances. For two kids who wanted to grow up to be writers, we were unnaturally bad at communicating emotions and we never addressed the issue. We didn’t keep in touch after college.
In both cases, in the beginning, I didn’t like the regular updates that came from mutual friends. I was scared to go to parties because there was always a possibility that we’d meet. I was scared our other friends would choose her over me. But after a point, I moved cities or changed jobs – as the case may be – and even mutual friends dried up. And then, then, I had to deal with the idea that we’d be leading completely different lives, without any access to each other.
I sometimes wonder where B is and what she thinks of the things and the people we loved together. When I see a Harry Potter fan theory, my first instinct is to share it with her. I wonder if A still likes painting and if she ever told her childhood crush that she was in love with him. Did she get that dream job? For how many months after we stopped talking were our periods synced?
I also wonder if they'd like me now – the person that I’ve grown to be after so many years. Would A think I’m a loser who never achieved her dreams or would she realize that my dreams have changed with me? Would it bother B that I don’t have vanilla ice cream on my first day of periods any more but that I crave spicy chicken wings?
Sometimes I stalk my ex-friends on social media. Not too much though, not because they can't know, but because I don't want to see all the amazing things I know they're doing. Not too much because I don’t want to accept that they have become completely different people.
Sometimes I like the little I see on Instagram. "If we'd met now, we might have been friends," I think. Sometimes I hate what I see on social media. "She wasn't this bad when I knew her," I tell my boyfriend.
I wonder if A and B ever think about what went wrong. Because I do. I wonder what I could have done differently. Did I push them away because I was going through too much – and if that’s true, why didn’t I tell them that, like I told them everything else? Or did they push me away? More importantly, I also wonder if they too, still, deal with these confusing, overpowering emotions of guilt and blame when they think of our friendship.
A friendship ending is so much like a romantic relationship ending. In many cases, it’s much worse. Like in a romantic relationship, you feel like you yourself have been rejected— not a CV, or a performance but the real you. But unlike in a romantic relationship, in a friendship, you don’t have one of your best friends to call up and cry with. The vanilla ice cream doesn’t taste that good alone.
Shreemayee Das writes on entertainment, education, and relationships. She is based in Mumbai, and posts as @weepli on Instagram and Twitter.