image of two friends from behind
Love & Relationships

The complexity of female friendships

Female friendships; something I’ve had my ups and down with over the years.

I always had lots of friends and a few ‘best friends’ when i was younger. My family moved us fifty miles away when I was eight years old and I had to start all over again. It was easy back then though, at my new school and neighbourhood I made friends quickly, as children do.

An early friendship loss

My first experience of the heart-breaking effect friendship fall-outs can have, took place when I was eleven. My best friend and I had a huge row over the summer break before starting high school, it was over something trivial and she called me “a fat cow”, her words cut me like a knife.

I was pretty chubby back then as a child but I never expected my closest and dearest friend to say those words to me. Being the stubborn person I am (even as an eleven year old!), I went home in tears and told my parents that I wanted to move schools. Slightly dramatic I know but we had chosen our high school together and I decided I no longer wanted to be around her, or speak to her again.

So my parents obliged to keep me happy and somehow over the holidays managed to change my application to a different local high school. It was closer but definitely not as good. It’s funny how decisions can change the whole course of your life, that one silly row with my best friend when I was a pre-teenager changed the whole course of my life, the friends I’d make and probably how well I’d do academically.

Making new friends

I started my new school in the September and quickly made new friends, as well as keeping other friends that moved up with me from Primary School. When I went into second year, I changed from the shy, hard-working quiet girl to fit in with the ‘clique’; the cool girls. I dyed my hair blonde, took more of an interest in make-up and fashion and started smoking and drinking. I was soon accepted into the most popular group in our year, leaving my old friends behind.

In High School, I became the class clown. I loved entertaining my friends and classmates and life was all about ‘fun’ for me. I left my dedication to studying behind, I had been recognised and praised for being very hard-working in Primary School. The only subject I still held an interest in was English, I’d always been passionate about writing, reading and literature.

I didn’t experience many friendship dramas through high school or college, other than the usual petty bickers between teenage girls. I was popular and friends with many different groups and prided myself in being kind to everyone and not getting involved with any drama. There were numerous comments in my leavers book about how I never bitched or got involved and was everyone’s friend which was a nice thing to hear. It felt easy back then, I thrived with a close-knit group of friends and family.

Friendships through hard times

Everything in my world changed at the devastating and unexpected loss of my Dad when I was just fifteen, five months before I was due to sit my GCSE’s. Life as I knew it changed forever, my friends were a great support and stood by me but I went through something that no fifteen year old should have to go through or really could understand. I grew up very quickly from that day on, the class clown and carefree party girl was gone. I knuckled down with my studies to make my Dad proud and did better at my exams than I would have done if I’d continued to be that study shy and immature girl.

I went to Sixth Form College for a year and had a great time, again enjoying some new and some old friendships. There were some changes during my second year at college, I switched classes from Business to Sociology and a few of my close friends left. It wasn’t the same and I was pretty keen to study Artistic Make Up and get out in the working world. Much to my tutors dismay, I quit college a few months into my second year. I studied towards an Artistic Make-up Diploma for the next year at a different college which I loved, again meeting a great group of friends who had similar interests. It was difficult to get a job in the industry at the time and I didn’t drive so I went on to work as an office junior, I wasn’t interested in University and more studying at the time.

No place to call home

Around this time we devastatingly lost our family home, due to debts my Father’s business had left behind. My Mum decided to move back to Tameside in Manchester where we’d originally lived, to be closer to be older sisters who would help her out now my Dad was gone (my Mum is disabled and relied heavily on my Dad for transportation). I initially moved to Liverpool with my then boyfriend but that didn’t work out so I stayed with my Mum temporarily. She’d moved into a one bedroom flat so there wasn’t much room for me, I was thrown into a life of independence at just eighteen.

The years that followed involved many ups and downs, it was difficult without a base or a stable home to go back to. I missed my friends and didn’t drive, it was difficult to get back to Skelmersdale where I’d lived by public transport so I saw them less and less. I threw myself into meeting new friends through work and built up a good social life in Manchester. I still found it difficult to feel settled though, I felt like I’d been forced into this situation. I moved to many different parts of the city, living with friends, boyfriends and in house-shares. I’ve actually lost track of the amount of times I moved during my early twenties.

My moves included a brief stint in London with a then boyfriend, it was exciting at first but when I found out he’d cheated on me I moved back to Manchester within around four months. I made lots of great friends over those years, most of them I’d met through work. It was difficult, because I moved about so much and didn’t have a base or much stability and it was hard to keep one group of core friends.

Finding my new tribe

In my mid-twenties I moved to Didsbury, a popular suburb of Manchester and forged a very close and intense friendship with three women around my age, we’ll call them C, M and J. We became inseparable, enjoyed many nights out, parties, day trips and holidays to Marbella and Europe together. I finally felt like I’d gotten my ‘tribe’ back and I felt happier than I had in years. Three of us ended up renting a lovely Victorian Terrace together. The girls were there for me through many dating trials and tribulations. They were fun times and I felt as carefree as I had in years, feeling that support and unconditional friendship that I’d lost all those years ago when I moved away from my hometown.

Things moved on and C decided to move away to another town to move in with her boyfriend. Her and M had been clashing and arguing a little and the atmosphere was tense, I felt caught in the middle. We replaced her with another housemate and it wasn’t the same, the dynamics felt strange. I’d also met someone, it turned quite serious so I decided to move in with him.

Falling apart

The friendship between C  and M had completely broken down by now.  M and I also had some differences over the rent and bills when I moved out which caused some friction between us. The cracks were starting to show in our ‘solid’ friendship group. I was quite relieved when I moved in with my boyfriend, I didn’t keep much contact with M as I felt she’d been unreasonable about splitting the finances owed when I moved out. It’s the reason J never wanted to move in with us in the first place, she said living with friends wasn’t the best idea (and she was right!)

Myself and C remained close friends, she had a baby son soon after (I became Godmother) and I visited her as often as I could, even though she lived over 30 miles away. We stayed in touch with J but she moved down to London at this point and started travelling the world so our friendship became a long-distance one.

Another friend of our group who we’ll call S, became closer with myself and C and the three of us started spending more time together, we became the new ‘clique’. It wasn’t the same though and C lived some distance away. My relationship with my boyfriend broke down after a year and a half and I moved into a flat-share with a great girl in Manchester City Centre. Soon after, I wonderfully but unexpectedly met my current Husband through work.

My now Husband and I had a great time in the early days of our relationship. Our lives were very social and I joined his world of close friends and family and we partied a lot. He also invited me on a group holiday to Thailand when we’d been together for just under six months, it was one of the best holidays of my life. During our early dating days, I went on a girls holiday to Marbella with C and J as a bit of a reunion holiday and we’d booked it when I’d broken up from my ex before I met Steven.

The start of the end

I thought we were having a great holiday but during a night out in Marbella, C was pretty drunk and blurted out; “I don’t feel like you’re my best friend anymore”. I was pretty shocked as I thought things between us were fine. She’d moved away even further to Derby at this point and it wasn’t the easiest route from Manchester but I made the effort as often as I could. I was aware our lives were in very different places but I cherished her friendship and loved spending time with her and my Godson so I was gutted to learn that she felt this way. We chatted it out and I hoped things would be ok between us but things started to unravel soon after.

When we returned home and our friendship of three continued between C and S and I, I noticed the two of them growing closer. Whereas C would previously stay at my house whenever she visited Manchester, she was now starting to stay at S’s house and they were making more of the plans together and inviting me. S’s partner was in the Army so was away from home for months at a time and she lived alone so understandably she now had more time to dedicate to C than I had.

This triangle friendship went on for another two years, I started to feel like a spare wheel when the three of us were together as they had grown so close. Soon everything I started to say or do became an issue to both of them, things I’d said joking or harmlessly offended them. I started to feel that I was on eggshells and I struggled, I confided in other friends and didn’t know what to do. I cared about these friendships and they felt a big part of who I’d become in my twenties.

Eventually myself and C had a frank phone conversation, I was shocked she told me it was “all or nothing, she didn’t want a part-time friend”, I don’t think anyone can give you their all in their late twenties. Needless to say she had a young child so she should have had even less time to dedicate to her friendships than me.

Still I fought to hold onto these friendships,  hoping that they could somehow be salvaged. The final straw came when my one of my other friends came out with the three of us on a night out. She got chatting to a boy and C and S were leaving to go to a club, they were pretty drunk but they turned against my friend a little and said some unpleasant things, asking if I wanted to leave with my ‘real friends’.

I did agree to go with them and left my other friend to have some time to get to know the guy she’d met, arranging to meet her afterwards. When we got to the club we bumped into some of S’s work friends and C and S just ignored me, making me feel very awkward. I popped to the loo and when I got back they’d gone (moved to another part of the club I’d assumed) but it was the final straw for me enough was enough. I’d tried harder than I probably ever had before to salvage this friendship as it had meant a lot to me but it was clear that it had become toxic. I’d never tolerated boyfriends treating me badly and decided I wouldn’t allow a friend to either. Everyone makes mistakes/ has off days/ says things they regret but this had been going on too long now.

Friendship break-ups and heartache

After that I spoke to C and told her that as she’d suggested a little while back we should go our own way and this didn’t feel like a healthy friendship anymore. She agreed. It was really sad and felt like a break-up but a part of me was relieved to be out of this toxic triangle. I briefly stayed in touch with S for a while as she lived fairly close to me but we soon drifted, it became awkward as she was now much closer to C and her loyalty clearly lay with her.

C also did confide in me during this that she was jealous of a couple of friends I’d grown close to over the years at work. Over the years I made some wonderful new friends, I’m a big believer that people leave your life to allow someone even better to enter.

I did briefly stay in touch with C for the years following, she came back onto Facebook and re-added me when she got married. S was her Maid of Honour and she looked like she’d made a new group of friends through work in her city whom she’d grown close to. It was painful to see and although we messaged each other with polite updates I decided to delete them both from social media in the end, it was the easiest way to move on from something that had hurt me so much.

I’ve recently had hurtful another fall out with a friend and have drifted away from a couple of others, I will continue this in another post as this one has grown much longer than anticipated! It has been therapeutic to write and reflect on the heartbreak and experiences. Female friendships can be complex, especially with lots of love and life changes and when you don’t have those lifelong bonds that help you to move past difficulties. Life long friends feel more like family and I have missed that longevity of friendships over the years and have envied others who have that.

It’s difficult not to take it personally when you go through these experiences. I’m sure my stubborn nature doesn’t help matters but I pride myself in being an honest and caring person and I am fiercely loyal.

I’ve realised that the only people who deserve my loyalty are those who have never made me question theirs.

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