We’ve all been there. The tearful goodbye, staring at the phone hoping it will ring, the angst of temptation to send a meaningful text, long lonely walks in the rain filled with heart-wrenching reflections upon the blissful times when the two of you were together and all was right in the universe. Then something happens and your world grinds to a screeching halt. It’s the break up.
No, I’m not talking about ending a romance. I’m talking about ending a friendship.
I never realized how traumatic breaking up with a close gal-pal could be until recently, when I experienced my first adult BFF breakup. Sure, I’ve had friends come and go in my life. But usually there is a gradual growing apart that drifts the person out of your life. But a full-on permanent slip? Is that possible between two real friends? It got me to thinking…in a city of singles, where (as independent citified career chicks) our girlfriends take top priority (outside of perfected prose and shoe shopping), what happens when a once-golden couple calls it quits?
Zelda and I had been friends for five glorious years. We had that kind of friendship that unique, clever girls share. Inside jokes about various people we knew or worked with, our own secret language, and trigger words that could send either of us into fits of laughter. We enjoyed talking for hours about everything from art history and literature, to the latest “news” on TMZ. We continuously celebrated one another’s fabulousness with unconditional support whenever any conflict or life lesson arose. Neither of us would have even considered taking a vacation without bringing the other one back a little present. There were discussions about how we’d spend our later years in life, sitting on a front porch somewhere talking away. We were in our own little world and liked it that way.
Sure, we had minor ups and downs. I would get annoyed to the point of lock-jaw when she talked too much about how much she paid for something or chafe crumbs off her hands while standing over food (typically cupcakes). And I was well aware of her frustration with me the few times I descended from well-mannered perfection (doh!) just long enough to commit some social faux-pas (which usually meant shooting my mouth off with some caustic-yet true-comment) or other annoying behavior. Ok, I’m gagging, too. But (moving right along…) all in all, this was the kind of friendship you just knew would last your whole lifetime.
It was during one of these brain-to-mouth lapses of mine that the fatal words were uttered. As they passed through my lips, I felt sure that I would want my friend to look out for my best interest and tell me if I was engaging in less than appealing behavior. I was being the friend I would want her to be to me. So I said it. “Maybe you’d have more luck finding a steady boyfriend if you didn’t get intimate so quickly with those people you meet online.” Gasp! Shudder!
From the truest intention comes the harshest blow. I had known for years that Zelda was a flavor of the month (or week) girl and never had any issue with that. Actually, I still don’t. In fact, as the dutiful friend I regularly inquired as to whether the newbies “measured up”. I supported my friend in whatever made her happy (still do). However, having seen her more and more dejected each time a new relationship didn’t pan out…I figured that it might be better for her if she slowed the love machine down – just a little.
It wasn’t until a week later, when Zelda returned from her vacation, that she expressed her displeasure over my comment. With what felt like an unexpected blow to the groin, she explained in great detail that she no longer required my friendship. “Friends do not judge,” she schooled me. I was feeling a little judged myself, at that point.
“Wait, are you kidding me?” was my immediate response. I mean, you dissolve a friendship with the person who will tell you if you have a booger in your nose, or if your new hairstyle is more Courtney Love than Courtney Cox? Over a well-intentioned (albeit perhaps poorly phrased) comment? Stunned and semi-apologetic, I hung up the phone with Zelda wondering how long it would take for her to call back and say “psyche…now keep your nose out of my bedding practices.” But that never happened.
I thought back to the episode of Sex in the City where Carrie catches Samantha in flagrante with her new male assistant. Throughout the episode, Samantha was obsessively searching every word her friend uttered for judgment and criticism. If you saw the episode, you recall Carrie’s closing line, “I did judge you, just a little.” Immediately they embraced and all was forgiven. Hollywood. Huh. You’d never make it on the mean streets of New York City…
Left to explain to peripheral friends and acquaintances why we are no longer bosom buddies, I found myself unable to rationalize her behavior or the reasons for our ‘breakup.’ Just like a divorce or split in some major relationship, there are loose ends and people caught in the crossfire. I have never experienced this kind of behavior from an adult friend, so I’ve been doing my best and saying very little (though apparently writing my fair share). It has pained me every time I have had to cut her image out of a photo or delete her name from my Treo or email contact list. I have explained to my dogs that Aunt Zelda wouldn’t be coming ’round to visit them any more either, and have had to tell inquiring minds that I didn’t actually know how she was doing nor would I be privy to that information again in the future (though presumably her sex life is thriving).
I remember a couple of particularly perplexing comments Zelda made during our last conversation, when I phoned her a week after the initial break-up to be sure she hadn’t been possessed. She actually sounded like she’d been snatched by pod-people aliens or cloned by that Stepford group. She kept droning a few monotone phrases, which surprised me. Zelda was always very anti-fembot. One phrase in particular struck me as oddly ridiculous for someone of her intellectual capacity, “I’m not the right friend for you,” she kept repeating. This wasn’t like trying on a pair of pants that makes your ass look big, this was a friendship of five years. It took her five years to figure out she wasn’t a fit? Weird, right? Anyhow, I replied that this sounded like some lame take on the “It’s not you, it’s me” break up line that we’ve all used and had used on us. Thats when I resolved myself to the fact that I had been friend-dumped and decided that given this new side of Zelda, perhaps her broken-record comment was more accurate than I realized.
Since the break up, I have done a lot of soul searching and reflecting on the years of friendship. I’ve begun to wonder about friendships in the city. Have they become more and more like dating in the city? With thousands of new options around every corner, do we just toss aside years of camaraderie when we feel the sting of judgment or betrayal (however unintended or imagined)? Is friend-hopping the next step in commitment-phobic New York, where bed hopping has become a status symbol, rather than a reflection of insecurity?
In the end, I wish Zelda the best. She is an effervescent, loving (very loving some might say) spirit and a gifted creative force. I hope that life brings her happiness and success, and I hope there is always someone around to let her know when she’s got a booger in her nose. All the things I wish any other friend. In fact, one thing that is clear to me is that unlike when we were kids, when an adult friendship breaks up, it is possible for you to continue to be a friend.