The other day when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed I saw a tweet that really struck a chord. It said “No one ever tells kids that friend breakups can be just as rough as couple breakups.” Wow, I thought, that shit is really true. And being the social media freak that I am, I retweeted it so that everyone on my Twitter and Facebook could see it. I was surprised to see how many people seemed to identify with it. Because you see, although I have never really gone through a romantic breakup (except for in my head), I have gone through quite a few friendship breakups. Recently I went through the mother of all friendship breakups. It pretty much floored me.
You all know what I’m talking about. Friendships end. Actually, most friendships end. Usually it happens slowly. Someone gets a new job, a new boyfriend, or meets new friends who are funnier or more exciting. And after a while you realise that you’ve become strangers. But every now and then it happens like in the movies. A set of occurrences fall like dominos and eventually it builds up to a gigantic explosion. And suddenly your circle of friends is more divided than a high school classroom.
I won’t get into the specifics of exactly how and why, because I don’t want to make myself even more unpopular than I already am. The thing is, I was friends with someone for about three years. The friendship changed me a lot. It was one of those friendships that anchor other friendships, if that makes sense. The other people are all friends with you because you are friends with that person. The Executive Friend, if you will.
When I met Executive Friend three years ago, I was much different from the person that I am today. I was a first year drama student, new to Pretoria, and about 15kg heavier than I am today. Naturally I was scared and shy. I was in a big, unknown world. Executive Friend was much different from me. In fact, Executive Friend was my polar opposite: Confident, thin, well-spoken, well-known, and well-liked. Of course I shied away, because I didn’t feel like I was in the same league. However, Executive Friend wasn’t like all the other cool kids. He was actually nice to me. Despite never letting anyone forget how good he was, he had a way of always being kind to me and acknowledging me in his way.
As nice as it was, our friendship was complicated from the start. I always knew that in the friend hierarchy I was never quite on top. I was far from feeling disliked, but I always knew that I was hardly ever first choice. It didn’t really bother me at first, because I’ve never aimed to be the popular one. But as our circle got smaller, it began to gnaw at me. Because there is a reason why I call him Executive Friend. He has a way of “firing” people out of his social circle. He doesn’t exactly say it, but when he gets mad at someone he kind of expects you to be mad at them too. And so that person gets exiled. In the first two years of our friendship, I suppose that we were kind of in a “honeymoon” of sorts. I thought that we would always be friends. I considered him to be a mentor and took guidance from him in many ways. In my naiveté I began to believe that he had all the answers, and that was the mistake I made. No one has all the answers, and very few people are truly what you think they are.
In the third and final year of our friendship, I could feel the end coming. A lot had changed. I was no longer the overweight, timid boy that I was before. I had lost weight, gone on a few dates, and did well enough in my performing to believe that I could actually do this acting thing. My new found confidence opened my eyes. I started noticing things about Executive Friend that I didn’t like. He could be mean, really mean, to people. He would usually play it off as a joke, but he often ended up hurting them, intentionally or not. The comments would usually be about something personal, like their appearance or their choice of lover. When your opinion of yourself is quite low, you don’t really realize that someone is belittling you. But after gaining some confidence I began to notice it. Even after I realized it, these comments didn’t really bother me, because I’ve grown accustomed to a lifetime of people saying mean things to me. It did, however, bother me to see how it affected my other friends.
The other part of our friendship that made it extra complicated was the fact that it had developed a business side to it as well. Once again, I won’t expand on that because I don’t want to make things even worse, but it made the situation even more difficult. Executive Friend had a lot of power in this situation and because of this, the other friends were scared of him. They knew that he could get rid of him, so they didn’t say anything to him. Instead they would bitch and moan behind his back. Their points were valid, however, and because they affected me too I would often end up saying something. The others would then shut up and I would end up looking like the only one with a problem, which I wasn’t.
The big explosion took place a few months ago. Executive Friend did something really fucked up. I was livid. I was so angry that I had to go to the doctor the next day because it affected my heart rate. Now, if I had been warned about this thing beforehand and if the situation had been explained to me, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. Instead I found out through a general email that was sent from an outsider. I was incredibly angry. It wasn’t a case of legality, but rather morality. Letting me know would have been the decent thing to do.
We ended up getting in a fight on WhatsApp that escalated to emails. A lot of things were said in anger, mostly my anger, I’ll admit. By the end of the fight it was decided that we would meet to talk things out. The next day, however, I was informed that this was no longer necessary. He had taken offense from a Facebook status of mine and he informed me that he was done with me. 30 minutes before I was supposed to go on a date, I’ll have you know.
And that was that.
The aftermath of this fight was quite difficult to bear. As with those before me, many of the other “friends” suddenly avoided me. There were a few situations in which we were at the same gathering. He simply acts as if I don’t exist. He stands there with his minions, often only meters away from me, but acts as though I’m a complete stranger. The sad thing is that these people who stand there and laugh at his jokes said the exact same things about him. The only difference was that I said them directly to him.
When I look back on what I said, I try to think of different ways in which I could have said these things, but each time I come back to the same conclusion. Because even though I said it in anger, I still meant every word that I said. And what I said was true.
I won’t lie, as bitterly as it ended, I did mourn our friendship. Because, if not to them, it did mean something to me. It also threw me into a financial problem, as he knew it would. It felt as though he had thought of the blow that would hit me the hardest, and he chose that one. What I said on Facebook could not be traced back to him or harm him, but he used it as an excuse.
I’ve moved on now. I realized that once you become the Wicked Witch, you have to find new ways to fend for yourself, because no one is going to help you. I realized that I would sink if I didn’t find a way to carry on. And I do carry on. I’ve made new friends. I’ve dipped my toes into other business ventures. But I’ve also learned that moving on doesn’t mean that the pain is gone. It means that I’ve gotten used to it.
Despite deleting me off of Facebook, Executive Friend has since been in contact with me. He sympathized with my grandmother’s passing, and I truly appreciate that. His mother still contacts me from time to time and I appreciate that too. But I also know that there is no way for me to go back. It’s important to know when your time is up.
So yes, losing a friend can be like losing a lover. Friendships are intense and personal and when they end it can leave a lot of damage. But they also end for a reason. As Nina Simone said; “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.”