pain

On Breaking Up With Best Friends

Photography by  Ophelie Rondeau

Photography by Ophelie Rondeau

On a hot summer morning, I stood in front of the mirror in black tights and my favorite shirt. My hands shook a little; I smoothed my hair and fussed with my braid. I laughed at my nervousness, but maybe I had every right to be a trifle scared.

It had been two years since we last met. Two summers ago four girls fought over an inconsequential detail that I can’t even recall clearly today. Flaring tempers that were taller than our heels, we let our egos and (then) boyfriends get in the way of common sense.

A phone conversation that lasted close to an hour, colorful insults hand-picked from a stash of vocabulary we reserved only for the nastiest of storms, and sobs scarcely masked by blind rage – that was it. We had officially broken up. Hours of hanging out at each others’ houses, sleepovers and lunch dates, and all the girlish fantasies we shared in our three year long friendship disappeared in the course of an hour and a terribly misplaced sense of judgment.

We steadfastly refused to acknowledge each other for a whole year. I have the tendency to play quite the ice princess, so it was easy to pretend it didn’t hurt, that I didn’t care, that I didn’t need them anyway. And maybe I didn’t; our kind of closeness was more than just a little toxic, and I knew that things would come to a head eventually. I didn’t know, however, the extent to which the four of us would go to maintain the semblance of dignity and frostiness so bitter it would leave us sore and raw.

It hurt. It hurt so much that I’d lock myself in my room for hours on end, replaying that last conversation over and over and over again in my head until sleep took over. It hurt so much that I almost ran away to another city pretending it would be better for me academically until my mother pointed out I couldn’t run from myself. It hurt when I swallowed my pain and washed it down with false attempts at bravado. It hurt when I finally started talking about it and making new friends who were quick to take my side. It hurt when I wanted to defend the exes but didn’t. It hurt when I bumped into them walking back from the ice cream shop we always went to together, and it hurt when I pretended not to notice as they walked straight past me, as though I was invisible. But time passed, as it is wont to do, and somewhere in the middle of it we grew up.

It started with smiles and casual hellos, and then hurried conversations and the occasional text message, and this summer we decided to have breakfast together.

Needles to say, it wasn’t awkward. How could it be, when we’d known each other the way we did, so intimately for so long?

Nothing had changed, that is, nothing in the way we were around each other. But of course everything had changed. We had grown up, and grown apart, and I can honestly say that it was for the better. There was a different kind of ease now, the kind that comes with wisdom after braving a storm you’ve only read about before, or surviving something you never thought you would.

I realized that breaking up with friends was, perhaps, more painful than breaking up with lovers.

I mean, when you break up with a lover, you immediately accept that your life is over until your friends come over with pizza and ice cream. You make a blanket fort and cry for days, stuffing your face (or working out with a newly found passion, though I’ve always been a fan of the former), and at some point you begin to notice that you’re still alive and well.

Surprise, surprise. You pick yourself up, listen to your friends bitching loyally about “that jerk” and shrug philosophically. You turn to your friends and tell them you’re okay, and you move on, hand in hand with them. Losing these three was a different kind of devastating.

Where was my ‘post-relationship’ rulebook? Who was I to complain to? Of course I had other friends, but that seemed like outright betrayal. So I bottled it up – the anger, the subsequent guilt, the pangs of longing to just call them and say hello – all the stages of the breakup, I dealt with alone. Because, post Apocalypse, they had each other, and I didn’t. But we made it.

We managed to invest our energies elsewhere, rid ourselves of the toxicity of having been constantly answerable to each other, make new friends and build healthier relationships.

Two years later, things had gotten better. They always do. And as we sat there, talking about our future, about our plans after graduation, about leaving our teen years behind, we realized that sometimes change is good, even if it overwhelms you at times. Even though broken friendships have no Band-Aids or tried and tested recipes for healing, even if the gaping holes left behind never quite fill up, even if the jagged edges never smooth out completely, we’ll pull through. We know this because we’ve done it before.

As we said our goodbyes, I left feeling a vague sense of rightness: this had been a long time coming. We plowed our way through a rough patch that lasted way longer than it should have, and, although we didn’t find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we found each other. Perhaps this is what comforts me the most now. We won’t always walk the same paths, we’ll always have our differences, we may end up in distant cities and go without speaking to each other for prolonged periods of time, but the first step has been taken.

And no matter where we choose to go, we will always find our way back to each other.

Tanvi Deshmukh is a nineteen year old girl from Pune, India, with an affinity for words and books, cats and coffee, Nepalese food and hippie music, and the colour green (along with Oxford commas). Currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in English, she loves poetry, volunteers at an NGO and plays the keyboard in her free time. Along with devouring books of all kinds, unless of course, she’s in the middle of heated discussions on feminism, patriarchy, gay rights, or what to name the neighbour’s new dog.

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