I broke up with one of my best friends last year. It was a spectacular, real-life, parting of the hearts – angry words were sent back and forth across the interwebs and via our phones, accusations were flung, incredibly hurtful things were said (by both of us). Reader, it got ugly. And as these things go, mutual friends were caught in the crossfire. One in particular has been tough to let go of. She was part of our little group, and though (if I am forced to be honest), I never felt a full member of the group, she was one third of a circle that was a big part of my life for some of the most turbulent years of my life.
I met them both in our final year of school: I was the weird new kid, with a penchant for spending break times reading in the one room school library (it was a weird school) or sharing lunch with the teacher on duty. They were the less weird, less new kids. We bonded over the fact that we were quite different from the people we were surrounded by. Over time, the bonds forged by our school years faded and gave way to more tenuous, uncertain alliances, tested by our evolving personalities, and our shifting lives. The years of early adulthood, flush as they were with new freedoms, and sorrows, shared over glasses of wine, revealed more differences than similarities.
I, in particular, underwent some pretty drastic changes. I moved around a fair amount as a kid, and had never found a ‘tribe’. In the early years of university, immersed in Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks and Steve Biko, I began to realize a new me, complete with a tribe, a language and an ideological home. My friends didn’t always understand this version of me. Or so I thought. If I’m really honest with myself, I didn’t give them that much of a chance. As a kid who moved around a lot, I was used to being a chameleon, shifting my views, my language, my accent to fit in with whomever I needed to stand in for my tribe. So, I did that with the two women who’d been the closest thing I’d ever had to a tribe thus far. I didn’t let them meet this new me. Sure, they had glimpses every so often – the new me was fast becoming the real me – but I realize I was careful to never allow them to see too much. Lest they freaked out on me, completely, and left me alone, once again, tribeless, homeless.
This is obviously not a real strategy for a successful relationship, duh. So, my friend and I broke up. I had found a new tribe, one where I could show my real self without fear of abandonment: I was entering the world of work, I was writing more (part-time, for various feminist blogs), I was volunteering for a rape crisis centre. Slowly, but surely, I was making new friends, fresh connections that were bringing me closer to my centre, to who I felt I was truly meant to be. I was spending less and less time with my two oldest friends. And so one of them – the more confrontational of the two – called me out. It went badly. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we will probably never speak again. And yes, now that the anger has gone away, and I can truly see what happened to our friendship, and my role in it, I am allowing myself to grieve her loss.
But that loss hurts a lot less than the loss of our mutual friend, our other third. I am sure she felt she was in the middle, I am sure it was an impossible Sophie’s choice for her. Truth is, though, her choice was made. Probably because I stopped being her tribe, and she could sense that she was no longer mine, she chose our other third. Sure, we still see each other, we exchange texts every now and again. But the tone and texture of our relationship has changed. We are not in each other’s tribes anymore.
A few months ago, she attended my wedding, a wedding we’d spoken about in abstract terms, long before I’d met my husband. When we imagined our respective weddings, and discussed them, the main topic was always bridesmaids, and who would be in whose party. In our heads, she was always going to be there to stand next to me when I took the leap, and I would be there to do the same for her, and for our friend. It must have been weird (and maybe painful?) for her to be at the wedding as a guest, not as a tribeswoman. I know it was weird for me. She caught the bouquet when I threw it, and I was glad. I know soon I will have to muster my courage and attend her wedding as a guest, and maybe watch our other third stand up as a proud member of the tribe. It’s going to hurt more than a little.
In the weeks since the wedding, I have thought of her often, and I’ve wondered about what’s left for our friendship. In our once-every-three-months-or-so coffee dates, our once-every-six-months-or-at-Christmas-or-birthdays texts, we have successfully avoided acknowledging the degrees of separation that exists where there once was closeness. It’s been hard, but I always put it away in box in the furthest reaches of my mind, and avoid it. After the wedding, which, amongst many other blissful things, was our degrees of separation made real, our apartness writ in stone, I am finding it hard to find the box.
We know this of life. You are never one thing or the other, and your tribe changes as you do. I guess I have always held on to the idea of some absolutes: even as your tribe changes, even as you change, there are some things above even those shifts, there are some immovables. It’s the sacred belief held to by a person who moved around a lot as a kid. And, look, I have found some immovable. Our wedding was actual proof of that: I have my husband, who is my ultimate tribe; I have the woman who stood up as my maid of honour, my closest friend; I have new tribespeople, all of whom worked with my husband and I to make our wedding beautiful, and who partied with us late into the night. The immovable tribe is real, and well within my reach.
All of which doesn’t make it any easier to bear the losses of the movables. Which I guess is the plight of a person who moved around a lot as a kid…