When Love-Affair Friendships End

This time last year I’d just been dumped. Not quite ghosted but not far off. In the year since it happened I’ve trodden the well-worn post-break-up path; there’s been shock, disbelief, ‘what did I do wrong?’ wondering, looking at their social media feeds, sadness, anger and bitching. The only good thing about it all is that I haven’t been going through it alone. You see, I wasn’t dumped by a lover, I was dumped by a friend and Jedi Hamster and Charlotte Brown were dumped at the same time.

The screen grab opposite is the message that dropped into our WhatsApp group (and yes, don’t judge, we did also have a separate for-spoiler-avoidance GBBO chat!) and then ‘xx left’. Just like that. Actually, probably not ‘just like that’. In hindsight the signs had been there for a while: subtle and not-so-subtle silences that would smart; an air of disapproval and judgement; casual criticism of things we’d always enjoyed together that felt like a point being made; and sometimes just undeniably mean behaviour.

But why am I using this language? Isn’t it a bit relationship-y? Well, yes, but in the last week I’ve discovered a new label – love-affair friendships. I picked it up in Rosie Wilby’s Is Monogamy Dead? In it she references the “impenetrable fortress of female friendship”, speaks of how “intense non-sexual trysts between women are common” and ponders whether “a world beyond the oppressive binary of relationships being either sexual or not, might be the richer and more vibrant one.”

I wonder how many of you are nodding along to that as I was when I read those words. I’d wager that many women reading this will recognise some of their friendships in those statements. Not all of them. We can ‘just’ be mates. But it’s undeniable that many (most?) of us have a handful of ‘food for the soul’ friendships that aside from the physical component can feel as intimate as the relationships we enjoy with our partners. Are those friendships more common between women than men? I don’t know!

So what was our group was like? Well, we were funny as fuck, obviously. We were so funny we decided we needed a shared Twitter account to give life to our musings and observations. That was bollocks and lasted about a month – in jokes are rarely funny to the outside world! But while the belly laughs were good, we bonded over far more than our ability to make each other laugh; all of us single, childfree and with complex relationships with our families, we recognised ourselves and our hang-ups in each other’s experiences and responses. Some of our chats about body positivity and sex probably sowed the seeds of this blog. Jedi Hamster came up with the name Exposing 40!

Should friendships like this last forever just because, for a time, they felt so significant? No, of course not! I have often thought that there’s excessive pressure for longevity and commitment placed on female friendships and an assumption of loyalty that is rarely expected of male friends or sexual partnerships. A few years back a sociologist from the University of Utrecht in the Netherland founds that on average we ‘lose’ 50% of our friends every seven years. I can believe this. Lives evolve, circumstances change and we meet new friends through jobs, travels, volunteering, new lovers.

But there’s a difference between the natural ebb and flow of ‘of the moment’ friendships and the fracturing of the ones that help shape us. And there’s no recognisable prescription for getting over those. No automatic right to mourn. If I split up with a partner and needed a cry or a bitch, that would be perfectly normal – people know how to rally for that. Break up with a friend and want to talk it out? There aren’t the same social norms around that.

But how does all this fit with a book about monogamy? Doesn’t monogamy refer to lovers not friends? Well, you might think so but Rosie explores monogamy in the wider sense. The jumping off point for her book is a survey where she poses a series of questions to help her unpick respondents’ views on monogamy and what counts as infidelity. Now, if you’re a deeply scientific person concerned with credible representative samples, then look away. Me? As a twenty-something PR who felt her cheeks burn when interrogated by a journalist about the ‘80% of Welsh respondents’ and then had to confess that the Welsh contingent in fact numbered 10, it should be said that I am not averse to a wafer-thin bit of evidence if it provides a good hook for a story. And this book is full of good stories.

If you’re endlessly fascinated with human experiences, emotions and behaviours then ignore the sample size (100!) and just soak up the stories. Through 49 pithy and anecdote-driven chapters Rosie explores what monogamy really means. If you’re not in an open relationship what counts as cheating, kissing or falling in love but doing nothing about it? Do our needs for emotional security and physical intimacy need to be found in the same person? That’s a lot of pressure for one person. If our lives are a rich tapestry of different people with whom we enjoy different connections, are we all a bit non-monogamous?

As the book is winding up she talks about the issue of language and muses that “if we don’t have the words for a particular type of loving relationship, we can’t talk about it and it remains invisible.” Like I said above, I hadn’t heard the term love-affair friendship until a week ago. I don’t actually need my friendships to be more visible in the literal sense of the word – I play a pretty open hand as far as talking about the friends that really matter to me goes! But taking that label to reconsider certain friendships was an interesting exercise.

Was our friend wrong for wanting out? No. No more than a partner would be wrong for ending a relationship if it no longer brought joy. But I also know exactly how she would have responded had a man behaved towards us in the way she did. What are our responsibilities when we decide a friendship has run its course? There’s no blueprint for ending them. But just going dark leaves a bitterness that’s sometimes a bit hard to swallow, even if the collective moaning sessions are therapeutic.

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8 thoughts on “When Love-Affair Friendships End

  1. I’m still annoyed by this, you know. (Of course you know, I just tweeted it and it’s my #2 favourite drunk whinge after ‘My sister is a witch’). The timing and tone felt designed to make it very clear that it was us and our collective behaviour that was driving her away – ghosting would have preferable to what she did, IMO. In terms of ending a friendship/relationship it’s still one of the coldest things I’ve ever experienced. There were no dramatic arguments or events which preceeded previous ‘breakups’, and it left me questioning my own behaviour in a way that I don’t think is fair – just because she didn’t like an aspect of my/our collective personality/ies doesn’t make me/us terrible, that was just her perception.

    I have a whole other thought about when friendships with guys end, but I can’t make it sound right. Most of the time when platonic relationships with guys have ended, it’s because they’ve met their future wife and don’t need me for drinking/cinema/wingwoman duties. Rather than feeling adrift/confused (as with the above) my feelings have been more ‘disappointed resignation’ at the inevitability of it. One to think on really.

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  2. Female friendships can often be problematic. I have a group of old school friends who try very hard to keep me as part of their group even though I live miles from them now. I enjoy seeing them occasionally but I don’t really seem to have a “need” for them. They seem to think that I am cheating if I mention new friends. Interesting post 😉

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  3. I can’t say I relate, exactly, because I don’t really have female friends. Never have.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon to explore though, friendship break-ups and the causes/effects/perceptions from a monogamous point of view. It makes me think of my male friends, and how, when those friendships pause or peter out or just END, the whole process (and assorted emotions that accompany the process) looks and feels so different from what you describe here.

    […thinking…]

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  4. I can really relate to this.
    I have been totally ghosted by someone who I thought of as a really close friend.
    We worked together.
    Were daft together – professionally.
    I went out of my way to help.
    Then one day in Jan I got a notification that he had unsubscribed from a Mailing List. Thought nothing of it.
    Later found out he, his mum, Dad, brother and housemate had unfollowed or blocked me across the board.
    I texted, emailed, even wrote.
    Totally has made question myself to a high degree.
    A mutual friend has said he wouldn’t talk.
    I have been grilled about it but my conscience is clean.
    Very odd and still quite raw.

    Sorry to splurge it here. But it really resonated…

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  5. I have also learned a new term and it makes sense. I found myself nodding, thinking of my own friendships and friendships of the past, some of which have ended in a way that still has me hurting about them today. I believe we all come in each others lives for a reason, and once we have fulfilled a purpose, we move on. However, I prefer my friendships to last forever…

    Rebel xox

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  6. Thanks for sharing this post. I have been guilty of ghosting in the past mostly because I have a tendency to become intensely preoccupied with life events, relationships, study, blogging! etc. My handful of Facebook friends as Indigo and the similarly small group of family members I am linked to on my non-Indigo accounts may be complaining about me right now! (but I hate Facebook and am considering closing my Indigo account cause I can’t cope with it). Those with whom I am super close know about my life events, how I struggle with depression and that I’m pretty introverted despite the outgoing shell, so they prod me when they think I need it, give me a hug and leave me to it otherwise. I don’t think anyone has done anything like your tweet to me, and I can tell by your writing and that of Jedihamster how bad it feels, so I hope it never happens or worse I never do it to someone. Oddly like Ms Fever I didn’t have many women friends until my 40’s then I discovered all sorts of compatibility and have loved having women friends since. This was a really thought provoking read, thank you, and I’m sorry you had to go through this.
    Indie xx

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  7. This is pants. I can totally understand you being upset to me it seems like just shitty behaviour.

    As for friendships with women, I have struggled with them over the years but I know this is because my experiences at school taught me that women were mean and nasty and not to be trusted. I think that has stuck me with for a very long time and resulted in me being very distrusting for many years. That has slowly changed though and now I find myself with some lovely and very special women friends but it really is the first time in my life that has happened

    Mollyx

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