‘I’ve had my heart broken more badly by friends, than I have by lovers,’ says a friend, who, I hasten to add, is still a friend. ‘Yet people dismiss the end of a friendship so easily, as if it doesn’t matter as much and isn’t as painful as the break-up of a relationship.’
It’s not something I’ve ever really thought about – at least not in that context. Upset, yes; hurt, yes; but I think it was her use of the word heartbroken that hit me so hard. It’s such a painful, evocative word. Two of the most devastating phrases in the English language are ‘I am so disappointed in you’ and ‘You broke my heart’. Both, in their own way, are unbearable; emotional daggers that are not easily dislodged.
It’s almost as if we expect (or at least accept) that our hearts may be broken by lovers. But by friends? They are the ballast that shore up our lives, the comfort of long continuum, shared emotional confidences, a shoulder to weep on, a hand to hold, a safe haven during the breakdown of a relationship or marriage. When those friendships end, we are bereft of all those assurances that we too often take for granted.
And about which, too often, we are not allowed to mourn. We all know friendships that fade like the mist as we go our separate ways. We might feel a lingering affection, or a faint sense of loss, but they leave no empty spaces in our lives. Then there are those friendships that disappear in the maelstrom of divorce. I was talking to a woman who mourns the loss of her friends more than the ending of her marriage. Years later, the space they have left is devastating in its loneliness. ‘This was somebody whose hair I held back when she was being sick and she can barely say hello. But when I try to talk about it, people think I’m being ridiculous. You can always make more friends.’
It’s not true and, at heart, we all know it. Friendships require history, layer upon layer of intimacy and memory. We might not see friends for months, or even years, but the moment we are back in contact it’s as if time stood still. My dearest and closest friend has been in my life for 35 years. We don’t see each other all the time but she plays in the background like music; a soundtrack to my days.
I lost a good friend recently. I know, it sounds so careless, but it was, truly, nobody’s fault; simply a set of emotional circumstances that meant we both had to step away. It seemed so sensible, and still does, but what I hadn’t bargained for was the acuteness of the pain. The phone still rings with calls from other friends but within it there is an eerie and unsettling silence because she is not there. And that other friend of mine is right. My heart is broken, even if I wouldn’t have thought of phrasing it in so dramatic, or perhaps poignant, a way. I know the pain will fade eventually. We might, even, at some time in the future be friends again, but not in the same way. Something has been broken and however deft the mending, the cracks will still be faintly visible. It is a sharp reminder of how much we should cherish our friendships because it is all too easy to take them for granted and forget how much it means to us when they are lost.
Read New friends my own age by Diane Priestley on LifeLabs