Thursday, August 29, 2013

Drains and Radiators - When Friendship Ends

Do people get nastier as you get older? Or do you just naively stay as trusting as you were before you knew what the world was really like?
Let me say at the outset that I have some truly wonderful, loving and supportive friends, many of well over 30 years’ standing. And, in recent years, I have made some terrific new ones: clever, smart, successful, funny people whom it has become a privilege to know.
But this week, an extraordinary thing happened with a so-called friend – let’s call him Bill (not his real name) - that left me reeling.
He is someone I have known for years but have got to know more recently in LA, where he has had many ups and downs, both personally and professionally. I have been hugely supportive, as he is great company and, I think, very talented.
We met in Hollywood, where he brought along a close friend of his, whom I had also recently met on a plane from London to LA. I had thought her funny, bright and we spoke a lot on the journey.
On this particular evening, I again listened to a lengthy analysis about Bill’s personal relationship, while managing to share very little about my life (again). Bill has always been critical of my friends (whom he does not even know other than by the briefest of acquaintances) and attacks some of them for being “leeches”, “vipers” and "vampires". On this night, I admit to expressing upset at his comments, but know that he is wrong. These are mostly people with whom I am developing work projects, but he knows nothing of these because, quite simply, his dismissive judgment prevents him from asking. And, in any case, they are my friends, and I show as much loyalty to them as I expect in return.

I like helping people when I can. We all have different talents and it’s my belief that life works more harmoniously when we each share and spread around what we have been given. I’m an altruist at heart, but that doesn’t blind me to commercial potential and I try to assist people professionally as well as personally, with the skills I am lucky enough to have been given.
During our conversation, it became clear that things I have said in a light-hearted manner over many months, Bill has taken quite literally and he now took this opportunity to throw them back in my face. It was a bit of a shock. I am a writer. I say all sorts of things all the time: I am fascinated by the world and people. I can seem a bit mad at times, but I am incredibly grounded and focused. Always have been. I wouldn’t be where I was if chaos had ruled.
Anyway, off I went to the rest room and left my iPad on the bar counter, where it was on Voice Memo record. Call it instinct. When I returned, I pointed out the recording function and lightly said that whatever had been said in my absence I would be able to hear on playback.
If there was ever a moment when you could hear the colour drain from two people’s faces and hit the floor, this was it. Silence. “It’s ok,” I said, “I’ll listen to it when I get home.”
“I’ll tell you what we said . . . “ began Bill, as he started to piece together a few bits of the conversation I had missed, trying to inject an empathetic tone into the proceedings.
“No, it’s fine,” I insisted. “I’d rather hear it in full.”
They practically sprinted out of the bar.
What I found on the iPad was extremely disturbing, not to mention hurtful and upsetting: nasty, judgmental, vicious comments that tore into so many areas of my life and me personally; I felt stunned. I can’t even put it down to drink (and we’ve all done and said things we shouldn’t under the influence) because Bill is tee total. When he e-mailed later, he apologised, expressing mortification,  and said that it was only because he cared. 

Really? Caring about someone is not waiting until their back is turned and assassinating them in the presence of someone else.
Gosh, they managed to get a lot said in five minutes, and it wasn’t the tone or content of people who cared. Trust me, I know the difference.
I have had very few friendships that have ended on a sour note – just two, to be precise. One had never really worked from the start and, if I had been honest, we had always been incompatible: she was very controlling; I don’t like to be controlled.
The other – a ten-year friendship – ended overnight when her lodger told her a pack of lies about a particular set of events and she believed her. Everything I did to try to get her to see sense failed, so my guess is she probably wanted out anyway – she had met a bloke, quelle surprise, something that often propels women into dropping their mates.

Strangers can be pretty vile, too. A few months back, I had a major upset with some people who had invented a pack of lies about me that threatened to damage me professionally. I was all for suing but knew I couldn’t afford (either emotionally or financially) the stress.

  My friends on Facebook (many of whom really are close friends in real life) have been incredibly supportive of me in the light of this latest betrayal. If there are three things I require from friendship, they are loyalty, loyalty, loyalty, and I am blessed to have it from so many.
I am nowhere near perfect by any means and have many faults, and I recognise that we are all human. But I would never, ever speak of a friend in the way this pair spoke about me.

Somebody once told me that, in life, people fall into two groups – drains and radiators. It’s true. And life works best when there are two radiators.
What I heard on my iPad was no radiator; it was a veritable igloo of affection.
After the initial shock, I now feel strangely liberated. I will feel the loss of someone in my life whose company I enjoyed. But when trust is broken, for me that’s it. I am a typical Scorpio. It’s not a sting in my tail, it’s the knowledge that if somebody stings me once, they will certainly do it again, and I won’t take the risk.
Besides, how could I ever risk leaving the room to go to the loo again?


  1. Getting over it...slowly. The loss of friendship really is a grieving process...

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