break up, friendship, unrequited love

64. Pop goes the friendship

I had a friend once who had feelings for me. Actually, let me not mince my words, Englishify them like a cup of weak tea. He said he was in love with me. We were friends for years, first at work and then at play and I think, deep down, I always knew how he felt. A love like that finds ways to escape, in looks or gestures or the occasional drunken slur: “so, do you fancy going for dinner and then I love you let’s get married checking out thingy’s party?”

Did I try and temper his feelings? Encourage him to meet other women? Give him space?

No. I liked it.

He was my stand in boyfriend, always there to talk or drink or prop up my ego like an old wooden leg. When I was feeling low or lonely he would always be there, old faithful, lugging his heavy heart around whilst I looked the other way. One night, we went to bed and I woke up sodden with shame. I looked over at him and that smile; it was terrible to see. To watch it unravel as I told him the truth.

We fell out and fell in with each other over the next year until one day he snapped; told me that he hated me and hoped I’d never be happy. It was the shock we both needed. We fell apart for the last time and I haven’t seen him in over a decade.

I look back now at all the places where we went wrong: I should have been less selfish, he should have been more honest. We were co-conspirators in this charade. We both knew we were living in a bubble but neither of us had the balls to stick a pin in it.

I wanted so much to keep the Friend in my life. I thought I could bury my feelings for her; shovel and squish the whole lot into one big toe and leave it there: see, it’s all fine! But I can’t. I’d end up lopping off my toe in a fury and hobbling to the hospital covered in blood:

“What happened here?” the doctor would say.

“She fell in love with a friend. Tried burying her feelings in her big toe.”

“Jesus. CATHY, WE’VE GOT ANOTHER ONE.”

I don’t want to live in another bubble, with me on the other side this time, misery brewing in me like a disease.

So I stick a pin in it.

I send her an email telling her that I’m so sorry, but it hurts to be around her and asking her to move out. I tell her I hope we can be friends again one day, when I’m over it and in a happy relationship of my own.

She replies and it’s so cold. There’s no empathy or understanding; no friendship. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it’s not this; this brittle, business-like froideur. I ask her to go for a drink, to clear the air but she refuses. It’s a pain I’ve never felt before – to have someone deny their love and then, when you’re wearily piecing the fragments of your heart back together, to have them deny their compassion too.

I want so much to talk to her; to get under the skin of what really happened here. But if she won’t break her silence then there’s nothing I can do but feel the burn and wait for her to move out.

28 days – and counting.

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash