There’s no heartache like splitting up with your childhood best friend…LAUREN LIBBERT says


There’s no heartache like splitting up with your childhood best friend… That’s the theme of a new BBC drama, and LAUREN LIBBERT, who did just that, says it’s taken her 30 years to get over the rejection

The break-up wasn’t mutual or dignified. Certainly not from my point of view. ‘No, you can’t get married!’ I pleaded, sinking dramatically to my knees as my world crumbled around me.

Friendships, even lifelong ones, need to evolve to survive and make space for other important people if they are going to last says Lauren Libbert

Friendships, even lifelong ones, need to evolve to survive and make space for other important people if they are going to last says Lauren Libbert

This wasn’t, however, a scene involving a boyfriend who’d announced he’d fallen in love with someone else.

No. It was the moment my best friend Lisa told me she had got engaged and we would consequently not be spending our gap year together. This betrayal occurred when I was 18, and it’s no exaggeration to say it took me nearly 30 years to get over it.

While much has been written about the agony of lost romantic love, it’s rarely touched upon just how passionate and intense female friendships can be, especially when we are in our teens and early 20s.

I was reminded of that stomach-churning occasion I was ‘dumped’ last week, while watching Everything I Know About Love, the new BBC adaptation of the Dolly Alderton novel of the same name. Based on the author’s own experiences, it follows Maggie, the main character, and three friends as they navigate their way through jobs, clubbing and boyfriends after leaving university.

The twist is that the love story at the heart of the book isn’t a romantic relationship, but the bond between the protagonist and her best friend, Birdy.

Close since primary school, like Lisa and me, the pair have weathered adolescence and divorcing parents together, and now share a house in Camden, London.

Most importantly, while Maggie is a free spirit, she has come to rely on being the most important person in the more straitlaced Birdy’s life. Then Birdy meets Nathan, falls in love for the first time, and the once- solid walls of their friendship are breached. Maggie finds her demotion in Birdy’s affections unbearable.

Everything I Know About Love stars Bel Powley as Birdy and Emma Appleton as Maggie

Everything I Know About Love stars Bel Powley as Birdy and Emma Appleton as Maggie 

It’s easy to dismiss Maggie as immature and self-centred. Instead of being pleased for her friend, she bitches behind Birdy’s back about how often Nathan is at their flat.

She keeps notes (literally) about the number of glasses of wine he drinks and doesn’t pay for, all while attempting a weak smile whenever Birdy enthuses about her relationship.

I have a lot of sympathy for Maggie. After all, there are few experiences more torturous — or formative — than losing a best friend to a boyfriend, trying so hard to be big-hearted and happy, all the while burning with betrayal and rejection.

Maggie sums it up when she rings Birdy in episode three and confesses: ‘I’m jealous.’

And in the scene where Birdy reveals Nathan told her he loved her, the pained expression on Maggie’s face made me wince from memory.

At least Maggie is able to fake happiness. In my case, I couldn’t even find it in myself to be two-faced. When Lisa revealed that she was going to marry her boyfriend, I couldn’t contain my anger.

After all, Lisa had been my best friend since we were six and I was the most important person in her life — wasn’t I?

We’d grown up living around the corner from each other in Manchester and — like Maggie and Birdy — did everything together. We knew every little detail of each other’s life.

We had our first French kisses with boys on the same night, smoked our first cigarettes together in an alley near school (and spluttered in unison on to the pavement), and she even guided me through my first period.

Boys were nothing more than a distraction. But then Alex, who lived locally, started to show an interest in Lisa.

We’d been aware of him for years and jokingly dubbed him ‘Manchester’s most eligible bachelor’ because he lived in a huge house with a swimming pool and looked like James Dean, with a chiselled jaw and soft-looking lips.

But — eight years older than us — he wasn’t a realistic prospect. He was more like a Monet in an art gallery; something you gaze at in awe, but would never dream could be yours.

Then, when we were 17 and in our final A-level year, Alex spotted Lisa at a community event and decided he wanted to get to know her.

At first, when he asked her out for a date — to the cinema to see Rain Man — I was nonchalant and dismissive. They would have little in common and looks only counted for so much, I thought.

But when she phoned later that night, all giggly and effusive about how funny and lovely he was, the effort it took to hide my outrage was so great that the phone cord I was winding tightly around my finger almost snapped.

Soon, he was taking her out three or four times a week and delivering bunches of roses or lilies to her home addressed to ‘My Lisa’.

My Lisa! How dare he? She wasn’t his Lisa. Lisa was my Lisa. He hadn’t held her hair back when she’d vomited after drinking too many vodka and cokes at our friend’s party. He didn’t know she only loved the custard layer of a trifle or avoided stepping on pavement cracks out of superstition. How dare he swan in and claim my best friend as his own?

Then, worse still, Lisa became utterly infatuated.

I found myself sneaking in the odd snarky remark about the age-gap, or the fact he was still living at home at age 26. I even joined them sometimes in the park, linking my arm in hers, marking my territory.

We’d grown up living around the corner from each other in Manchester and — like Maggie and Birdy — did everything together

We’d grown up living around the corner from each other in Manchester and — like Maggie and Birdy — did everything together

But, just like the character Maggie, I felt my best friend slowly slip from my grasp.

When she dropped the engagement bomb a few months later, my entire world shattered.

I can still remember it clearly. We’d just finished our A-levels and were in my bedroom wearing co-ordinated shirts and pleated skirts — mine was black-and-white check; hers brown-and-white — and I remember thinking afterwards that her engagement meant we’d never wear matching outfits again.

I could see she was nervous to tell me the big news by the way she picked at the hem of her skirt and couldn’t make eye contact.

My reaction was immediate: this couldn’t happen! Lisa left my house that day with an ultimatum ringing in her ears; him or me.

I spent three days holed up in bed, puffy-eyed and miserable, slamming down the phone when she called — but not before repeating my ultimatum.

We were supposed to be going on a gap year together, volunteering in Israel, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere without her.

Looking back now at my teenage self, prostrate at the feet of my best friend, begging her not to marry him and instead come away with me as we had planned, you might expect I feel mortified.

Of course, there’s an element of embarrassment. I wasn’t mature enough to see that this wasn’t about me, but about her life, and I do cringe — a little bit. But it’s also more poignant than that, because I’ve realised this was the beginning of the end of my first love.

That friendship, in all its intensity and beauty, was my first deep connection to another person, even if it was never sexual.

At a time when parents seemed less interested in their children’s lives — and, in my case, more interested in bridge and the golf club — Lisa made me feel seen and understood.

Our friendship had been intoxicating and uplifting and Lisa’s subsequent abandonment felt as real and painful as rejection from any man.

Because she chose Alex, of course, and I was left heartbroken.

I went on my gap year without her and turned down the invitation to their wedding, claiming I couldn’t afford the cost of the flight home.

But the truth was I couldn’t bear to see her so happy without me.

I bought them a wedding gift — a boring toaster off their list — and Lisa wrote me a thank you card, littered with exclamation marks claiming how she couldn’t wait to see me after my trip.

I didn’t respond or contact her for the rest of the year and by the time I returned home and went off to university, she was pregnant with her first child, and our lives had forked in opposite directions.

I moved on to other meaningful friendships, but often thought of Lisa, secretly hoping I’d one day hear her voice on the end of the phone telling me she’d made a huge mistake and could we pick up where we left off.

Naturally, it never happened — nor did it occur to me then to be the bigger person — and our lives continued to drift.

I moved to London and would occasionally bump into her on a visit home to my parents in Manchester.

Each time, the shock of her betrayal would ripple through me. She’d been the most important person to me for more than a decade and yet now all we could manage was awkward small talk about kids and houses and jobs.

I’d say goodbye and my heart would be bursting with all the things left unsaid. For years it didn’t matter to me that we were adults, or that the time for recriminations and nurturing grievances had long gone. Our friendship had been the backdrop to my childhood and in my eyes she had bulldozed it by choosing to spend her life with a man, instead of me.

Eventually, after I got married, had children, divorced and then married again, I began to see how ridiculous this was.

The sorts of intense relationship-like friendships you have in your teens and early 20s are wonderful, heady, self-indulgent moments in time, but in the real world they can’t stay like that.

Husbands, children, demanding jobs and elderly parents need friendships that are more forgiving and less needy.

Friendships where it doesn’t matter if you don’t find time to talk for months or put others first.

Friendships, even lifelong ones, need to evolve to survive and make space for other important people if they are going to last.

This realisation, that Lisa had neither betrayed nor rejected me, but simply fallen in love with someone else, was healing and restorative. It may have taken until my late 40s, but, finally, when I now think of Lisa, I no longer experience the familiar twinge of loss and pain.

This is the comfortable place the TV programme’s character Maggie might get to further down the line. For now — and without wanting to spoil the ending — Maggie is still very much immersed in the painful throes of her break-up with Birdy and has a long way to go.

As for Lisa and me? We met again recently at a mutual friend’s 50th birthday party.

This time there was no awkward small talk. I rushed to greet Lisa, grabbing her hand, telling her how happy I was to see her and genuinely wanting to know how she was.

Something had shifted. We spent over an hour talking, eyes only for each other, our husbands sitting like wallflowers on nearby seats — she’s still with Alex — bemused at this resuscitation of a friendship they’d long presumed was dead.

We didn’t talk about our break-up, as it didn’t feel necessary or relevant. At one point, the DJ put on Abba’s Dancing Queen and we shrieked and it was like the years had melted away and we were no longer midlife mothers with wrinkles but two teenagers, belting out the words and dancing and laughing like we used to.

We didn’t swap numbers that night or make a plan to get together. Like an ex, you have to know when not to go back.

But we hugged at the end of the evening and said how good it was to see each other again.

And it was. Finally, after more than 30 years, I was able to put the hurt and betrayal to rest and see our friendship for the magic that it once was.

Source

Related posts