Frenemies is probably quite a dated term these days, but when it was more ubiquitous, I wholly disdained the concept. Yet somehow over time, this word, this concept, has transformed into a noisy bell, constantly ringing and plaguing my anxious mind with painful memories of a deadened friendship.
I became friends with Vera in my sophomore year of high school. We had a mutual friend, Layne, who was close to both of us: as Layne and I became closer friends, I started to go to church with her, and that was where I met Vera. The friendship started out great: we were very similar in disposition, had the glue of our mutual friend, Layne, holding us together and didn’t really follow the usual trope of trying to be the BEST best friend of the trio. She was silly, smart and very kind. I admired her athleticism and amazing singing voice. We shared loads of laughs, a great number of silly inside jokes and even sillier expressions as well as similar insecurities that go hand in hand with being a hormonal teenager. And that last bit, I think, was what served as the catalyst to the ultimate downfall of our friendship.
Sophomore and junior year of high school came and went, and senior year was looking like it would be pretty fantastic. By this time, we’d crossed all of the necessary academic hurdles and worked hard to get to that last year – it was time for some good old senior year fun: I was drum major of our marching band, first chair trumpet in our concert band and a new member of an awesome a cappella singing group. I was looking forward to a relaxed, fun-filled year, full of biding my time until graduation.
Despite these achievements, I remained intensely insecure. Back then my misgivings manifested themselves through ridiculously loud (and often self-deprecating) humor. Because my home life at that time was very isolating and unstable, I often felt really lonely and regularly tried to supplement that loneliness with attention in the form of making people laugh, being really good at things and, mostly, crushes on boys. Back then flirting and getting a boy’s attention was more or less innocuous: maybe a lingering hug, maybe some hand-holding, maybe some heated smooching (if I was lucky), but it never really escalated to anything more than that. Let’s just say no one was going out of their way to make me their girlfriend.
My insecurities and unstable home life also made me question the direction I was going post-high school and incited a period where it seemed all I could do was make careless choices. I was never a really rebellious person in high school (or in general, for that matter), so that year, I made up for being the “good, well-behaved, always-has-the-right-answers” girl with vigor.
I went out drinking with friends almost every weekend, snuck back home late at night and hid my hangovers from my mom until Monday. Despite this childish recklessness, I did always couple my poor decision-making with some form of responsibility: I made sure not to get drunk at large parties, I always had a friend (most likely a close guy friend) who would look out for me and shut off my access to the alcohol tap if things got too swirly, and I always had an exit strategy for getting back safely home to my own bed (alone) by the end of the night.
Somewhere before and during this reckless phase, I became acutely aware of the shift in my relationship with Vera. What once was jovial and carefree, now felt strained and hostile. The friction started out slowly, and I watched these shifts in our dynamic with quiet unease, silently noticing the expressions of distaste that crossed her face in little flashes when I talked, hearing through friends in our circle that she was disappointed in me, seeing in her very own handwritten letters to others the judgements she was passing on my “distasteful” behavior with boys. Eventually, our group of friends, once relaxed and happily interconnected, broke into factions, each group siding with the person they felt was more right…or more harshly wronged.
I wish I could say that I maintained some semblance of integrity during this debacle, but I simply can’t. Because I was barely eighteen at the time, very inexperienced and highly immature, I massively lacked the necessary skills to deal with conflict with any kind of tact. So, I lashed back. I wrote mean, judgemental things about Vera to the friends on my side. I openly and pointedly called Vera out on her shit, too. And with vigor. Back then it was easy to point fingers and find greater blame on the other person rather than first starting with the blame that fell on myself. Let me be clear: I don’t believe Vera’s judgments on my behavior were quite as inappropriate or untowards as she thought. (I was young, and let’s be perfectly honest here: not one person is truly capable of not screwing up every now and then, especially at that age.) I will, however, concede that my reactions to her undeserved ire were less than noble: I encouraged our friends to build a wall of disgruntled feelings between me and Vera, I stoked the flames of anger to keep the conflict going, and I never once thought about building a bridge instead. I wanted to be the victim in my circle of friends. It was easier, after all.
What I should have said was, “You’re hurting me.”
Because, that’s what it all boiled down to…for the both of us. She was hurting for reasons still unknown to me, as I was to her. Had we each recognized and valued the friendship we had prior to this rift, maybe we could have salvaged something that would have led to a stronger connection. Maybe we would have had a better following year when we became college roommates. Maybe we would have missed each other more when we grew up, met new friends and saw less of each other in the years that followed.
Instead, we rode a rollercoaster of hating each other or hating the other. But we mostly just hated each other beneath the surface. As senior year in high school transitioned into freshman year in college, she continued to hurt me more deeply each time she openly mocked me for doing weird things, every time she isolated herself from me with new friends she made clear I was not allowed to share with her, every time she brushed me off when I attempted to express my feelings of anger and hurt to her, however indirectly. In turn, I actively hurt her as I grew more and more passive aggressive in reaction to her behavior and moved on to new friends of my own. At one point, I even started dating a guy she had had a huge crush on when we were in high school…somewhat behind her back. Not on purpose but not not on purpose, if you catch my drift. I knew it hurt her, but at that point, I was starting to care less and less about how my actions made her feel. That was the point at which our sincere friendship truly ended.
We failed each other because of our inability to build a friendship based on love, understanding and mutual respect. When we loved, we didn’t love ourselves or each other: we instead loved being angry with each other, with ourselves and with others. We refused to expand beyond understanding ourselves to understanding and accepting each other. We didn’t respect each other’s boundaries, tipping points or sore spots. Rather, we exposed them, believing that a tit-for-tat existence was better than being truly, honestly vulnerable.
Reflecting on this time in my life and the deterioration of this particular friendship, the only conclusion I can make is that it was all such a shame. Vera was and is such a beautiful, loving, strong person (and so am I); it is completely nonsensical that two people like she and I could reach such a bittersweet ending with very little good to show from it. Despite it all, I still think of her often. Not with anger or resentment or a longing to reconnect, but with a sense of loss and regret akin to the feeling you get in the bottom of your stomach when you know something’s gone completely wrong: your heart races, your breath shortens, your throat tightens, and you’re left wondering what in the hell just happened. How did something you once valued so deeply just go away so suddenly, as if it never really mattered at all?
I keep up with Vera through friends of friends. I dare not reach out directly to her again. I think the wounds we created with each other have been left unattended for too long, and the distance that has built between us has grown far too wide for us to make it back to each other in this lifetime. I fully believe we are still fundamentally the same people we were back then, perhaps a bit more tactful, but we both have gone in different directions in life. And that’s the ultimate lesson here: though we were universally rooted in the same values, we could never get past the fact that each of us expressed those beliefs in different ways and followed paths that merely appeared different from the other. Perhaps we feared being different and thereby rejected? I try not to make these same mistakes or assumptions in my current friendships. I’m not here to change my friends, to make them be and look exactly like me; rather, I now know that I’m here to enhance and support my friends, and value who they uniquely are at their core. I often wonder what my friendship with Vera would be like now if we’d learned that lesson earlier.
But the truth of our now stagnant friendship is that the essence of who I am did not fit in with who and where she was going in her life. Instead of each of us being okay with that, we continued to let our insecurities take control and convince us that there was nothing left between us to salvage or value. Perhaps this is all just guesswork on how Vera really feels about it all, but for me, it is a very poignantly, very rawly true memory. From the moment I felt the first rifts of discord with her all those years back, I knew there were things in me that vastly differed from her, and I knew that they would eventually rip us apart, though I hoped for so long they wouldn’t.