For years, scores of songs, books and films have been inspired by relationship break-ups; the pain experienced when two lives, once so entwined, splinter beyond repair.
However, what has not been so widely explored is the devastation caused by a friendship split — despite the fact that in many cases, the pain can be just as acute, if not more so, than the rupture of a romance.
That is why this summer’s acclaimed new film, Animals, is being heralded as ground-breaking.
Inspired by the breakdown of one of the writer’s own friendships, it portrays in refreshing honesty the complexity of female relationships.
Acclaimed new film, Animals, was inspired by the breakdown of one of the writer’s own friendships and portrays the complexity of female relationships (file image)
The timing of the release marries with the findings of psychotherapist Hilda Burke, who has seen a stark rise in the number of female clients seeking help with problematic friendships rather than romantic relationships.
And, she says it is due to the long-standing — yet misconstrued — belief that female, platonic friendships are indestructible.
‘In our society there’s an expectation that romantic relationship break-ups are normal but that friendships should endure. Hence why there’s been so little talk about this issue until now.
‘Also, young people are getting married later — if at all — and the number of single households is growing rapidly.
‘All these factors are making friendships a lot more important as many women are getting the emotional and practical support they would have received from a partner from a best friend.’
Here, three writers describe the devastation of breaking up with their friends. So does it really hurt just as much to lose a friend as a lover?
She disposed of me with brutal ease
Laurie Graham, 71
Laurie Graham, 71, said that her best friend of 20 years ‘disposed’ of her with brutal ease but admits that she still misses her
‘Vicky and I were friends for 20 years. We met through a mutual acquaintance and had a lot in common; both interested in what made people tick, both enjoyed a good gossip.
‘She was a supportive friend when I was going through my divorce, a valued confidante as I navigated the mid-life dating desert and happy for me when I met and married my second husband.
‘She was much more than a girls’ lunch kind of friend.
‘She once kept me company on a research day trip from hell and saw the funny side of it. She was by my side at a particularly heartbreaking funeral.
And when I was going through the insanity of dating a particularly tricky character who loved to play mind games, it was Vicky who patiently helped me to see things straight. ‘It’s not you,’ she said. ‘It’s him.’
‘However, I now realise that hairline cracks were already appearing in our friendship.
‘She became more vociferously Left-wing and a feminist of the ‘take no prisoners’ persuasion.
‘Having a son, and by then a grandson, I didn’t share her slightly sour perspective on the male of the species but that was OK. I don’t expect my friends to share all my opinions. How boring would that be?
‘The rupture came in 2004. It was a lovely summer evening, there were eight of us at our table and yes, the wine was flowing.
‘The conversation turned lively and political, as it so often did. I thought Vicky and I had simply agreed to disagree. Little did I understand that when she said goodnight, she was actually saying goodbye.
‘It took me a while to notice the silence — we weren’t the kind of friends who talk on the phone for hours — but as soon as I did, I asked: ‘Have I done something to upset you?’
‘Her reply was simple. ‘No.’
‘Not, ‘what on earth gave you that idea?’ Not, ‘don’t be daft. Let’s do lunch.’ Just ‘no.’ I never heard from her again.
‘I was devastated. I kept re-running our last evening together, trying (and failing) to identify the fatal blow to our friendship. My husband didn’t understand why I was so upset.
‘Friendships come and go,’ he said. Well, yes, close friendships, such as the one I once had with Vicky, may wax and wane. But in the long run, they endure. That’s the whole point of them.
‘That’s why it was so much more painful than the end of love.
‘When my first marriage had ended, poisoned by the slow drip of incompatibility, it was a relief.
‘But this was something else. It was so sudden, it was so undeserved, and it was a negation of everything I believed about female friendship.
‘A couple of years passed. One day I spotted her across a supermarket car park, loading shopping into her car. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to walk over and try to effect a reconciliation.
‘For a few seconds I listened to the conflicting voices in my mind, but I knew the answer.
‘There was no sense reopening the wound. I let her drive away. Life went on. I’d occasionally hear second-hand news of her. Children marrying, grandchildren born, parents getting frail, the kind of things girlfriends talk about.
‘Then I heard she’d moved to the other side of the country and hadn’t sent me a forwarding address.
‘It’s been 15 years since that fateful dinner, referred to by my husband as the Night of the Long Steak Knives, and I still feel ambivalent about what happened.
‘I have relationships that go back more than 60 years, with friends of every political stripe, so I’m both angry and sad at the ease with which Vicky disposed of our bond.
‘I still miss her. I still think about her. I will never forget her, but yes, finally, I think I am over her.’
I had counselling to deal with it
Nilufer Atik, 43
Nilufer Atik, 43, went to counselling to deal with falling out with her best friend as she thought they would be in eachother’s lives forever
‘A best friend is often the only person in the world who truly knows you.
‘The level of intimacy and trust goes way beyond that of a lover. When someone like that vanishes, it can leave a huge, painful void.
‘I first met Louisa (pictured with me) at school when I was 12. Like me, she was fiercely loyal to those she loved, and for the next two decades, we went through everything together — our first kisses, university, starting work.
‘Louisa became like a sister to me, which made our falling out in 2010 all the more difficult for me to comprehend.
‘I’d moved to London for work and living with my then boyfriend in a two-bedroom flat, just about managing to meet our mortgage payments.
‘Louisa, meanwhile, was rapidly working her way up the corporate ladder in Cheshire and had bought a huge house in a sought-after area.
‘I didn’t think the differences in our financial status mattered.
‘Yet, when she hosted our annual Christmas Eve get together, she rambled on about the latest Audi she and her husband were planning to buy. She even produced her new gold credit card, telling me she could go shopping whenever she felt like it.
‘The Louisa I knew wasn’t one to boast. It suddenly dawned on me — something major had shifted between us.
‘A couple of months later when I found a lump in my breast and was scheduled for a biopsy, I emailed Louisa immediately.
‘But she didn’t reply. Hurt, I texted asking if I’d done something to upset her. ‘Nil, I’m busy. I’ll respond when I can,’ was her response. I was devastated.
‘Months passed and still I received no word. Thankfully the lump turned out to be benign but I decided to send her a heart-felt letter asking her why she’d not contacted me.
‘It resulted in a huge row with us both lashing out. Had I been deluded to think we had an unbreakable bond?
‘As time passed, and my anger mellowed, I decided to make one last effort to reconnect. By now my partner and I had split and I’d heard she’d separated from her husband too.
‘Hope you’re OK. Here if you need me,’ I said in a simple text.
‘She replied, inviting me to her new flat the following weekend. I went full of hope that we could repair our damaged friendship.
‘That night we hit the town, laughing and dancing like nothing had changed. We didn’t talk about our fall-out. There was no need. I thought our relationship had been repaired.
‘But then, just like before, Louisa’s texts and phone calls stopped.
‘And I simply haven’t heard from her since.
‘Losing her feels like a bereavement but it’s a grief without closure because I know she’s still out there somewhere. She may very well have a new love, a family, who knows? It’s heart-wrenching.
‘When you break up with a partner people empathise and comfort you. But it isn’t the same when you lose a friend.
‘Friends are seen as dispensable — you lose one, you have others to fall back on.
‘But it doesn’t feel that way, and I’ve even had counselling to deal with the loss, something I never needed before when I’ve lost a boyfriend. I thought Louisa would be in my life for ever.
‘I’ve had to learn the hard way that not all friendships last.’
My friend turned into a bridezilla
Kirsty Hall, 24
Kirsty Hall, 24, was maid of honour at her friend’s wedding until the stress and anxiety of dealing with a ‘bridezilla’ became too much for her to handle
‘When my closest friend Lily asked me to be her maid of honour, I was delighted.
‘We had known each other since school and had, for ten years, navigated the turbulent highs and lows of teenage life; arguments with boyfriends, family fallouts and the heartbreak of losing our grandparents.
‘Now, in our 20s, we were both engaged and I thought being brides-to-be at the same time would bring us even closer together. But, instead it drove us apart.
‘It started with Lily’s hen do.
‘She wanted to go on a long weekend abroad and asked me to arrange it, which I was more than happy to do. She reassured me she wanted to keep things simple, ‘just a couple of nice dinners and a spot of sightseeing,’ she said.
‘We agreed around £350 per person and I booked it through an events company to keep on budget.
‘But as time went on, the hen weekend started to spiral out of control. A day at a pool bar became essential, as did a cocktail-making class and limos for transfers.
‘Lily’s mother insisted on hiring a ‘cheeky butler’, as well as buying hats, sashes and T-shirts for everyone. I was worried about the rising costs, but my concerns were brushed to one side. It wasn’t just about the money.
‘My usually kind and honest friend had suddenly become demanding and judgmental.
‘She booked a wedding make-up trial without telling me, and when I told her I couldn’t attend because of a pre-arranged family party, she angrily told me I was being an ‘obstruction’.
‘Likewise, when I was at work, and unable to reply to messages, she would go ahead and make wedding plans with the other bridesmaids behind my back.
‘All the initial excitement I had experienced about being her maid of honour started to dissolve into a pool of stress and anxiety.
‘It felt like nothing I did was good enough for her; my advice was ignored, my opinions didn’t matter.
‘When I tried to tell her that I was upset, she told me that it was all in my head.
‘It stung. I felt more like her secretary than her best friend, and eventually I realised that I couldn’t do it any more.
‘It broke my heart, but it became clear I needed to step away.
‘With trembling hands, I sent her a message saying that I felt it was best if I were no longer her maid of honour.
‘The hen party went ahead without me.
‘I couldn’t look at the pictures online. The wedding is not too far off, I can’t bear to think that I won’t be there.
‘Nothing has ever hurt as much as this. I still think about Lily every day. It is truly devastating to watch someone you were once so close to become so self-destructive.
‘The negativity can weigh you down, and sometimes, for the sake of your self worth you have to cut ties — even with the most precious friends.’
Names have been changed to protect identities.