By Samreen Tungekar & Suman Quazi
MW India deputy editors — one newly turned 30 and the other just about to — reflect on friendship after three decades of losing, thriving in, and ending them
UNFRIENDING CAN BE HEALTHY, TOO
“Who are your closest friends now?” my mother asked me, when I was almost 18. “X, Y, Z,” I rattle a few names off. She smiles, “And why are they your friends?” “Because I’ve known them all my life,” I retort. Yes, I genuinely believed this. I remember celebrating my 20th birthday with a group of friends I thought were my ‘ride and die’, only because I’d known them in my formative teen years. Needless to say I was wrong.
Is it just me, or have we always been taught that losing a relationship — a friend, a cousin, a husband/boyfriend means at some level, you’ve failed? Every time I lost someone, I took it as a personal failing — maybe I don’t know how to keep my relationships, maybe I’m a bad friend, maybe I deserve to be alone. But as time passes by, and as we grow older, back pain et al, we realise that maybe it’s no one’s fault. Maybe some friends are only meant to teach us a few things, and then move on. Maybe we’re doing the same for them. From idolising the Blair-Serena friendship to understanding why Carrie Bradshaw is the worst friend to have, I’ve come a long way. My 20s were all about putting people
on a pedestal. I learnt the word toxic when I realised that my supposed ‘best’ friend from above mentioned 20th birthday is a pathological liar who has been manipulating me to get her way. I understood, in my late 20s after therapy, that I let her do that to me because my attachment style is anxious, and I wanted to do anything to be liked and accepted by her. I learnt what secure female friendships are when in my mid 20s, I met three wonderful women who showed me that I didn’t have to give them anything but my love for them to be on my side. One of them isn’t in my life anymore — she outgrew the friendship with no prior notice right before the pandemic — and I let go of her, wishing her the best, but knowing I’d not want her back in my life again. This brought me to a new factor that I’d never thought of before: if you don’t treat our ancillary connections with respect no matter what page we’re on, well, then, there’s the door. She didn’t, and I was okay with the friendship running its course.
2021 was a trying year for all of us, but when I lost both my grandparents within 12 hours of each other in the peak of the second wave and not due to Covid, it was an eye opener of all kinds. It was hard to be there for each other when we were all so helpless and couldn’t physically be present, but my closest friends were there in their own ways. Someone would video call once a week, someone dropped an 11.30am ‘check in’ message, someone sent food — they did what they had the bandwidth for. And then there were friends who thought it’s enough to send a sad face reaction to an Instagram story or like my eulogy post, and never check in again. Hell, some didn’t even bother to react. Yes, these were friends, people I’d been a 3am friend to — I also don’t use the term ‘friend’ loosely. True to my older beliefs, I’d have made up excuses for them if this was a decade ago but when you turn as old as the big Three O, you know one thing for sure: half of the job of any relationship is just showing up. “So who are your closest friends now?” someone else asks me, during a conversation. “The ones that are there for me beyond my Instagram stories,” is my response.
FRIENDS LIKE CRUFFINS
Several years of receiving unsolicited dick pics on WhatsApp, Insta DM, and everywhere else I exist (virtually) had inadvertently desensitised me toward the passive-aggressiveness of blocking someone. And then, it happened to me.A friend I had shared everything with— from a loofah to my deepest, darkest secrets — was suddenly reduced to a display-picture-less contact on my phone, and out of reach.
The thing that nobody tells you about turning 30 is that along with your skin, body, and hair texture, friendships change, too. But most importantly, what sees a massive shift is your priorities. At the precipice of beginning my third decade on this planet, I seem to be more worried about the balance on my PPF account than the birthday dress itself. And it’s a feeling that many of us might find hard to shake down. Growing up can take a little getting used to.
Maybe the reason why turning 30 feels like such a monumental moment is because it really is. Getting there is typically preceded by a long list of challenges, even if sometimes, cliched. And going through the motions for three full decades can seem like an achievement. Subliminally, it proves that you have gone through the unsure teens, intrepid adolescence, and stressful (if at times, hugely rewarding) years of ‘adulting’. You made it through the heartbreaks and bad matches on Tinder, toxic bosses, and duplicitous colleagues; through that really patchy patch of your life when a zero-balance salary account was at a rounded-off zero on the 30th of every month; through the nosy neighbour, bad roommate, shoddy accountant, an unethical vet who screwed up your cat’s catheter, and that awkward office fling you wish you never had. It testifies that you made it through it all, and is a testament to the fact that you, in fact, made it.
And so, it hurts a bit too much when you have to accept that some of the friends you made on this journey, won’t be seeing you on the other side of it. Or that they’ll remain relegated to a ‘friend’ on Facebook (which you hardly check) by the time the mid-life crises come roaring. Truth is, a breakup with a friend can hit harder than splitting with a romantic partner, and mainly because pop culture doesn’t prepare you for it the way it does for a fuckboy.
So you adapt, emulate, and (try your best to) move on from a friendship that didn’t, unlike you, stand the test of time. The holy quintuple of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance is as applicable to unfriending as it is to de-coupling. You go through writing it off as ‘just some drama’ to ‘how could they do this?’ to ‘should I write a letter?’ to ‘nobody loves me’ to ‘this is probably for the best’ —depending on who you are — rather quickly. And in between all of that, there are long, snarly WhatsApp texts, watching a chick-flick alone with a tub of ice cream, deleting images on Google Photos, signing up for a dance class (in the hope of making new friends), reconnecting with an ex-compatriot, and funnily enough, rebound friends as well. But by the end of this difficult, heart-wrenching and transformative experience is a learning that’ll probably be more helpful than any BFF you ever had. And it is this: friendships don’t need to be old, intense, or, equal to the sum of shared experiences to be true.
We attach a lot of value to relationships and experiences rooted in time and nostalgia. I mean just look at the food space — unless a recipe has been unearthed from the dog-eared pages of your grandmother’s cookbook, it simply doesn’t add up as a compelling enough story. The shibboleth of ‘friends for life’ tries to perpetrate a similar construct, where a good friendship must also necessarily be venerable, mired with all the tropes of a lengthy friendship. But a new friend can be like a cruffin — totally satisfying and legendary, even though it was created only in 2013 by a Kate Reid of Lune Croissanterie in Melbourne, Australia.
At 30, neither I nor my ex-friend needs to be reminded of the one humiliating ‘scene’ we had in high school, the piece of clothing they borrowed and never returned, or the secret I couldn’t keep. Maybe both of us have more to derive from the people immediately around us and synced into the life we have built today. Like, the equanimous office colleague — who might not be as close to you as your erstwhile bestie — but helps you navigate time-pressed projects better; the girl you met just three years ago and mostly played Ludo with through the pandemic; or someone who DMs pasta recipes or gel nail paint mood boards, without saying anything much else at all. Friendships that have been stripped of the heavy albatross of expectations and life-long commitments that are being mindlessly extended because of a pinky promise made more than a decade ago; and friends who are seemingly less zealous, and yet more ardent, stable, and — like the cinnamon sugar on a cruffin — in your life, just the right amount.
The fact of the matter is that at 30, my life has vastly different needs than it did even a few years ago. And you and I both know what they say about friends— the ones in need are the ones, indeed.
Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com