A colourful life

Saturday, 8 December 2018

when is a friendship not a friendship?

Annie has been comprehensively dumped by her "best friend". This is her story, she is keen to share her experience.

Annie has been friends with this girl, lets call her Bertha (not her real name). At the beginning of secondary school, they were part of a group of friends but gradually, their other friends disappeared from the scene. Their friendship started to be really exclusive, they did everything together and have shared holidays, too. They spent hours and hours together, at school and also at home. They chose the same subjects at school as far as possible. They learned how to apply the perfect make-up, how to bake the perfect cupcake and so much more. They were happy, a good team. I remember voicing my concerns about this all exclusive friendship to my own friend more than a year ago but I didn't really think much of it. We have been encouraging Annie to step out of her little bubble and open up to other friendships, as she used to. Don't get me wrong. there were always other friends on the periphery, at birthday parties for example. Bertha didn't like that at all, she would sit in a corner, pouting and texting her mother how horrible everyone was to her. She told blatant lies, for example that nobody had offered to heat up her own party food at Annie's last birthday bash at home. She had started bringing her own food to our house recently. I know it is a lie because I offered, as did Annie and Richard. We all got the same reaction, a sweet smile and "no thank you, I am not hungry just now". Such occasions would be followed by days of stony silence. Earlier this year, Annie called me during a shared holiday with Bertha's family, locked up in the bathroom, sobbing. Bertha had stopped talking to her for the umpteenth time. Eventually, it transpired that Annie was humming in bed and therefore disturbing the peace. Looking back, this was a turning point, Annie slowly started to take tentative steps towards old but neglected friends. A short while later, the girls went on a residential school trip to Italy. Annie enjoyed the company of her other friends - all the while managing the increasing demands of Bertha and not being able to make her happy. Around us at home, Annie was increasingly grumpy, volatile and difficult. We put this down to her being a teenager. After this trip, Annie started spending more time with old friends and we could see her being more happy. Bertha would take numerous sick days in protest, telling her mum that she wouldn't go to school because Annie was always mean. Then, out of the blue, she stopped going to school altogether and was not heard of anymore. Three weeks later, someone spotted Bertha wearing a different school uniform. I am not making this up. She had changed school and not told anyone. I don't understand that after all those years of close "friendship", Bertha upped sticks and left. No looking back, no explanation, no attempt at reconciliation, not even a good bye. We talked about this a lot over the past few days, as Annie started opening up and trying to make sense of what had happened. We discussed answers for all those pupils at school who asked Annie why Bertha had left school. As it turned out, nobody really cared all that much, a few being at the receiving end of scornful comments about unbearable body odour and poor taste and whatnot. Here a few flavours of Annie's experiences:
  • Being increasingly isolated from other friends and having to completely devote herself to Bertha, and only Bertha
  • Being called names by Bertha (bat, peasant...)
  • Having her self confidence undermined ("you'll never get rid of your fat")
  • Being punished with stony and lengthy silent treatment when she didn't live up to Bertha's expectations. 
  • Being ridiculed for her own choices and likes, from clothes to make-up to food and shopping preferences
  • Receiving hurtful birthday present from an outlet that Annie really liked but that only caters for elves. It was toddler sized and there was not a chance in the world it would fit Annie.
  • The gradual undermining of Annie's relationship with me, making her think I didn't love her ("why don't YOU get £30 for every good school test?")
  • Punishing Annie for any "transgression" by not going to school and refusing to communicate. Transgressions could be anything from laughing with someone else, not accompanying Bertha to the bathroom, or humming
  • Making Annie believe that it was her own fault for being upset about derogatory comments about her thoughts/appearance/opinions
I just can't believe how I didn't see the signs of an unhealthy and controlling friendship, or maybe did see the signs but did not act when I should have acted. Only now do I realise how skilfully Annie was manipulated into the corner of "never quite good enough friend". I would never have thought that my strong and confident girl would become so fragile and vulnerable - and be completely happy for a good while. The process of eroding her confidence was gradual and barely noticeable but has affected her deeply. Annie was not Bertha's first "best friend", we know that now. The stories of her reign of terror at primary school passed us by but now, that she has gone, other girls have come forward and comforted Annie. It is hard to stomach that such a sweet little thing cheerfully manipulated not just my daughter but also our family, and presumably her own family, who never once questioned anything Bertha ever told them, who have not bothered initiating a conversation with us to find out why all of a sudden she could no longer bear to be at the same school as Annie. Brainwashed no doubt into believing that we are an utterly dysfunctional family that is best avoided.

I can only apologise to Annie, for failing to see and intervene. To be honest, I don't think I would have stood a chance even if I tried to intervene. I think in the end, it was Annie's own strength that slowly led her away from this unhealthy friendship. It ultimately caused Bertha's sudden departure.

It must have been so tiring, never quite being good enough.

I am happy to say that Annie seems more happy and more relaxed but there were a lot of tears, too. At school she is far more happy and is almost as gregarious as she used to be. She has spoken to neglected friends, apologised to some and is moving on. For this I am grateful.

I don't really now how to end this post - it is a bit of a downer but I needed to get this off my chest. Thanks for reading. xxx