When I got married last year, four of my bridesmaids were my friends from high school. In fact, I had attended playgroup with two of them, and one of them had been to primary school with me, too. We grew up together in a little network of villages, sharing all of our significant milestones, whether it was our first horror movie, first boyfriend, first awkward experience in a nightclub. We did our exams together. We became especially close in the sixth form, discussing and analysing every aspect of our lives between learning our French verbs and writing another essay for English Lit. We grew up together.
Ten years have passed since leaving school, and I still love our social gatherings. They are certainly more sedate than they were in sixth form or uni: less vodka, fewer occasions for fancy-dress, but more quality chat and undoubtedly better food. There have now been hen parties, spa days, weekends away. It’s all very civilised and it’s like having a second family. I feel very lucky to have such loyal, kind and fun people in my life.
I do stop and wonder about the ‘friends’ we didn’t stay in touch with, though. Well, let’s not skirt around the issue… there’s only one particular girl I give much thought to. I first met this girl when I was a toddler. We lived within a mile of each other, which in the countryside meant we were practically neighbours. We went to primary and secondary school together, and I was always at her house for sleepovers, parties, or just hanging out, not doing much. As a young teenager she was vivacious and bubbly, keen to impress boys. I was quiet, self-conscious, more concerned with my school work. Still, we were a partnership, and I was fiercely loyal towards her, even through the usual ups and downs of female friendships at that age. She had a tendency to fall out with other girls, usually over boys. I took her side instinctively. We’d been through so much together that I felt I owed her that.
She’s the girl who I would have called my best friend when I was eleven, fourteen and seventeen, and certainly a prime candidate for the bridesmaid at the crazy fantasy wedding my teenage brain concocted. We used to talk about our future weddings, of course. We had some truly awful ideas – ostrich feather dresses, Burberry print bridesmaids – I shudder now at our teenage tastes! We basically liked anything baby pink or powder blue, preferably with a fur trim. What can I say? Our formative fashion years were circa 1997-2000. That’s right: the heyday of the Spice Girls. Think pigtails, crop tops, leopard print… oh, and lots of denim. We had matching patchwork jeans. We thought we looked like the girls from Irish pop sensation, B*Witched.
Clearly, that was an age ago. The dark days of dial-up internet, hair glitter and knee-high socks are far behind us all, but while I’ve stayed in close contact with most of the girls I knew then, I don’t so much as tweet my so-called ‘best friend’.
She doesn’t speak to any of us.
She was such an important part of our social group, and, well, damn it, my whole childhood. I still feel annoyed, sad, and a little hurt that we’re no longer close.
It feels worse because I know how much we had in common. She was a writer, too. Because of social media, I know she’s still writing. and I know we’d have so much to talk about, and yet there’s a terrible distance. It’s frustrating. I don’t send her messages on Twitter. She defriended all of us from Facebook years ago. Yet I can’t help but have a quick look at her Facebook profile picture. I read her blog. Is that pathetic? Perhaps even intrusive?
I couldn’t tell you specifically why we stopped being friends. I remember still speaking to her on MSN when I was at uni. I kept hoping she would visit, and I was hurt that she kept making excuses. I met up with her a couple of times in my home town when I visited my parents, but it was awkward. She didn’t want to hear about uni life, because she chose to stay at home. She talked so much about herself and how great her new job was, that I felt she was self-absorbed. I can see now that she was feeling insecure. She didn’t want sympathy for being the only one of us not to pursue a university education. Then she broke up with her long-term boyfriend, and she certainly didn’t want sympathy for that. I’m sure she was proud. So she isolated herself. I didn’t see it this way at the time, though: I thought she was ‘dumping’ me, and I was really hurt.
I’m sure she found me annoying. I can see now that even towards the end of our school days, we were drifting apart. I was so driven towards academic success. I suspect was becoming a bit of an intellectual snob. A bit of a prude, too. I pretended I wasn’t as interested in boys and getting drunk because it was easier than being vulnerable. I did it to protect myself, because I didn’t think I was as pretty as the other girls. I knew I wasn’t as charismatic as her. But I was finding that part of her annoying too – she was becoming so loud, so extroverted. She wanted to talk about sex all the time. I thought she was just trying to embarrass me. She got drunk a lot. At parties she ingested so much cheap wine that she couldn’t stand up, and I got tired of being the one to prop her up.
And yet, ten years on, I think we’d be friends. We’re doing the same sorts of things. We’re both still writing. I’ve studied the craft at university (twice over, in fact), and she’s taught herself. She’s a Mum now, and clearly loves children. I’m a teacher, so we’ve both taken on similarly caring, child-centred roles. How easy it would be, to slip back into that easy friendship, the one we had before exam stress and crazy hormones got in the way. I feel a sense of loss, you know? Like something actually died. Though it’s possible it’s just nostalgia. We have some things in common, but would we really feel like we knew each other if we met up now?
I shall count my blessings. I have my other high school friends. Their company is so easy and fun – so much doesn’t need to be said, because we know each other so well. I have my husband now, and we’re best friends. He’s my fellow writer, my first reader, my confidante. There’s isn’t a gap in my life that my former friend needs to fill, and maybe that’s the key thing here. We grew out of our friendship… we didn’t need each other any more.