My best friend cut me off – and it hurt more than losing a lover

My best friend cut me off – and it hurt more than losing a lover

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UPDATED:

16:03 GMT, 19 July 2012

Heartbroken: Shona Sibary today, recalls the loss of her childhood friendship

Heartbroken: Shona Sibary today, recalls the loss of her childhood friendship

What happened the morning after my 18th birthday was one of those cataclysmic events that should, by rights, cement a friendship for life.

My best friend Jill and I were travelling in a Ford Escort to the sixth-form college where we were both doing A-levels.

She was a back-seat passenger — I was in the front. The driver, another girl on our English course, spent a fraction too long putting an INXS tape into the deck with her eye off the road.

Suddenly, we swerved off the dual carriageway, hurtling down the grassy embankment. Fifteen seconds later, we had rolled over several times and landed upside down in a ditch.

All I can remember in the terrifying moments that followed was New Sensation blaring out from the mangled dashboard and thinking: ‘Is Jill OK’

We all crawled out unscathed. After a precautionary trip to hospital, a kind of hysteria took over. Jill and I sat in A&E, doubled up in uncontrollable mirth until tears poured down our faces and the receptionist tutted disapprovingly.

To this day, I have no idea what we found so amusing. But I do know that then and there we made a pact always to see the funny side in everything and vowed we would still be laughing together in middle age.

A quarter of a century on, and I can still recall how utterly convinced I was that day — and during the years of friendship that followed — that Jill would be a part of my life for ever.

Then, suddenly, in our late 20s, she abruptly and inexplicably cut off all contact with me. My emails went unanswered, she wouldn’t pick up my calls and she refused to tell me what her reasons for dumping me were.

We hadn’t argued. I didn’t say something unforgivably hurtful, run off with her boyfriend or reverse my car over her cat. In fact, there was no reason I could see why she would cut me off so brutally. And her decision, followed by a stony silence in the ensuing years, has left me reeling.

Experts agree that breaking up with a close friend can be as devastating as divorce.

Certainly, I shared more with Jill in those early days than I ever would have done with a boyfriend or husband. As many close female friends do, we talked for hours about our hopes, dreams and insecurities. We knew each other inside out. Or I thought we did.

To have that intimacy snatched away — with no warning and no explanation — was incredibly difficult. And I’m not alone in struggling with this situation. A recent study of more than 200 people found that being rejected by a female friend can leave you feeling betrayed and full of self-doubt.

The findings were produced by sociologists at Manchester University led by Professor Carol Smart.
‘When women are dropped by a female friend they can take it extremely hard,’ she explains.

'Experts
agree that breaking up with a close friend can be as devastating as
divorce. Certainly, I shared more with Jill in those early days than I
ever would have done with a boyfriend or husband'

‘It’s especially difficult if you
don’t understand why the relationship has ended. Being abandoned this
way leaves a woman feeling there is a flaw in her character she wasn’t
aware of. Suddenly, she is forced to think: “What’s wrong with me” ’

I
certainly tormented myself with this question after Jill decided to
drop me unceremoniously. One moment we were like sisters, the next we
might as well have been strangers. I was left feeling I didn’t know her —
or myself — at all.

Professor
Smart says this is a common reaction. ‘It’s unnerving for the person
left behind because they probably thought they were a good judge of
character,’ she explains. ‘You’re left feeling that your previous
assessment of her personality was based on nothing. And, worse still,
that the same thing could easily happen again.’

Yet
how could I have misjudged Jill when we were so close We met at
secondary school but didn’t become firm friends until sixth form. It was
there we bonded over books, chocolate Hobnobs and late-night
Blockbuster videos.

Happier days: Shona as a teenager with her former friend Jill

Happier days: Shona as a teenager with her former friend Jill

We weren’t the kind of teenagers interested in nights out or having casual sex. We shared a slightly removed, wry approach to life and a fierce loyalty towards each other.

It was Jill I spent my first ‘adult’ holiday with, InterRailing around Europe when we were 17. She accidentally left half her money at home but refused to tell me for five days and instead starved herself through France — before having a meltdown in Pisa because she couldn’t afford a pepperoni pizza.

Going to separate universities did nothing to break our bond. In fact, when I decided, three months into my English degree at Chester, that I had made a terrible mistake, it was Jill’s digs I fled to — sleeping on the floor next to her bed for a week and bemoaning my horrible tutor, grim accommodation and ridiculous reading list. Really, I think I was just missing her.

We went our separate ways in our 20s — Jill to continue studying, and me to London where I began my career as a journalist.

But we wrote to each other regularly and I still have all her letters. In fact, I read them constantly because they always bring a smile to my face. She is still one of the funniest people I have ever met.

We are still inextricably linked
through friends from college and I occasionally hear that she, too, has
married and is doing well. But she resolutely refuses to speak to me.

The last time I saw Jill was at a party shortly after she’d moved to London in 1996. She now had a circle of business friends and I had a boyfriend — Keith, my future husband — who I could immediately tell she hated.

For that matter, he didn’t like her much either. All those things I’d always loved about Jill — her bluntness, sarcasm and honesty — Keith misunderstood as prickly stand-offishness.

Looking back, I wonder whether this could have been it Or was it that I, stupidly as it turned out, put my new relationship with him above spending time with her

Whatever the reason — and I’ve spent hours lying awake at night going over the night of that party for clues — she decided to pull the plug on our friendship.

I called her but she never answered or called me back. I emailed to ask what was wrong and received a curt reply indicating that I should stop contacting her.

I had absolutely no idea what I had done. I drafted in mutual friends to help but the closest they got to an answer was: ‘Shona knows what she has done.’

It was embarrassing to keep begging for an explanation. And a little degrading to continue to apologise for something when I had not a clue what I had done. I sent one final email telling her life was too short to fall out over such things and that I was sorry for whatever misdemeanour I had supposedly committed.

And then I left it. Jill didn’t come to my wedding and she has never seen any of my four children. We are still inextricably linked through friends from college and I occasionally hear that she, too, has married and is doing well. But she resolutely refuses to speak to me.

A small consolation is that when I’ve talked to other female friends, many have similar stories to tell. ‘The romanticised notion of lifelong best friends really is a myth,’ says clinical psychologist Irene S. Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Break Up With Your Best Friend.

‘People change and what worked for you at school is unlikely to suit when one of you becomes more career orientated, settles into a steady relationship or has children.’

I can’t help thinking of Jill often. I still remember her birthday and whenever I drive past Stonehenge I allow myself a silent chuckle (she’ll know why).

But I have to let her go, because the alternative is too humiliating. To be rejected this way by a man can be painful, but something most women accept will happen at some point in their lives.

To be dumped by a true friend — someone who has seen you at your most vulnerable (no more so than hanging upside down in an overturned car) — is heartbreaking.

At the end of the day, if you can’t trust your best friend to still be around when you’re 41, then who can you trust