A year on, what losing my best friend taught me about female friendship

Annabel Fenwick Elliott
'I'd stop and chat with the man who cheated on me, but not Claire' Credit: Tereza Červeňová

It's been one year and four months since the very last message Claire sent me - a fairly apathetic adieu to our decade-long friendship - and we haven't spoken since.

To say she was my best friend doesn't feel like it quite does it justice. Unlike the term 'boyfriend' or 'husband', it's a phrase that covers varying degrees of closeness. Ours was right up there at the top. She was the 'in case of emergency' contact on my passport (and still is, annoyingly); we'd lived together, travelled together, thrown birthday parties together; invented countless jokes and dusted a thousand tears from each others' cheeks.

Having met on the first day of university and hung on tightly throughout our twenties and early thirties, it was a union that far outlasted any of our romantic relationships in length. 

And yet when it ended, there was no break-up dance, no social announcement, no transition phase. I wouldn't have wanted that - the worst, messiest part of any split - but it does say something about how casually we view friendships compared to romantic relationships, despite both occupying such profound areas of our lives. 

Few literary works address this, a mere handful of films (Animals being a recent example) and TV programmes (a nod to Fleabag) cover it, and Taylor Swift is the only pop culture figurehead I can think of who has delved deeply into this dichotomy. It's hard to tell, based on the impassioned lyrics from her blistering 2014 hit Bad Blood whether she was singing about an ex-lover, or, as she's since all-but admitted, her fallout with Katy Perry.

Her critics dismiss Swift's fierce focus when it comes to her clan of girlfriends as melodramatic. In the same way, the fraught end to my ten-year friendship with Claire garnered far less concern from my peers than the many knee-jerk head-tilts I got when I parted ways with my last boyfriend of less than a year.

Does it all boil down to our hard-wired fixation on procreation (often the end result with a romantic relationship, never among platonic friendships)? Are friendships deep down fundamentally less important to the ultimate furthering of our own species, and thus less deserving of our attention? It would certainly explain why women who don't have children tend to feel so marginalised. 

I suspect this was at the root of why Claire and I fell out in the first place. It was a gradual withdrawal from duty on her part almost immediately after she got engaged, then married, which culminated several months later in a final act I simply couldn't forgive: bailing last-minute on her promise to take me to my ex boyfriend's funeral. 

I appreciate, of course, that priorities change with the passage of time. We saw each other less and less, on logistics alone, because I was single and therefore unsuitable for the vast majority of her social engagements (dinner parties with couples I didn't know). 

So I knew I had a choice: either make my peace with this new iteration of our friendship, a much less satisfying one, but a friendship nonetheless. Or walk away. I went through several rounds of plan A; whittling down my expectations with every disappointment to better fit the new status quo, until they were toothpick-thin. But the last fragment snapped the day of that funeral.

I'm often asked how I'd react if I bumped into her on the street today - mercifully we share hardly any mutual friends so a social collision is unlikely - and honestly, I'd cross the road. This says something about me too, that I still can't quite unpick. I remain friends with almost all my exes - even in situations in which one or both parties have been deeply hurt. I'd stop and chat with the man who cheated on me, or anyone who's ever slighted me in fact, but not Claire. That would be too much.

I suppose what it says is that she was more important to me - bar my family - than any other person I've ever known. She was family, really, the sole member of which I chose, and the hangover of her disappearance was always going to reflect that.

Since our demise, I’ve had several people say of the matter, "perhaps if you get married and have children, your paths will drift back together and you'll find common ground again." On the contrary. How sad that would be, the cold hard confirmation that the only way for two otherwise reasonable women to make a friendship work is for both to hold this pair of tokens: a ring and an infant. 

I still hope that one day I can think of Claire wistfully, and smile, not frown, at the memories. Certainly, it’s how I’d rather feel. At is stands, I’m truly happier in all other departments of my life than I have ever been; and from the little I’ve heard, so is she. It’s just a shame we can’t share it.

 

And, have you read Friendship Files? It's a new column by Telegraph Family in which people share their friendship dilemmas and experiences. It is published every Monday.  Click here or below to read.