A Look At Life: Friends

1st February 2013

Behind the acronym BFF [Best Friends Forever]

Kathy Miller

A woman goes into a cafe and tells the waitress: “My husband’s run off with my best friend. God, I’m going to miss her…”

It’s a silly urban myth, perhaps; a joke that married women of a certain age like to relate to tease their husbands, but behind it lies a truth that will resonate with anyone who’s ever lost a friend to someone else.

There is no mythology about losing a friend the way there is about having one’s heart broken by an unfaithful lover, yet the woman in this tale regretted the loss of her best friend more than the departure of her partner. Her friend’s betrayal was more hurtful to her than her husband’s infidelity. Maybe she believed that while the opposite sex come and go (and thank goodness some of them do go), friendship is meant to endure. It’s even possible that she was secretly relieved to be rid of her bloke, but devastated that he’d pinched her BFF.

If you were ever dropped at school by a friend who’d found herself a new ‘bestie’, it seemed like the end of the world. It can still cause pain, even in adulthood. Sometimes there is no explanation as to why you’ve fallen out of favour: no phone call advising you of the change in allegiance; no apology; no letters of condolence, however bereft you feel. You are history.

And if she (I’m using the feminine pronoun because that’s my experience, although I assume that men do pinch friends too) has discovered a new BFF, it’s even more galling if you were the one who introduced them to each other. But if you put two people together at a party and they become better friends with each other than they are with you, isn’t it actually a lovely compliment to your skills as a hostess? Friend-sharing is an act of generosity and speaks volumes about you (while people who are possessive about their friends tend to lose them as quickly as they acquire them).

However, friend-stealing is underhand and undermining. In business, you’d receive commission for an introduction, but in friendship, you might not even get an acknowledgement. Worse still, this new ‘couple’ could be talking about you! It’s teenagerdom all over again.

While all’s fair in love and war, we feel a great sense of injustice at the taking of a friend. The French will justify hanky panky, however bizarre one’s taste, with ‘the heart has its reasons’ (well, they would, wouldn’t they?) but even here a politician, or a prince, who is caught with his trousers down, is fêted when he dumps the wife to marry the mistress. His family and friends not only forgive him, they even buy new outfits for his wedding.

Similarly, a country that seizes land from another often gets away with it. Battles, however bloody, are always ‘just’ to those fighting them. You need only look at the language of conflict: ‘take out’, ‘collateral damage’, ‘neutralise’ are all euphemisms for killing and death. Wars and marriages that end in divorce are concluded with legal paperwork; a woman who dumps her lover for another might write a Dear John letter, but the end of a friendship, even a close one, is rarely terminated formally.

Popular author Joanna Trollope took a stance on the matter in her novel The Best of Friends which explores the fall-out from losing a spouse to a friend, and, significantly, it is the nature of friendship, not the marital betrayal, that generates the intrigue, friend and husband both being the ‘significant other’. Likewise, the most moving scene in the film The Duchess is when newlywed Duchess of Devonshire discovers that her husband is having an affair with her confidante – and, like the urban myth that opened this column, it’s his theft of her friend that upsets her most. There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but friendships should not be destroyed by another, in the name of love or anything else.

And it’s not always the pleasure of intellectual stimulation or the discovery of perfect pastime compatibility that leads to a new meeting of minds. I know one couple who are notorious for muscling in on other people’s mates – and experience has shown that well-heeled mates are the most vulnerable to this. The motives behind friend-pinching don’t change, it would appear. In the playground it was all about who had the new skipping-rope or the best collection of marbles; in adulthood it’s the couple with the tennis court or the French villa who are seized upon.

So, if someone else is now bathing in your best friends’ swimming-pool, then raise a glass to your true friends – and console yourself that friend-pinching is rarely downwardly mobile.

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