Telling A Friend An Inconvenient Truth

My Painful Experience

Lovers and husbands may come and go; children flee the nest; and jobs end; what survives, what remains through the good times and the bad times, are your friendships.

Your friends are the one true note in the dissonant music of life. They are there to commiserate and console, to act as sounding boards and healing centres, but most of all, simply to be there when you need them. And yet. There are times when your friends do more harm than the good that comes from all the above combined.

Let's face it, women's friendships are complicated. Men can fall out with their mates, but somehow they'll stand at the barbie together, beer in hand, discussing the merits of Messi versus Ronaldo. They wouldn't dream of taking their grievances to the court of broken friendships. Women do. We like to share; and even if we eventually bury the hatchet, we know where it lies.

There have been some very famous falling-outs: take Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance, who allegedly broke up because of Madonna's diva-ish treatment of a mutual friend, although the more likely reason is that they drifted apart, having less and less in common. Denise Richards and Heather Locklear became frenemies when Denise started dating Heather's ex-husband; and when Eva Longoria was photographed sitting on J Lo's estranged husband's lap it was all over for the amigas.

We've all fallen out with a friend at some point in our lives; sometimes the issue is pretty trivial, and we get over it, but there are times when the gravity of the matter is too great to overcome.

This is what happened to me.

My friend, who we'll call Sarah, and I had been friends for more than 30 years. So special was Sarah to me that I thought of her as the sister I'd never had. We met when we were single and our twenties; we celebrated our successes – and I mean celebrated – and we nursed each other through heartbreaks of every imaginable kind. She is the godmother to my youngest son, the friend I loved above all others. So, when I introduced my new partner to her and her husband, Phil, I naturally hoped that they would like him. They didn't.

Now, this isn't unusual. In fact it is rare for us to like our friends' spouses even half as much as we like them. We might enjoy going out to dinner as a foursome; even spending a holiday together – although this is probably the last thing you want to do if you intend to keep a friend – but finding a true connection with their "other" is a big ask.

The four of us might have been able to bump along this awkward path indefinitely but my Other made a terrible blunder. He thought Sarah would benefit from his professional wisdom and took it upon himself to advise her of the importance of understanding her investments. In the process, he unintentionally undermined Phil.

The gloves were off. My lovely friend informed me that I was "living in a bubble" and that my partner was fraudulently presenting himself. According to her, in reality, he had never been to university, never worked in banking, and, most serious of all, was busy wheedling as much money out of me as he could. And all this was corroborated by Phil in an angry and distressing phone call on, of all days, New Year's Eve.

Which brings me to the purpose of my salutary tale: telling a friend an inconvenient truth.

If you discover that your friend is dating an axe-murderer or that her partner is a bigamist, it is your duty as a loving and caring person to tell her. But, and this is a huge but, you must have proof – absolute proof. And, when you bring her the bad news, you should do it in such a way that you are there for her as she struggles to absorb the impact of the betrayal. Kindness and compassion are an intrinsic part of friendship.

I assure you the wounded friend is going to shoot the messenger – that's you. Only when she discovers for herself the dreadful truth will she be able to forgive your part in it all. I know, it's unreasonable, but there it is.

In my case, the litany of accusations against my loved one propelled us into a vertiginous tailspin. I became completely irrational. I found myself demanding proof of his credentials, which in turn inspired accusations of lack of trust. In the furore, I had completely overlooked the fact that when we met he was an associate VP of a major investment fund and chairman of a local symphony orchestra. He was also my next-door neighbour! After days of tears and freezing silences, he threw his certificates and magazine articles about him at my feet.

It took us months to recover, and we came perilously close to breaking up. But, piece by piece we put back the shattered trust and re-established our former closeness. That was almost two years ago.

Sarah and I have not spoken since that New Year's Eve. Mutual friends know never to invite us anywhere together and our shared hairdressers, dental hygienists and beauty therapists make sure we're not booked on the same day. Fortunately, we live far enough apart to avoid passing each other on the street. And there's now one less Christmas card to send.

I suppose the big question is could the damage be repaired? Could we put the past behind us and be the friends we once were. I doubt it. It would take a huge climb-down from Sarah; and we humans are very good at finding justifications for our "mistakes". She cannot take her words back and I cannot blot out the sound of her screaming accusations.We are not the same people in each other's eyes as we once were.

Thirty-something years is a lot of friendship to throw out of the window, but in my book she broke a cardinal rule: always have rock-solid proof of someone's crimes before you break your friend's heart.

At some point in the future my partner and I may crash and burn, but it won't be because he wasn't who he said he was. It will be because we have failed each other. The drip, drip, drip of disappointment will have slowly eroded all the love and hope we once shared. And the one friend who won't be there to fold me in her arms and tell me that it will get better will be Sarah.

And that's very, very sad.

Penny Thornton

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