Today is World Friendship Day and while many of us will spend the day celebrating our closest pals, our writer has been contemplating how her struggling friendship may need therapy to survive.
I met Sophie on our first day at university.
From our very first conversation, sitting on the floor eating peanut butter on toast, I knew we would be friends. She was smart, go-getting and, like me, loved food and music. She had spent the last year travelling in Africa. I had just moved over to the UK after spending a few years abroad. We were both in the same place - finding it hard to adjust and missing our previous lives - so it wasn’t long before we bonded and became best friends.
Ten years later, she is still the friend I rely on for non-BS advice and she's my go-to girl for turning a bad day into a good one. But our friendship has problems I can’t ignore. She’s just not there for me as much as I am for her. Our conversations always seem to be about her issues and dramas. I’ve started to feel resentful towards her, and if I’m honest, I’m worried things are getting worse.
As many of us know - whether it's from YouTubers Zoella and Gabriella Lindley, whose friendship publicly fizzled, or Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag, who went from BFFs to frenemies in The Hills - best friendships are far more complicated than people tend to acknowledge. I know people who have gone as far as breaking up with their former friend - and, yes, 'break-up' is the right word. Studies suggest the end of a friendship can be as painful as the breakdown of a romantic relationship.
My friendship with Sophie feels exactly like a struggling relationship. So much so, that I’ve started to think we should get the non-romantic version of couples therapy.
You may think this seems excessive - and at a cost of between £40 and £100 per hour, I can see how that might seem the case. But why not consult a therapist to help a troubled friendship that matters to you?
Friendships are part of a bigger picture that creates a healthy way of living and should absolutely require work.Martin Burrows, Relate
Martin Burrows, senior practice consultant at Relate, thinks it’s a great idea. “We get lots of clients who want to talk about their friendships. It definitely comes into the counselling room. They’re part of a bigger picture that creates a healthy way of living and friendship should absolutely require work. To some people their friendships are the most important relationships they have so why wouldn’t they want to go to counselling together?”
Sophie and I could have done with therapy years ago. Even though I’ve always loved her company, our friendship has been complicated since the start. She can be quite domineering, and I was always slightly intimidated by her. There was a long-running joke in our group about a ‘look’ you’d get when you when you were in trouble with her. I got that look a lot, whether I’d just said I wasn’t staying for another drink or I was wrapping food up in the wrong way. Often, I’d end up relenting and doing what she wanted.
When we were at university, I was so absorbed in her issues that I spent a good chunk of my time trying to resolve them. I didn’t feel like there was always space in our friendship for me - and when I did get drunk and tearful, she often wasn’t there. One time, she just left me while I stood in a shop in tears. I was angry - I would never have left her in a similar situation - but it’s hard to confront someone when your instinct is to try to see everything from their point of view. I decided I was being a drama queen.
Our differences became more pronounced after university. She took on a job in the corporate world while I chose a more creative and unstable career. She was excited by my choices, but most of her questioning seemed to boil down to how much I was earning. The answer to which was, often, nothing. It was mortifying.
She was kind in other ways - she helped me move house, treated me to nice dinners and included me in her family celebrations - but she seemed to mess up the big moments. When my parents divorced a few years ago I felt really vulnerable and needed her. She barely asked about it. When I confronted her, she said it was my fault for not bringing it to her attention.
It’s normal for relationships to have issues. If things go wrong with your partner, your friends put on their best sympathetic faces and a Ryan Reynolds rom-com. But friendships are somehow meant to be free of problems - they’re meant to be easy.
It’s taken me years to accept that my friendship with Sophie is anything but easy. When we’re in a good place, it’s amazing, but her lack of support at key moments makes me feel upset, lonely and insecure.
The benefits of friendship have long been extolled - studies have shown that having close friends can help reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce the symptoms of depression and can be even more beneficial than romantic relationships in prolonging your life. I think we should take them seriously and start investing in them as much as we do in romantic relationships.
Martin from Relate tells me Sophie and I could certainly improve things. “You could benefit from putting some ground rules in place when it comes to what kind of responses you might give each other when disclosing information about yourself,” he explains.
“The biggest breakdown of relationships is making assumptions, so it is absolutely about being really clear with each other about what you need. You could also gently let her know about the effect her domineering side has on you, and that it’s a vulnerability you have.”
I care about Sophie and that’s why I’m going to suggest to her that we have couples therapy. We have over 10 years of shared history together, and I don’t want to just walk away from that. She’s well-meaning, fun-loving and - even though I sometimes want to scream at her - still one of my favourite people to spend time with.
I don’t want to lose her, and if therapy can help strengthen our strained friendship, then I want to try it. Our relationship is worth the work.
Names and some details have been changed.
Originally published 24 November 2017.