Seven years ago, my best friend went missing.
I’d known Nat* since the day she was born. We’d played elastics and ridden bikes together as children and confessed our secret crushes to each other as teens. As adults, we’d seen each other through weddings, births, deaths and divorce. After almost 40 years of friendship, we still lived in the same town and we spoke to each other almost every day.
Then, she disappeared.
Nat’s daughter, who I loved like one of my own, would be 18 now. I sometimes wonder if I’d recognise her if I passed her on the street. Her son will never know me. My youngest son, Nat’s godchild, can’t remember her at all.
He was eight years old when Nat went missing. Perhaps the saddest part about the whole thing is that Nat didn’t actually go missing. She disappeared from my life, but she’s very much alive and well. Last I heard, she was living happily in the suburbs with her husband and two children.
Are you someone’s obligatory friend? Post continues.
It took about a month for me to realise there was a serious issue in our relationship. At the time, I was busy packing up our house, winding up my small business and organising for my kids to change schools. I hadn’t seen Nat for a few weeks but we’d been in contact via text. She’d been slower than usual to respond to messages, but hey, life was busy. It was nearly Christmas, and Nat had a full-time job, a baby, and a daughter who was finishing primary school. Even when the texts stopped altogether, I wasn’t really worried. There was no problem between us, no argument to be concerned about. It wasn’t until Nat refused to commit to a time for farewell drinks that I realised something was up. I tried calling, but she didn’t answer. I dropped by her house, but she refused to come to the door, even though I knew she was home.
The day before we moved, I texted one last time asking if everything was okay and received a five-word reply, Good luck with the move. We haven’t spoken since.
The end of our friendship left me shocked and bewildered. I didn’t know what I’d done (and I still don’t). Had I inadvertently said something hurtful? Forgotten a birthday or an anniversary? There was nothing obvious I could think of and Nat had made it clear she wasn’t interested in talking about the problem. The friendship was over – I had no choice but to accept that fact.
The devastation I felt at the end of our relationship was akin to a romantic break up, but the difference was I couldn’t really talk to anyone else about what had happened. I felt humiliated and ashamed that my oldest friend no longer wanted me in her life. It was easier to pretend to others that it was the physical distance between us that had caused us to drift apart, rather than admit that Nat had dumped me, left me, broken up with me.
Seven years later, I still don’t know exactly what the trigger was for the end of our relationship, but I now think it was inevitable. In fact, the relationship had probably outlived its use-by date before we hit the end of our teens. Nat and I were neighbours. Our mothers were best friends. We were expected to get along, and in childhood we did, but we grew up to be very different people, with not just different interests but different worldviews. In the end, it was only our shared history that tied us together.
When I think about my friendships that have stood the test of time, I realise that while shared history is lovely, it’s not enough to sustain a close relationship over a lifetime. There has to be more. The people who I’ve remained friends with since childhood are people I would choose to be in my circle if we met as strangers today. We share common interests and outlooks. We see the world through a similar lens.
These days I look back on our friendship with fondness. The other day I saw a pair of girls playing elastics and I smiled. I know the end of our friendship doesn’t mean it was a failure. Nat is part of my history, part of what makes me who I am. And she will always have a piece of my heart.
Lisa Ireland’s new novel, The Art of Friendship, is out now.