'I had a close friendship with a much older woman. Then it began to turn toxic.'

She was a writer and a painter. A proper bohemian born in swinging London and bred in downtown Manhattan. 

Now she was a Sydney girl - a model wife, a wild thing, a joker, a connector of people. She also used to be my best friend.

In early 2016 I had just arrived back in Sydney from London. I was feeling fearless yet failed, and hungry for a big life after having spent a tedious summer twiddling my thumbs in my hometown in New Zealand.

Watch: Our relationship deal-breakers. Story continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

I felt ashamed that my ambitions for London had never come into fruition before my visa was up. I had so wanted to succeed in London, to have taken that town by storm, whereas in reality my existence there was living in a messy, mouse infested flat with five flatmates, all while doing my best to exist on an assistant’s salary.

Image: Supplied.


Tail between my legs, I unpacked my new bedroom in a state of anxious optimism, placing my few London treasures on my new Sydney shelves.

Then along she came. 

Our relationship started like many modern love stories. She slid into my DMs, well actually into my comment section, leaving her phone number plastered there in such a public way (unbeknownst to her, and swiftly saved then deleted by me). I thought I might as well call. Why not? I was done with unpacking for the day and needed some distraction. 


We chatted and chatted on the phone on that hot afternoon. She told me about her ex-husband, her new husband, her children. She asked about my vintage hat collection and we bonded over obscure culture references which only we seemed to get.  

I was at her family dinner table within a week, glugging back wine and chatting my head off with her and her clan. That night I read her son a bedtime story as she did the dishes. I went home on a cloud.

I began spending a lot of time at her charming art deco apartment. It was right by the beach and I welcomed the waves after two years of miserable, grey skies. I loved everything about her home, her piles of belongings which resembled years of travel and a colourful life. 

I worked in a lingerie shop at the time, still unsure as to what to really do with my life after my failed fashion PR pursuits in the UK. She was freelance, always broke, yet had had a bestselling book once and was full of ideas and wisdom. 

Kindred spirits, together we would spend time fantasising about my future and reflecting on her past.

She was 26 years older than me. I was “mature”, having always had always had a good connection with those older than me - that being my teachers and mother’s friends. Age aside, she and I had a rare kind of best friendship from the first moment.

It soon became apparent that she was lonely in her marriage and that she welcomed our newfound friendship as much as I did. Meanwhile, I was naïve and busy, and also a little lonely. At just 23, restarting in a big city could get isolating. I needed a friend, family, even a mother figure.


Before I knew it, I was working for her father while studying interior design. Her dad was an elderly, somewhat famous, artist. His studio was at the back of he and his wife’s beautiful property, and I would help him prep paint and organise his archive.

By then, only a few months in, I was totally entwined with the whole family. She’d had an unusual upbringing, I could see it now. Then so had I, who hadn’t? And foundations built on bohemia felt much more exciting than my suburban roots.

But then the games started.

We used to swap clothes for each other's art and services. Begging and bargaining between us and using our existing wardrobes as currency. This always felt fun on the surface - sisterly, feminine, relaxed, almost romantic - but underneath I felt a thick pressure brewing. 

Any time I bought something nice on my student salary, it was suddenly hers. “You give me this pair of shoes and I’ll make you an illustration,” she would say. I would comply but it felt wrong.

Our relationship became increasingly transactional, and I began to feel as though I always owed her something. There were more literal examples of this: “You babysit and I’ll pop to the shops!” Hours later she'd return home, often after a shopping spree or long walk she'd failed to mention before heading out the door.


She shopped a lot and so did I. We shared a love of clothes, but her dysfunctional spending often led to credit card debts. This was a symptom of greater psychological issues she needed to address, issues which had been medically diagnosed but not treated. For that I felt enormous compassion, but it was hard to be around. 

In her orb of influence I found myself spending beyond my means too, and becoming more financially irresponsible. 

Then there was the feeling that I need to be on call constantly. Each morning I would walk to the bus stop and be on the phone to her. If I wasn’t, she’d call me at my place of work later in the day, berating me for not having spoken to her earlier.

By that point, a couple of years into the friendship, I was in a spin. I felt trapped by our pressure cooker dynamic, but felt indebted to her and her family. Of course I had shortcomings too - she never ceased to remind me of them. I just felt like I needed to get out, but didn’t know how.

It all imploded when I moved to Melbourne a year after that. By this point I was growing up, I was in my late 20s and ready for the next step. I had been offered a fantastic job in the next city. My partner at the time and I had wanted to make the move. Ready for a fresh start, we packed up our VW Golf and across state lines to our next city. 

She was not happy.


We began to fight on her birthday that year, and then it really began to unravel. With my newfound career, and having a loving partner by my side, I was gaining confidence and started saying no. She would retaliate, throwing poetic metaphors in my face, saying I had the texture of angora but the temperament of Maria Callas (hey, she was a writer too).

Perhaps that’s true, but I still knew our dynamic was not OK. I knew that the way she treated me with such contempt was not OK. Now based in Melbourne, I was frankly relieved to be in a separate city from her. 

Image: Supplied.


Right before our tipping point, our undoing, she was still in the habit of calling me every day. 

Each morning, just as I was trying to stay centred for the workday ahead, I’d feel the vibrate of her ringing and, despite a newfound freedom and confidence, felt I had to pick up. 

She was now having an emotional affair outside of her marriage and I was the only person she had told. I liked her husband enough to not want to know this information. But it was put on me. I understand how heavy secrets can be, but it made me feel I was the disposable younger girl she could share such things with. She was the dominant one, me the doormat. 

Then we had a big fight. A really big fight. It was over. I was sad, and I was relieved. 

As I grieved, I got on with my life, starting my own business and enduring the beginnings of the pandemic. 

I could see from afar that her children were growing bigger and that her career as an artist was beginning to really blossom. Things were going well for both of us.

We even reconnected for a moment, me extending the olive branch. But then it all imploded again. Round two. Goodbye, good friend.


Listen to Fill My Cup, where host Allira Potter talks setting better boundaries with author and clinical psychologist Dr Rebecca Ray. Story continues below.

The thing is, I still find myself Googling her, reading her work when I should be going to bed. I am still intoxicated by her stories, her background and her waves of artistic success. 

I miss her. I still let myself fantasise about us hanging out, about letting her know my good news as I make progress. I want to hear about her kids and spend just one more Sunday with her and her family. 

I want to see her new paintings, as her old art still hangs on my walls while my clothes hang in her wardrobe. Really, I just want to sit at her countertop over a cup of coffee or glass of wine and talk, much like we did in that apartment by Sydney’s beaches. 

It was six or so years of my life, that friendship. Longer than any romantic relationship I’ve ever had. And I loved her. She was a big sister to me. 

In her good moments, she was magic. Now and then I still allow the memories of a unique and special friendship to sing in my mind. But while my memories of her live on, I must maintain my boundaries.

Feature Image: Supplied.

Looking forward to a brighter future? Complete this survey now and go in the running to win one of six $100 gift vouchers!