I wrote this a while ago, published it on a Canadian parenting site, and got a fair bit of stick from it. But, you know, let’s get talking about the things that make us feel shitty, shall we? Just in case anyone has ever experienced a similar sitch with being phased out. I’ve got your back.
I’ve been phased out by two friends, since having my second child.
Both ‘phasings’ have been carried out in a passive aggressive way – the first friend, let’s codename her Coral, just stopped replying to messages, committing to playdates, being free for drinks, telling us about life events and so on and so on. To everyone else, she’s the same old socially available Coral, but to me and a couple of other buddies, nada. The second, let’s codename her Rose, sent the first flutterings of uncertainty up my sails by failing to invite Mouse to a party that she’s hosted, and we’ve attended, for the last three years. Again, with no former grumblings that our friendship had fallen shy of the runway.
Rose’s nail in the proverbial coffin came with that most feared of all PassAgg behaviour – the Facebook unfriending. In my standard over-analytical manner, I mentally retraced my FB digital footprint. Two weeks ago, I had liked one of her statuses, so we must have still been ‘friends’ then for me to have seen it. Therefore, at some point in the last fortnight, Rose had called up my page and decided that no, she didn’t need me in her friends list. She didn’t like me enough to keep that little string of communication open, and she didn’t want my daughter to go to her daughter’s party.
Each of those little realisations felt like a bit of a kick in my stomach. Instantly, I felt transported back to the playground. I wondered what I’d done wrong, why I wasn’t good enough all of a sudden, and whether some of my other mutual friends might see what Rose and Coral have seen in me, and follow suit. Rose and Coral are in the same NCT pack, within a wider First Time Mum brigade (established back when we were First Time Mums and clung to each other like a limpets in uncertain seas). So it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the phasing out might have been discussed at NCT Headquarters, AKA the local health club.
First came the sting of shock, then came the mild bubble of anger, the resentment at the betrayal. Then came the internal slagging off, the “well, I have loads of amazing pals, I don’t need them anyway.” Then, finally, the little deflated balloon of sadness that farts out its last scrap of air and says, in a tiny voice, “but they were my friends.”
This is different to the natural drifting apart that many friendships go through. Where interests and lifestyles and locations change, and the friendship isn’t quite strong enough to navigate and mould around those new differences. I’ve got a few of those under my belt, and I’m ashamed that I’ve let them get away. But with those, at least both parties are usually aware that their path has become overgrown and indistinct. With Rose and Coral, I really thought that we were muddling through quite well.
Running concurrently to this, Mouse’s pre-school have reported a few instances of her friendship group regularly disbanding, or worse, excluding one member with exclamations such as “You’re not my best friend anymore. We don’t want you to play with us.” Although not the ringleader, she’s certainly one of the main culprits, and we hear all about the remnants of the fallouts as we’re getting ready for bed. “I couldn’t do dress-up today with X, because she’s not my friend. Y pushed W because they’re not best friends anymore. I didn’t want to sit next to Y for snack time because I don’t like her today, she’s not best friends with anyone.”
As a mum, this breaks my heart. I watch Mouse, at home and with other children, and she’s BRILLIANT. I’d love her to be my very best friend. She’s funny, she’s kind, she’s attentive. She’s imaginative, she’s playful, she’s gentle. She’s protective, she’s silly, she’s got an infectious belly laugh. She’s also rather stubborn, quite bossy, and a complete snitch. Oh, she’ll rat you out in a heartbeat. It’s these three traits that make me worry for her, that I hope in time she’ll learn to tone down just a touch. To bring them in line of what’s deemed to be socially acceptable, keeping her nicely below the parapet. I want her to develop a sense of social conscience, basically.
I see her innocence and her vulnerability, but is this starting to give way to something I wish wasn’t there? Is she already displaying the tiny, icy daggers of cruelty and exclusionary power that girls just seem to have? I don’t want that for her. I don’t want her to be mean. I don’t want her to be a pushover, either. I just want her to be her, as I know her.
I don’t want her to feel that knot in her stomach, when she realises that she’s not been invited to the party that her friends are going to. I don’t want her to comprehend the very notion of not being invited. Of not being in favour with someone. Of not, full stop.
Equally, I don’t want her to be the reason that another person feels sad. The reason that they might cry to their parents at bedtime, and not want to go to school the next day in case they have no-one to sit with at lunchtime, or play with at breaktime.
I suppose, really, I need to stop internalising her anticipated feelings and behaviours, jumbling them up with my own. Just because I’m a sensitive old soul, it doesn’t mean that Mouse will be too. Just because she’s feisty, it doesn’t mean she’ll be a bully, either. Isn’t that what life is all about, having a few hard knocks and tests of character but enough happy feels to outweigh them? Realising that some friendships are lifelong, and others come and go as life stages peak and ebb? Accepting that as a fact of society, rather than using it as a reason to self-deprecate? Maybe. I hope so.
Girls, though. Bloody girls.
-SJW May 2017