Friend groups: part one
I’ve been through a lot of friend groups in my twenty-something years. They came and went for various reasons and I learnt a lot from my experiences with all of them, not least of all that peer pressure is one of the most potent and irritating forces in the universe and should be subverted at all costs. This is part one of a brief overview of some of the friend groups I’ve been involved with, the main players, how they started and how they ended. This will be an ongoing topic as it is a rich vein of stories, both humorous and heartbreaking.
I’ll start in the middle with the friend group I had in uni, which was spear-headed by a fascinating young woman I shall refer to as Emma. Emma was a little older than I was: she 20, me 18 – which seemed like a big gap at the time. The strangeness and unhealthiness of the following interactions might seem obvious to the outsider, but I am naturally inclined to let others lead me upon first friendships, mainly due to my adorable and accursed introvert tendencies. Emma was a full-on narcissist when I knew her: think of Hanna from Girls, mixed with Eddie from Absolutely Fabulous, mixed with a tiny dash of Jess from New Girl, and a dollop of Britta from Community. This young lady was selfish, neurotic, tenacious, resourceful, clueless, opinionated, and 100% self-absorbed. In profile: when I met her she was still living with her parents, a very doted-on single child in an enormous house with everything she could ever ask for. She didn’t have a job when we first met, then she landed the much-coveted uni book shop position which I’d been trying to get for months. She lost it after a few weeks because she ‘didn’t feel like going to work anymore’, then couldn’t get youth allowance because her parents owned a huge farm in Tasmania. She expected everyone else to pay for her because she never had any money, and when she did have money she spent it on Macca’s and expensive clothes. She complained about everything; there was literally nothing she couldn’t complain about. When her parents gave her a brand new Honda Jazz she complained that they didn’t give her enough fuel money for it.
To her credit, being permanently broke honed her incredible skill for getting things without paying; she could skive absolutely anything for free. She also had a stealing habit which she justified by ‘only stealing from big corporations like Target and Kmart. I’d never steal anything from a boutique or whatever. I have friends who steal from independent stores and that’s just wrong, I mean like those stores are someone’s income and they need that money!’ Genius.
She soon turned her ability for getting things for free to fundraising projects for causes that interested her. This included a huge mental health awareness ball, which started as a desire to recreate a high school prom because she wanted to re-live high school with her uni friends. It became a huge event and she persuaded local businesses to donate the venue, catering, decorations and prizes for a raffle. It was very impressive, but she also failed most of her classes that semester planning the ball instead of studying. She failed a class almost every semester and was put on probation at one point. However, she did graduate; the last time I saw her was at our graduation where she was stroking her hair and sitting between her exhausted-looking parents.
When I met her I was just happy that someone was making the effort to make friends in the first class on the first day of uni, because I was shy and had trouble talking to anyone long enough to get to know them. And for some reason the uni I went to was full of people who already had heaps of friends, and after chatting to someone for all of class they would disappear at the door and I’d see them eating lunch with a huge group of people. Anyway, Emma was good for me at the start. She had a boyfriend, whom we shall call Tom, who worked as a cop in a small town hours away from the city. When she told me about him she said ‘Oh yeah, we’re scheduled to break up in two months.’ Which sounded weird, but you know, whatever works for other people. They didn’t end up breaking up when scheduled, but after months of drama and teary midnight phone calls (to me. Don’t ever call me in the middle of the night unless death is actually on the table.) they finally parted company. Fortunately she had another guy lined up and drove from breaking up with Tom straight to we-shall-call-him-Dylan’s house. It was around then that I realised she had a pattern; I had seen her do similar things with other people. For example, she had to have a crowd of people around at all times, people she could call on her to help her shop, study, plan, work, and basically live her life. But these people tended to come and go within a cycle of about a month.
After recruiting me as a friend I watched her make friends with everyone who crossed her path at uni and elsewhere. We’d be at a book shop and she’d make friends with the girl behind the counter and invite her and her boyfriend to an upcoming Halloween party. We’d be walking through the cafeteria and she’d see someone she knew from another class, and then that person was added to the group. If the new recruits stayed, and were interesting, she would leech off them, spending every waking moment with them, having them help her with her homework, getting them to take her shopping, eating every meal together, planning parties together. Then after a few weeks they would fall out over something little, like the friend wouldn’t do a thing she had asked them to do: the thousandth ‘perfectly reasonable’ thing she’d asked them to do. She would then spend hours ranting and complaining to anyone nearby about how terrible they were, stressing again and again how reasonable she had been and how she couldn’t understand why they were so mean to her. It was like watching a soap opera unfold; she would have been a perfect Big Brother contestant.
I soon figured out that she recruited and leeched me because I’m a good listener and have a good understanding of human relationships (such as: don’t leech off people then discard them). I was around during her golden age of recruiting at the start of a new year, when all the unsuspecting ex-high schoolers wander around campus getting lost, ripe for recruitment by a predatory older student. Over time our group generally consisted of the following disciples:
Kelly: found in a class, had a fascinating life history, was generally level-headed and not very interested in being leeched off by Emma
Sally: also found in a class, was Emma’s favourite person for about a week, then Lisa arrived and she and Sally hit it off, becoming best friends and excluding Emma and the rest of us when they could
Kaley: recruited at a cake-stall, she was very good-natured, responsible and patient, but had very little self-confidence and stuck by Emma for years after everyone else had moved on
Gary: found in someone’s politics class, he became Emma’s token gay friend until they quickly tired of each other’s drama and fell out, but he mostly stayed in the group as friends with the others
Dylan: found in the cafeteria as he studied a different degree to the rest of us, he was good-natured and quiet; Emma eventually steamrolled him into a relationship, and there was only a little bit of lapover between her being with Tom and moving on to Dylan
Mary: a mature-age student with primary school-aged children, Emma found her in a class and shanghaied her into the group. Emma leeched advice from her like blood from a mammal, but Mary seemed to enjoy being needed
As for me, I underwent a three-stage process of being discarded. The first inkling of it was when I drew the line at ‘meeting up with everyone at the library and coordinating our classes so we’re all together next year!’ (Maybe that’s why other people always had friend groups that I wasn’t invited to: they coordinated their entire degrees so they wouldn’t have to be alone! Ever!)
I then committed the following sins:
1. Ceasing the endless advice. When she broke up with Tom and drove straight to Dylan’s house they didn’t actually get together, they just started sleeping together without committing, ‘cos, you know, that has a long and illustrious history of being A GREAT IDEA. She soon came to me saying she had feelings for him: what should she do? I advised the classic ‘What have you got to lose, he obviously likes you, you’ll never know unless you go for it’ spiel. She wasn’t convinced by that. So she went to Mary and asked her advice. She soon returned, announcing that she was going to go for it with Dylan. I was surprised and asked what had made her decide, to which she responded ‘Mary pointed out that Dylan obviously likes me, I have nothing to lose and I’ll never know what’ll happen unless I give it a shot.’
‘That’s exactly what I said to you two hours ago.’
‘Oh yeah, but Mary’s older and she’s a mum you know and she knows about stuff.’
It was clear at that point that she had no respect for me or my opinion; she only asked my advice to validate her ridiculous drama. I realised that we weren’t really friends; I was just another trailer in her caravan of crazy and soon I was going to have to unhitch myself.
2. The book-launch incident. In a class that the others weren’t in, and in which I was the youngest by quite a few years, I helped write and edit an anthology of fiction writing. It was a big project and one I was very proud to be a part of. I hadn’t been coping very well that semester for various reasons and the book launch for the anthology was a confidence boost that I really needed. The anthology was also for sale: we had gathered some money to have it printed and were having contributors sign copies at the launch. It was held in a classroom on campus and we were encouraged to invite our own guests, so I invited my group of friends.
As people started arriving I kept an eye on the door, keeping a few seats empty so we could all sit together. When the launch was about to start I called Emma to find out where they were. She said that they weren’t coming; they were going to lunch instead, they’d be at the cafeteria when I was finished. But make sure I got a copy of the book for her!
I was pretty upset, but as was my pattern at the time I tried to supress the feeling and somehow make it my own fault – an unfortunate side effect of introversion mixed with ingrained people-pleasing. But this time I couldn’t possibly find a way that it was my fault. It was an event that was important to me and if they were really my friends they would have made it a priority. After the launch I met them at our usual place in the library. Emma was off somewhere, so I stayed for a while. When she turned up her greeting was ‘Did you get me a copy of the book?’ I hadn’t – they had sold out quickly and I decided she didn’t deserve one if she wasn’t going to bother showing up. She looked me in the eye, pursed her fingers together like an expressive Italian and said with indignant rage ‘I had to beg my mother for that money!’
My reply wasn’t very satisfying, although I don’t remember exactly what I said. I have since thought of many choice words I could have imparted. Kaley later apologised for not coming, saying that the others were all going to lunch and she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t blame her; I knew she didn’t have it in her to stand up to the others or do anything alone. It was because of Emma that none of them had come, and her anger at me for not getting her a copy of the book was the icing on my rage-cake.
3. The Facebook falling-out – a modern drama. This occurred after the above incidents and was the final straw on the bonfire of our friendship and my part in the friend group. To add to the general awfulness of the situation I was struggling with depression, and losing my closest and most tangible support network (my parents lived far away and none of my friends from high school were around) made everything much more difficult. So the following situation will make sense to anyone who has been betrayed by someone they trusted when they most needed them. Everyone else will just have to believe me when I say that this was a really petty and awful way for Emma to behave.
It began innocently enough; I discovered a Steampunk-themed ball was coming up, the kind of event that I would have loved to attend and that never happened in our city. I posted a flyer of it on Facebook, along with my excitement at the prospect of dressing up and attending. Emma commented on my post, saying that she and her friends were going and maybe she’d see me there. On the surface this seemed like nothing important, but I soon realised that a) she had discovered something that I would love and that we, when friends, had often lamented the lack of in our city and that she had failed to tell me about it, b) she had organised to attend it with her friends (I was definitely not included among them any more), and lastly c) she was making it clear that I was not included or invited in attending the event with her or her friends; she would see me there, hopefully alone so she could feel sorry for me. Anyone who has suffered a toxic female friendship will understand the utter betrayal of this situation. I deleted her comment and deleted her as a friend. She instantly messaged me with the curiously clueless ‘Oh that’s real classy, what is your problem?’
Apparently she had no idea. But then why would she: I had forfeited our friendship in favour of solitude, when all she could see was that I wasn’t running around doing her bidding any more. I deserved more from a friendship, any friendship, and it took almost four years before I found it. I have many, many more Terrible Emma stories, including the time she met my younger brother and she bestowed upon him her highest compliment: ‘I would totally date your brother!’ I will, however, save them for another time. You can probably see why I’m writing this friend group series in parts, and this wasn’t even the worst one. Emma inadvertently introduced me to another friend group around the time all this happened, but I’ll get to that another time as well.
What I learnt from this mainly crappy experience was that I prefer solitude to having terrible friends, and it turns out that there are a lot of crappy friends out there. Also, and this is very important, I learnt that I’m not obliged to like or spend time with someone who makes me feel awful about myself and who gives me nothing. It took me a lot longer to learn this lesson in terms of a romantic partner, but that, yet again, is another story.