TESTIMONY : goodbye best friend

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Indy Lifestyle Online
KAREN WAS my best friend for 17 years. When we were six her mother would drive us to school while barking out questions such as "seven times eight?" We ate chocolate spread on white bread and mini-marshmallows for tea. We collected Disney stickers. We went to the same senior school. We discussed periods, snogging and awful boyfriends. We phoned each other twice a day. We went to Spain in white stilettoes and behaved disgracefully. We lived together at university. Then Karen met a nice man and married him. And then she wasn't my best friend any more.

When she first met him, it was all right. We giggled together about his dubious dental hygiene and discussed the least hurtful method of bringing this fault to his attention. But the relationship got serious. Jeremy this, Jeremy that. I met him and his friends and they weren't my type. They were the sort of people that once we would have sniggered at. Now she was saying earnestly: "They're so lovely. You'd really like his friend Michael. Why don't you give him a chance?" Because, I snapped, I spoke to him for 30 seconds and was hard pressed to stay awake. When she declared: "Jeremy and I will probably get engaged soon," I burst into tears.

It was a terrible, selfish reaction and she will never forgive me. We talked about marriage and she said coldly: "That's what people do in their twenties." I tried to explain about my relationship strife. I was keen on a man who was attached. What should I do? She replied: "He can't be that nice if he's cheating on his girlfriend." She added: "Console yourself with the fact that he isn't Catholic." I was shocked into silence. We'd spent a decade forging inter-religious links with the opposite sex and resigning ourselves to modest registry office weddings. Now Karen had betrayed me. She was little more than a stranger.

We saw each other less and less. She got married in a big white fairy- tale dress. I was very happy for her but I mourned our friendship. We met up occasionally and she'd wax lyrical about her sister-in-law's baby. Urrgh. Our conversation was stilted and polite. She'd bitch about the female partner at her firm who only saw her gorgeous toddlers at the weekend. Such a shame. "Why should the woman have to give up for work?" I snarled. "Why not her husband?" Karen had embraced a set of principles which were alien to me.

My other soul mate, Rianne, married within a month of Karen. That was slightly different. We'd met at university and were less of a pair. I didn't regard her as my property. After graduation, as Karen slipped away, Rianne and I spent more time together. She was a model friend - she managed to find time for everyone and I respected her immensely. Unlike Karen, Rianne's change of status didn't affect her independent spirit and we stayed close. Then she and her husband moved to Brussels for work. I was used to seeing her at least weekly, and gassing on the phone every other day. Now, if I was lucky, I'd spend a few hours with her every three months and have a bill-conscious chat each fortnight.

I felt deserted. Again. I cried off her last supper because of a deadline. She understood, surely. Anyway, I'd visit her soon ... Five months later I got around to it. To tell the truth, she had so many other friends, and a husband, I didn't think she needed me. She rarely rang and only returned my fax message after three weeks. I was very hurt when she vented the anger and frustration she felt towards me. She listed the many times I'd let her down, demanded her attention, manipulated her into feeling guilty for not contacting me - when my number played a starring role in her phone bill. She wouldn't have dared to behave towards me as I did towards her.

I felt ashamed. She was harsh, but I knew that her grievances were justified. The disagreeable truth was that I believed I deserved emotional compensation from my married friends because I was single. I was a strong woman, said Rianne. Surely I didn't want her pity? The drubbing hit home. I resolved to be less possessive. Rianne explained that she had to have it out with me because our friendship mattered so much. She did need me after all.

Two months on, and my friendship with Rianne is back on course. But I still haven't spoken to Karen. I want to - I miss her so much. But I'm scared to confront her. Because friends are like so many of the big risks you take in life. Some you win and some you lose.