Herworld (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Clara How was called out by a one-time BFF for not try­ing hard enough in their friend­ship. Like a grown-up, she ditched the so­cial meds and han­dled it face to face.

When my friend Kate* sent me a text say­ing she didn’t think we could be friends any­more, I felt aw­ful. For­mer col­leagues, we were close con­fi­dantes who saw each other both in and out of the of­fice; we even com­ple­mented each other with our dif­fer­ences. She was the per­son I could count on for sound ad­vice, es­pe­cially dur­ing a rough patch when I was dat­ing men I shouldn’t.

When we both left the com­pany, the friend­ship took a hit. We went from tex­ting daily to in­fre­quent check-ins, and only see­ing each other in groups. I sub­con­sciously no­ticed the drift, but hey, I’m a busy (and self­ish) gal!

So when Kate called me out in that text say­ing she felt ex­cluded, and posited that “we were com­rades in arms in the of­fice, but maybe we aren’t a good fit out­side of it”, I was shocked, then ashamed. Be­cause she was right. I had ne­glected to in­vite her to drinks with our ex-col­leagues (ex­cuse: not my gig, I was just a guest). And I had stopped ask­ing about her per­sonal life, to the point of be­ing dis­mis­sive when she did share de­tails. Es­sen­tially, I had stopped be­ing a real friend in just 18 months. My bad.

I had two op­tions: go with what Kate sug­gested (ac­cept that the friend­ship was ka­put), or try to re­vive it. I wouldn’t get a sec­ond chance to sal­vage a friend­ship that had seen me through the tran­si­tions of a new job and be­ing sin­gle af­ter a tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship – I wasn’t ready to see it get buried. So with pride in pocket, I apol­o­gised.

I held back from ask­ing her out im­me­di­ately; go­ing from zero to 100 would seem disin­gen­u­ous. Rather, I texted ev­ery week or so, about books (she rec­om­mended Tash Aw and Jeremy Tiang), and an au­thor’s read­ing we were keen on. I sent her links to fun events; I ini­ti­ated group out­ings. She met me half­way by be­ing re­cep­tive to my in­vi­ta­tions, and even­tu­ally, we eased into din­ners, with a real hu­man con­nec­tion.

It’s a state­ment ev­ery­one un­der­stands in the­ory, but real friend­ships are hard work. You have to carve out the time to meet, keep in touch with tex­ting, and re­mem­ber the lit­tle things like birth­days. If you’re hon­est with your­self and re­alise that you don’t have it in you to main­tain a par­tic­u­lar friend­ship, then it’s just face value, and there’s no point in re­con­nect­ing.

In that case, if you’re as bold as Kate, send a po­lite mes­sage to ex­press that while you cher­ish the good times, the friend­ship might have run its course, and it’s time to “un­friend”. Or if the pair of you haven’t spo­ken in years, you prob­a­bly have a tacit mu­tual agree­ment to leave things be.

If you re­alise that you’re on the brink of los­ing some­one spe­cial, you’ve got to com­mit. Rather than abruptly ask to meet, grad­u­ally up the tex­ting. (Call too abruptly and peo­ple al­ways think you’re try­ing to sell them in­sur­ance!). It also in­di­cates you’re sin­cere in want­ing to find out more about your friend’s life. Even­tu­ally, pin­point a spe­cific date to meet rather than a vague “let’s catch up”.

The ex­pe­ri­ence with Kate also helped me re­con­nect with Melissa*, a child­hood friend I hadn’t spo­ken to in a decade. We had bumped into each other and said the usual “oh we must catch up”, and then… noth­ing. Melissa had been my best friend in pri­mary and se­condary school. What if I was miss­ing out on a great friend­ship in adult­hood? I de­cided to send Melissa a text. (Af­ter all, I’d learnt my les­son with Kate.)

It felt a lit­tle awk­ward at the start, but we seized on books as our convo topic. And af­ter a cou­ple of months of start-stop mes­sages, we man­aged to meet. Now, a year later, we see each other ev­ery cou­ple of weeks.

When I told Kate that I was writ­ing this story, she was gra­cious and of­fered her take: She’d de­cided to be frank be­cause she re­mem­bered how good a friend I had been, and wanted to do some­thing about it. She was pre­pared to let the friend­ship go, but she knew I wasn’t mean­spir­ited and, at the very least, she wanted me to be aware that my ac­tions were hurt­ful.

I asked her how she felt when I started mak­ing an ef­fort again.

“I was touched,” she said with a smile. *Names have been changed.

Life is what hap­pens when you’re busy mak­ing plans with other peo­ple.

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