Our eyes locked as we were introduced, and when we shook hands and smiled at each other I felt a little buzz. I didn't mean for it to happen, I honestly didn't. But then we started talking and laughing and getting along like a house on fire. And very soon we were meeting up for coffee, and then a drink, and then, inevitably, we found ourselves in that most compromising and illicit of situations - a night in the 151. And then all hell broke loose.
Let's call her Olivia. Olivia and I were introduced by a mutual friend who brought her along to my husband's birthday party - we like to say she crashed it, only because she's the kind of person who would never crash a party. Olivia was fairly new to London socially and back in those days my husband and I went out a lot, both together and separately - life before kids - and were happy to meet new people. Olivia and I soon started meeting along with the person who introduced us, let's call her Mary. The three of us had a great time together, but Mary had an even busier social life, and soon it was just the two of us meeting up, although, and this is relevant: Mary was always invited.
As it happens with most good relationships, the more time you spend together, the more time you want to spend together, and in the case with Olivia, I soon grew to love her and she became one of my closest friends. Despite coming from entirely different backgrounds and not always having an enormous amount in common, there was an attraction and a joy in each other's company that perhaps emanated from a fascination with each other's differences. But also there was and is a shared love and enjoyment of many things and probably mutual values that are difficult to articulate here, but certainly things that have sustained our friendship.
My growing friendship with Olivia contributed towards the eventual disintegration of her relationship with Mary. And as things took on a bitter downward spiral between them, I did reflect as to whether or not I had somehow contributed towards this dynamic. Could I have done something differently? Not continued to see Olivia? Should I have made a choice between them? I felt absurd even thinking about such things, but it also almost felt that it was expected of me. I subsequently maintained my friendship with both, which was probably difficult for each of them. I like to think even in the briefest of descriptions here, the organic nature of relationships and how they develop hopefully goes some way to illustrating that you cannot reduce human relations, how they form and how they break, to such a crude sentiment as 'stealing a friend'.
Some time later I suppose you can say I was on the receiving end of all of this. A person I introduced to my group of girlfriends decided that I was too bourgeois, self possessed, boring, lacking in ambition, obtuse, trivial, (I'm guessing here because I never did get the courtesy of a concise reason) dumped me as a friend. In the run up to being dumped I remember a particular evening where I had to endure this person making it very clear that she was bored and resentful in my company. There's something very menacing and heart breaking when you come to realise that someone you consider to be a friend actually resents you. I think I have some idea of what Caesar must have felt like. Bloody Brutus.
After getting pregnant with my first child, I didn't hear from her again until some years later when we were both invited to the same function. Nervous ahead of what I imagined to be an awkward encounter, I sent a message to her extending an olive branch and was told via text that as far as she was concerned we had nothing in common and she had no interest in my friendship. I don't recall offering my friendship but it was more along the lines of: 'If we are both going to be at this function I'd like it to be cordial and friendly, and I hope life is treating you well.' But her acerbic unfeeling response was a reminder that by not having her in my life in the intervening years, I had in fact lost nothing.
And while I was not worthy of her friendship, apparently some of the people I had introduced her to, for a while at least, were. I'd be lying if I said that it didn't upset me that they continued to be friends with someone who had behaved in such a hurtful manner towards me, and that I didn't hope for better judgment on their part. But I reminded myself that I didn't have any right to dictate who my friends were friends with, and maybe she was a different person with them, and maybe I had contributed to the breakdown in that relationship too. And as long as she wasn't poisoning my name to my friends, it wasn't my business. Recently a mutual friend told me their friendship had fizzled as they found her far too self centred. And yes, that did give me a small degree of satisfaction. Horrible to admit, and probably juvenile on my part, but I think all of us feel somewhat vindicated when someone other than us has an opinion that we might otherwise have thought ours only. That perhaps outside of us and our projections sometimes a person just is, objectively speaking, a bit of a shit.
In subsequent years the people I see and socialise with has greatly reduced because I have children and I get a night out a week, maybe, and that's usually with my husband and we have to get a sitter. I know I need to get out more independently because it sure beats the hell out of being passed out on the sofa by 8.30pm in stretch pants with the kids still running around when they should be in bed. But more positively, I'm at a point in my life now where I know who my friends are, and I am confident with that. There is also no way in hell I would put up with someone's bad behaviour on a night out. Maybe it comes from being a parent to small children, but your bullshit tolerance dramatically reduces. If someone was behaving like a brat I'd get my purse and leave. Life is too short, as is my free time, and I don't want to spend it with someone who doesn't want to spend it with me. What's the point?
Some of the mothers I am friends with sometimes get together for lunches or dinners or a playdate and I am not always invited, and it's fine. Likewise I cannot always include all of them in a single sitting and I see them separately. I like to think that if someone has a problem with me they will tell me, and we see each other when we can and we get on with our lives. Some of my friends live in other countries and we occasionally talk via Skype, email or on the phone. Sometimes we don't talk for months. They have whole new lives outside of me with a whole new circle of friends - people they shop with, people they have dinner and drinks with, people they confide in. I am no longer their best friend any more. And again, that's genuinely OK with me. How could it not be? How could you not wish the people you love anything but good friends and support in their lives, especially when you are not there to provide it? What I know is that when we are together, in whatever capacity, we meet, and in that moment, it's as though no time has passed at all. Because good friendship endures in this way.
Certainly I know friends that are still part of a wider social circuit that feel the brunt of so-called friend stealers. People who have an almost ambitious and ruthless attitude to collecting people and intentionally excluding the person that introduced them. My reaction to this is that it says more about them than it does about you. Basically they are still behaving as though they were in junior school, and lest we forget, kids can be cruel right? I would also like to think that people who were genuine friends of mine would see through this and not participate. Good friends don't simply dump you in favour of the next best thing, and if they do, well, they aint your friend.