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When I realised how toxic our friendship was, I knew I had to let it go

It took me more than 20 years to realise that I was in a toxic friendship 
It took me more than 20 years to realise that I was in a toxic friendship  Credit: Ruby Martin/Ruby Martin 

Friendship Files is a new column by Telegraph Family in which people share their friendship dilemmas and experiences. It is published every Monday.  

It took me over two decades to realise that Eve was toxic. Because it’s not always as obvious as a friend sleeping with the man you fancy. (Indeed, another friend actually did sleep with the man I fancied – way back in our selfish twenties – and a quarter of a century on she remains as dear to me as ever.)

But Eve administered her slow poison with such a light and delicate touch that it wasn’t until middle age that I realised she didn’t wish me well. After that, it took a day to decide I didn’t want to speak to her ever again. 

We met in our twenties, through mutual friends. She was fun, thoughtful, erudite, with an acid sense of humour. We’d go to clubs together, and out to eat.

It was the cosy kind of friendship where you both moan about certain people, agree that we were long-suffering and they were awful, laugh a lot, and trot home happy.

Neither of us got along with our fathers, and I felt we understood each other, and the pain of it.

I don’t expect perfection from friends. We all disappoint, we’re all slightly selfish now and then. But when you know instinctively that a friend isn’t malicious, most petty hurts are forgivable.

When they show in many other ways that they cherish you, you tolerate their foibles, accept that errors of judgement are human.

With Eve, it was different. I see now that she felt a degree of ownership. She held my mischievous youthful behaviour in strangely puritan judgement, and had strong views about what I deserved. Yet this wasn’t obvious as so much of the time she was kind and supportive.

There were exceptions. When I told her I was pregnant with my first child, she was sullen. It turned out she’d been trying to conceive for a while. But it wasn’t only that – I realised she thought I wasn’t maternal (unlike her.) To be deemed unworthy of my baby felt as ugly as a curse. But eventually she became pregnant – with twins, no less – and her ill will was glossed over. 

Some hurts don’t heal. We have different ethnicities, and once I sensed a hint of prejudice. I expressed my deep displeasure, and she apologised.

I sometimes got the impression she disapproved of my lifestyle but the slights were so ethereal – she wasn’t purposely spiteful, but she was rigid - she’d come for tea, and not eat because, one presumes, cake was fattening. The criticism felt implicit. 

Parenthood meant we saw each other less frequently, but we kept in touch.

She liked to hear gossip about my personal life, but was tight-lipped about hers – I started to feel the inequality and it was dull and oddly offensive. And yet, a person’s familiarity can deceive you into believing they’re a comfort.

Then, 10 years ago I hit a difficult patch career-wise. We met for lunch. Eve is in academia, and I wondered aloud about training to teach. She replied that I probably could,  ‘They just let anyone become teachers these days.’

I also mentioned that things were tight financially. At some point, she spoke about her many holidays and how the children were used to their hotels being luxurious. Yet somehow it was all perfectly amicable. She even offered me a lift home afterwards.

For the rest of the day I couldn’t understand why I felt so bad. My subconscious was in recoil but my brain was slow to catch up.

When it did I thought ‘I’m never going to see you again.’

She contacted me several times. I was always busy.

She eventually got the message, but never asked why. Perhaps she knew.

Actually, I did see her again, a few weeks ago. I’d taken my son to a museum, and she was there. My instinct was to smile, go over, say hello. I’m glad I didn’t. I have the faintest feeling that she spotted me. But not once did she look my way.

Do you have advice for our writer, or know anyone who has been through something similar? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Read last week's Friendship Files column here:

My friend judges my decision to send my children to state school - and it's ruined our friendship  Credit: Ruby Martin /Ruby Martin