'If my Whatsapp was hacked and my screenshots were revealed I'd be in a lot trouble with the friends I secretly hate'
Hundreds of surveys are released every week, but occasionally, one of them really hits home.
This week, my social-media timelines were flooded by different takes on the same study from the universities of Tel Aviv and Massachusetts — which claims only half of the people you consider to be your friends, actually are.
Like any normal person, the study left me wondering who, among my mates, might secretly hate me.
I scanned my phone looking for ignored messages or snarky comments, racking my mind for who didn’t turn up to my birthday party.
But you know what I didn’t do until much later? I didn’t ask myself why I’m holding on to people that I secretly hate. But I’ve done it. And I bet you have too.
If my WhatsApp conversations with my best friends were published, they’d make the hacked Sony emails look like a little bit of a slip. They’re laden with screenshots, comments and voice notes about our mutual acquaintances who’ve rubbed us up the wrong way. But when I see those same people at social events? It’s all air-kisses and “I love your new hair!”
I’m not a totally heinous person. But there are a handful of women who I’ve continued to be friends with, despite the fact I don’t really like them.
In a couple of cases, it’s been about the longevity of the friendship. Researchers have claimed that if a friendship lasts longer than seven years, it’s likely to continue throughout your life.
If that’s true, I reckon it’s got less to do with Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants-style camaraderie, and more to with nostalgia, and guilt about ending something so long-standing.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve complained about a particular pal, only to finish the conversation with “but we’ve been friends for so long”.
When someone’s seen you through side-fringes and virginity-loss, it can seem impossible or even cruel to get rid of them. Which is how I found myself having drinks and lunches with one particular friend who made me feel awful about myself — and made snarky comments about my boyfriend.
But how do you throw something that long-lasting away?
Maybe the biggest reason we get stuck spending time with people we can’t stand is because there’s no ritual in our culture to get rid of friends. I’ve put up with behaviour from certain friends (or, thankfully, now ex-friends) that I would never have accepted from a boyfriend.
But there’s no such thing as a friendship break-up. You don’t take your girlfriends to dinner to explain to them you like them but you’ve changed as a person and you need space. Maybe if such a tradition did exist, we wouldn’t find ourselves lumbered with frenemies in the first place. And for those who have done it? They say it was harder and more painful than any relationship break-up.
On some level, I’m making excuses for myself. Yes, I’ve kept friends long past their sell-by dates for noble reasons, but sometimes it’s been a lot more selfish than that.
Because, whisper it, bonding over a shared hatred of someone is one of the strongest connections you can have with a friend.
Two women I know found themselves stuck in an awkward conversation at a drinks party until they realised neither of them could stand a mutual friend. Since then, they’ve become besties, sharing yoga classes and secrets. They’ve moved way past a shared loathing — but that doesn’t negate what they first bonded over, and I’ve done the exact same thing in the past.
I’m going to lay my cards on the table: I love a good bitch, and the advent of social media has made the remit of our gossip infinitely wider. We’ve got viewfinders into other people’s lives. Whether it’s sharing Facebook screenshots from racist school friends, or spending a night out discussing someone’s obviously posed holiday snaps, it’s cathartic, it’s natural and I reckon it’s pretty normal.
One thing it isn’t is purposeless. If you’re doing it a lot — or it’s not about minor things — it usually means something, and acknowledging that can be a powerful watershed.
After my boyfriend pointed out that I’d complained about the same friend over and over again, I was forced to ask myself why.
I realised every time I’d seen that person in the last year, I’d come away feeling bad about myself, and because of that, I really didn’t like her anymore. Whether it was announcing that I’d signed with a literary agent or got engaged, she’d made snarky comments one too many times, and I’d lost my ability to brush it off. So even though it caused drama and fall-out, the friendship had to end.
Doing nothing about a difficult friendship, aside from bitching, is pretty normal, even if it’s not A-grade behaviour.
But if you consistently leave social occasions with that friend feeling worse about yourself? Then it’s time to stop telling other people you don’t like that person — and tell them to their face. Chances are, the feeling is entirely mutual.