An illustration of two female silhouettes. One silhouette is normal, while the other has Devil horns and a tail, indicating a toxic friendship.
Carolyn Sewell
Carolyn Sewell
Relationships

The Moment I Knew My Best Friend Was Toxic

She was my maid of honor, my sister from another mister. Until she lashed out at me in a way she knew would hurt most.

It started when my marriage went sour. As the temperature at home dropped below freezing, I turned to the person I trusted most in the world — my maid of honor, my confidante, my sister from another mister — for support.

And got hit by an avalanche.

First, there was criticism — the backhanded kind that can sound like a compliment until the knife goes in. When I talked about how lonely I felt as my husband withdrew, Lisa* said, “You’re so successful, he probably feels unnecessary.” Another winner: “It’s not like you have time for him.”

Then there was anger. Suddenly everything I wanted from my marriage was unreasonable. “You have to cut him some slack,” she told me when he didn’t show up —  didn’t show up — for Thanksgiving dinner. When I mourned the fact that I hadn’t had sex for three months, she shot back, “Try three years.”

It’s not like our friendship was one-sided. I’d helped her through a job layoff, fertility issues and much more. I was in the room when she delivered her son; her husband, feeling squeamish, had gone to get pizza.

We shared a babysitter, a food co-op membership and a collection of costume jewelry. We even shopped together, which — for those of us in the size-14-and-up club — can be more intimate and revealing than a bikini wax. No one else, including my husband, knew the waistband measurement of my jeans.

Lisa’s marriage wasn’t perfect, either. She confided issues that were similar to mine: She resented being the breadwinner and felt neglected by her spouse. Like me, her husband’s role in the so-called partnership was chief critic. As my therapist put it, “You should think about why you are willing to settle for so little.”

I did think about it, for years. Until I finally summoned the courage to reach out for more.

In retrospect, I see that Lisa was angry because I’d upset the status quo. Instead of huddling together in the foxhole of our failed marriages, swapping wisecracks over too much wine, I made a break for it. In return, she lashed out at me in a way she knew would hurt most. Belittled my pain. Ignored my calls. And refused to discuss what was happening to our friendship.

She wound things up with a big finale: A month after the divorce, she invited my ex-husband and kids to Thanksgiving dinner without me.

That was the end. We didn’t speak for eight years, during which I met and married a loving, attentive man with a large family of his own. Our Thanksgivings are hectic and boisterous, and my kids would never dream of missing them.

Recently, out of the blue, Lisa emailed asking if I could recommend a vet for her ailing cat. I sent a name, adding that I wondered if she’d given any thought to what had passed between us. She responded with an angry note saying she couldn’t believe I would ask such a callous question while she was distraught over her pet.

Still crazy after all these years.

*Names and some details have been changed.

Illustration by Carolyn Sewell

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An illustration of two female silhouettes. One silhouette is normal, while the other has Devil horns and a tail, indicating a toxic friendship.
Carolyn Sewell