Memoir: Where Did Our Friendship Go Wrong?

Chalk it up to bad judgment, a momentary lapse that was punished by total rejection. The story of how a painful rift helped one woman become a better friend

by Jacquelyn Mitchard
jacquelyn mitchard image
The writer at her former home in Wisconsin with her ever-loyal friend Hobbes
Photograph: © James Schnepf

Queen Elizabeth, my husband called her, with just the slightest zest of envy, as I went on and on about something that Liz had quoted or worn or cooked to absolute perfection. Despite our manifest differences in temperature (she was lime sorbet, and I was, perhaps, wasabi), we intersected at so many more places than most friends do: Since Liz writes plays, in addition to performing all over the world, and I write books and
essays, we share much that pertains to both occupations. We’re happiest en route to new destinations, at home completely out of our natural habitat and preferably swimming underwater. She once told me a story about one of her sons that made me laugh so hard, I had to drive off onto a country road and pee in the bushes. I sent her lavender when her screenplay was optioned. She brought me chocolate when the IVF failed.

After our falling-out, it would be days before I realized Liz was refusing my calls.

I thought she was just busy or traveling with her husband, Charles. Liz had never let a day go by without returning my call.
When two days turned into three and then five, I couldn’t believe it. Was she actually mad at me for bringing up the surgery Anthony had had to straighten his nose and give him a perfectly patrician profile? I’m sure Anthony hadn’t told everyone he knew, but his nose job was no big secret.

Lizzie mine, I wanted to cry, is this fair? Her son wasn’t a high school boy; he was a grown man, if a young one. And he was the one who brought up appearances!

After an earlier misunderstanding, Liz and I had vowed total honesty in our relationship, swearing that if either of us was ever angry, we’d talk it out, then and there. This time, Liz wrote me a letter, which took yet another seven days or so to arrive. By then, I was too hurt and outraged to open it. Instead, furious that she would drop me over what seemed a trifle, I had fired off the lowest form of human communication, the excoriating e‑mail, accusing Liz of being stingy both emotionally and financially—reminding her that when we invited her and her husband for dinner, we served steak and Brie; they served soup and salad. I gave her a luxurious shawl for Christmas; she gave me a mug.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you know you’re wrong, then you realize you may be seriously wrong, but you’re in so deep you can’t stop and you keep blundering on, hoping you’ll stumble over a justification?

This was like that.

Slowly, it came to me that I’d crossed a line in reprimanding her son. Even though he had insulted me, Liz’s maternal feelings would never permit her to take my side. Still, she owed me some loyalty. First, in a short, affectionate e-mail, I reminded her of that promise about total honesty. Then I reconsidered, quickly sending a handwritten note wishing her well and asserting that nothing more needed to be said. In truth, I wanted this episode to die a quick death with no postmortem. I didn’t want to hear what I suspected would be a litany of my failings.

And then, nothing. A silence that would never end. Was I expecting it? Of course not! Shattered, wanting only Liz, I told myself that if I had kept my temper in the first place (I was in the right, sort of, but who cared?), I might have kept her, too.

First published in the July/August 2012 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Maricia Johns07.15.2012

Hello, I loved the article and in fact wrote about it on my blog. Take a look.

Marie 07.06.2012

This article really hit home, as I recently ended a 20+ year friendship. But I was on the other side of the fence - I was the one who walked away. My friend had been through tough times, financially, maritally, emotionally, and I'd stood by her. Yet for several years I'd had an increasingly uneasy feeling when I saw or talked to her. The worse things became in her life, the more she put down others, and the more she insisted she 'deserved' things like a trip to Italy and a luxury car, when she hadn't even been able to pay her property taxes in a year. She took that trip and bought numerous items she could not afford, then cried to me that she didn't have the money to take her cat to the vet or to fix her washing machine. Annoying, but we'd been through so much, I didn't speak up. Then she did the unforgiveable - in an email. Her son had gone on a campus visit to the college my son attends. Her email explained, in most insulting terms, that the school was just not good enough for her child. (I think the exact words were "He saw so many kids who could have been cast on Jersey Shore. Now he knows why Snooki spoke there.") That was the last straw. I never replied to her email, and I never called her again. I don't wish her any ill will, I just don't need someone like that in my life any longer. It took a few months for her to realize she was no longer a part of my life. She invited me to her son's graduation party (I declined) and called a month later to ask a favor (I declined). I never gave an explanation - I didn't feel obligated to do so. She had violated our friendship so thoroughly, there was no turning back. So I hope that my friend learned the same lesson as Ms. Mitchard. To keep a friend you need to be a true fried.

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