Hellos and Goodbyes

FS Ashaolu

It wasn’t until a year ago that I became aware of how my heart raced whenever a friend did not pick up my calls or reply to my texts. A text that was not replied to or a missed call sent my imagination spiralling out of control. I would imagine that the most terrible thing had happened to them or that they had decided to stop being friends with me. 

I have known that I have abandonment issues since I was a teenager. I knew that my fear of people and things leaving and never coming back was abnormal. I knew it was not normal how personally I took it when I could not find my things or when it seemed like a friendship was coming to an end. It was certainly not normal how I avoided letting people in, people who would have been amazing friends to me if I had given them a chance.

This irrational fear of losing people and things is reflected in virtually every aspect of my life, even in my behaviour as a consumer. I can never have just one brand of toothpaste in my bathroom or one pair of bathroom slippers. I need to have many others waiting for the one in use to run out because the thought of waking up one day and seeing that I don’t have any is terrifying. I need to always have a replacement waiting for when whatever I own breaks, spoils, or is exhausted. When I am buying something, my mind starts making plans to buy another one. If I cannot replace something when it is nearing its end, I avoid buying it. 

They say a person develops the fear of abandonment after losing someone significant to them.

I remember losing someone as a child. She said she was going to come back, promised to buy me ribbons and earrings when she returned, but she never did, and I blamed myself for that. All I am left with are memories of her signature bright red lipstick, which she painted only on her bottom lip, her light, sunburnt skin, and her slender body. I have since lived my life in fear that someone was going to leave, again.

Friendship goals.

Friendships have always been a big deal to me, in a way that even romantic relationships are not. I gave up on romantic love before I ever loved anyone in that way. It did not help that I grew up watching TV shows like Girlfriends, Single Ladies and Mistresses, where women showed up for and supported one another fiercely. The message I got from watching these shows was that your friends would never leave you. Men can leave you, parents may not understand you, and siblings may not share your interests, but friends are like family, the family that you can be real with. Knowing that friends would not leave, I poured more into my friendships. I became more invested in my friendships than I was in any other relationship. I fantasised regularly about having friendships like the ones I watched on TV, dreamt of owning a large apartment with a friend, starting a business with another friend, and growing old with them.The way they say women dream of their wedding day and marriage was how I dreamt of vacationing with my friends, experiencing life together, and having the time of our lives. 

Friends can break your heart too.

The problem with projecting your dreams and fantasies onto a person rather than seeing them for the flawed human that they are is that you will end up thoroughly disappointed. I am guilty of often being so excited about my friends and getting so lost in what we could be that I pay little attention to what we are at that moment or simply refuse to see it. As with any situation where one person is projecting their fantasies onto the other person, I, more often than not, end up getting hurt.

As women, we are mostly raised to maintain good relationships with everyone except other women. Many women don’t know how to be friends with other women. The only women that women are encouraged to respect and befriend are women in close proximity to men they love or admire. It is not uncommon to see people discourage women from maintaining close ties with their mothers after marriage, but they are encouraged to love their mothers-in-law wholeheartedly and deeply respect their sisters-in-law and pastors’ wives. There are too many movies and novels out there about close female friends betraying each other, all ending with a not-so-subtle warning that the next woman could be your nightmare. People say all the time that women with fewer friends make better wives. It goes on and on. People are certainly not rooting for female friendships. Many women have had to consciously unlearn seeing women as competitors and archenemies. Many are more open to having female friendships but still secretly struggle with feelings of animosity and jealousy toward their friends. Some others are only open to being friends with other women to the extent of their singleness. They are good friends to their female friends but only for as long as they are not in a relationship or married. 

Since not a lot of women I know share my Girlfriends fantasy, I deal with too much unrequited love and effort in friendships and often get heartbroken. 

How does my fear of abandonment show up in my female friendships?

Navigating friendships from a place of fear is a terrible, terrible thing. Having a fear of abandonment meant that I woke up every day with a deep-seated fear that my friends would somehow disappear. Either something terrible would happen to them and I would never see them again or they would forget that I existed or just never want to speak to me again. For years, this fear affected how I related with my friends and what I was willing to give up to stay friends with them. 

Friendship vacancy

Just like with toothpaste, I had a weird compulsion to replace friends as soon as I sensed that we were soon going to stop being friends. 

The sacrificial lamb

I believe I am naturally a generous person. I give freely of myself and my resources and will continue to do so, but there are times when I have done so not from a place of goodness but of fear. I either felt that not giving would spell the end of a friendship or that giving would make it difficult for the receiving friend to stop being friends with me. Then at least they would want to keep being friends with me because of what I had done for them. 

Never confronting friends

This fear has also prevented me from confronting my friends for a long time. I am a confrontational person. I will not look away if I feel I am being disrespected by someone. I have spoken up for myself and others and even stood up to people in authority and those who could harm me, not minding what the consequences may be. It is a whole different game when I feel disrespected by my friends. Even when a friend does something so terrible that I would rather not be friends with them anymore. I resort to passive-aggressive actions like ignoring them, rolling my eyes or generally giving an attitude rather than confronting them about what they have done. I knew how fast confrontations spiralled out of control. I did not trust myself not to say things that would mark the permanent end of our friendship, and I was never willing to risk it, so I always chose to keep the peace. The funny thing though about refusing to speak your mind to keep the peace is that you never really get the peace you want. All never confronting my friends did was make me a resentful person, someone who had a lot to say to her friends but never did. Sometimes, with some friends, it became too unbearable that I avoided them completely and still do as I write this. 

Messiah complex

As the friend who was always ready to pick up the broken pieces even if they could cut me, I naturally developed a messiah complex. It is a lot harder, after all, for friends to never leave you if they are dependent on you to fix them. I was drawn to people with lots of emotional issues. I wanted to fix them and have them forever indebted to me. What this did was create unhealthy friendship dynamics for me, where I was always the shoulder to cry on but never the one crying. I learnt that sometimes, people are so used to you being a problem-solver that they are irritated by your problems. 

Outgrowing friendships? 

On one hand, I was very interested in growing so I would not be outgrown, but on the other hand, I was genuinely scared of growth because I worried about what it would do to my friendships. 

People talk about friends leaving you behind when they make more money or attain more success but rarely ever talk about how friends become intimidated by you when you start to succeed. I have listened to Oprah talk many times about how some of her friends started to treat her differently when she started to make a lot of money. For a long while, I secretly wished my friends would become more successful and make more money so I never aroused any envy in them. I only realised how weirdly unsettling it was to feel that way when I figured I was not different from women who say they want to make money but not too much so they do not intimidate male suitors. 

I then progressed into someone obsessed with making my friends succeed too. I don’t think it is wrong to be invested in the growth of my friends, but constantly trying to micromanage every bit of their lives to make sure that they caught up with my ambitions was unhealthy.

Then versus now

Confronting how my fear of abandonment was showing up in my friendships was difficult, but like Gloria Steinem rightly said, “The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off.”

As a consumer, I still very much panic-buy, but as a friend, I try as much as I can to keep the fear out. I have found that the best way to stop living in fear of losing something is to lose it. I have let go of all the friendships that I was terrified of losing, and I am still alive. All my worst fears about friendships have come to pass, but I am still here. I no longer look for friendship replacements. I don’t feel a compulsion to fill up a friendship vacancy anymore. 

I am more comfortable with my aloneness. 

I am able to imagine a future where I vacation alone. I imagine being alone in a different place, eating their food, relaxing in my hotel room with a great view of the city and a good book in my hands. I am content with experiencing life alone.

I no longer try to micromanage my friends. 

I am the friend you want to come to when you need encouragement, but I no longer play the friend-manager role. I leave it completely up to my friends to decide what success means to them and to decide if they want to pursue it or not. I am aware that my success may arouse envy in some but even more aware that envious people do not need to be less successful to be envious. Most importantly, I know I have no place in my heart and life for a friend who is jealous of me. 

I allow myself to enjoy amorous love.

I have certainly made the mistake of trying to make my female friends into lovers. Now I make a clear distinction. I realise how important it is to have that balance in place. I don’t believe that your partner(s) can be your friend-friend, but I also don’t believe that a friend can be a partner. I am also learning to be more tolerant in amorous relationships, to extend more grace to men, and enjoy my time with them.

Whatever will be, will be.

I let the chips fall where they may. I still sometimes feel that something must have happened when my friends do not pick up my calls, but I don’t feel a deep sense of dread. Instead, I surrender. I let myself rest knowing that even if that were the case, we will all be alright. There is really nothing anyone can do to make anyone want to stick around forever. I try to be the best friend I can be, but I am also careful not to do anything from a place of fear or control. People leave. People will always leave, and they have that right. 

The most empowering feeling of all is the understanding that I too could leave. I enjoy experiencing women, and I still want to have a great friendship love story, but I understand now that even the most fairytale friendship cannot fix me or fill that hole that may always be there.

FS Ashaolu is a woman in her 20s, aware that the world lied and it is not possible that these are the best years of her life. She writes, cooks, reads, and occasionally listens to Matilda and Brenda Fassie.


*Image by Oluwakemi Solaja on Unsplash

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