The dilemma One of my best friend’s boyfriends broke up with her 18 months ago, after 12 years together. She was utterly devastated. Since the break-up she has been going out clubbing several times a week and every weekend. I am one of the few in her circle who still indulges her and I try to go out with her as often as I can.
The problem is I don’t enjoy the party lifestyle any more. I thought it would be a phase that would wear off but, a year and a half on, she continues to go out all the time and invites me on most occasions. She complains that her other friends have children and don’t want to go out, but I don’t want to be the “party friend” all the time.
I’m happily married and would much prefer for our friendship to revert to how it was – a proper relationship, not just being her wingman when she wants to let loose. I fear for her health, mental and physical, as we all do, but if I say anything I fear I will lose her friendship. How should I tell her about my concern without losing her?
Mariella replies You could start with some facts. Does she realise that once you are past your mid-20s the chances of bumping into a new partner in a nightclub are as likely as stumbling across a unicorn? Careering around at midnight on a week night, you’ll find only fellow castaways from love’s bitter skirmishes, self-medicating for the unbearable pain of rejection with the well-established if ineffective anaesthetic cocktail of loud music, drink and drugs.
You shouldn’t kick a person when they’re down but preferably you wouldn’t meet them when they are down, either. A decent union depends on an equality of engagement that’s unavailable with lost lovers still nursing a broken heart. Surrounded by the disconsolate and youngsters who still have the constitution to stay up all night and make it to work the next day, your friend is simply fulfilling the destiny of the romantically dispossessed.
I certainly feel for her. The bitter pill of heartbreak is one very compelling reason to endure the repetitive rigours of lifelong commitment (sorry, Husb). It’s so ubiquitous an emotion that both Sheryl Crow and then Coldplay used the lyrics: “Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be this hard.” Yet any self-pity for the lot of the conspicuously coupled evaporates when I see a ditched lover and am reminded of the sharp and enduring agony of abandonment.
There will come a day when she’ll wake up and realise that there’s a whole world out there for her to reacquaint herself with and it’s a darn sight more interesting in daylight. She’s clearly not feeling that blast of freedom just yet.
But enough of her! Let’s think about you. We don’t want you to be like a Titanic band member sinking slowly and heroically into the murky depths in the name of duty. Your happy marriage can only endure so many nights of caring camaraderie before it, too, will suffer the strain of divided loyalties. You say you are one of the last in your circle still prepared to accompany her, so it sounds like she’s reaching the end of her line of credit. Is it worth having a chat with the others still offering themselves as playmates, as a group intervention is sometimes easier than an individual one? Confronting her with your reluctance to continue dancing around your handbags and explaining why you feel it is destructive behaviour seem to me to be the very essence of friendship.
Diplomacy can be maintained in the wider world, but with those we care for I’ve always believed it’s our duty to speak our minds, as gently as possible, but also with conviction. Friendship shouldn’t be based on endless self-sacrifice, or buttoning your lip, but on coveted elements such as honesty, empathy and a desire to do what’s right rather than what’s easiest. It seems to me that friendship is too precious to pollute with secrets, and the best demonstration of devotion is to speak up and tell her not only that these party nights have lost their shimmer, but that she will, too, if she carries on as the last swinger in town.
You say you fear losing her, but the worth of a friendship is far better evaluated by what you’ll risk for it than by your commitment to maintaining the status quo. Why don’t you try to come up with a more stimulating way of keeping her busy? Embrace the theatre, become an independent film anorak, start watching bands again, learn to kickbox, start a book club with her or suggest a spa weekend instead of a toxin-loading one. There are plenty of other ways to while away an evening.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m endlessly disappointed that the over-40s seem to prefer watching the dance floor to gracing it, but the rarity of opportunity to let rip is also an enticement. A thrice-weekly appointment would dent the dancing shoes of even the most enthusiastic party-goer and is very unlikely to add new lustre to your friend’s love life.