Two weeks ago, I reached out to my ex-best friend Sarah* on Instagram. We hadn’t spoken in nearly seven years, but between the ages of seven to 12 we were inseparable. Now, aged 22, I still remember her home phone number. How she would defend me from a mean girl in Year 4. How she would hide in my wardrobe when her dad came to pick her up after a sleepover. Her brother’s christening. Her friendship meant everything to me. It was the first time I had a best friend, who considered me her best friend too.
When we were 12, after moving to secondary school with new students, Sarah became pretty and popular. Seemingly overnight, she was indoctrinated into the popular crowd, invited to parties, whispered about. We were no longer friends, and I had to absorb information about her through gossip and social media. We never had a big argument like Janice and Cady in Mean Girls, we just stopped talking one day. Throughout school, we’d see each other, make polite conversation, and even be friendly, but we weren’t friends.
Essentially, our friendship ended because she ‘glowed up’ while I was relegated to obscurity, no glow up in sight. I was sad to lose her. I constantly compared myself to her and her new friends, wondering how I could make myself worthy of Sarah’s friendship and status.
“Essentially, our friendship ended because she ‘glowed up’ while I was relegated to obscurity, no glow up in sight.”
This constant comparison and need to be popular was unhealthy, to say the least, and led to severe anxiety and insecurity over my friendships. I was constantly wary of whether friends would ditch me, like Sarah had, once they realised I wasn’t ‘cool’ or ‘pretty’ or ‘interesting’. Only recently, through therapy and a lot of introspection, have I started to deal with those feelings of insecurity. I now recognise my self-worth does not come from the acceptance of others. It’s extremely difficult to overcome these issues, even as an adult, and you find them rearing their head at odd times.
Every time I return to my home town and see people from high school, I still feel like the ugly, weird 12-year-old with braces and weird highlights. Someone who wasn’t worth being friends with. I’ve convinced myself that’s what they see when they look at me, despite my own ‘glow up’.
I’m lucky to now have wonderful friends, people who would never ditch me for something so insignificant as popularity. Many of these friends told me not to message Sarah, worried that I would get hurt, just as I had all those years ago.
“Every time I return to my home town and see people from high school, I still feel like that ugly, weird 12-year-old kid”
I wanted to message Sarah in the first place because 2020 has been a shitshow of a year. And with so much suffering and death for many in the world, I wanted to see how she was. The petty squabbles from childhood didn’t seem so important anymore, and I still cared about her wellbeing.
For months, I put the idea out of my mind and didn’t think about messaging Sarah. What if she did reject me again? What if she hated the idea of being in the same city, let alone getting a coffee with me, the insecure 12-year-old she already fobbed off once?
As I turned 22 three weeks ago, I realised that a lot has changed in ten years. I have accomplished and changed a lot since Sarah and I stopped being friends, as I’m sure has she. The life that I’ve built for myself here in London will not be toppled by a girl I last saw seven years ago. So, I sent the message. I asked her how she was doing, and whether she would want to get a coffee post-lockdown.
“The life that I’ve built for myself here in London will not be toppled by a girl I last saw seven years ago.”
She didn’t reply. But guess what? I was fine. The sky hadn’t fallen, everything was still standing, I wasn’t a wreck of a person. I sent the message to her to prove that I had the courage to do so. That I wasn’t the same girl she knew back in school. Whether or not she replied would not change that. I put myself out there for me, not for her.
Sarah finally responded just two days ago with one of those excuses we’ve all used when we couldn’t be bothered to reply. But I didn’t hold it against her. I was pleased that she did want to meet up, but whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
Either way, reaching out to Sarah marked another step of an ongoing positive change in my life. I was able to move on from the past, and start a new relationship with her that is based on equal footing, not one of popularity. The courage and bravery I mustered up in sending that first message has cemented who I am, and how much I’ve changed since I was 12.
*Name has been changed
Michele Theil is a freelance journalist based in London, with bylines in gal-dem, The Independent, Pink News and Vice. @micheletheil
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