Growing up, I did not know what a safe space felt or looked like, but I yearned for a safe person, not because I wanted to share my deepest, darkest secrets but for the comfort of being listened to. In the absence of this opportunity to be vulnerable, I decided to be a safe space for those around me. I would nurture my friendships and build bonds thicker than blood. What I didn’t know, as I opened myself up to this, was the potential for mistakes and heartbreaks.
Somewhere along the line I lost my faith in sisterhood, and it has taken some time to learn how to navigate through these chartered waters all over again.
The thing with men hurting women is that they are livid, brute, and violent. But women are subtle and clean in their destruction. It is like a knife whose blade has been sharpened to such perfection that it will slice through your defences, and it will be a long while before you realise what happened.
My first experience of a friendship heartbreak was back in grade nine, over a decade ago, yet I remember the pain of the moment, a sharp knife in the back, like it was just yesterday. I lost my friend to a new friend who didn’t like my bluntness with words. Was I to make myself small, so another person could feel big? This is just one of many similar events, yet I still find myself forming new bonds with other women.
Friendships with women are the most intimate, raw and unfiltered I’ve ever had. But they are also the ones which hurt me the most.
For the years that followed, until the pandemic, I continued to be the friend who showed up come rain, come sunshine, yet I remained the invisible friend. Sometimes I wonder if this repeated narrative stems from my lacking knowledge of what a healthy relationship dynamic looks like or from my constantly trying to save others the pain of not having a safe space available to them. I’m still seeking answers to this.
Every time I sit down to write about a whirlwind romantic love or of childhood trauma, the words just seem to flow. Perhaps because I’ve made peace with those emotions, the feelings are easier to explain now. I’ve been through the whole drill: pain, suffering, healing, therapy, growth, journalling. But when I sit to write about female friendships, a heavy lump forms in my throat, my voice cracks, my head throbs, and my eyes fill with tears.
How do I explain that in a world full of filters, sisterhood remains the most unfiltered part of my heart?
How do I explain that though we are no longer a part of each other’s lives, I often wonder about you?
These heartbreaks led me on a journey of learning about myself and relationships. Though I always showed up, this journey taught me that some people are not made for deep conversations, for helping you hold it together, for lending a shoulder when words fail you or talking you through when suicidal thoughts take over, or loving you through the low moments of your life. They are simply people who you meet on the journey towards becoming the most authentic version of yourself. They are made for shallow conversations, banter and nothing more. And this is more than okay because we are all a force of our own and some people are not equipped to handle a storm like us.
It doesn’t make them terrible people, neither does it make you one.
Friendship heartbreaks taught me to be smart.
The sooner I accepted them as written – the Qadr of Allah – I started to feel comfortable. This doesn’t mean I haven’t cried or have forgiven everybody, but it’s made the process of recognising who’s worth keeping in my life easier. Sometimes, I think we all need that heartbreak which shakes our core and reminds us that growing up involves being honest with ourselves about what we need, who we are, and acknowledging that not everyone deserves to know you. My most beautiful lesson from these experiences and healing has been how to be raw and vulnerable, and to accept human existence the way it’s been given with kindness and gratitude. There would be times when I don’t need deep conversations, when my soul wants to walk away from all that heaviness. I need the superficial stuff too like the brunch dates, fashion trends etc.
This restoration of my faith in sisterhood has been turbulent, but through it, I found a definition of friendship I would like to embody. A friend is someone who reminds you of your relationship with Allah, in such a manner that you are left with no choice but to show up to Allah and thank Him for the blessings of the experience. In the process of dealing with a heartbreak, I found Al-Mujeeb, the One who always responds. People will come and go in my life, but I’ll always have Allah. I trust that the One who brought these people into my life will help me heal through the difficult times and bless me with better people.
It’s taken some time to come to this point, so here’s my guide on how I stopped running away from the shadows of friendships which broke me and started taking the courageous step to form new ones:
The reason Allah brought this person in my life has been fulfilled. It hurts to lose them, but the pain is part of the healing. If you need to cuddle up in a blanket with a warm cup of coffee, tears and faith, do so, but always remember Allah is with you every step of the way.
A breakup is a breakup at the end of the day. But just because a friendship ends doesn’t mean you have to pretend it never existed or wipe it from your life story. Each relationship comes with a lesson, and some have good moments. Don’t downplay your feelings. Lean into grief because it’s a step towards healing.
Grieve the endings, but don’t forget to acknowledge and celebrate the good times, experiences, and your growth. Feel it, let it go. Loosen your grip on what was. It is time to let memories be memories, don’t taint them with your need to repair. Instead dive into the next chapter.
As humans we are constantly evolving. When we go through loss, we are convinced we cannot survive without the person we’ve lost, but eventually we do. In some cases, we will get apologies from the ones who wronged us, making it easier to move on, but in other cases, there’s never closure. Situations like the latter teach us about ourselves: what is our tipping point? Relationship heartbreaks are an opportunity to self-inquire: why did this happen? What type of healing work do I need to do?
It took me years to learn that I have always been the friend that showed up. Yet, when I was drowning in the abyss of my depression, nobody noticed. So, after the crying and the moments of utmost vulnerability, I am grateful for the friendships that fell apart. It was those broken tides of friendships that taught me how to be the most authentic version of myself and it led to repairing my relationship with Allah. And that was my closure.
Relationships are not black and white. Once you feel ready to have the uncomfortable conversation about boundaries, you should also be willing to listen. You may come away from the conversation having drawn healthy boundaries which looks like acknowledging that you’ve given each other the space and time to forgive and move forward, yet accepting that you do not want each other in your lives.
This is the hardest of them all, and it took me the longest time to wrap my head around. So, I will just quote something my therapist said:
“You have to accept that there will be people that cannot give you what you need. It doesn’t mean they are not worth keeping in your life. You just have to figure out who these ones are before you’re disappointed.”
We need people for all the different seasons we go through in life, and some people may not be there for the long-term. The sooner we make peace with heartbreak, the sooner we can go back to building ourselves.
Shanzay is a Criminology graduate from Toronto, who currently works in the domestic violence sector. She enjoys writing about intentionally slowing down, faith, intersectionality, trauma and is interested in becoming the story teller of her dreams. She has a thing for hopping planes, sunny days, books, coffee, and the kindness of strangers. Twitter @arustedheart