Kristen Carter’s advice was featured in the June 2012 Marie Claire South Africa magazine, in an article entitled, Say What
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Could you tell your BFF something that might hurt your friendship? Six friends reveal their most difficult conversations and how those helped them grow closer.
by Samantha Steele
Nurse Bronnie Ware, who spent years working with dying patients in palliative care, noticed recurring themes that came up when discussing their life regrets. One of these was, “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” On guardian.co.uk (and in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying), Ware noted: “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence.” Marie Claire chatted to three sets of friends willing to face each other with challenging conversations most of us would rather avoid, and asked career and life coach Kristen Carter to weigh in on each relationship.
‘YOU NEED TO DIVORCE YOUR FRIENDS’
PRIDE MOROKANE, 29, Head of brand marketing, Johannesburg
TATIANA NDLOVU, 28, Head of media, advertising and brand sponsorship, Johannesburg
RELATIONSHIP: BEST FRIENDS
‘Tae is more than my best friend; I call her my wife because she’s forever. I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t like her almost instantly. She gives her time, her energy, her money, clothes, you name it. It’s one of the things I love about her the most. It’s also the very thing we argue about. A few years ago Tae was very good friends with a girl she had a lot in common with. I wasn’t a big part of their friendship until they had a fall-out and things took a really dangerous turn. This girl used every bit of information she knew about Tae to attack her personally. The situation was no longer just a disagreement between friends; I felt the girl had gone too far. I was ready to call the police: she was calling 20 times a day and threatening to slash Tae’s tyres. Recently I noticed messages between them on social media sites. The memories of that time came back. I was livid. Even if the girl is older and more mature now, why does Tae need to invite her back into her space? Of course, if she happens to bump into her at the mall, then yes, greet her, but limit the interaction. This girl is not the first person I have seen Tae welcome back with no consequences. For example, I remember another incident where a girl lied to her about something quite serious, and a few months later she was forgiven. Tae asked me to trust her on this and let it be. I do trust her. I guess I’m just learning to show her that I trust her. Even if it’s with my one eye open … baby steps.’
‘I am more touchy-feely and emotional than my best friend Pride; she’s the voice of reason in the relationship. I am generally easy-going an feel I understand that things happen in life and that relationships or friendships go sour. It was always like that with my family and my mom: one minute my mom would be shouting and reprimanding us, the next we were all relaxing again as if nothing had happened. I think I’ve taken that attitude with me into my adult life. A few years ago I had a very close friend and we had a big misunderstanding. Naturally, Pride got involved – she doesn’t like people messing with her friends, it’s in her nature to want to protect. I bumped into this friend a few years after the huge fight and we apologised to each other and agreed to put it behind us because we had grown and were more mature. I believe our problems were blown out of proportion; in hindsight we could have sorted out our issue over a cup of tea. We recently became friends through social media and Pride got very upset that I had allowed her back into my life. The thing is, I don’t want to carry resentment around with me, and I know a lot of the things she said came out in anger. But I understand where Pride is coming from – it’s just her way of showing she cares and I adore that about her. I know she always believes and trusts me. What more can a girl ask for from her BFF?’
KRISTEN CARTER’S ADVICE
One of the valuable attributes of this friendship is that Pride and Tatiana recognize each other’s personality differences and allow each other to be themselves. Pride might have handled this situation with the old friend differently, but acknowledges Tatiana has other instincts. Some people are more comfortable accepting conflict in their relationships; Tatiana says she got used to her mother’s extreme emotions and so is probably less fazed when other people (like the old friend) behave similarly – this might be unsettling to Pride, who could have had very different examples in her own early life.
‘YOUR BABY’S DADDY IS GAY’
PHUMZILE LUMKWANA*, 19, journalism student, Johannesburg
LINDIWE NTULI*, 19, art student, London
RELATIONSHIP: BEST FRIENDS
‘Lindiwe and I were in the same high school and have been friends ever since. She’s more like my sister than a friend. It was the worst day of my life when I was forced to reveal her then-boyfriend Sizwe’s* secret to her. I bumped into him on the way to our school’s tuckshop during Matric exams. He looked very miserable, so against my better judgement I asked him what was wrong. He said that he wanted me to tell Lindi that he was gay. I was so shocked it took me five days to digest the whole thing, and a week to tell Lindi. The day of our second maths paper, Lindi invited me out for lunch and I thought this was the opportunity to tell her the news I’d been keeping so close to my chest. But before I could get a word out, Lindi happily told me she was pregnant. She was chattering about her plans and how excited she was, but the lunch was long and awkward from my side. After a few drinks, I blurted out, “Chomma, your man’s gay.” She laughed and told me to stop being so judgemental just because he likes skinny jeans. I then had to explain why I was saying this… She didn’t say anything. She just got up and left. A week later, after she’d confronted Sizwe, she called me. It was a bit strange at first because we couldn’t discuss the same things we used to, like her and him. But things got better after she had the child. Even though this was really difficult, this whole experience made us grow even closer. I’m her baby’s godmother now.’
‘Phumi and I became very close in high school – the best of friends. A week after I found out I was pregnant, all I wanted to do was tell her my news. However, we were in the middle of our matric exams so I couldn’t find a moment to do so. One morning after an early exam I invited her to lunch. The second we sat down I shared the happy news – she was going to be an “aunt”. But her reaction wasn’t at all what I expected: she was stunned and silent. This wasn’t the protective Phumi I knew so well. Eventually, after we’d eaten and Phumi had had – I swear – about a dozen cocktails, I started sharing my plans with her; I thought this might draw out some kind of reaction. Instead, I got the shock of my life. When she told me Sizwe was gay, I tried to laugh it off, but once she explained that he had told her that, I couldn’t listen any more. I got up and left. I wasn’t angry with her at all – I knew it must have been tough for her to tell me all this. It took me two days to confront my then-boyfriend after that. Phumi and I agreed never to talk about it again, especially since I felt so humiliated and angry. But it would take a lot more than that to ruin our friendship, especially since she proved her loyalty by coming to me first and not spreading it all over the school like a typical teenager. She’s like a sister to me now, but to this day we simply don’t talk about it, because it’s still such a sensitive thing.’
KRISTEN CARTER’S ADVICE
This is a story with a good ending that could have gone very wrong. Phumi was sensible to take a few days to get over the shock of hearing that Lindi’s boyfriend was gay before breaking the news to her, and then kept her cool when Lindi announced she was pregnant. I also admire her maturity in keeping the whole thing to herself and the patience she showed in allowing Lindi time to digest the information. The mutual respect these two friends showed each other is the basis for a very strong friendship and should make it easier to broach any difficult topic that comes up in the future.
‘I HATE THAT YOU CAN HAVE BABIES’
TERTIA ALBERTYN, 43, founder of egg donor agency nurture.co.za, Cape Town
MELANIE NOVITZKA, 40, surrogacy coordinator, surrogacy.co.za, Somerset West
‘Since we were little, my younger sister Melanie and I were best friends, fiercely loving and protective of each other. Our lives diverged when it was clear I was infertile, while she was super-fertile. This person that was my best friend became a symbol of everything I wanted be and just couldn’t. Over five years I had nine IVFs, artificial insemination, blood tests and even surgery, costing lots of money and heartache, in an attempt to get pregnant. While I was going through this, Melanie had two ‘unplanned’, though much-loved, children. The lowest point was at a family braai after Melanie found out she was pregnant, but everyone was too scared to tell me. I was feeling broken and upset already, so I just went mad. Irrationally, I felt like she was betraying me. She got pregnant without even trying. After I missed her baby shower, Melanie sent me a letter, the gist of which was that she needed me. At the time I was so focused on my hurt, I didn’t see hers. I wish she hadn’t taken my anger personally. I feel very bad for hurting her like that; she didn’t go out to hurt me. The amazing thing is, since I had my children, we’ve come the full circle. Our journey had a purpose; we now help other women to get pregnant.’
‘Tertia and I were best friends growing up, but when she went through her infertility while I was having children very easily, I felt she took her pain out on me. When I was pregnant with my second daughter I told my family and our mutual friend, but was too afraid to tell her. I waited until we were at a family braai and we sat down with our husbands and broke the news. She did not take it well and said, “How can you do this to me?” My feelings were never considered. I was aware of my tummy the whole pregnancy and tried to avoid putting my hands on it if she was around. She wouldn’t come to my baby shower and everything related to the pregnancy was difficult for us. With her infertility, I wanted to be the one there for her, and instead I was the one making her, my best friend, the most upset. It’s hard to feel justified feeling upset because no matter what you’re feeling, she’s feeling so much worse. I’ve carried a lot of guilt and resentment, and guilt about feeling resentful. You can’t help feeling her pain too. Tertia’s journey to pregnancy was so all-encompassing, she lived from one cycle to the next. That whole time, I just wished she’d come to me with her pain, but instead she withdrew to her friends on infertility support forums online. Her infertility and my fertility defined our relationship. I love her but I’ve healed with a scar.’
KRISTEN CARTER’S ADVICE
The incident at the braai is an example of what can happen when people bury their thoughts and feelings until they feel they ‘just can’t take it anymore’ and explode. When strong, negative emotions take over, our ‘thinking brains’ go offline and our behaviour becomes more irrational, instinctive and primitive – it’s in this state that Tertia’s words came bursting out. I think most of us can, unfortunately, relate to losing our cool in this way at some time. As this story shows, with sufficient time and effort even strained relationships can be repaired.
* Names have been changed
HOW TO TALK CALM WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY
Kristen Carter has some simple advice to help you achieve meaningful conversation in a hot-headed situation:
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