By Sonali Kokra Feb. 13, 2019
When your boyfriend cheats on you, you feel humiliated and worthless. But when a best friend cheats on you, it knocks the wind out of you. No one makes a friend thinking that they might some day jump into bed with your partner, knowing better than almost anyone else, what that betrayal would do to you.
You know how I know it is entirely possible for a person to curb their instinct for violence and walk away when all you really want to do is marshal all your energy into your knuckles and break the jaw of the person so that s/he has no option but to stop talking? I know because I’ve been there. A grand total of two times in my life, within a gap of seven minutes. The people whose jaws I wanted to break? A woman who was one of my closest friends at the time. And a man I was somewhat dating.
Weirdly enough, I don’t remember how I found out that they’d been sleeping together for almost the entire duration of our on-again, off-again relationship. Maybe I overheard someone gossiping about it. Or perhaps a mutual friend in the know finally had the decency to let me in on the secret that I alone seemed to be unaware of. All I remember is confronting the two of them, separately, on the set they were filming something on, and watching them both fumble to find words that would make them look less like the backstabbing weasels that they were. And I remember getting up and walking out before either could get to the end of the sentence. It was either that, or fracturing my knuckles with the punch I could feel bristling in my arm.
It took several days for the flurry of texts and unanswered calls to wane. She wrote to me incessantly, trying to explain how the attraction between them had been instant and undeniable, how they had fallen for each other despite their best intentions, how it wasn’t just sex. I heard, a month later, that their grand, star-crossed love story had lasted about three weeks. He, it seemed, could not “tolerate how boring she was”, now that he was forced to spend time with her outside the bedroom. After one more last-ditch failed attempt at making amends, she packed up and left the city. I almost felt sorry for her. That feeling passed very quickly, thankfully, like flatulence after spooning a giant glob of hummus in one’s mouth.
It’s been seven years since I woke up to the astonishing realisation that friends — and I don’t mean the ones we call friends simply because calling them acquaintances would be rude — are capable of acting like emotional terrorists and carpet bombing everything you know about friendship and the never-to-be-broken girl code.
We fought, but never over dudes.
All my life, I’d been blessed with a small but close group of friends who looked at my crushes and boyfriends as inanimate objects, just like I did theirs. They simply didn’t register in our minds as sexual beings who may or may not be attractive. The thought of sleeping with any of my friends’ prospective, current, or past partners elicited the same kind of response as the thought of eating escargots — I knew that people were capable of it, but it was unthinkable to me. It was a system that worked beautifully, because my small band of women friends and I coasted through life, knowing that we had each other as steady anchors in what were often violently turbulent romantic seas. We fought, but never over dudes. I didn’t realise how rare that was, or how blessed we were, until my luck finally ran out.
When your boyfriend cheats on you, you feel humiliated and worthless. Few among us grow up with a healthy sense of self-worth enough to not wonder, at least secretly, if there was something lacking in you that made them stray. Your brain recognises how scummy they are, but your heart wonders why they didn’t love you enough to stop themselves from acting on whatever it was that made them take that first step. Being cheated on by a boyfriend or a partner crushes you, and can shatter your confidence, but it doesn’t destroy you. Because with every romantic relationship you enter, that’s a risk a small part of your brain files. You hope and pray it won’t happen to you, but you know that partners and love interests sometimes cheat.
But when a best friend cheats on you, more often than not, it comes out of the left field and knocks the wind out of you. No one makes a friend thinking that they might someday jump into bed with your partner, knowing better than almost anyone else, what that betrayal would do to you. And being cheated on by a best friend changes you, sometimes permanently. I will never not feel the involuntary frisson of suspicion every time a close friend flippantly uses a current partner as a yardstick for their own romantic interests, but it’s a small price to pay, when weighed against everything that I’ve learned in the years since.
It changed me, and taught me lessons that were painful to learn while I was learning them, but ones I’m thankful for, in retrospect.
Being cheated on by a best friend made me a more suspicious, but also a more astute person.
Being cheated on by a best friend made me a more suspicious, but also a more astute person. Until that happened, I trusted far too quickly and completely, and floated through life in a bubble, believing that friends always have your best interests at heart. And when they don’t, it’s a mistake, not a choice. It taught me how to weed people out of my life more meticulously, but most importantly, it made me think long and hard, and be judicious about the people I call friends, and allow entry into my life.
It’s made me realise that there is a very specific kind of person who goes after their friends’ partners — those that specifically want men who are off the market because taking what belongs to others is their way of feeling valuable. They’re not rendered helpless by love, they are unable to deny themselves the thrill that comes with feeling, even if only momentarily, that they were irresistible to your partner and so that must mean they are better than you.
This kind of person is always competing with those closest to them, because beating their friends is the only way to not feel worthless. For that knowledge, at least, I should remain eternally grateful.
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.