The Unpredictable Onion Called a Best Friend: The Super Short Version of How I Stripped a Best Friend of her Status as a Best Friend and Downgraded her to an Acquaintance

By Abrahim Harb

 In April 2014, I officially let go of a best friend that I met in high school. A text message that said, “I miss u,” with a picture of a handwritten letter I gave her. We hadn’t spoken or text messaged each other since September of 2013 (roughly 7 months) and I received this. The depth in our friendship had been stunted for quite some time. Our friendship had become too frayed and I didn’t care to uphold something that was naturally crumbled due to constant lies (from her) and constant openness (from me), until the end. I had let go of it some time ago and downgraded her to friend.

Depenetration had been occurring for months now and I was unknowingly deploying Social Penetration Theory. Depenetration is a gradual process of layer-by-layer withdrawal and it cause relationship and intimacy level to move backward and to fade away. According to Altman and Taylor, when depenetration occurs, "interpersonal exchange should proceed backwards from more to less intimate areas, should decrease in breadth or volume". This theory formulated by Psychologist, Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor (1973) had seeped through the core of my relationship - and then began to rot that same relationship from the inside out.
According to www.communicationstudies.com, this theory states that relationships begin and deepen through self-disclosure. In the beginning, people establish relationships by disclosing many simple, harmless facts through small talk. As relationships grow, the rate of self-disclosure slows while the facts disclosed become increasingly intimate in nature. Intimate self-disclosure allows others to penetrate a person’s public persona and discover his or her innermost self. Relationships stagnate when the people involved refuse to self-disclose.

Self-Disclosure occurs in 5 stages.

1. Orientation Stage: Also known as the “small talk” or “first impression” stage. Communicators become acquainted by observing mannerisms and personal dress and by exchanging non-intimate information about themselves. Interaction adheres to social norms.

2. Exploratory Affective Stage: Communicators begin to reveal more about themselves, such as their opinions concerning politics and sports teams. Deeply personal information is withheld. Casual friendships develop at this stage, and most relationships stay at this level.

3. Affective Stage: Communicators begin to disclose personal and private matters. Personal ways of speaking, such as using idioms or unconventional language, is allowed to come through. Communicators feel comfortable enough to argue or criticize each other. Romantic relationships develop at this stage.

4. Stable Stage: Communicators share a relationship in which disclosure is open and comfortable. They can predict how the other person will react to certain types of information.

5. Depenetration: Occurs when one or both communicators perceive that the cost of self-disclosure outweighs its benefits. Communicators withdraw from self-disclosure, thus ending the relationship
 We had gone through all the stages in the past 5 years and then Depenetration began to occur when she seemed to be outwardly and inwardly be dissatisfied with my success in life. I don't mention this to shine a light on me while dimming hers. I am a good friend, loyal and balance my life evenly. However, my success in academia, extracurriculars, and as a writer seemed to affect her negatively. At some point her happiness turned to jealousy. She began communicating with me knowing that I would not be able to hang out with her because I was in school all day. Then she began flipping that on me as if I was choosing education over friendship. As if it was a logical option to not attend classes I paid for just to hang out with her and shot the wind. On several occasions, I even suggested we get breakfast, lunch or even dinner together on campus or nearby so I could still make my school obligations. But that was not feasible for her despite living very close. Additionally, at the time, my family was going through a rough time and my mother needed my support often. This led to an unpredictability in my life outside family matters. Sometimes I would have to cancel last minute or leave pre-planned hangouts early. But I was transparent and working off strong assumptions that I would be given the space to balance both parts of my life. Maybe there were needs she had that were unmet? Maybe I was doing something she was unhappy about, but never vocalized it or show it through non-verbal communication? Many maybe's and few answers remain.

The treatment I received in the last months of our relationship was not any treatment a best friend should be the recipient of. Things go up and down in any relationship. But this was a slow landslide. On Friday, January 25, 2014 is when I had the realization that this had gone on too long. At around 3pm, I texted her asking what time we were going to meet at a local restaurant to hang out and have a few drinks. She replied with, “You guys (my sister and I) never told me you were on so I made plans.” 
The original plan was to go out the Friday after her birthday because I have school during the week. Around the time I revealed to her that my father did not live at our home anymore is when she began to exhibit this desire (as I call it) to make our friendship difficult. It is worth noting that her father hasn’t been in her life for most of it, but I never inquired too much about it, because she didn’t seem like she wanted to address it; that was ok with me. I revealed this information because I wanted to be very clear with her that if I had to cancel plans or I wasn’t unavailable it wasn’t because I was ignoring her. Eventually, it was always my fault when anything went wrong or whatnot; she never took fault. I was also too busy or not free when she was; when an argument happened, I was always deemed the instigator and the outcome of this revelation bit me in the butt. I am by no means claiming that I was never in the wrong, but I rarely was. I opened the door and eventually let her into the middle of this onion called best friend. At the time I didn’t realize it, but it was like she didn’t care to see it. She didn’t have a concept of her self and I don’t think she ever will. I would often peel back the layers to my onion and it felt great, not because it was getting it off my chest.

As stated by Altman and Taylor self-disclosure is reciprocal, especially in the early stages. I have always been a relatively open book, but she was always a relatively closed book and we are both outgoing individuals. Now that I am re-visiting that time in my life, she was never open to improving herself. She was quick to find the wall and then wait and wait and wait in front of it, instead of figuring a way to climb over it herself. She was always asking me to do things that she just didn’t want to do and it wasn’t in a we are best friends so we help each other out kind of way.

It was also like she was a spy and someone wanted to know everything they could about me. I will never know why she became such a huge liar and manipulatorbut I do know that I became stuck in the middle one time when she told her mother she was with me (and then without telling me, went to have sex with a random guy she had met) and her mother called me and asked for Jance (name changed for privacy) because she wasn’t answering her phone. It left a bitter taste in my mouth, because as a best friend, I would have gladly obliged Janice if she told me beforehand. I now question whether anything she disclosed during our roughly 5 year friend was even real. How much was a distorted image of reality? I won’t ever know, but what I do know is that after that, “I miss u” text message that depentration was underway and she began to feel the after effects of it. 

The breadth of my penetration and disclosure has always remained the same with her despite the lack of hers, until the end. I didn’t tell her anything about my life, it was an attempt to either 1) let her apologize for the treatment and mend the relationship (which I didn’t want, because I had already downgraded her to just a friend) or 2) to slowly etch her out, because in my eyes, I was no longer a best friend to her. At first it was a way to allow her to reevaluate her actions, but then it turned into I want her out of my life. I am sure that she will continue to talk heaps and heaps of trash about me. My statements and revelations that delved further into my onion were always overshadowed by her issues, like it was a contest. She is one of those people in life that will come into your life, have some actual meaningful communication, then she turns into a fake, self-centered, ignorant, self-loathing for attention person.

I was always willing to go the extra mile (if I had the mental capacity to do so and on occasion, when I did not) and she was willing to go the extra mile (if that brought whatever she wanted closer to her). Maybe we are both in the wrong in this relationship - but her wrongs outnumber mine. That is how I unceremoniously (as cliché as it is) removed my best friend from best friend status to friend and quickly over to acquaintance.