The Idea of Us, Part I: Best Friends On The Highs and Lows of Female Friendships
I feel sorry for people who haven’t had a friendship like ours. A foundational relationship. Through hell and half of Georgia, we are here, somehow. If I'm being honest, no one we knew thought we'd be here either. We live six hours apart but are closer than we've ever been. We don't fight over men anymore; we debate over whether or not that man is worthy of us. We no longer compete for attention at the other’s expense; we motivate and inspire each other to succeed.
Female relationships can be the most important relationships in a woman’s life, but they can also be the most painful. Female friendships allow us the space to be authentic with ourselves and each other. When they end, however they end, women lose that safe space to be authentic. Losing that intimacy can make you feel vulnerable, shamed, and raw. We’ve both lost female friends for whom our depression was an inconvenience. We’ve both lost friends who said we’d changed or said we hadn’t but weren’t willing to hear what we had to say. We’ve both been viewed as an opponent to take out in an effort to win a man’s affection.
Negative competition among women is trite, overstated. Much like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I think women often find themselves competing for the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Instead of competing in a zero-sum game, we should be competing in partnership against the systems that oppress us.
We compete out of jealousy, sparked by our perceptions – and even deceptions – about each other. Those perceptions are warped by external and internal factors, such as how we were raised, the media, mental health, and relationships. We are often aware of those perceptions, yet less aware of how they impact us.
It’s all too common for women to project ‘she has it all together, I can’t compete with her’ when in reality: 1. She almost certainly doesn’t have it all together 2. You can both succeed and help one another do so 3. We all benefit when we celebrate her success and achievements in today’s society 4. There is an opportunity to learn from each other’s success rather than be threatened by it.
I've known my best friend for over a decade. We are growing and learning together how to be better: better to ourselves, better to each other, better to the world, but we weren’t always so.
“Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that I don’t need you.”
That was the last thing you texted me the night before the second time. I sent a package, but you never got it. For a while, we pretended everything was normal and acted like nothing changed. I stopped pretending when you did the thing which I couldn’t pretend didn’t hurt. Of all the things we did to each other, what I hate most of all is that boys have come closest to breaking us. I know now that you weren’t selfish because you were cruel, you were selfish because you were trying to survive.
When we met, you terrified me. You were cold like mornings and hopeful, inviting, and irresistible. I needed you around, but I felt a constant sense of being “other.” It felt like we only took our masks off when we were alone. Your affection wavered erratically, as did my self-worth. At all times, I was in between feeling small and insecure and feeling invincible and arrogant. I was scared to tell you my truth because I didn’t know if you could handle it and I didn’t know what you’d do with it.
Writing about how I perceived you at 17 is also writing about how I perceived myself. I projected my ideal self onto you. You bore your own demons, and mine too, whether you knew it or not. When you interacted with the world you represented the things I wanted in myself – irreverent and undeterred, beautiful and proud, arrogant and likable. And I assumed you liked me because I was your perfect foil.
I fell in love with the idea of us. I was along for the ride, hoping you’d remember to take me too. Being C’s best friend was easier than being me. Going to your house was easier than going home. Knowing your family didn’t like me was easier than going home and waiting for my dad to shove his self-loathing onto me. Despite the tension, your house was safe. No one yelled at me for existing. It was a cold war rather than a minefield. You made me feel welcome enough to stay. And you were the first person to break my heart.
People beloved by A call her hurricane. It’s all a little fuzzy some 12 years later, but it’s safe to say when we first met she was wild and destructive. I never knew when she might break or where she might fly away to. Yet she was captive; imprisoned by more things than I could have comprehended at that age. The combination was incendiary.
We were introduced through a mutual friend. I remember bristling when I met her and immediately retreating into my head thinking “how can I compete with her? Why would anyone want my friendship?” I felt overshadowed, but I showed up anyway, longing for a sense of place in the unfamiliar setting of a new school. It didn’t take long before we were inseparable.
We spent southern summer days trading secrets as we drove around town in her car looking for anything we could find to make it all just a little bit more bearable. We spent dark winter nights curled up on the couch upstairs stealing cigarettes from her father’s Marlboro Red soft packs and watching vampire movies. Falling asleep beside one another in a bed too small - too close for comfort, but almost close enough to feel safe.
By our senior year, the cracks had begun to show. I was battling a mental illness and could no longer maintain the facade of normalcy. Conversations with A became increasingly fragmented and tense. We’d always been able to share everything with one another, but the only thing more demoralizing than knowing you’re hollow inside is cracking open your chest so everyone else can see you’re empty.
A had her own demons, I knew this, but still, I envied her ability to keep moving. She kept moving and I stayed still - trapped by the relentless weight of depression. We moved further and further apart and I did nothing to stop it. Our tight-knit group became her own. By the time I would finally claw my way back to some semblance of reality, I’d lost the words to explain what happened.
I made new friends; people who were light and bright and pulled the spotlight away from me. I stayed in their shadows and remembered to smile and laugh at all the right times. A was there for me through it all. Scared and confused, but there. She shared her feelings and her hopes with me. I was cold, closed and unapologetic. I thought of nothing but myself. I was careless with her feelings, and I hurt her irrevocably. We didn’t talk again for years.
We both went to the same college but saw each other rarely. Our interactions were like two caged, starved animals ready to pounce on the slightest weakness. Silence and apathy were how we drew blood. Even though we didn’t acknowledge one another, we were still in the competition. Neither one of us knew how to be around the another. She wanted nothing to do with me. Still, I watched from afar. I watched her first relationship begin and end. I watched her make friends. I watched her fall in love with herself. She was still reckless, but for the first time, she was confident. She was still wild but now grounded in her sense of self. She’d changed, and I had too.
Somehow, we made friends with the same group of people and we grew back together just like before. We seemed so close again, but our relationship was still fractured and the bones had never properly healed. After finding out my ex cheated on me my sense of self-worth was shattered. When there was nothing left of myself to destroy I lashed out with ugly words designed to cut. As she sat in the grass surrounded by our friends, I looked down at her and said, “how does it feel - you’re the pretty one now.” We both have sharp tongues, but this time mine was laced with misplaced hurt and betrayal and it cut too deep. I attacked the woman who held me up and not the man who tried to tear me down.
To be continued