The Idea of Us, Part II: Best Friends on the Highs and Lows of Female Friendship
When we graduated from college, we were both in serious relationships. Each of our relationships created the setting for some of the most damaging points of our lives. A twisted and shaped herself to the will of a man who did not know what he wanted -- only what he did not want her to be. She faded away, convinced by him that I was a bad influence on her recovery. We thought we were supporting one another, but neither of us was honest with ourselves or each other.
We mistook frustration with ourselves for anger with each other. We let men treat us in a manner we’d sworn we would never accept. I broke my body for attention and validation from a man who showed no empathy. I gave him my power. I didn’t fight back when he used violence to intimidate me or when he gaslighted to silence me.
“I don’t love you anymore. Your eating disorder has done too much damage for us to recover.” I was in an intensive outpatient program, and I believed him.
When he left me, you were on your way before I could ask. I didn’t know how much I needed to see you until you wrapped your arms around me. I cried because my heart was broken and because I believed I was loved.
When her relationship ended, I was living in Atlanta. I drove through the night straight to her. Not even two weeks later, my own relationship would implode, and I finally saw who he’d been all along. I was alone in a new city with no friends, no family and no idea who I was without him. We figured out how to keep moving forward together. This is how we rebuilt ourselves and each other. We were separated by two states but had never been closer.
She moved back to our hometown and quickly revitalized her life. It seemed so easy for her to reconnect -- the surprisingly social butterfly. I struggled to find my place and make connections with new groups of people. Her life was rich, busy and full of promise, and mine was stagnant.
I wasn’t that person hiding in the shadows anymore. I was a shape-shifter; when the spotlight turned towards me, I was suddenly someone else. The chill girl, the crazy girl, the smart girl -- whoever someone wanted me to be in that moment, I became. It took a long time for me to understand that trimming parts of my personality to fit other people’s vision of me never works. It was through analysis of myself in relation to those around me that I learned how to be okay with the parts of me that didn’t quite fit.
I relearned who I was, what I needed from friendships and relationships, and that I need to forgive myself for cutting toxicity out of my life. We were closer than we ever had been because I was finally okay with being myself. She has a rigid and unrelenting life plan, which is something I respect ardently. I’m still trying to figure out what the fuck I want from this life and how to make it my own.
We’re both evolving right now. It feels like we’re learning to wield the power we’ve had all along. You’re more adventurous and authentically bold than you’ve ever been. I’m in awe of you and I’m proud of you. And, unlike before, I know that you and I can thrive together. I no longer want your approval because I’m jealous, I want your approval because I trust and respect your opinion. I think the difference now is that I can see and love your flaws. I am still competitive with you because I want to keep pace with you. To stand next to you while we both thrive is a privilege, and to be able to support you when you need it is an honor.
You’ll always smell like cucumber and cigarettes.
In many ways we are the same people today we were at 17, but through self-awareness, we can use our past to inform our future without letting our mistakes shake our courage or our trauma stifle our resolve.
You’re one of the only people with whom I can take remove my mask. It unnerves me how in sync we can get because I still think of you as the smarter, prettier, wiser one. Even when we’re old, I’ll probably think your wrinkles are statelier than mine.
You are selfless. You are fiercely, dangerously loyal.
It’s deeply frustrating, and I love you for it, but my god do I worry about to whom you give your loyalty. You’ll work until you're delirious and then devote time to family and friends. You aren’t good at balance and you have never been. I’m not either, but I try to say to you what I wish I could say to myself – take better care of yourself.
Over the past decade, we’ve learned a lot about how to be there for one another. We support one another by being there and by not being there. We are just jealous enough of other friendships to remind us how important we are to each other while recognizing that we each need a support network beyond ourselves. We keep our sharp tongues sheathed when we speak to one another. We help support one another no matter what. We commiserate on how much more we want to achieve and how impatient we are to achieve it.
There are still points where we slip into patterns of mistrust, but now we talk about it. We discuss thought patterns rather than leaving each other in the dark. We’ve spent many years analyzing our lives in therapy and living with mental illness. We’ve learned the positive and negative points of introspection.
Our society encourages us to constantly compare ourselves to everyone around us, but no one teaches us how to do it with understanding and compassion. I’ve always been a highly competitive person which, I believe, has helped push me. It’s so easy to lose sight of whom you’re competing with, why you’re competing, and what the goal is. It can turn from pushing each other to demanding perfection from yourself and those around you in the blink of an eye. Perfection cannot be the goal -- it does not exist.
I’m not sure when or why it began, but we talk about a future where, after our lives have been fully lived, we are still together. In this vision, we own an apothecary shop in New England. We don’t spend much time discussing our partners, or children, wealth or successful careers. We have one another. We say to ourselves be happy, be healthy, be whole.
Note: When we began writing this, we didn’t discuss our ideas. We wrote independently about our experiences and perceptions. When we finished, we were both scared to read each other’s work. I expected it to be hard. What I didn’t expect was that we’d pick almost identical moments as the seminal moments of our friendship. It was eerie, but also made perfect sense.
I chose to write largely in the second person whereas C wrote in the third person, which speaks to how we experienced things, particularly when we were younger. C turned inward, protecting and unintentionally isolating herself. She became a constant observer, but was never sure how she fit into what she saw. As someone who externalizes things, I turned outward for validation and escape. In some ways, that hasn’t changed. I push C’s boundaries, demanding full disclosure, while she tries to arrange and preserve those boundaries.