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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

28

A Particular Kind of Self-Care: To a Year of Female Friendships

Halfway into 2013, I climbed a ladder to the roof of a small white boat in the Caribbean and steadied myself against the bobbing and the salted wind while my best friend Becca did the same next to me. The air was deliciously hot, we were wobbly from a rum and juice punch called Donkey; "Diamonds" by Rihanna was blasting from a boombox. We crab-walked to the edge, grasped each others hands, counted to three and leapt into the waves below.

That moment was one of the best moments of the year, right up there with testifying while a dookie-braided Solange covered Selena on an outdoor stage in Brooklyn and alternating between doing the Cupid Shuffle on Christmas morning with Megan, basting a ham, and helping her little sister highlight her hair. Each of these instances, and many more just like them, involved women, all outside of my family's bloodline.

This last point is worth mentioning because I come from a sprawling country family overflowing with women. Family events are crowded with aunts, cousins and sisters—girlbodies—shaped in forms that echo my own, arranging and rearranging around each other. The near-complete absence of men has become something of a punchline, a permanent inside joke. Once, at Thanksgiving, a neighbor wandered in while my cousin Lisa worked on a turkey, shearing meat off its frame and sliding the steaming slices onto a big flowered plate. "Hey, that's the man's job," she yelped, in between slurps of her Big Gulp. No one even paused to acknowledge the comment, everyone just laughed and laughed. I think my Aunt Larnie might have drawled out a friendly and syrupy, "Oh honey, look around you," but mostly I think everyone continued heaping food onto platters and carrying them over to the already heaving table.

A necessary and important addendum to that backstory is that I am the youngest of five girls, one full-sister, the rest halfs, and at the present moment, I'm not on great speaking terms with any of them. They are all infuriatingly stubborn and difficult, as am I. I thought that hardness would soften as we grew into adults, but sadly, it hasn't. It is a realization that has led me to seek out kinship beyond my own skinfolk, in the event that we can't manage to reconcile our differences.

While I've always felt at home in the company of women, this year was the year that I deliberately sought it out, invested my time and energy into cultivating relationships with women instead of with random dudes who weren't clever enough to respond in kind to my cute emoji pictograms or appreciate sly Beyonce puns in my Instagram captions.

Falling head over heels in love with women was a habit I thought I'd thoroughly grown out of in middle school, when a group of about five girls and I color-coordinated our outfits and spent weekends and even some weeknights sprawled out in each others bedrooms. But rediscovering a special kind of female magic that is thick and all-encompassing, supportive and blunt in its realness that eventually gives way to a connection that goes beyond brunch once a month or obligatory catch-up drinks after work. This was real-deal friendship, the kind you probably don't have time for after you partner up or have kids or both. It's endless gchatting during the day that turns into texting after work and back to gchatting the following morning, falling asleep in each others beds, feeding each other dinner on Sundays, clutching each other for life in the ocean and at after parties, getting under each others' skin and sometimes not being all that nice or friendly, but knowing they can handle it.

Its a particular kind of self-care, replenishing and satisfying in the same way that eating well, regular yoga, and a solid night of sleep is. 

I met women all over, on the train, at bars and in parties, over Twitter, made a point to talk to them, hear their stories, respond to their texts, read the books they recommended, the documentaries on Vimeo that they hyped up. When I visited my family in Virginia, I tracked down my seventh grade best friend and sat in TGIFridays near a mall for hours, laughing while her daughter took insane-looking selfies on my phone. I sought out former roommates that I stopped talking to after I moved in with my college boyfriend and sat in their living room for hours, petting one of their salty newborns as she fretted and fussed before inexplicably settling down to the clip of Kanye melting down during the interview with Sway on YouTube.

I loved all these women, admired the blunt way they rebuffed catcalls, their elaborate, full-bodied eyerolls to everyday indignities, and they way they asked for what they wanted, talked about their relationship troubles, money problems, admiring their shade of lip color, the way they openly and bluntly talked about things like their marriages dissolving, sexual assault, giving birth—the real-world shit that comes with being a woman that doesn't come up unless you dig in and take root. It wasn't always easy—getting dumped by my female friends for their newfound boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends stung; I felt like a jilted lover, heartbroken and wondering what I'd done wrong. But it was also easier to forgive them, to accept what time and energy they were willing to offer, even if it was less than what I wanted.

Even popular culture seems to agree with me. The sister witches on American Horror Story: Coven and the VHS-footage of baby Bey and Kelly Rowland in the "Grown Woman" video, for example, plus, the most recent episode of Ja'ime: Private School Girl revolved around the theme, and even the glimpse I got of the first few episodes of the next season Girls follows a similar arc. There were the BFFs who boned each others' sons in Adore, and that scene in Francis Ha where Francis can't stop texting her best friend while her boyfriend asks her to move in. The list goes on.

Not all of these new friendships will be permanent; that's okay. Some only lasted the time it took to drain a pint at a party and some are still being tended to, gently solidifying around the edges. Even when short-lived and temporary, they are about feeding off each others energy and ideas, mutual femininity and humanity and even sometimes giving practical job advice or tips for owning a meeting. But they are informing me and how I want to be a person in this year and the years to come and for that, I am eternally grateful.

 

Previously: Where (My) Girls At?

Jenna Wortham is a technology reporter for the New York Times.

28 Comments / Post A Comment

parallel-lines

2013: the year all my close female friendships fell apart. One of my best friends became intensely self centered and announced she was a republican out of nowhere. Another thanked me for my kindness after her father's death and then stopped speaking to me or answering my emails.

Not all of them will be permanent, but they will inflict differing levels of pain. I feel like I'm walking wounded a bit, but 2014 will definitely be the year of trying to make new girlfriends...

theballgirl

@parallel-lines

AHH! TELL IT.

2013: My former BFF4lyfe ditched me cold once my son was born, (after I attended her destination wedding still bleeding from the birth). Another one moved and decided 25ish miles is just too far. Finally my last one turned her oceans-away temporary job into a permanent one :[ These amazing ladies were my lifeblood and they are just, gone.

RachelTheC

@parallel-lines '13 was the year I had to make new girl-friendships because in '12 I got dumped for all manner of shitty, cheating, abusive boyfriends, and petty matters like 'getting tattoos.' it's hard to feel cast away by someone who was your other half for years and years, but it's still a breakup. Sometimes you have to get back out in the friending-pool again.

amitygardens@twitter

@all Oh you guys, I just want to give you all lots of hugs. Anyone would be lucky to be your friends, and you deserve the best.

DebraKJ

@parallel-lines Check out the book "Friendships Don't Just Happen" ... Author, Shasta Nelson, also Founder of the online friendship matching site... www.GirlFriendCircles.com — she speaks about “circles of connectedness” which makes so much sense as we experience changes in our friendships along our journey from childhood thru our school years and adulthood. #goodreads

#friendships #girlfriends #girlfriendcircles #circleoffriends

hedgehogerie

What a beautiful article that really encapsulates my own 2013 friendships, almost exclusively with my girl friends. They are the ones I tell my deepest fears and secrets to, the ones who move hours away but are still close at hand, the ones who spend 12 hrs with you--taking you to the ER for emergency surgery (without leaving your side to eat or drink), the ones who take you home the next day from the hospital.

Thank you so much lady friends! And thank you Jenna for the article!

stonefruit

Women friends, transitions, transitional friendships, oh man. This was just so, so, so good.

The woman I would have said was my closest local female friend just up and disappeared at the beginning of this year, made an appearance two months later, and finally consented to see me again in April (after cancelling three times). It's been intensely painful for me to navigate our new "friendship," and eventually I just resigned myself to not really being her friend any more. She's never explained what happened nor has she indicated that she feels bad that we've grown apart. (Well, until a few weeks ago, when my reaction to finding out via Facebook that she had gotten engaged wasn't sufficiently ecstatic, and it became clear that she thought we were still thick as thieves.)

The plus side is that I have developed closer friendships with other female friends, more reliable people, better at friendship than this woman. But it's still a stinging, wounded feeling to think about her, and I feel much more guarded around potential friends of any gender. It's a heartbreak, of a different sort.

DebraKJ

@stonefruit I totally understand the ups and downs of friendship from so many of my own experiences...Check out the book "Friendships Don't Just Happen" ... Author, Shasta Nelson, also Founder of the online friendship matching site... www.GirlFriendCircles.com — she speaks about “circles of connectedness” which makes so much sense as we experience changes in our friendships along our journey from childhood thru our school years and adulthood. #goodreads

#friendships #girlfriends #girlfriendcircles #circleoffriends

stroopwafel

Oomph, this hit me right in the gut.

I desperately want a year like this. 2013 (and 2012, actually...) have been spent in what feels like total isolation. Came back from three months abroad while going through an awful breakup, found myself back in my small home/college town with a job I hate and can't seem to lift myself out of, while the few girl friends I had have moved and started lives. Sorry to whine... Maybe part of growing up is learning how to cultivate new relationships in limited circumstances. It feels like being underwater watching everyone swim around above you.

Onymous

@stroopwafel

I feel you.

I haven't had anybody I'd call a friend around since 2009. Hell outside of some coworkers that I tolerate I haven't even had anybody outside my nuclear family around, and I'm only about luke warm with them at any given moment.

2012 I moved to Austin to escape a future of being trapped in my parents basement by depression, and it's been a vaguely successful escape but it's been work home sleep for 18 months now, just my brother around and again only sort of luke warm there.

And it's a terrible stock boy job at Target which pays just enough that I can't convince myself to risk my good standing and go find at least a second part time job.

ofmiceandgin

@stroopwafel Here, here. The last time I really had gal friends was over five years ago. This article makes me hurt precisely because I don't have girl friends. I don't even know how to make girl friends. I'm so lonely! Where is the OKCupid for meeting gal friends?

DebraKJ

@stroopwafel I can totally relate... I totally understand the ups and downs of friendship from so many of my own experiences...Check out the book "Friendships Don't Just Happen" ... Author, Shasta Nelson, also Founder of the online friendship matching site... www.GirlFriendCircles.com — she speaks about “circles of connectedness” which makes so much sense as we experience changes in our friendships along our journey from childhood thru our school years and adulthood. #goodreads

#friendships #girlfriends #girlfriendcircles #circleoffriends

DebraKJ

@Onymous WOW... I'm just reading through this string of posts on this blog about self-care and friendships and I was sooo unaware that there are way too many women finding such challenges in making friends AND that I'm not alone in this quest...I can totally relate... I understand the ups and downs of friendship from so many of my own experiences and the fact is MOST girls/women are apprehensive and struggle to reach out to make friends.
Just recently I was watching The Katie Couric show on TV and was introduced to this AMAZING woman with a passion for helping women connect... Check out the book "Friendships Don't Just Happen" ... Author, Shasta Nelson, also Founder of the online friendship matching site... www.GirlFriendCircles.com — she speaks about “circles of connectedness” which makes so much sense as we experience changes in our friendships along our journey from childhood thru our school years and adulthood. #goodreads

Hope this helps you... DebraKJ

#friendships #girlfriends #girlfriendcircles #circleoffriends

lucy snowe

I am so damn envious of the author. Oh, how I long for girfriends. How do I find them? Is there a dating site for mostly platonic girl/girl relationships? This is what I wished my life looked like.

silverscreen

@lucy snowe Dude, I feel you. I moved to my current city a year ago and I know a lot of people here, have a decent number of friends ... but not the tight-knit group, or even just one or two lady-BFFs, that I really wish for. Maybe this diffusion is just a reality of adult friendship? :/

DebraKJ

@lucy snowe I can totally relate... I understand the ups and downs of friendship from so many of my own experiences and the fact is MOST girls/women are apprehensive and struggle to reach out to make friends. Just recently I was watching The Katie Couric show on TV and was introduced to this AMAZING woman with a passion for helping women connect... Check out the book "Friendships Don't Just Happen" ... Author, Shasta Nelson, also Founder of the online friendship matching site... www.GirlFriendCircles.com — she speaks about “circles of connectedness” which makes so much sense as we experience changes in our friendships along our journey from childhood thru our school years and adulthood. #goodreads

#friendships #girlfriends #girlfriendcircles #circleoffriends

lucy snowe

@lucy snowe I hope that's not true. I miss laydeez. :(

adriana

Photobooth pictures, boxes of wine, tears, jealousy, career advice, oversharing sex talk, inside jokes. Love my girlfriends, we became closer this year.

And I also seriously love all my new IRL Hairpinner buddies! :D

sycofan

Serious question here - how do people make friends? I struggle with it a lot. I grew up in a crazy, dysfunctional house and then spent all my 20s in addiction myself. I had friends throughout that time but I gravitated towards people who reinforced how shitty I felt about myself. Now I'm over a year sober, go to AA, spent a lot of time in therapy but I still struggle with finding friends. I worry that the type of close friendship I want isn't possible when you get to know each other in your early 30s. Like, it's only possible if you've known each other since you were 4 years old. Does anyone have any advice on how to make close friends when you're older?

jenjenboben

@sycofan It's not as easy, that's for sure. It seems like the older we get, the more we have on our plate and it's harder to make time for friends, but it definitely can be done. I moved across country 18 months ago and knew it would be hard in my mid-30's with kids and a spouse to make new friends. 10 years earlier, before kids, I had done a similarly drastic move and just kind of waited for people to include me, assumed people were too busy or already had enough friends. It was rough and I was lonely for a very long time.

This time I decided to just put myself out there. If I happened to chat with someone and I enjoyed that chat at all, I would say, "Hey, I'm new in town and looking to get to know people. Wanna hang out sometime?" About 1/3 of those turned into actually hanging out with the person, but I already have a few close friends and even more good acquaintances. People have introduced me to other people. I hosted an Easter dinner by asking everyone I knew if they had someplace to go, and ended up with 17 people over.

So, um, I would say just ask. It's scary, but go for it. I know you didn't just move, but I think just saying, "You seem fun, wanna hang out again sometime?" and then following up with movie/coffee/walking in the park/whatever plans would work too. If MeetUp(dot com I think? dot org?) in your area is active, that can be a great way to meet new groups of people. It didn't work for me. Join a bunch of random stuff- look in the paper for events you're interested in, stuff like that, and then just see what sticks. I found a few things that were filled with people that were not for me, but I found a few I love too. Mostly I found that most people are a little lonely and are looking for close friendships too, because it's hard at this age. It's hard work, it's like something you have to think of as your project for the year (or however long).

I bet that would be a great thing to discuss with your sponsor and other people who attend your meetings because they would have insight to the unique parts of navigating healthy, sober friendships.

djibouti?

@sycofan crack jokes, invite them to do stuff with you, don't share their business with others, ask questions, feed them, let them buy you (non a!) drinks, be quietly uncomfortable, laugh, admit when you're jealous, bond over positives instead of sickness.

RaspberryCake

@sycofan You have to put yourself out there in ways that are terrifying at first and then get better with time. I am new at it too, basically I am relying on the people I have met at work. I have social anxiety and worry that people will find me boring, or are just being outwardly nice to me when they may actually dislike me.

Recently I told all the girls in the office that I wanted to hang out. I gave them all my number. I was trying to play it cool, and then I noticed we were all trying to play it cool! We all wanted to hang out this whole time! We'll see what happens, but so far I am feeling optimistic.

At the end of the day, you have to make the first move if its something you really want.

sycofan

@sycofan Thanks for all of your responses :-)

DebraKJ

@sycofan I can totally relate... I understand the ups and downs of friendship from so many of my own experiences and the fact is MOST girls/women are apprehensive and struggle to reach out to make friends. Just recently I was watching The Katie Couric show on TV and was introduced to this AMAZING woman with a passion for helping women connect... Check out the book "Friendships Don't Just Happen" ... Author, Shasta Nelson, also Founder of the online friendship matching site... www.GirlFriendCircles.com — she speaks about “circles of connectedness” which makes so much sense as we experience changes in our friendships along our journey from childhood thru our school years and adulthood. #goodreads

#friendships #girlfriends #girlfriendcircles #circleoffriends

383740544@twitter

Seriously though...the coffee post... Cleaning (0)

Gulfie

LATE COMMENT but I've been avoiding this post because my dearest wish for the past year or two has been to have close female friends and it hasn't been going so hot, but reading the comments here has made me feel so so much better.

DebraKJ

@Gulfie Check out the book "Friendships Don't Just Happen" ... Author, Shasta Nelson, also Founder of the online friendship matching site... www.GirlFriendCircles.com — she speaks about “circles of connectedness” which makes so much sense as we experience changes in our friendships along our journey from childhood thru our school years and adulthood. #goodreads

#friendships #girlfriends #girlfriendcircles #circleoffriends

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