When I was younger, my mother would always encourage me to go and make friends with the new girl who had just moved in across the street. It was a desperate bid to get me out of the house and socialising with another human being that wasn't a part of our family. I would recoil in horror at the thought of striking up a conversation with someone new and would imagine myself back in the safety of my bedroom, curled up with the latest Jacqueline Wilson novel.
Growing up, my family would often comment on how I had always chosen to have just one best friend, who I hated to share with anyone else. I would tell this friend all of my secret games; we would share stories and secrets, I would tell them about the boys that I fancied and occasionally let them wear my favourite black top with diamantes on. I have always been - and still am in many ways - private and closed off to meeting new people. I dissect everyone I meet, wondering if they have similar interests as me, similar humour and whether they will enjoy talking about clothes, books, food and podcasts as much as I do. Recently, I turned twenty-five and found myself spending my birthday weekend happily celebrating with a new friend who I had recently met online and had known a matter of weeks, and I sat wondering when this new sense of openness had arrived and how did I get to where I am today? Was this the beginning of true adulthood and maturity?
In my youth, I had pictured growing older alongside my high school best friends, the group of girls who were my ride or dies and my BFF's for life. They were my crutch throughout the familiar trials and tribulations that being a teenager has to offer. We would hold each other’s hands walking past a group of girls we didn't particularly like in order to show allegiance and strength, we would be a shoulder to cry on whenever one of us had our heart broken for the first time, and through every laugh out loud moment of silliness or rage at not getting what we wanted and how life was just oh-so unfair, we were each others rocks. In this passage of time, known as the 'coming of age years' I was completely devoted to my friendship group and they became my sisterhood, the people who understood me like no-one else did and championed every good or bad decision. We would holiday together, spend every single night in the same bed and would discuss and dissect every part of our lives and anatomy together. It seemed like an unbreakable bond, one that would certainly stand the test of time. It was only as I grew older and became more independent that I began to pull away from the all-encompassing group - I wanted to make my own decisions and choices without question. Initially it left me feeling vulnerable, isolated and exposed. Who was I outside of this friendship group that had shaped me?
After two long years of being in the pressure cooker that is high school without a solid female support network, I began to realise that walking to the beat of my own drum was refreshing. I moved away for college and discovered I could reinvent myself and be whoever I wanted to be. I liked indie music, I didn't really fancy the cool muscular type of guy everyone else did, and I realised that being obsessed with your looks isn’t all that fulfilling. I immersed myself in learning, meeting new people and finding new hobbies and interests.
A new outlook on life and openness led me to meeting one of my closest friends. She was chalk, I was cheese, I had long hair, and she had a pixie crop. She wore charity shop vintage finds, her nan being her fashion icon and I was a TOPSHOP girl through and through with Kate Moss as my poster girl. She was fiercely independent and I was extremely needy. On a wet and miserable day during a windy bus journey to the beach as part of an art trip to 'find inspiration', we realised we had a shared love affair of dancing and R&B music. We took one look at each other and knew we would be in each other’s lives forever. It was an undisclosed stamp of approval and the beginnings of a solid friendship. Soon enough we were inseparable; I would ditch my then-boyfriend to spend time with her doing The Ministry of Sound exercise DVD in a bid to get fit for our upcoming Miami holiday, we would have 'Hangover Hut' in bed where one of us would be forced to embark upon the strenuous task of ordering a Pizza Hut delivery from our phones. At one point, we were so inseparable that we were questioned on whether we had started a lesbian relationship. Best of all, in our group of boisterous male friends she made me laugh more than anyone else ever did. She taught me how to be unashamed of your sexuality, how to not be damningly co-dependent and how to walk away when you are no longer romantically fulfilled.
After reading Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, which as the title suggests, is all about her experiences with the four-letter word, I found myself hardly surprised that the book is mostly about her female friendships and less about her romantic endeavours. She talks so highly of her female companions and how they are the only constant in her life but is keen to stress that true friendship isn't without its hardships. When we develop a strong emotional bond with our friends, we can (though not always knowingly) expose ourselves - the good, the bad and the ugly. But what if over the course of time, the bad and the ugly overrides the light and the laughter? If you naturally grow apart, or the friendship becomes problematic or toxic over time - do we just simply walk away? There seems no attempts at an awkward conversation of uncovering where it went wrong, no blame game or frank conversation i.e. 'you’re driving me insane with your constant boyfriend obsessing' and certainly no sorrow goodbyes. In my experience, we simply choose to move on in a way we very rarely do in a romantic relationship, there seems to be no closure and no discourse when ending a long-term friendship. We accept that we have out grown each other and we move on.
Some of the lessons my friends and I have had to learn to keep our friendships healthy are thus:
1. When your friend gets a new partner, you will become less close. You'll have to adapt your friendship and its dynamic entirely. You can't go from spending every waking minute with someone to seeing them once a week and think you'll remain extremely close. It takes hard work and effort from both parties and a mutual understanding is necessary. This sad fact is part of growing up: you should be kind and supportive to each other (providing their partner isn't a total douche) if they make your friend happy then you should just be happy for them. Acting jealous is detrimental to your friendship.
2. Your friend will probably ditch you for a sexual partner at some point. This happens to everyone and neither you nor your friend should ever make this a habit. It is true when your mother always says 'never ditch your friends for a guy.' You should learn to find a balance and a way of being in a long term relationship, maintaining your independence and seeing your friends. It keeps you grounded and it is good to have a range of diverse conversations away from your partner. My boyfriend hates rom com's and my friends love them - win!
3. You will probably become jealous when your friend gets a new friend. Its human nature and you'd be lying if you said you didn't from time to time feel the pangs of the green eyed monster. I have a desperate desire to be everyone’s favourite friend and would always see a friend of a friend as competition, but with hindsight – you have to just get over it, welcome their new friend and be nice. Channel that energy in to making your own new friends. As Monica once said to Rachel in F.R.I.E.N.D.S 'me being friends with Julie doesn't make me any less friends with you.'
4. Talk through your issues, always. When all of the above points happened to my friend and I at exactly the same time, I wanted to cut all contact so she knew how mad I was. I was so hurt that she hadn't been in contact, that she had no time for me and I felt like, quite frankly, she valued her new boyfriend over me. When it all went wrong between them and their relationship ended, she finally got in contact and was bemused by my rage, being the more laid back of the two in our friendship. If I had said how I was feeling earlier on and put my bruised ego to one side then it never would have built in to such strong resentment. Always air how you are feeling from the onset.
5. Sometimes you will still always want 'just that one best friend' feeling. If you have read the Dolly Alderton book I referenced earlier then you will have read the delicious passage she writes about having that one best friend: