On Female Friendship

I hold this truth to be self-evident: If I were eaten by a goblin in the middle of the night, my friend Anne is the first person who would notice…

First, she would notice when I didn’t respond to her middle-of-the-night insomnia text. She would definitely notice when, upon waking, I didn’t send a selfie of my dog sleeping on my head. As the day ticked on, she would panic when I didn’t partake in discussing whatever dating drama had erupted since the previous night. Long before anyone else sensed my absence, Anne would alert the authorities.

My friends are the husbands I thought I’d have by now. We check in throughout the day and share an endless stream of memes. We swap spare keys and watch each other’s pets and consult each other before making life decisions. We’ve spent major holidays together. My friends, bless their souls, have tolerated many renditions of a text message soliloquy to the tune of “WILL HE TEXT?” followed by others that lamented “HE DID NOT.” They keep me buoyed, and I am always glad to return the favor.

As an only child who went to a women’s college, I learned early that female friendships are kind of everything. Many wonderful things came from my time at school, but arguably the best was meeting the brilliant, funny, weird and wonderful sisters I never had.

In the years since, I’ve written about many personal things, including dating, breakups and living alone. Why, then, did it never occur to me to write about friendship?

In her book Text Me When You Get Home, Kayleen Schaefer writes, “Prioritizing friendship is sometimes tricky; society often indicates to women that it’s not on the same level as the other relationships in our lives, such as the ones with our romantic partners, our children or even our jobs.”

But the tides are changing.

Abbi and Ilana. Issa and Molly. Tina and Amy. Oprah and Gayle. Female friendships loom large, and a glance at popular culture might lead one to believe that female friendships have replaced the likes of Romeo and Juliet as the connection to aspire to. (And thank goodness, because look how that turned out.)

“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship?” writes Hanya Yanagihara in her novel A Little Life. “Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going.”

To that end, Anne and I have a thing we call “floor party.” The square footage of NYC apartments often forces you to prioritize, and when faced with the decision between “dining table vs. totally impractical coffee table,” I chose the latter. This means meals are eaten around said coffee table, while sitting on the ground.

One night, we were sprawled on the floor, basking in the aftereffects of wine and takeout, when the conversation turned to the future. Where might we be in some number of years? Would we have as-yet-unknown partners? Different jobs? Bigger homes? Kids? Would all our dreams come true?

Then the conversation came to a lull for a moment.

“But I’ll be nostalgic for this time,” she said.
“Me, too,” I answered. It was true.

Soon after I type this, I’m headed to my college roommate’s wedding, where I will be the lone single bridesmaid — out of nine. After playing the do-I-bring-a-date-who-will-think-this-invite-means-more-than-it-does game, I decided to go it alone, sans random plus one. I am sorry to admit how much this filled me with dread.

To be clear, the dread has nothing to do with celebrating my friend, which I am all too happy to do, on any scale, at any time. It’s because I get antsy about traveling alone and I cry like a fire hydrant at weddings. And, to quote Whitney Houston, “I wanna dance with somebody.” I would like to be the type of person who cares not about such things, but alas, I care. I care a lot.

As I sat inside my cloud of angst, a text popped up on my phone. It was another friend from college whom I hadn’t seen in a while. “Do you wanna fly together to the wedding?” she wrote, closely followed by, “Let’s be each other’s dates!” And just like that, the dread was replaced with excitement.

I was asked to give a speech at this wedding. At first, I dreaded this, too. What on earth could I contribute? I don’t know much about marriage, having never been married. But then I realized: I know plenty about love.

From my friendships, I know that true love accepts us because of, not despite, who we are. I know that family can include people we choose for ourselves. I know that what they say is true: Grief shared is grief divided, while happiness shared is happiness multiplied.

And I know that sometimes, like when you’re sprawled on the floor next to an impractical coffee table, love doesn’t look the way you expected it to. Sometimes, it looks better.

P.S. 12 reader comments on friendship and hosting an articles club.

(Illustration by Kate Pugsley.)