What I learned about friendship monogamy

The most monogamous relationship I’ve ever had was with my childhood best friend.

Becca and I met at the end of fourth grade, when we both received the same award at our elementary school for being “good citizens” (aka teacher’s pets). No love at first sight for us. She thought I was weird. After all, we had gotten the same award, and yet I’d congratulated her like it was a significant achievement. I thought she was unfriendly. Why wouldn’t she congratulate me back? But the next year, we were in the same class and one day, all of our normal playdate companions were booked up. So we looked each other up and down, and decided an afternoon together would be better than an afternoon alone. By the end of the playdate, everything had changed.

We weren’t lovers, though sometimes teenage boys accused us of it, because they couldn’t understand why we’d rather hang out with each other than with them. I don’t know that we understood it either. It was almost a compulsion. We had to spend every afternoon after school watching TRL in her parents’ bedroom. We had to spend an hour on the phone each night. One afternoon in middle school, we dressed up in our Halloween costumes two weeks before actual Halloween, and walked around the neighborhood dressed as a pumpkin (her) and an ear of corn (me). I laughed harder than I ever had before. One night, when my parents sat me and my brother down after dinner to tell us that my mother had cancer, I’d barely even finished processing the news before I ran upstairs to call Becca. I choked out the words through my tears, and she listened to me.

In eighth grade, a boy named Eduardo asked me on a date. He had very blue eyes, and a shy smile and hell yes, I would go bowling with him. Somehow the date never materialized. I did, however, spend hours sitting next to Becca at my computer, creating a Sims version of Eduardo for the Sims version of me to go out with. A real kiss with Eduardo would’ve been terrifying. A manipulated one between our Sims, with Becca by my side, was safe. My Sim and Becca’s Sim lived in the same house, of course.

In some ways, we were practicing for what came later and so, when later came, it wasn’t surprising that things changed. College and boyfriends, different goals and shiny new friends, all of these pulled us apart in their own way. At times, I wasn’t there for her when she needed me. Other times, she was the absent one. When she moved to NYC for grad school, two years after I’d settled there to give the theater scene a try, she didn’t know many people. We might’ve fallen back into our old monogamy, except I was busy, and not generous enough to make room for her in all the facets of my new routine. A couple months later, she met the love of her life.

I don’t remember where we were the first time she referred to him as her best friend, but I do remember the sinking feeling in my stomach. The strength of it surprised me, because I didn’t consider her my best friend anymore either. I didn’t consider anyone my best friend. I was lucky enough to have multiple women with whom I had strong relationships, so the designation of “best” no longer seemed important. And yet I could feel a shift happening all around me. As these friends met the men they were going to marry, they stopped inviting me to be their plus ones. We no longer went out dancing and flirting until four a.m., secure in the knowledge that we’d go home with each other. I pictured a future in which everyone I knew was married with babies and I spent each night alone in my apartment, my voice rusting from nonuse like an old junkyard car. It terrified me, and angered me a little too. I prided myself on my commitment to my friends. One time, I even abandoned a long-distance boyfriend on one of his rare visits, to drink wine with some friends I saw all the time. Why weren’t they doing the same for me?

I have felt that jilted compulsion to go make new, single friends and limit my interactions with the old ones. I have felt that I should settle down with the first guy who came along, even if it wasn’t right or I wasn’t ready. I have written an entire freaking novel about female friendship, The Summertime Girls, to work through my confusion about it.

And I keep coming back to a night, right around Mother’s Day a year or so ago, when I sat on a couch with Becca. We no longer talked every day. But when I told her how much I had hated Mother’s Day since my mom died, she listened, just like she had when I’d called her sobbing on the night I realized my mom wasn’t going to live forever. And when I was done talking, she said how much she remembered my mom, and that meant more to me than anything else.

Friendships don’t need to be monogamous for them to matter. Perhaps my Sim and Becca’s Sim would no longer live in the same house. But they would meet up sometimes and say nonsense Sims words to each other, and that floating diamond above their heads that shows their moods would turn a brilliant, happy green.

(Image via iStock)


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