How my first bad breakup led me to a lifelong best friend
August 1st is National Girlfriends Day.
It’s 5 a.m. EST on a Tuesday morning and I’m on a flight home to D.C. from Casablanca, Morocco. I’ve been gone for two weeks, sharing a hotel room with a grad school classmate for the last nine days. I’ve hardly had a second of alone time in over a week. I need a hair mask, a face mask, a manicure, and a nap that’ll show Sleeping Beauty what’s good. And yet, I know that once I get service again, I’m going to text my best friend Sabrina and see if she needs help moving tomorrow.
I thought to myself, “What kind of psychopath actually offers to help someone move?” Moving your own shit is bad enough. Besides, my friend isn’t the type to want (or accept) help from most people. But I realized that I wasn’t offering to help her move because it felt like the right thing to do, or because she had helped me move multiple times before. I was offering to help her move because I wanted to spend time with her. It didn’t matter what activity we did as long as we did it together.
Alright, I know this is sounding super sappy right about now. You might even be wondering, “Is this a story about best friends or is this is a story about lovers?” And to that I say, maybe you shouldn’t be treating your friendships and romantic relationships so differently.
But let me backtrack to how my best friend and I actually met (spoiler alert: it was after we both went through serious break-ups), and how her friendship has reminded me that romantic relationships might come and go, but some friendships can last forever.
Before you come at me with that but-my-significant-other-is-my-best-friend-B.S., trust me, I’ve been there. In fact, that’s how Sabrina and I met. After drifting away from my friend group during my freshman year of high school, I’d fallen into my first “real” relationship. It was one of those ridiculous teenage relationships, full of make-out sessions against lockers, five-hour phone calls, and matching skinny jeans. It also allowed me virtually zero time to foster relationships with anyone else. Truthfully, I probably didn’t want to anyway.
Naturally, when we broke up, I didn’t know where to turn. Sure, I still had some friends who I hadn’t technically burned bridges with—but crawling back to that group after basically ditching them for ten months felt awkward. I ended up just hanging with some guy friends most weekends; they didn’t seem to care that I had been MIA for the past year.
But because hormone-driven, irrationally obsessive relationships are commonplace in high school, so are breakups. And I wasn’t the only one who had recently gotten out of a relationship and lacked some girlfriends.
Sabrina and I officially met for the first time in fashion marketing class during our sophomore year. She sat behind me, and in between lectures and presentations, we eventually found time to vent about being newly single, wanting to meet cute boys from other schools, and avoiding our exes in the hallways.
According to Sabrina, our friendship truly blossomed on the day that we both tried out for the high school basketball team. We had to run a timed mile on the track and Sabrina really needed to use the bathroom, but she had this thing about not using the restrooms at our high school. I lived right next to our campus, and I told her that she could use the bathroom at my house once we finished running. I waited for her to complete her mile and we walked together back to my house. Sabrina told me she was “so grateful.”
After that “bonding” moment, we quickly became partners in crime, leaning on each other for support during all the post-breakup activities that many teenage girls go through. Namely: finding our first rebounds, figuring out who to ask to homecoming, and getting way too drunk with guys who were way too old for us. We got our first “real” summer jobs together at a coffee shop by the Delaware shore, and continued our antics in a new town. This went on for pretty much every summer until college.
Because we went to school so far away from each other and my university didn’t have the summers off, we saw each other much less through college. But somehow, she still popped into my life to help me with my two moves to NYC during my junior year of college and post-grad. Sabrina and I had stayed close. We were the type of friends who could go years without seeing each other and reunite like nothing had changed, but her coincidental decision to move back to the D.C. area right when I was ending things with my then-boyfriend was a godsend.
Once again, I found myself emerging from a romantic relationship that, deep down, I probably assumed would last forever. And once again, I had devoted so much time to my romantic relationship that my friendships fell to the wayside.
So many of us try to fill the post-relationship void with a new one (or at least with a one-night stand), even though we’ve learned from experience that this never makes us feel better. Instead of “getting back out there” and dating again (which was literally the last thing I wanted to do), I made a point to treat my best friends the way I treated my boyfriends (without the sexy times). I had never really considered myself a good friend (see: ditching my friends for a boyfriend multiple times), and you can’t really be a good friend/partner/etc. unless you actually want to be one. And I guess, until recently, I didn’t want to put in that work. Or more accurately, maybe I just didn’t realize the importance of friendship because I was too busy prioritizing the current man in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely still believe that your significant other can be your best friend, but I also think that the majority of us need more than one person who really gives a shit about us in our lives. There are times when your significant other is going to piss you off, or not be able to physically be there for you. Or maybe the person who is perfect for you in every single way just doesn’t understand your obsession with pop-punk from the early 2000s, and you need a friend who does. We’re complicated creatures, and some of us need an army (or a support system) to be there for all the little, big, happy, and sad-as-hell moments in our lives. We also need that person who is going to just sit around with us and make us laugh our asses off. For me, that’s always proven to be an old friend—not a boyfriend.
I hope my experience can serve as a reminder of my favorite one-liner stolen from one of those artsy AIM away messages I once saw on Myspace: “friends are forever, boys (or girls, or whatever you’re into) are whatever.”
I’m not saying that you should say “eff it” to the dating game and resolve to grow old with your BFF in a cute little cottage by the sea (although that sounds awesome). But I am saying that your romantic relationships will likely be even happier and healthier if you have some great friends that you see and talk to regularly—not just when your partner is too busy for you.
If you’re recently getting out of a serious relationship and you’re bummed about it, stay open to the idea that your rebound might just be a friend instead of a lover. I have a feeling you’ll be thankful in the long run.