I met Ashley — not her real name but let’s go with it — in college. I was 20 years old, sitting on the couch and studying for my economics class, when I heard someone at the front door. I wasn’t expecting anyone and thought maybe the person knocking was looking for my roommate. I answered the door, and there was Ashley: Petite, pretty, blonde, bubbly.
“I’m Ashley,” she said. “I’m your new roommate. Can I come in?”
At the time, I lived in one of those shared living spaces for students. Management rented each room separately in our two-story, four-bedroom apartment. I came in with Melanie — also not her real name — a friend and former roommate. Melanie and I each had our own bedroom downstairs and shared a bathroom, and two other students would do the same with the upstairs bedrooms. The living room was downstairs and the kitchen was upstairs. We were excited for new roommates but didn’t know when they were coming or who they would be.
I opened the door and invited Ashley to sit on the couch with me. Ashley began talking enthusiastically as I shuffled my economics book and notebooks out of the way. She seemed energetic and friendly. Immediately, I hoped we’d become friends.
When our fourth roommate moved in, she and Ashley quickly hit it off. They’d gone to the same high school and bonded over shared friends and interests. All four of us seemed to get along fine at first. But at some point Melanie began coming to my room to complain about Ashley. Melanie laughed at the way Ashley talked and criticized Ashley for being preoccupied with boys. I wondered what Melanie’s motives were for talking about Ashley to me. But Melanie acted like she was looking out for me by telling me these things about Ashley. Especially since Ashley liked to talk about me behind my back, Melanie said.
I was surprised by this. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to what Melanie was saying. Melanie was just confiding in me because we were friends, I thought. And, in the beginning, I was glad the other girls moving in didn’t change that. But then Melanie came to my room more and more frequently to tell me about Ashley talking behind my back.
The divide between Ashley and me got to the point that our boyfriends — who we introduced to each other, since we thought they’d get along — stopped hanging out because they were so tired of getting interrogated from us afterward. We peppered them with questions about each other and what was said behind whose back.
My feelings were hurt each time Melanie told me what the other girls were saying about me. But next thing I knew Melanie was hanging out with them, like nothing happened. I didn’t understand why she did that.
Melanie and the other roommates would fight over silly things like a one-or-two-degree difference in the temperature to set the thermostat. I would laugh and openly tell them the fighting was stupid. In person, we pretended to like each other. But the badmouthing continued when one of us wasn’t around. It was almost funny to me, the ridiculousness of it all, until the three of them turned that cattiness against me — together.
Suddenly, all the passive aggressive notes on the refrigerator about dirty dishes were only about me. Hey, I might not be the tidiest roommate, I thought, but there’s no way those are all mine. I remember being the angriest when the upstairs roommates had a Cinco de Mayo party the night before one of my final exams. At around 3 a.m. I asked them to keep it down. They didn’t. I hated living there.
After my yearlong lease was up and I moved out, I planned to wash my hands of Ashley and the other roommate. I was angry with Melanie, too, for treating me so badly. So I started to distance myself from her as well.
Ashley and Melanie ended up becoming roommates with a few other girls. The rare times I spoke to Melanie, she had nothing but awful things to say about Ashley. The three of us had mutual friends, and Ashley and I — who had broken up with our boyfriends — even dated two guys who were roommates. I eventually lost touch with Melanie. Whenever Ashley and I interacted, we were nice to each other. I started to remember the girl I met the day she showed up at my door, the girl who I hoped would become my friend.
Some time later, Ashley reached out to me with a sincere apology. She told me she was sorry for how awful she treated me before. Melanie and the other girls she lived with were treating her the same way (by the sound of it, worse, actually) and Ashley realized how terrible it felt to be on the receiving end.
I surprised myself by accepting Ashley’s apology immediately. What I learned from all this is that most of the things Ashley and I claimed to not like about each other came from a place of admiration and, with Melanie’s meddling, those feelings turned into jealousy and cattiness. Ashley was insecure and admired my confidence. I, too, was insecure, and wished I was more like Ashley in many ways. We realized what should have made us friends made us frenemies.
It’s been about seven years since Ashley and I first moved in with each other, and now we’re closer than ever. We’ve traveled and had great adventures, and we’ve encouraged each other along the way.Ashley and I live in different states now but see each other a few times a year, and we text often.
When I told Ashley I was writing about our friendship, we decided it would be cool to give her a pseudonym and came up with it together. Ashley said she was happy I was sharing the story of how we went from frenemies to friends. She said I shouldn’t worry about what I write, because it’s the truth about our relationship and she’s planning on us being lifelong friends. I agreed and thanked Ashley for her support. At this point, neither of us could probably get rid of the other, even if we tried.
[Image via Paramount Pictures]