Friendship is work, and that's okay
September 17th was National Women's Friendship Day. For the entire month, we are sharing stories that examine the unique role that friendship plays in women's lives.
I heard very conflicting perspectives on friendship as a kid. Adults told me that I wasn't going to school to make friends, that I was only there to study and pay attention to my teachers. But feel-good movies and YA books made me assume that lifelong friendships were supposed to just happen without any work.
Friendship was supposed to be magical — I’d look across a classroom, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, or a library, and I’d see a kindred spirit.
Another awkward misfit who would sit with me and play pretend while everyone else jumped rope, who wanted to laugh and repeat all the dirty words that older kids had written in the bathroom stalls. Someone who would teach me how to untangle my long, straight hair, who would invite me to birthday parties.
And though I've had — and still have — some good friends, that magical, easy, life-changing connection I saw in the movies just never happened for me. Friendships that entered my life couldn't naturally hold themselves together "just because."
I longed to be part of a friend group that would grow old together — friends who go on vacations together, who dorm together, who sit on couches and binge horror movies together. I quietly prayed for The Friend or #squad that would swoop in and save me so I'd stop comparing myself to other friends as I spent Friday evening scrolling social media in my room.
But friendship doesn't work that way for everyone. People form friendships differently, and often times, it has a lot to do with purposefully creating opportunities to bond.
For me, 2016 was a rough time. Graduate school was stressful, my emotional health was in shambles, I'd had a falling out with someone close to me…I felt alone — the kind of lonely that keeps you up at night and hurts your chest.
I told this all to my therapist as I sat across from her. I mentioned that some of my grad school classmates seemed really nice and that I enjoyed talking to them.
I told her that the advice sounded really "relationship-ey." She responded that a friendship is a relationship. It's not necessarily a romantic connection, but it is an emotional one.
I already knew that my own long-term romantic relationship required a lot of compromise and work, but I hadn’t realized that a friendship does, too.
I am never going to exist in a movie montage where I serendipitously run into old friends at a bar and immediately rekindle our relationships. Friendship means spending a tedious amount of time texting back and forth until we make plans that fit each person's schedule. It means I have to be open to different experiences if I'm going to see my friends. Some weekends, I get to see people in a bar (not my favorite place in the world); other weekends, I'm at someone's house, or joining a friend for a quick workout. I spend a lot of weekends by myself, writing and reading. I learned that, sometimes, I need time to myself in order to be a better friend. I learned that's okay.
Just like romantic partnerships and family relationships, friendships require a delicate balance of compromising, apologizing, spending quality time, and even calling out inconsiderate or upsetting behavior instead of bottling it up.
Every emotional connection takes a significant amount of work to survive. That shouldn't take away from the wonderful stories in TV, films, and books that highlight lifelong friendship, but we must remember that those relationships aren't as easy in real life. Relationships that depend on emotional intelligence, consideration, and intentional work are meaningful, important, and definitely worth the effort.
I think I'm in a better place to make that kind of effort now that I understand it. I look forward to seeing where it takes me.