My mom always told me that you should be able to count the people you are truly close to on one hand. Though other pieces of sage advice passed down from her include avoid men who you catch sniffing bicycle seats, a jar of olives is a great self-defense weapon, and leaning against walls in France is unadvisable because they could be trap doors and you could be sold into white slavery, I believed her because it made sense to me.
What she didn’t explain to me was that those five max circle of friends would change as you grew up.
She also did not explain to me why she thought I would ever come across a guy sniffing my bicycle seat and be all “What up, NEW BOYFRIEND?”
When you’re a kid and you break up with a friend, it’s easy to write the whole thing off. When you’re really, really a kid, you can even look back on said breakups and laugh. “She said she only wanted to hold my Pony but then she took it and cut off all its hair and then hid under my dining room table crying for her mom -- clearly I dodged a bullet there,” you might remark.
Even the bygone friendships cultivated in the middle school or high school years are easily explained away. We were growing, we weren’t the same people from one day to the next. She tolerated my Absolutely Serious Goth phase, but I kind of don’t fault her for walking away when I began wearing tennis whites and sweaters about my shoulders for no discernible reason.”
Though we joke and explain, I think it’s those failed friendships that cue our cringing over past mistakes and hurts. It’s an intense ass time. You grew close with your friends quickly, and when you fell apart, it hurt just as keenly as any romantic disaster. Sure, you were both changing quickly, but you were beginning to be little adults -- and with adulthood comes responsibility, and with responsibility, blame.
When my best friend from age nine began acting out in high school due to real depression, I wasn’t the sort of friend for her then that I like to think I would be now. I leaned away from her constant, clinging need of me, frustrated and annoyed because I didn’t know how to help her. So I did what every terrible youth does -- I ignored the problem until it went away. I remember walking down a hall in high school, and her waiting to speak to me.
“Can you just tell me what I did wrong?” she cried.
I hunched my shoulders and scurried past her like a coward. I felt hurt and manipulated and confused -- but even through all of that, I should have remembered what it felt like to be shut out that way. I should have remembered the agony of being treated like you weren’t there.
“I was a kid,” you say, with the vague guilt of knowing that yeah, while you weren’t an adult -- you weren’t an infant -- and even though you didn’t know what to do, you knew to do better than that.
By college, I was a better friend -- though still not the best, what with my tendency to drunkenly display my nipples, and occasionally do shit like refuse all medical attention when my ears became so infected they swelled completely shut.
When I read recently about women in long term friendships going through therapy to work on their relationship, it didn’t strike me as odd at all, looking back on the tearful mediated sessions between my still best friend and myself in the wake of one injury or another we had done: “You left me at the airport when my flight was cancelled and made me stay at a hotel OUT OF LAZINESS!” “YOU SMOKED POT WITHOUT ME!” “YOU JUDGED ME FOR GETTING BACK SWEAT ON YOUR HUSBAND PILLOW!” “YOU ATE TOO MANY OF MY AMARETTO CHOCOLATES!”
It was the fighting and the over-talking that made our friendship as strong as it is -- even though she lives across the country. I could say exactly the same thing about my other true bestie -- sure, we are united in our fascination over Crystal Gale’s hair, a perverse sense of humor, and a shared distaste for the phrase “enough of anything to choke a horse” -- but it’s the knowledge that if I ever am pissed at her I can go to her and tell her and the world won’t fall apart. That’s what makes us real friends.
We go to therapy to learn about ourselves, to heal, to change the way we think. We go to therapy to save our romantic relationships. Hell, it’s not entirely unheard of in this, the age of the Real Housewife, for us to include our dogs in our therapeutic sessions.
Why wouldn’t shouldn’t we also plumb the clinical resources we have to maintain the relationships that sustain us, that bring us joy, that keep us sane and laughing? Part of me thinks it’s a natural thing for some of my friendships to have fallen by the wayside as I grew up. But another part of me looks at the great friendships I have now, and can’t imagine ever not having these people in my life. And if that means dragging them to therapy, I will totally be that girl.