“You’re my person,” Grey’s Anatomy characters Meredith and Cristina confess to each other in scenes that feel painfully foreign to me.
I’ve realized that I have friendship envy. Let’s not confuse this with the more often-discussed friend envy, in which one boils with secret jealously over a pal’s engagement ring or career or closet or freakish metabolism. Rather, this is a distinct combination of annoyance, emptiness, and yearning that rushes through me whenever I see declarations of deep, almost spiritual connections among women, usually on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (the primary sources of all modern-day self-loathing). Out of all the compartments of life to potentially feel inadequate about, this is the one that gnaws at my heart most.
What does female friendship even look like as an adult? Well, if I am to believe my newsfeeds, it consists of belly laughs and tears over Nutella and wine, essay-length birthday tributes, and cheek-to-cheek side-hug selfies with wide grins and #soulsisters hashtags. Some of these social-media-equipped besties go way back to childhood (providing them with Throwback Thursdays galore), while others have just met but have somehow formed an instant bond, as if the universe brought them together for a purpose.
I have girlfriends, some lifelong and some new, and I am grateful for them, truly. If a crisis ever struck me, I know who I could call. But friendship hasn’t looked like this for me since college and maybe a couple years that followed, when we all lived in the same magical bubble and cooked our late-night instant noodles from the same pot. I long for the times when I’d hang out with a friend and leave both invigorated and drunk with warm fuzzies, and then we’d do it again the next day.
Sure, friendships evolve with age — people move, priorities change, responsibilities multiply, scheduling becomes a laugh-out-loud-ridiculous feat. Nowadays, since I have a toddler, meet-ups have become mostly hour-long play dates consisting of speed-recaps of the events and kid milestones that have occurred since our last encounter, while simultaneously trying to make sure our children don’t eat handfuls of playground sand. Rendezvous that were once filled with happy-hour cocktails and effortless chats about everything and nothing at all have been replaced with bullet-pointed rundowns of the basic topics (work, marriage, family, random mentionings of friends we have in common — check, check, check, and check.) Also, somewhere in my brain, I’m aware that social media is a grand mirage, and that there’s more to every relationship than the carefully edited snippets we see.
Still, I want more.
The girl I envy most for her incredible female friendships is my younger sister, Carissa. Yep, she’s one of the people who incessantly posts photos of her and her besties as I watch from afar at my little pity party for one. She’s not doing it to flaunt her friendships — Carissa is magnetic. She has a group of longtime core friends, and makes new friends quickly and fiercely. The last time I saw her, she had just had brunch with a girl she met at a wedding; she said they “had chemistry” (in a platonic way), so they decided to meet up and ended up talking for three hours. As someone who is more awkward and quiet, that has never happened to me in the history of ever.
Finally, I decided to just ask her: How does she do it?
It seemed like an odd question at first. I guess I never really viewed being a friend as a skill that constantly needs to honed. Your friends are your friends, I always believed. You get each other or you don’t. You make plans, you show up, repeat. But at a stage in our lives when face-to-face time with friends has become more scarce, she told me there are ways to make those moments really count.
So I listened. Here’s Carissa’s advice on making true connections:
Ask the big questions.
I asked Carissa whether, when meeting friends, she has an outline of topics to tackle, sort of like the now-famous “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” 36-question experiment.
“I don’t go in with an agenda, but I definitely have a goal of getting close,” she told me. She said she learned a lot about making personal connections through her job as a wedding photographer; with so much competition out there, she needs to create a spark with potential clients right away. During early consultations with couples, after some small talk, she’ll delve into questions like, “What do you love most about your fiancé?” Everyone has a story to tell and wants to tell it.
It’s the same with her friends. Carissa says she tries to ask questions that make people analyze their lives, questions that others might feel are too sensitive and off-limits. Why do you think you’re afraid of being in a relationship? Why did you and so-and-so drift apart?
“I like to go deep,” she said.
Be open about your own struggles.
Carissa and one of her girlfriends have something they call “shit rants,” where they each talk for five to 10 minutes about everything that’s bothering them in their lives, no matter how big or small.
“We don’t have a lot of time, so we just need to get it all out really fast,” she said.
This is a tough one for me. When people ask, “How are things?” my programmed response is always a chipper, “Good!”—even when things are not. A lot of times, I need to shed the facade. Who knows? Maybe they share the same struggle.
“People want to help and feel needed, so let them,” Carissa said.
Know your audience.
Every friendship has a different dynamic, so embrace each one for the purpose it serves, Carissa told me. One of her friends loves to talk politics and global issues, so she’ll find ways to start those conversations. Her other friend from junior high just had a baby, so she knows and understands that’s her entire world right now.
“Remember the things your friends talk about and ask about them later,” she said. “Not enough people really listen.”
Have a tribe.
Carissa believes having a group of core girlfriends is crucial.
“We have regular girls’ dinners and we do group texts all day,” she said. “It’s a constant source of laughter and support.”
Maybe a lot of this sounds obvious to the BFFs of the world, but the conversation was a good reminder that being a friend takes real, focused effort. And I want to try harder; not because I need the best friend title (and the gushing Instagrams that come with it), but because these sort of girl-bonds were what once comforted me, fueled me, pushed me to be a better version of myself.
And damn if I want back in on that snugglefest.