The Mysteries of Intense Platonic Girlfriend Love

Have you ever had a friendship that took over your life?

Sep 26, 2011 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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I met my college best friend on the last day of freshman orientation. I was sitting under a tree, reading a book about artificial intelligence, as it seemed the rest of our incoming class in the small college under the banner of a big Boston university had already formed up into comfortable cliques.

I’d had enough of cliques by the ripe old age of 18 to last the rest of my life, so on this afternoon, at a social barbeque during which we were meant to be mingling, a spot under a shady tree with an interesting book was far more appealing.

A striking young woman appeared and sat down beside me, ignoring my pretense of reading. She had an asymmetical haircut under a black bowler hat, elaborate goth-girl eyeliner in swirls extending over her temples, and wore an oversized button-down shirt with baggy plaid pants cuffed over Dr. Martens boots. I’d seen her around for the past few days and assumed anyone who looked like that was far too cool to hang out with me.

She observed that it seemed like everyone had formed up into social groups already, and how annoying was that? I agreed. And then she said, “What kind of music do you listen to?” -- the same question I asked everyone new I had met, with a curious insistence that the answer would tell me everything I needed to know. I was not looking for shared tastes, per se; I was looking for shared passion.

Within days we were inseparable. No, I don’t mean that in the cutesy way, not in the little-girls-holding-hands-and-skipping-through-a-meadow way. I mean we literally did not do anything separately. We went to parties together, ate together, shopped together, saw movies and concerts together, clubbed together, danced together. She would change the lyrics of songs to include my name, and sing them to me. Our personalities intertwined, growing into each other like vines climbing the same wall.

I went to one gig that first year on my own -- the band was the long-since-evaporated Possum Dixon -- and the whole time I felt unanchored and disoriented without her presence, her voice, her protection. It wouldn’t happen again.

The following year we roomed together, in a large double dorm room with its own bathroom. The year after that we got an apartment together. By now, mutual acquaintances were confusing our names; we were “___ and Lesley” to most people who knew us, but many could not have said with certainty which of us was which.

We seemed to share a single consciousness. When things happened to her, I felt them as keenly as though they had happened to me. We were unbashedly physically affectionate, as sisters often are; one night at a club, while admiring a handsome boy, she remarked, “Oh, he just put his arm around that guy. He must be gay.” To which I honestly responded, “You have both of your hands on my thighs.”

Some time after this, things shifted. We both gained boyfriends. We were still living together, but we had gone from bickering constantly, like the archetypal old married couple (a comment we heard often) to never fighting at all. It should have been a warning sign.

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Then she told me she wanted to move out. I still don’t fully understand why. I cried in front of her and accused her of betrayal. I wasn’t sure what I meant by this, I only knew I felt that she was angry with me for something and wouldn’t tell me what it was. I wound up being the one to move out, taking an apartment one floor up in the same building.

We graduated. We saw less and less of each other, though we were still close. Eventually she moved away, but would come back for visits, and stay with my boyfriend and I in our new apartment. When she left again, I would cry heaving, heartrending sobs of anguish and loss.

My boyfriend was uneasy, and at one point asked if I was “in love with her or something.” I was disgusted with him for turning it into something tawdry.

I loved her, certainly. She stands to this day as one of the great loves of my life, a love that eclipsed baser definitions of the word. I was never sexually attracted to her -- and truly, our relationship was uniformly platonic -- but I needed to be with her, all the time. Missing her was like having part of my soul ripped away.

I can’t say that the relationship was altogether healthy; it was frequently codependent, and I relied far too much on her opinions to tell me what was cool or interesting or good. I would have done anything for her approval. Even today my tastes bear her influence. I could not be friends with her without that relationship -- and indirectly, her -- defining my life, and by extension, my self. At the time, it was the most important, most intimate connection I had ever known.

In time, she visited less often, and I visited less often. Our weekly phone calls turned into monthly ones, and then ceased completely. Our communications via email slowed and eventually stopped, and in their final year, they consisted only of an exchange of birthday e-cards.

We had grown apart, culturally and socially and even politically. I felt I needed not to be connected to her anymore; her influence on me was too powerful and I wanted to be rid of that. We stopped communicating altogether about five years ago, and I bear no ill feelings about it, nor do I regret it.

I assume she felt the same way, but I could be wrong.

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I had a close friend in the sixth grade, one of those relationships where I was at her house as often as I was at my own, the standard-bearer of the adolescent BFF. Then came the summer before seventh grade and I thought we had grown apart, thought we had mutually agreed by our silence not to be best friends anymore.

That is, until a couple months into the school year when she cornered me in an empty art classroom, demanding I explain myself. I asked what she wanted to discuss, and she said: “This thing called our friendship that you’re ignoring.” I will never forget the way she said it, indignant and enraged.

When she asked me why, I couldn’t explain. I didn’t have new, cooler friends I was ditching her for -- in fact, my new friends were pretty hateful, miserable company, as so many girls at that age can be. I would have been happy if it were possible to survive at 13 without any friends at all, but if you have been there you know how difficult that is. 

I simply didn’t want to be around her anymore. I was bewildered that I could have misjudged the situation so completely. My friend stood and wept, and  I stood icy and dissociated, having erected an instantaneous emotional barrier against the realization that I had hurt her so badly.

I hope that my friendship with my college best friend deteriorated organically, as I imagined it to do. I have always been the kind of person who forges strong connections with only a small handful of individuals; I am not close to many people.

My relationship with my college best friend remains one of the pivotal relationships of my life. There are literally a hundred songs I can’t hear without thinking of her, and I will forever carry perspectives and experiences shaped by her presence in my life.

Whenever I try to describe our friendship, I often find myself referencing Peter Jackson’s pre-Lord of the Rings film “Heavenly Creatures,” based on a true story about two teenage girls with an intense relationship living in a shared make-believe world. In that situation, the connection goes so far off the rails as to result in matricide.

My own intense friendship never damaged anyone so much, but I could absolutely see how that might happen when two outcast souls in search of meaningful connection lose themselves in each other. It didn’t happen to me, but it could have.