My Brilliant Friends
Friendship, specifically female friendship, is having a bit of a moment in the book world. Between Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (which I read while I was in Scotland earlier this summer), Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, and Ali Smith’s How to Be Both, it seems that the complexity and love in friendship is finally being recognized. All of these novels feature complicated and nuanced relationships between women–relationships that endure more dramatic ups and downs than any romantic dalliance. In a couples-centric culture, it can sometimes be easy to forget just how valuable and essential our friendships can be. I’m glad that we’re finally giving friendship the attention it deserves.
When I was younger, I had a hard time making friends. But, turns out, there’s nothing like memories of sitting alone on the playground at recess or being made fun of by the “cool kids” to make you appreciate your friends when you finally make them. It’s common knowledge that as we get older, the number of friends we have tends to dwindle. There are, of course, a multitude of reasons for this: distance, marriage and kids, the stresses of everyday adult life, and the inevitable evolving and growing apart from one another that happens as we age. Even though I, personally, had a lot of problems making friends growing up, it’s generally easier when you’re young–your friends live on your street, or sit next to you in school, or later, live with you in your dorm. Free from the responsibilities of adulthood, you revel in your friendships–spending hours on the phone with friends you see every day, talking about nothing; driving around aimlessly, listening to the radio; gathering in one another’s backyards every summer day.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have not only maintained many of those friends I finally made in high school and college, but also to actually make NEW friends as I’ve gotten older. At 33, I have friends from graduate school, previous jobs, my current job, friends of friends, writing friends, blogging friends, and friends of my ex. I’ve found that as you get older, the ways in which you know people grow more fluid. It’s no longer as easy as saying, “Oh, we met in homeroom.” Just this past weekend, I attended a wedding in Chicago where I knew many of the people who also knew the bride, but had a hard time explaining to those I didn’t know who I was or why I was there. It was just complicated, but there were others there with equally convoluted stories. And you know what? It was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to. However, just as the ways in which we know each other grows more complex, so does the work involved in maintaining those bonds.
After my weekend in Chicago, I spent a week in Minneapolis, visiting one of my college roommates, Abbie, with another of my college roommates, Nancy (and her fiance). We talked one night over pre-bowling dinner about how friendship requires effort. With my college roommates for instance (the three of us, plus our friend Meghan who was unable to visit because she’s about to have a baby!), we schedule a monthly Skype call to catch up. We’ve missed a month here and there, and sometimes there are last-minute cancellations, but for the most part, we show up. And we show up because we care about each other.
Not every friendship is like that, of course. I have other friends who I only talk to every few months, and then usually only through email, but I know they care about me, and I hope they know I care about them, because, even if it’s not as often, we still show up.
On Friday morning, Abbie and Nancy decided it was time for me to learn how to ride a bike. That’s right–I don’t know how. So I strapped on a helmet and tried to pretend I wasn’t terrified as I climbed onto one of Abbie’s bikes. And then we worked on pedaling and balancing for at least an hour, up and down the sidewalk, and then to the park a few blocks down the street. And I had to laugh as I pedaled, slowly, with Abbie running alongside me, holding on to the handlebars, and Nancy running behind, playing Taylor Swift on her phone. We looked absolutely ridiculous, and I still need to learn, but all I could think about was , “Who are these people, trying so hard to help a stubborn scaredy-cat like me learn to ride a bike just because they know it will be good for me? How did I get so lucky to have these people in my life?”
I may be single (I am single), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have loving relationships in my life, I guess is what I’m saying. And I hope that we can keep up this work and keep showing up, despite the partners and babies and careers and classes and temptation to veg out in front of Netflix. Because at the end of the day, friendship is just as important, if not more so, than romance.