Before I met my husband, I dated some amazing women. Some of them are still an important part of my life. We text on a daily basis, talk on the phone at least once a week, and every couple of months we spend a weekend together. They are strong, beautiful, and understand me in a way my husband never will. I’m grateful every day to have them in my life. What’s more, I know the only reason I do is because I’ve learned to treat my female friendships with the same care that I would a romantic relationship. So, I’ve learned to date my friends.
This wasn’t always the case. For most of my life, I was a shitty friend. I canceled plans if my crush called me at the last minute to hang out. I ran late to everything because I wanted to maximize time with the “him” of the moment. I disappeared when I started dating someone, only to resurface weeks or months later with yet another broken heart, expecting my friends to be right where I left them. Sometimes they were, but as I got older, increasingly they weren’t, having finally Marie Kondo’ed me right out of their lives. One friend kicked me out of her wedding party two weeks before the big day because I was too absorbed in a guy to show up for her during one of the most important times of her life. As she tearfully explained her decision to me, I wish I could say that was a turning point for me. However, the pattern of focusing on the men in my life at the expense of my girlfriends was a longstanding, deeply entrenched one. Somehow, early on in my life, I had picked up the idea that finding “the one” was more important than finding my squad. (Ahem, I’m looking at you, Hollywood and every women’s magazine, ever.)
Instead, the turning point came as my first marriage ended and I realized how small and sad my life had become through pinning all my hopes and dreams on one relationship. I had fallen prey to the fallacy that one person can and should provide everything we need. As I unpacked boxes in my new apartment, I realized I had frighteningly few people I could call to get pizza with, let alone for emotional support. I desperately needed some good friends, but first and foremost I needed to learn how to be one.
I liken the process of making friends to dating because that makes it sound important. It makes a vocation out of cultivating our friendships and gives it the same weight as nurturing our romantic relationships. Think about it; wouldn’t it be amazing if there were as many women’s magazine articles on “how to be there when your BFF needs you most” as there are on “how to how to get and keep a man”?
These days, I often say how lucky I am to have an amazing circle of “best” friends. The truth is, luck had nothing to do with it. I worked hard for those relationships. I sought out wise, inspiring, hilarious women who don’t take shit from anybody, and I loved on them fiercely and relentlessly. Like Leslie Knope, I am obsessed with my best friends. (If you aren’t familiar with Amy Poehler’s character from Parks and Recreation, I offer you this video to remedy that as soon as possible. Also, the title of this post will make a lot more sense if you watch it.)
I’ve been happily remarried for some time now, and I know this has everything to do with my friends. This is because no one person is meant to bear the full weight of supporting another. That would be like building a skyscraper balanced on one concrete block rather than a full foundation. A building can only soar upward when the weight is spread around. Likewise, we need a team of people with whom to share our hardships and our joys—because no one person is equipped to absorb them all.
The other day I got some big news, the kind that throws you a sharp left turn when you thought life was on cruise control. Immediately I called my husband on his drive to work. He was loving and reassuring but could only talk for a minute before facing the demands of his own day. Which he was able to do without worrying about me, because he knew I had other people to call—we had a shared understanding that it wasn’t his sole responsibility to meet my all emotional needs in that instant. When we hung up, I sent out an SOS text to my best friends. Within minutes there was a chain of helpful, encouraging responses. This continued the rest of the morning until my husband called back over lunch to check in. Collectively, my foundation carried me, everyone bearing part of the burden until the earth felt solid enough for me to stand back up on my own.
So this Galentine’s Day, tell your friends how much you love them. Better yet, show them. Call to see how they’re doing. Make time for them, whether it’s a weekend away or a five-minute FaceTime chat while you’re both hiding from your kids in your respective bathrooms. They’re worth it, and so are you.
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