Friendship is Rare
(title suggested by the ever-brilliant Ness)
The older I get, the more I believe that friendship is vastly undervalued in the culture I live in. Romantic relationships are held as the gold standard of intimacy and connection, and anything else is secondary. When choosing to spend time, effort, emotional work, and money, we encourage putting our romantic partners first and everyone else second.
The fact is, as sweet as a romance can be, in the end I cannot imagine living my life without the support and partnership of my best friend.
Bell is the person I can call, give two sentences to, and know she’ll have the best (most sarcastic) response. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it is to me that I am seen, known, and understood by someone. She’s so good at empathy, and she’s one of the most caring people I’ve ever known. Sometimes, she tells me the hard shit I don’t really appreciate hearing, but I probably need to. And when I need comfort, I only have to ask, and she’s amazing, kind, and right there.
In some ways, we are very different. Half the stuff I do makes her wonder how I get through the day, and I feel the exact same way about her. But what’s so, so valuable to me is that she doesn’t ask me to be different so she can understand me better. She just lets me be weird and supports that while internally thinking, “That’s weird but OK then.” I can’t seem to find the words for how much that means to me. It’s rare as fuck in a world that expects me to change everything from the shape of my body to the people I find sexually attractive to fit some kind of standard of acceptability. She’s one of the very few people with whom I don’t have to put on any mask, or be something less than what I am.
When my husband is sick (he’s mentally ill and fantastic but not always OK), she understands better than anyone on Earth how hard it is for both him and me. She also totally gets why I don’t walk away from hard relationships when they’re hard. She can see his side and mine, which is an amazing gift. She can commiserate when he’s frustrating. But she can also somehow still manage to remind me that when he’s being frustrating, he’s sick and that it’s not his fault and that I love him. Without her I may not have survived the harder parts of my marriage. Try to tell me that’s not as valuable as the marriage itself.
I know, because I’m her friend and because she talks about it openly, that she worries sometimes that she’s not a good friend. That her own mental health struggles makes it hard to be close to her or make her somehow less desirable as a friend. The truth is that mental illness can make it hard for all of us now and then, and sometimes it’s lonely to love someone with mental illness because they do disappear or struggle or act weird, and it can be hard to be close to them or feel supported by them at those times. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned about Bell, it’s that she is the most kind and caring person I know. She will show up for me if I need her to, no questions asked, and sometimes that’s the best she can do and you know what? That’s all I really need. I don’t need her to baby me all the time; I just need to know that if I need comfort she’ll be there.
I have this theory that friendships (probably all intimate relationships) reach a certain tipping point. When you arrive at your first conflict, the first thing that is hurtful or harsh or not quite friendly, you have a choice: Learn to grow together or grow apart. I have had many relationships reach this tipping point and then end. For a long time, I thought it was because I wasn’t good enough myself. Now, I realize that not every relationship is meant to work through the hard conflicts and hurt feelings and struggles that intimacy turns into now and then. The fact is, having a friendship that can weather hard storms is absolutely vital to my well being. We’ve learned how to talk to each other, relate to each other and, most importantly, trust each other. I trust her—not to be a perfect kindness robot but to be herself. I trust her to try. I trust her to show up. I trust her to get messy and not always be nice and that it doesn’t mean anything about our friendship’s foundation.
You know how tree branches wave in the wind, but the roots are sound? It’s like that, but way less twee because she would find that analogy grossly sentimental. It’s still true, though.
I love my husband, and without him my life would be way less awesome. I feel the same exact way about Bell. Don’t tell me that she’s secondary because she’s “just a friend.” She’s my lobster.