Not girlfriends, but ‘girl friends’.

“I don’t get along with girls.”

This is something my sister has said to me time and time again; there was Katrina, Tabitha, Eugene, Amanda, Theresa, Katie, Shannon – all failed friendships which seem to indicate that what she says is absolutely true. She doesn’t get along with girls; her relationships with women seem scant and surfaced, as opposed to relationships with her male friends which are more easygoing, good-natured and vibrant.

My sister isn’t a “masculine” girl; she relates to men emotionally and not physically; she doesn’t relate to them through stereotypical means – playing and watching sports, for example. She relates to them because these are the people she can most easily talk to, feel less competition with, and forge a circle around. She doesn’t get along with girls.

I am the opposite; I have forged friends with women my whole life. My first best friends were little girls that were more daring, outgoing, bossy and chatty than I was. I played Barbies with them and we talked about our husbands and how we would both get married and move into a duplex with a slide connecting our two houses so we could always go visit each other by sliding into each other’s homes. One of my childhood girlfriends and I said one day, we were going to go to Africa and watch wildlife; we were also going to both own horses; we were also going to both marry members of an acapella group that did a mini performance in our elementary school gym one afternoon.

In high school, I was friends with high-strung, boy-crazy girls; they looked at photographs of Leonardo DiCaprio on the internet and squealed when they did this. They talked about going to the gym and having desserts together on Friday nights and slow-dancing with the popular boys at our school dance. I wasn’t one of these girls; I was overweight, immature, quiet and juvenile. Yet, I admired them. I admired their ability to embody the girls I saw in movies and in teen magazines, and I was jealous that I was unable to be like them – to wear the clothes they wore or kiss and slow-dance with boys. They were the first girlfriends that presented me with a mirror of my then-ideal version of “girlhood.”

University saw my acquisition of a new group of girl friends. They were shrewd and studious and unconcerned about matters of the heart; rather they had dreams to travel, gain acceptance into professional programs, become physiotherapists, nutritionists, immunologists. They were unconcerned with fashion and makeup and men, or mixed messages, or photos of celebrities. They were single but analytical and they had no time for stereotypical ‘girly’ frivolity. Surrounding them, I shrugged off emotion, image, the need to be pretty and skinny and have the most fashionable outfits. I became a child again; I was 18 years old. I was looking at my life as a young person looks at the future; bright perhaps, but uncertain; and studying, working, ignoring emotion, was the surest way to gain some certainty and direction. Direction was everything. Direction was more important than a boyfriend.

Emotion affected me when I never expected it to; it stood right in my face; it dwarfed me, its immense shadow shrouded me in cold bleak shades of dank gray. It wouldn’t allow me to ignore its cause-and-effect relationship with me anymore. And it was at this time in my life that I met not just ‘girlfriends’, but best friends.

*

When I review all of the fiction I’ve ever written, at its core there was a love story. It is either a fractured, dysfunctional or doomed love story, but a love story nonetheless. About marriage, courtship, divorce, a breakup, a crush, or romance broken apart because of unpreventable, unforeseeable, impossible road blocks. This is the universe most writers occupy; I believe we are by nature “romantic”, and it is our duty to ourselves and to communicating the message we wish to get across about human nature, about humans’ capacity to feel and what that looks like to readers. It’s interesting that we made an instant connection between romantic or sexual relationships and a demonstration or validation of our capacity to feel. Parental love and sacrifice is a thematic influence too on many stories worth telling; however, it seems the theme of friendship lays ignored beneath a heap of already and oft-told narratives about what it means to be “in love”.

Best friends, more easily, comfortably, and caring than a man ever, ever could, can demonstrate really, what ‘love’ can do; what it can prove, disprove, mean, and feel like. My mother (and another one of my best girl friends) said to me once, “It’s easier to love someone when you feel like they care about you and like you back.” This is something I’ve never had from a man, really; that they long to be beside me, spend time with me, make me a priority; and conversely, that I long to be with them, spend time with them, make them a priority too.

This friendship I have functions like a clock does in a cartoon; it is an outright sea of cogs, axels, gears, both quiet, steady and at times maddening ticking – it is complicated and lengthy, but it is mechanized and streamlined – it never confuses me. It just works. I look at each cog, each axel, each gear, and know exactly where it fits into this machine, which perhaps seems perplexing to anyone outside of it. Everything is in its place. Every little part plays a role into its inner-workings.

 In my past, I have had lukewarm feelings about the concept of ‘friendship’; I’ve been known to proclaim that friendships have no staying power and it was naïve and foolish to believe they do. I knew so many people that I grew up with who would always state that their childhood friends were the most important people in their lives and that they would be friends with these people ‘forever’. In a way, they were not wrong; when I encounter these people at local bars in my hometown or in pictures and empty words on social networking sites, they are indeed still friends. However, when I was 12, I scoffed at their outlandish claims that their friendships were important, rock-solid and ever-present. Many of my friends in my past had shunned me, abandoned me, and decided to stop caring about whether or not I was in their lives. I had been duped and double-crossed, and I attributed this to a problem with friendship as a whole, not the specific friends I was choosing. I never associated friendship with everlasting love. I never believed that the importance of friendship could outweigh the importance of so many things in one’s life, that it would be a fundamental building block to the foundation of one’s soul, that it would ease and overcome so much anguish, pain and failure.

In my life today, I am still not a ‘people person’; I have always been quiet, antisocial, an observer rather than an actor. I shy away from new people, I duck in fear of making waves, it’s never my intent to step on toes. But… for years, I never believed myself to be someone who “needs people” to maintain a pleasant stasis. I do. I do! I need the people in my life who bring out of me, the importance and the meaning of ‘love’.

While love means different things for different people, to me love is friendship and friendship is love; when I think of what love means, I think of the selfless, fun, silly, supportive, cheerful, talkative, warm company of my friends. I think of what my friends have taught me about letting go and also moving forward, and seeing myself as a part of a unit that exists outside myself that is large and multifaceted but completely understandable and meaningful. I think about how they have set a standard of how to love and be loved in return, and how incredible it feels just to feel needed, and also how good it feels to need someone else sometimes. That you can find love in a relationship between three people in a way that is entirely platonic and based on something aside from sex, outside of attraction, and outside that narrative mirror of how masses of readers, viewers and philosophers define and see ‘love’, is perhaps incredulous, though simply astounding, lucky and wonderful.

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