The first time it happened, like really, really for real, it almost killed me.
It was so hard, I moved away. Literally. Skipped town. To be fair, there were a lot of other things going on in my life that made living in my hometown less-than-bearable.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the loss of a (platonic) girlfriend.
I was deeply moved by Anne Falkowski’s poignant piece on the loss of a dear friend. I found that I felt a deep sense of solidarity for all that she wrote with one exception: that it paled somehow in comparison with the loss of a lover or the death of a loved one.
I’ve lost lovers. People I’ve loved have died. Still, the grief caused by the conscious decision of a true friend—particularly a female friend—to cut ties has been, for me, extraordinary and unique.
In fact, as Anne goes on to define the terms of that friendship (“…an unspoken promise that our friendship was something we could count on.”), as well as the suffering its loss caused her (“…my grief revealed itself like an abandoned baby. I felt like I might break or die…”), I got the distinctive impression that she would agree with me wholeheartedly on that one.
That friend I left town over all those years ago wouldn’t be the last lady to leave me. It’s happened since. I’m not an easy person to love. But others have stuck around, have let me be as important to them as they are to me.
My dearest girlfriends know my deepest secrets, and have been with me in some of my darkest times, and I have endeavored to do so for them.
This is the thing with the most profound—I guess the Greeks would have called it phileo—love shared between women. There is camaraderie, there are inside jokes, comfortable silences, shared values. But there is also a sort of dormant mother/sister role ready to emerge when necessary. Sometimes that role is constant. I have this relationship with one woman in my life, but I’ve seen it many times in other female friendships around me.
That protective role—that purest solidarity—is what binds women so deeply to one another. (As I’m not a man, I cannot say precisely how it manifests for men, but I’m certain it exists between them as well.) My perfect moments with my friends have been when there was no need for protection, but there was the understanding that it would be there when the need arose.
The most horrible moments were always when the need was there, but it didn’t.
It is a moment of betrayal, of shame and of loss beyond compare, because it feels so dreadfully unnecessary. It rings the unmistakable toll of finality, and reminds us of our disconnectedness. When it is someone we love truly—and without condition—it slams us against the wall of uncertainty, sweeps the floor out from beneath our feet and assures us that nothing in this life can be depended upon, not even our dearest friends.
So why don’t we call the whole thing off?
I was recently reading an article in the Guardian about finding friends after thirty (a hefty subject all its own that I’ve written about as well). The writer described her mother’s relationships thus: “…deep, intense and emotional…such bright-blazing friendships…they are often short-lived and excised from the record as soon as they end.”
I, too, have had friendships like this.
Why on earth would we put ourselves through such an incredibly heart-wrenching exercise time and again? Why not keep it surface, guard our hearts against the potential damage? I mean, we’re not even getting laid out of the ordeal, for crying out loud! Why not get a cat and a lover and call it a day?
The truth is, many of us do just that. Many of us have been hurt too many times by the actions of others (or, indeed, those of ourselves), while others have never felt truly able to open their hearts so completely to someone else. In all honesty, I haven’t made a friendship of the caliber to which I speak for years.
But I hope I’m not done.
The risk for heartbreak is there—yes. But the promise of understanding is as well. Meeting a woman with whom we connect on that deepest interpersonal level can be quite literally life-saving. I cannot speak for everyone by any means, but I know that I personally feel a deep—cosmic perhaps—connection to the world around me, and with no one is that sense more profound than it is with other women.
When we don’t get each other, it can be a mess, but when we do, it’s perfection.
It’s rainy Sunday mornings when we don’t have anywhere to be; it’s nights spent sprawled on the grass under the stars giggling after too much wine; it’s the coolest, gentlest breeze on a summer day; it’s the pillow that somehow absorbs all our tears, the cliff over which we can scream until we’ve lost our voices, the funny story that never gets old, the favorite song to which we never tire of dancing.
It’s so simply the way life should be, all the words I’ve used or could use could never describe it—anyone who has had a friend like this already knows what it is.
That is why, Anne, I hope you risk the pain and continue to open your heart to your friends, and why I shall endeavor to do the same for as long as I’m able.
Here’s to friendship.
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Ann Halsig is a freelance writer with a background in Social Science and Ethnic Studies. She has lived and worked in the U.S., England, the Philippines and currently resides in France. You can check out her musings, meanderings and misadventures on her blog or hire her for some word whittling here.
Editors: ShaeMecha Simms & Carolyn Gilligan
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