I am twenty-six and living in New York City. From everything I’ve heard and read, this means that I should have already acquired some of the closest friends of my life. There are plenty of other things that might be going wrong. I might be living in a roach infested five-story walkup with a creepy landlord who possibly roots through my underwear drawer when I go out. I might be struggling to find a “real” job, or always almost failing to make rent. I might be taking tons of auditions while waitressing, or I might be dating men in flashy suits who aren’t really interested in who I am, as a person. Eventually, I might have a big break that involves fashion week in some way.
There are a lot of stories about what NYC is like for young people, and the thing that usually makes it all worthwhile in these stories, aside from the incredible falafel at Mamoun’s, is friendship.
I have never, ever dated a man in a flashy suit. I actually don’t know what a flashy suit would look like. But I did skip other steps, too. I got married young. And while I lived in some seriously gross apartments, with some scary landlords, they always had elevators.
And I’m worried about friends.
I’m worried about friends in a way that makes me uncomfortable. It makes me feel uncool. It makes me feel vulnerable and helpless.
I am beginning to feel like I have a bad track record with other girls. They have been known to break up with me. They disappear so quickly, my head spins and I’m left, standing there on the subway platform, watching trash swirl in the wake of the train. What just happened?
I was supposed to meet my best friends in college, originally. My mom thought I would. I think that’s what college meant to her. I met a best friend in college, and we were inseparable for a year, and then she fell apart, and her falling apart focused on a boy, although she had been hospitalized for a suicide attempt and for starving herself before then. She was brilliant and funny and playful when she was well. But later she accused me of not being supportive enough, after she accused the boy of rape, after he broke up with her. And then she threatened to stab me. I guess it’s a long story.
I came out of college with one friend and a handful of people I had hung out with.
The friends I carried with me from childhood vanished.
A few weeks ago I got an email from the girl who was my closest friend in grad school. It was in response to my email, which said, “So, are we not friends now? I’m just wondering why you don’t talk to me at all anymore. I’m kind of hurt.” She responded that she didn’t have time for friends right now. Family trouble. Her dissertation.
We used to stay up talking all night in my tiny apartment. She’d stay over, on the couch, which was like four feet away from the bed. I thought she was the smartest person I’d ever talked to. I hoped I sounded OK. I hoped I sounded like maybe I knew which philosopher she was referring to.
“I’m fine,” I told Bear, acting long-suffering. “I don’t need her.” And I felt fine. Except in the very back of my mind. But all the rest of it had mastered damage control. I don’t think my expression even faltered.
She was one of my bridesmaids. By the beginning of this year, only two of them were still talking to me. One didn’t even make it to the wedding—we broke up just before.
And then, of course, there’s the drifting apart. My friend who had a baby. My friend who moved.
I have new friends. I have a group of fabulous, hilarious, ambitious women I met here in the city, who give me something to dress up for. I wrote this piece as a tribute to them (for some reason they are all strikingly gorgeous. It’s weird).
But they are still so new, and I realize now that I am cautious. I can’t help but wonder how long they’ll stay. Especially in a city that moves so quickly. Especially when everything here feels so temporary. I realize now that I am opening slowly. I am protecting myself. I want to throw my arms around them and stay friends forever. But that is not the way it has worked. And so many of them already have their old, closer friends in place, like the more useful pieces on a chess board. So I am careful.
So many of my friendships collapsed so quickly, and so close together, that I didn’t even want to talk about it with my new friends. I didn’t want them to know my history. I wanted to hide all the drama. It didn’t sound real, even to me. It sounded like it was a plot in a TV show. I wanted to be a person who had calm, lasting friendships. I did not want to admit that a girl had threatened to stab me, and that that was only the beginning.
The truth is, I am ashamed. I am quietly, unceasingly ashamed that I have not managed to build the kind of friendships that I can say lightly of, “Oh, of course we’ll always be there for each other.”
Haven’t I tried so many times? Have I not tried hard enough?
Here I am—confused and hesitant. Bluff and bluster. Trying to act cool. The usual tricks. Half waiting to be left.
People talk about this a lot, in the context of romantic relationships. But friends are always the easy part. Friends are the people who are there to help you pick up the pieces, when this sort of thing happens with your boyfriend.
When I reached out to the girl who had almost been my bridesmaid a few days ago, I didn’t expect to hear back. But it had been nearly two years, so maybe. I pretended not to be checking my email incessantly. I pretended that my heart didn’t speed up every time there was a new message.
She wrote back. She wanted to meet up!
We did. And we sat there with shy eyes, making small talk across lunch food. And then she said, “It seems ridiculous to lose a friend in New York City.”
And I knew exactly what she meant.
I’m up to four now. Four bridesmaids who are talking to me again, counting the maid-of-honor and the one who wasn’t in the wedding party.
After lunch, walking through the city, on Madison Ave, I was suddenly hopeful. Maybe I don’t know the end of these stories. Maybe the drama cools and becomes calm, eventually. Maybe the new friends will become old friends, one day. Maybe they won’t leave me. Maybe I won’t leave them. Maybe this is just the beginning. Could it be that I am surrounded by forever friends?
It could be that the people who talk about the apartment roaches and the auditions and the thrill and desperation of this city only wish that friends had been the easy part. Because if friends were easy, life would always make more sense. And there’d be a lot less dramatic relationship scenes that don’t involve men in flashy suits. Which are harder to write.
My scenes are never about those men.
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Who are your forever friends? Or are you still trying to figure this stuff out, too?
Unroast: Today I love my pointy elbows.
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