The State of Friendship Affairs

About six months ago, my close friend S and I broke up. I felt and still feel good about our breakup. Our friendship had run its course, and I ended it early enough that when I think about me and S, I still recall all our loving memories – fending off fleas at our Airbnb in New Orleans after my college graduation, watching UnReal and The Bold Type in my apartment while eating tons of takeout from Silver Diner, teasing each other about our respective trust issues and laughing because despite our issues, we trusted each other.

After my friendship with S ended, I started grew closer to another friend, L, an iconic queen with radical vibrant energy who went dancing with me in Philly. I did not realize this until early October, but in many ways, L fulfilled for me all the things S did not. Whereas S started moving more into a romance-oriented, non-rebellious lifestyle, L embodied racial justice, anti-capitalism, and out-loud feminism in all that she did. Whereas S and I slowly drifted after a solid few years of friendship, L and I came together quickly after having only exchanged a few messages and some in-person meetups in DC POC-owned cafes. But my friendship with L came to a startling halt in late September too, when I realized that our communication felt unhealthy and that she in fact had served as my rebound friendship after S.

Another friendship of mine has shifted: my friendship with A, the caring and compassionate queen who moved over a year ago. Over the past couple months, A and I took a few short breaks in our friendship after we experienced some conflict. To sum it up, A started dating a man and engaging in more heteronormative behaviors than I ever thought she would based on our first year of friendship. After a lot of internal work, I realized that even if A and I may differ a lot in terms of how we choose to live our lives – I for one detest the idea of a wedding or wearing a patriarchal heteronormativity ownership device wedding ring – we still care about each other and share similar values and communication styles, the components of a strong friendship. At the same time, I still make space for myself to grieve the idea that A would live a more radical life that aligned itself more with mine.

I have spent a lot of time processing these friendships as of late, in particular my friendship with A. While grading papers last night, I thought about songs that would match my mood state, and then it clicked: “thank u, next.” “thank u, next” fits because even though these friendships have either ended or shifted, I feel so much gratitude toward every single one it also fits because S is Mac Miller minus the drug addiction, L is Pete Davidson minus the white male mediocrity, and A is Big Sean except more of a compassionate empathic queen.

I feel grateful for S for acting as one of the few men in my life I have ever trusted, for our shared bonding over family trauma and anti-capitalism and loyalty to the people we care about. I feel thankful for L for her amazing passion for social justice, for her inspiring energy that warmed my heart and continues to motivate me to fight even harder to end oppression. I feel appreciative toward A for how she provided me with a super close friendship the year I started grad school in a new area, for her empathy and insight and kindness.

I share about these friendships because friendships can mean so much to us and carry so much rich complexity, yet they often do not receive as much attention as romantic relationships or familial relationships. As I wrote in my post about my iconic friendship weekend with Natasha, I never have felt like I needed a man, in large part because I derive so much emotional intimacy from my friendships. When I listened to “thank u, next”, though, I realized I had been falling into the heteronormative trap, this thought that because S and L are pretty much out of the picture and things with A have shifted, I need to fill that space in my life with a new close friend right now.

I caught this thought and sat with it. I gave the thought space. And I gently reminded myself that as Ari sings, there “ain’t no need for searching.” I have my closest friends, Bri and Natasha, several other good friends, and also a weird over-disclosing red-haired BlackPink stan friend, myself. If another friend who values compassion and social justice shows up, that friend shows up. But if not, no worries – because I’m spending time with the friends I do have now, including myself. I may feel some yearning, and I also feel great. I may want something more, and I also feel full. While these friendships may have caused me some pain, as do most things that matter in life, I still feel so, so grateful.

2019 friendship trinkets from natasha

Speaking of friendship, look at these cute trinkets Natasha gave me when I visited her last week: an origami thing (she’s an art queen) and also a Jeni’s pin with the Frosé flavor because I love it and also love Rosé from BlackPink. 🙂

How do you navigate friendships in your life, either when they end or shift in form? Reactions to anything I shared in this post? What can we do as a society to value friendship more in the face of heteronormativity and patriarchy? Until next time!

13 Comments

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13 responses to “The State of Friendship Affairs

  1. Our friends can be different from us as long as we share something at the core and as long as they don’t directly go against something we hold very dear. That way we get a Venn diagram of overlapping friendships. Also different friendships serve different needs and we serve different needs for our friends, and that’s all good. I think it’s harder to pick up new friendships as you get older esp as you move away from academia, and also sometimes very old friendships can change as much as new ones can. That’s a bit of a brain dump. I’m glad of my friends and I’m glad you have good ones.

    • Liz, I appreciate all these points so much! Yes, I’m really recognizing now that different friendships serve different purposes and that’s okay. And I also am recognizing that friendships and people change and even though that’s hard it’s important to honor and recognize and make space to process. I think I’m still thinking about how to make and maintain friendships as we move away from college and into a more heteronormative space where people really do prioritize romance and the nuclear family, so any and all thoughts on that are appreciated too. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Despite my age, I don’t think I have mastered the friendship affairs just yet. I still have issues when it comes to dealing with annoyances with my life-long friends; not knowing how to address certain issues without offending anyone, or having resentments that I do not know how to deal with. So I usually end up avoiding that person altogether until I forget about the issue.

    • Aw, that sounds hard! I appreciate your honesty because friendships and relationships can be tough. I hope that over time, if you want, you can make strides to authentically connect with your friends, address issues, and find deep satisfaction in your friendships, however that may take place for you. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. X.w

    Hi Thomas,
    I still struggle with friendship and question friendship in general. Sometimes I feel like I am so lucky that I share same values with my besties, but sometimes I got upset when I feel like even best friend will judge me; and I have definitely been disappointed by the hypocrisy in all of my friendships. I am grateful for my friends, and I am certain there are moments I feel so happy with our support for each other. But I sill wonder maybe we shouldn’t ask friends for everything, that I can only get to see some demesions of them. Like, some of them are good to talk about books and movies, some of them are good to take a trip with. Some I can enjoy a meal with. But maybe I just can’t get along with them all the time. And we can’t change anything. I also wonder is that why sometimes people say their partners are their best friend?? Maybe that’s true? When they find someone they can live with and do a lot of things together. I am not sure 😛 Also someday I will get a dog or a cat– that could be my best friend. 😀
    Xin

    • Thank you so much for your vulnerable and thoughtful response, Xin! I think friendships can be hard to navigate in part because as a society we don’t teach people how to communicate with friends and about friends (e.g., “how is this friendship feeling for you?” “how can we both have our needs met in this friendship?” etc.) At the same time, I really like your point about how different friends may fulfill different functions, which I think applies to family and romantic and other types of relationships too. It sounds like being intentional about what we can and cannot get from certain people may be a worthwhile approach. To be honest I get annoyed with the notion that someone’s partner is their best friend because it feels heteronormative to me. Though I think dogs and cats have been shown to be fabulous companions, like my favorite writer Caroline Knapp wrote a whole book about dogs and how relationships with dogs are iconic. Hope to hear from you again soon, Xin and hope you’re doing well!

  4. Kevin

    “What can we do as a society to value friendship more in the face of heteronormativity and patriarchy?”

    I recently deactivated my Facebook account. I’ve been thinking of doing so for a few months now, though ultimately it took Mark Zuckerberg, demonstrating his contempt of the notion that Facebook has a responsibility to protect its users from misinformation, to get me to commit. I think a commitment to a truthful democracy is as good as any reason for people to distance themselves from it.

    But there are other reasons- reasons that have fallen by the wayside lately. There used to be a bigger discussion whether Facebook changed the way we think about relationships, particularly what being a friend means. I think the way social media has allowed us to broadcast content to your “Friends” really has diminished the impact of the word. I’ve started making changes to how I reach out to people independent of social media. Rather than posting a “Happy Holidays”, handwrite cards to a select few friends. Calling somebody on their birthday instead of a quick three word post just because Facebook reminded you. Sharing your status is a way to divert attention to you when, if it were really about friendship, you would be trying to think of meaningful ways to give somebody else your attention- you can’t give all 500 of your Facebook Friends the same level of attention.

    There are other things, of course. Calling toxic masculinity out for how it has harmed mens’ ability to be vulnerable with other people, for one. Creating safety nets that exclusively benefit single people (or, go a step further, create benefits for friends who enter into certain agreements akin to what married couples get). But right now, I’m calling out social media, for the way it has damaged how we relate to one another, for the mental health problems it has caused, for the damage it is doing to our democracy. I will be the first to admit it has its strengths, which made dropping Facebook a thoughtful decision for me. But I no longer believe the strengths outweigh the costs. Related to this discussion, perhaps if they had used a word like “Connections”, similar to LinkedIn, we wouldn’t be talking about this in relationship to friendship. But they used the word “Friends” which, given Facebook’s influence on culture, has inevitably changed how we think about the word.

    • Kevin, thank you so much for this thoughtful and intelligent comment, it’s really thought-provoking to me. While I’ve thought about Facebook’s negative mental health influences and the way that Mark Zuckerberg has deflected responsibility in terms of spreading misinformation, I love that you’re drawing attention to the word “friend” itself. It’s made me think – I wonder how many people really do devalue friendship because of the way it’s conceptualized on Facebook, as something that’s rather meaningless and low-effort. I wonder if people put more effort into friendships before Facebook or regarded friendship as more important before Facebook. I admire you for deleting the social media account given how you want to live your life and the benefits for doing so for you.

      Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment, it means a lot to me. And I’d love to hear more at any point about the safety nets for single people and these agreements you touched upon.

  5. It’s interesting reading your posts on friendships. When I read this a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know what to write because it’s an area I struggle with. I ended a friendship by kinda ghosting him. At that time, I had a convenient reason – work. I was working shift work which included weekends. I pretty well immersed myself at work. I saw him once afterwards and more or less confirmed that I have nothing else in common with him.

    It took me a very long time to even go through a final closure and be grateful for that period in my life. Rather than look back at it with disappointment, I remember more of the good stuff that happened.

    p.s. I also love how this entry has triggered some really interesting comments.

    • Hi Matt, I appreciate you sharing what happened with your friend and I’m sorry that you drifted apart, though it sounds like you recognize you no longer have things in common with him. I also appreciate your honesty in saying how it took a long time for you to get closure and feel grateful for that period in your life, as sometimes I try to rush to a place of closure when actually it takes time. I also love how thoughtfully people have commented on this post! Thanks for reading and commenting as always. (:

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