In 2019, I fell out love with one of my closest friends, A. I remember a couple of our FaceTime calls during the last few months of our friendship, when she talked about how she and her boyfriend felt unsure about where they would live after she ended her internship year. My friend wanted to move closer to her family down south, whereas her boyfriend wanted to stay closer to his family in the mid-Atlantic region.
“And after we talked I just thought, what if he’s gonna break up with me?” A said to me, after one of those tenser conversations with her boyfriend.
Who the heck cares, I thought to myself, though I said other things to my friend: I’m sure you two will work it out, it sounds like you’ve both been practicing healthy communication, I hope you can take care of yourself through this. Taking a step back, of course I understood why my friend cared about if her boyfriend would break up with her. She had moved to a new state where she knew no one, then she started dating this guy, and he acted as her only in-person support system. Whenever they got into fights, she always asked me: what if he breaks up with me, and I’m all alone in [name of state redacted for confidentiality]?
Deep down though, I expected more from A. During the first year of our friendship, we had bonded over feminism, over never needing a man to feel happy or fulfilled. But when she started dating this guy, that changed, and toward the end of our friendship she admitted that she spent most of her time with him. Even in this conversation about her and her boyfriend wanting to live in different places, I thought to myself, why is it that you’re always concerned if he’ll break up with you, when you could break up with him if it turns out his life plan is incompatible with yours?
A few days later we FaceTimed again. Out of obligation, I asked her about how she felt about her and her boyfriend’s situation, if there had been any updates.
“He’s actually decided to move with me so we can live together.” I could see her face glowing, even with the slight blur from my iPhone screen. I could hear the giddiness in her voice as she spoke. “He said that he couldn’t imagine a life without me.”
A few weeks ago I talked with one of my best friends about relationships, amidst a flowing conversation about books, finding meaning outside of our work, and much more. This best friend and I both live alone, and we both fill our time with our hobbies – she cooks amazing food and practices martial arts and writes beautiful poetry, I listen to pop music and play tennis and write extremely vulnerable Goodreads reviews and blog posts. We both love our lives without men. This friend and I agree, also, that in our relationships, we always want to be able to survive without the other person. While we care a lot about our loved ones, we want to feel able to stand on our own two feet, so that our love for our loved ones comes from a place of caring for them on top of our already complete lives, instead of valuing them from a place of desperation or loneliness.
A and I differed on this view though. I remember how happy she felt when she told me her boyfriend could not imagine a life without her, whereas if any man said that to me, I would gently ask him to please develop more supportive and sustaining relationships and hobbies so he could survive if anything were to happen with me. I view making a man the center of my life as heteronormative and patriarchal, whereas A saw herself as someone in a healthy and satisfying relationship.
In one of our fights during the last few months of our friendship, I told her that I felt betrayed by how she had chosen to engage in a romantic relationship that looked exactly like the ones we both used to criticize when we were single. She wrote to me that she didn’t know it at the time, but when she had said those things about patriarchal relational norms and the wedding industrial complex, she said them to avoid her fear of vulnerability, to avoid confronting how much she wanted an intimate relationship with a man. When I read her words, I felt a knot of dread form in my stomach. If A had been an ardent feminist and then turned into someone who valued a man above her friends, would the same thing happen to me if I ever dated a man?
My other best friend told me last night over FaceTime that A recently announced her engagement with her boyfriend over Instagram. I felt my heart clench a bit when my bff shared this with me. I had avoided all of A’s social media to give myself space from updates like this, updates that felt hard to hear while I still wanted time to heal from the breakup. When my best friend informed me of A’s engagement though, I felt some angsty thoughts reemerge: should I have invested so much time in a person who would ultimately prioritize her male romantic partner over me? Should I have detected sooner that when A got a boyfriend, she’d behave the way she did? Did I fuck up by letting this person into my life, into my heart?
Now that more time has passed since our breakup, I can see our friendship with more nuance. I do think that if I had known A would ultimately end up prioritizing a man and pursuing a heteronormative relationship and family, I would have invested more time in other relationships, or even in my research, mentoring, therapy work, or hobbies. At the same time, I feel so appreciative of what we shared together: the hours spent laughing about debauched fanfiction, how I convinced her to go to therapy which helped her deal with her issues, how she helped me feel less lonely during my first two years of grad school. I still think A is a compassionate, empathetic, wonderful human. I will always wish her the best, whether we reconnect as acquaintances or friends awhile down the line, or even if we never speak or see each other again.
My friendship with A taught me a lot about what I want in my closest friends and potential romantic partner, too. In addition to valuing people who care about compassion and social justice, I connect with people who possess both a willingness to share emotional intimacy and a self-assuredness that they can stand on their own two feet, even without me, and especially without a romantic partner. In 2020, I have spent most of my time loving my two best friends and loving myself. I’m not trying to rush into any new best friendships or a romantic relationship. At the same time, I’m keeping my heart open, for the sake of connection, for the sake of love.
Hello internet friends, how are ya’ll doing? Apologies to the 1.8 people who read this blog for the delayed post, I had been keeping to a pretty much weekly schedule on this blog but last weekend I wanted to finish a final draft of my dissertation proposal, so. It’s weird, sometimes I forget I do things aside from over-sharing on the internet and listening to “As If It’s Your Last” by BlackPink. Anyway, how have ya’ll negotiated friend breakups? Or what do you look for in close friends, or more casual friends? How are you reacting to what I shared in this post? Until next post and hope everyone is staying as safe as possible with amidst Coronavirus!