In praise of the best friend

I was never a ‘girlie girl’. My sister always boasted at least 5 ‘best’ friends at any one time while I was scratching around to find anyone to ride my bike with after school. Girls just didn’t seem to want to hang out with me and do the things I wanted to do. Want to go have a ‘cook out’ in the forest? Ride 20 miles just for the hell of it? Build a dam and see if we can catch eels? Nope. I was on my own or the tag-along with my stronger, faster, ruder guy friends.
By the age of 15, if you don’t have your ‘group’, you’re so ‘outside’ that you’re either adopted by the potheads and soon-to-be dropouts or you spend your lunchtime running cross country. Drugs always scared the life out of me, so by the time I hit 16 I could run 8 or so miles without much effort. Slowly of course.. I had a whole 90 minutes of break time to fill. And god save me me from the horror of visibly eating alone.
I wish I could blame the source of my failure on moving schools, a divorce or even a ‘wrong side of the tracks’ background.. but to be honest I was just 100% average. Slightly smart of mouth and highly introspective.. but basically a normal kid with zero ability to connect to girls.

Maybe it was due to  a lack of desire to spend hours thinking about what to wear, who to date or just my low tolerance for gossip… either way, from the age of 8 through to my early 30s, I rarely had what I’d consider a female ‘best’ friend.  I had friends.. a couple of girls who I could rely on to appreciate a new LP or some rad new Doc Martens but my main ‘go to’s’ were guys. I found  their easy shoving, beer drinking, shit talking ease relaxing and although my interests weren’t exactly the same (I had zero interest in which girls might ‘do it’ ), I did a lot better with my guy friends. Guys don’t ‘chat’ and they rarely judge your tone, use of language or what you might have meant by a specific comment. My guys just gave me shit if I said something stupid and moved on. In the absence of the ‘inference minefield’ I relaxed and was able to be myself. No judgement. Something I didn’t think I’d ever have from the female of the species.

Girls left me dumbstruck. They were ‘pointy’ in their comments and jumped on anything and everything I might say. As a result I said stupid things, laughed in the wrong places and received more than my lifetime supply of eye rolls from my female peers. I was regularly ignored and ostracized me without explanation. The stink of desperation to be accepted grew as I got older and I swung widely between craving a best friend and telling them to go fuck themselves.

Of course I was as alien to them as they were to me. Who was this girl who used really long words, always had her head in a book or spent an ungodly amount of time riding her bike around the countryside? Who cut off her hair and wore it raised to the ceiling without any attempt at femininity? Add a general lack of interest in boys (oh, I caught up later) and a growing anxiety around ‘not fitting in’ and, well, you have your basic awkward teen.

I’d watch movies about girlfriends and marvel at how that much estrogen could exist in a room without someone getting a period or spontaneously bursting into song. It seemed so easy to everyone else. Me – I just missed that gene that said ‘girlfriends for life’. In the era of John Hughes movies I didn’t resemble anyone.. I wasn’t quirky enough to be part of the oddball girls, was too athletic to be a geek chick and too poor to join the rich airheads. I was the ‘invisible’ girl. I wandered around the edges of groups, but I’d never had a sleepover until college. (and he was a guy). As I got older the need for a best friend abated and I found boyfriends filling the niche. I thought women and me just weren’t a match.

Until I found myself single in my mid 30s.

With the loss of my husband-friend, I noticed a yawning ache that I hadn’t experienced since the age of 16.   I’d managed to move to an entire other country and still had only guys as friends and now that I was dealing with actual feelings for the first time in my life, I needed a girlfriend. I really wanted someone who would agree that ‘hell yeah you deserved more’ (even if I didn’t) and who would high five me if and when I ever left the house. Who was willing to share dating tips and who might have insight as to why I seemed doomed to date every bizarre man in the Denver metro area.  My guy friends just looked nervous and tried to change the subject if I brought up a feeling or something outside the football/news/politics trifecta. 

Ask and the universe grants. I had faith.. and the universe delivered.

 Hope was a girl who seemed to navigate the social data map with ease, who traversed groups of women and men without even thinking about it. To my surprise she seems to enjoy having an introverted tomboy girlfriend who can’t leave the house without packing Valium, Xanax and Imodium. Maybe she needed a project, or, as I prefer to believe, she just has a big heart.
Our friendship began slowly just as I moved 1,200 miles away from her. But distance hasn’t held us back. We don’t go ride bikes or build dams, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a pub with her. She doesn’t try to put makeup on me or want to talk about Brangelina. She doesn’t fit into any of my previous ‘friend’ molds.  She’s strong, driven and passionate -traits I’ve since recognized in myself. It just took a while of being around women to understand that I’m not alone, not that ‘different’. In fact, since I’ve met her, I’ve found more and more of ‘us’  – women who aren’t following the formulaic future that we were promised. And who pass through life with a smile and joy regardless. Sure we talk about guys, but we talk about everything. How our retirement funds aren’t substantial enough, how to lay underfloor heating, vacation planning, and yes, even the physical stuff that comes with getting older. Many times, ours is not a conversation I’d be having with any guy.  I finally understand what female friendships offer and while I could have used one or two girlfriends more 25 years ago.. its been worth the wait.

Hope has grown to became – over 5 years of phone conversations – the soul of my US ‘family’. I knew that she’d console me when I got dumped without reason and still be able to laugh with me when I hit on my gastroenterologist during a rectal exam (hey, I was sedated and very very high). She’s offered small nuggets of advice (‘you don’t get a prize for sleeping with the most men’) but largely is one of life’s great listeners. I’ve never found a girl before or since who was willing to join me in mocking O magazine while reviewing profiles.
Over the last 5 years I’ve called Hope while sitting in paper pants (don’t ask), shrieking about the worse sex of my life and when I needed help figuring out how not to lose my house. In turn I’ve been there for her through her relationships, bad dates, drunken evenings out and layoffs.
Together we’ve navigated 5 years of single living, with 99% of it via the phone.  We’ve even formulated our retirement should the need arise. After all, we’d love men in our life, but there’s no guarantee. We’ve both been divorced longer than we’d like and as the numbers of eligible men fade, our female relationships just seem to get stronger.

I no longer worry about how my words might be interpreted, my tone or whether I fit in with women. I know I don’t fit with most.. but I’ve found one who fits me just fine. This is 40 – where best friends do exist.

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