When Kate* announced that her boyfriend of two months was moving in with her, the same apartment where her ex-boyfriend's paintings still decorated the walls, where the cable bills (which were still in his name), were delivered, I nearly choked on my dumpling. We were in Taiwan, on holiday, and my best friend informed me that she's ready to commit. This set my heart on pause. Was her apartment and heart merely a revolving door to which likeable bedfellows sought refuge? The sheets hadn't even cooled from her last relationship. And what I had envisioned as a summer of single, frivolous fun dovetailed into a litany of excuses, apologies and rescheduling. Suddenly her boyfriend consumed the whole of her life, and there seemed little place for me in it. While we settled on another order of steamed dumplings, I wondered if Kate had finally lost her mind. Then we had the first of what would become many heated arguments.
Kate and I had been best friends for over three years, and until that day in Taiwan, we never had a moment of dissension, much less a blowout. When we first met, everything about her irritated me (and surely she must have felt the same way about me with my snap judgments and obsessive compulsive tendencies) -- from her loud laugh to the way she cracked her gum-however, as the years progressed, her friendship changed me in ways I hadn't ever imagined. I've become calmer, less judgmental, and fearless. What I perceived to be her flaws became idiosyncratic quirks, traits I had grown to love. We tacitly agreed that ours was our deepest and most meaningful friendship -- our conversations were frenetic and invigorating; we shared our most intimate confidences. We never had a serious argument, rather we bickered over which movie to see, whether or not Miranda July was a phase or merely an artistic distraction.
But our friendship had hit its first bump, and Kate and I had to learn how to navigate this new and confusing terrain. We had to be brutally honest with one another -- communication was paramount, and it was crucial that we set aside "girl" time. I learned that in order for us to have an enduring, healthy relationship, I needed to be more supportive of her choices regardless of my opinion. In turn, she discovered that friendship isn't something to be taken for granted, that I wouldn't always be there.
Both of us realized that friendship isn't passive. You have to work at it.
Pick up any glossy women's magazine and you're inundated with advice on how to recover from heartbreak, how to cope with a devastating break-up -- pragmatic tips like cultivating a supportive network of friends to whom you can lean, or programming your therapist's number into your speed dial. These articles are optimistic, encouraging you to mine the experience for lessons learned as opposed to obsessively dissecting the relationship, and lamenting about the moment when it all fell spectacularly to pieces. Rarely do we talk about our friend break-ups; we never equate the magnitude of a break-up with a lover to that of a friend. We'll prattle on endlessly about the rotten bastards who broke our heart, but we keep our friend blowouts secret. When questioned, we're cryptic with the details. Yet, one could say that the friend fissures, bust-ups and flare-ups are equally, if not more, traumatizing. And whether the loss is celebrated, mourned or regretted, it is unforgettable.
Want to prevent the best friend break-up? These are a few tips that have kept my friendships honest:
1. Never take your friendship for granted: Think of your friendship not as right, but as a privilege.
2. Be prepared to do the work: Be malleable for what might have worked for the friendship today may not in a decade. As we grow older, our lives inevitably change, our priorities shift, and it's integral that friendships adapt to change. Complacency can kill any relationship.
3. Communicate: It's a tragic irony that in our technologically advanced society, where one is able to reach someone in a myriad of ways (text, phone, email, blackberry, and the dinosaur: the letter), communication breakdowns run rampant and can destroy a friendship. Set aside time to have those critical conversations, preferably in person. Never engage in the email flame-war! Even with our frenetic schedules, Kate and I made a point to do the mid-week check-in.
4. Pick your battles, but don't shy from confrontation: There's a difference between letting the minor tiffs slide and entering into full-blown passive-aggressive mode. If a pattern of unhealthy behavior emerges, address it immediately and respectfully.
After those tumultuous few months, my friendship with Kate has deepened. And that kind of love, the one that's lasting, the sort that binds you to someone else, could be terrifying in the sense that you're exposing yourself to someone else, rendering yourself vulnerable, but in the end it's the most gratifying.
*Name has been changed
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