Testing the Best Friendship

I wrote this a few months ago and would like to dedicate it to all of those people who have enriched my life–making it super spurrrcial ,dealt with me not just at my best but at my absolute worst, and consistently restored my faith in humanity. I am SO glad that you (some very old and some relatively new) friends are a part of my present. Cornball, out.

Head honchos claim that the test of a solid friendship is how much conflict it can contain (i.e. can you survive the downs that occasionally appear in lieu of the ups?). This is wisdom at its wisest, but I would argue that a relationship’s ability to withstand a significant amount of silence or distance (or both), with or without conflict, is another mark of genuine camaraderie.

Reflecting on my own best friendships, I notice most of them have had their rough patches or at least long periods without communication (because we’re all in different places, living—in some cases—vastly different lives). It would seem logical to regret any past turmoil or radio silence but, in retrospect, I don’t. These periods have ultimately solidified the relationships. Conflict and distance add a refreshing layer of vulnerability to them, one that makes the other person’s acceptance of you—despite your flaws and setbacks—all the more heartening. There is something to be said for the friends in your life who know you perhaps all-too-well, and still want to stay put, hoping that, like most, you will evolve. Or for those pals you haven’t spoken to in years, eventually striking up a conversation with them only to feel as if not a minute has passed. Some friendships aren’t meant to last, but the special ones [read: those built upon sincerity and an endless supply of humor] seem to stay with you, regardless of whether you maintain constant contact or have a spotless history.

It takes a level of maturity to realize this, I think, and I won’t attribute it to a certain age because I can’t really speak for all twenty-two year olds. Whenever I’ve tried to revive a friendship or mend fences with anyone, I’ve found that only those with enough self-assuredness and, well, proper development re: their age, can truly handle it. There will always be those people who seem to cling desperately to the mantras of early pubescence, holding trivial grudges, the founding of which they can’t even remember. I can only sympathize with these people, because I acted the same way, albeit when I was seeped in the overblown dramas of high school. I’ve since learned how much you miss out on when you can’t manage to move on. There are very few things you shouldn’t be able to forgive, and I tend to weigh the necessity of holding onto past upsets by whether or not they were caused by someone killing my mother, which, since implementing, has left me with a whole lot of positive thinking.

There are the rare friendships in which conflicts never arise, but they can still be tested by distance, and only those with adequate resilience will persist. A quick glimpse? I’ve known one of my best friends, J, since we were about 12 or 13. We met at summer camp and didn’t really like each other—she was pretty quiet and reserved, I was obnoxious and outspoken. I peed on her cabin floor from laughing too hard and she judged me—correction: she still judges me for that. Shockingly, to both of us, we became obsessively close and spent the next few years toeing the line between complete naivete and a yearning to grow up (read: our favorite activities oscillated between crying over Harry Potter and chasing after some questionable boys with an inflatable kangaroo—our tactics were creative, if not entirely successful). J lives far away, we rarely see each other, and in the past we would go months without speaking—though this didn’t make the slightest mark on the strength of our friendship. Now we speak almost every day, and I can singlehandedly attribute my recovery from anorexia to her friendship [carbs-on-carbs-on-carbs, she preached, whenever I was hellbent on broccoli]. As a result, my mother now refers to her as “Dear J” — if I was religious, she’d be living proof that angels exist.

In the same vein, N and I have never had a super serious argument in our seemingly endless friendship. Between the two of us, we have the strangest sense of humor, combined with an unspoken understanding of each other’s actions in which there is no room for shame. She knows I’m a hopeless romantic, prone to calling her at 9 AM during a walk of shame as I babble on about how I’ve met the one, and she’s there to comfort me hours later when we discover that my 55th  Mr. One [guesstimating, natch] is actually more akin to Satan’s spawn. She doesn’t care when I spend her birthday party reeling at the sight of her other groupies taking shots of flavored vodka because my head’s too far up my ass to possibly do the same (she already knows I’d prefer wine and a good book, that I’m really pushing 60—she loves me anyways). I listen to her bad news too, and I never judge her for it, nor am I ever surprised or put off by the decisions she makes—she’s what you might call a bad bitch, in the best of ways, whose judgment is always on point.

Not all friendships are cases of such smooth sailing, but those that are bumpier are no less valuable. The guy I saw throughout college who—if you were to ask me throughout that time—broke my heart every other week (to the tune of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”), asked for my forgiveness a year ago, and has since become a close friend who I turn to for advice without hesitation. He holds me to standards that I didn’t maintain for myself when we were more than friends, forcing me not to settle anymore. We’ve seen each other in the worst of states, a fact that is oddly reassuring now. He knows how I can be—how I have been—and he helps me steer clear of my damages. I help him sort through his own emotional debris—both of us trying to piece ourselves back together after simultaneously coming apart.

Next there is my loveliest of lovely friends, O, who I might as well have dated, what with all our turmoil (though, sadly, I’m still chasing that elusive man-child who will prove heterosexuality worthwhile). With the right person, a bond can be strengthened by enduring many less-than-proud moments together. Particularly those that seem to profligate like an uncontrollable fungus during your freshman year of college. We argued a lot, almost like siblings, but with no shared-blood-safety-net to hold us together. That net we had to build on our own—through a combination of sheer maturation and the acceptance of each other’s setbacks, focusing on the present rather than wearing ourselves down with baggage from the past. The ability to do that, my friends, is the ultimate mark of an epic pal.

Alas, not all friendships can be revived. Occasionally, the endgame is staring a complete stranger in the face, wondering how you made it so far with your delusions. When an ex-boyfriend sent me a long apologia a few summers ago, and feverishly messaged me for days, I was excited at the thought of finally being friends. Soon, though, I would find that his motives arose solely from an entrenched loneliness, brought on by a recently broken heart. Our past was but a blip on his radar, and he had no interest in continuing the friendship once he found someone else to lick his wounds. Along the same lines, when you’re the one brandishing an olive branch, it won’t always be warmly received. There will be those who respond with anger, often shrouded very poorly by a few biting comments on your character. They are “over” the friendship, they might say, causing you to wonder how someone so “over” anything could harbor so much anger towards it.

But such incidents are nothing to dwell on. Reaching out to people helps you sift through the bullshit in your life, providing you with a clearer picture of who’s worth saving space for in your brain-bank and who’s not. I recently rekindled the friendship flame with three great friends from high school , and I can say with complete confidence that it immediately felt as if no time [3 years!] had passed. Speaking to–and seeing them–again was such a comforting re-addition to my life that I actually felt giddy, like falling in love without getting laid.

The point is that in matters of friendship—old and new—the benefits of an unexpected hello or an unabashed peace offering generally outweigh the potential negatives. And since most of us are lacking in ca$h, why not build up our personal cache in the form of cool companions?  Beef a la Biggie and Tupac is trite, not to mention totally nineties. Times have changed, we’re growing up—or, more accurately, inching slowly towards that opaque land known as Adulthood. In a world with so many more delectable enemies [see: anti-abortion pushers, pro-Nuclear bombers, and anyone crazy enough to wield a gun before a word] it’s a shame to waste any negative energy on your homies. So here’s my pro-tip: don’t.

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