Big Girls Do Cry
How do you mend a broken friendship? Well, sometimes, you just don’t.
The hardest lesson I‘ve learnt about women? They can make awful friends.
I learnt this first on the playground. The girls would flit to whichever female relationship had the most potential (based on popularity, attractiveness and ability to flick one’s hair prettily). The boys weren’t as easily seduced (yet), preferring to stick together – until divided by pretty-haired girls. I stood between these two, and, where the hell was that really, at the age of 8?
Instead, I went with variety. Jae Min was from Korea and lived in Pandan Valley. We swam at her house and ate bulgogi beef on her parent’s hot plate. Baldur’s parents were German and Filipino and let him have house parties at the age of 10 and even covered the light bulbs in red cellophane. Mitsuno introduced me to her cute hand-packed bento box lunches and kick started my love affair with Japanese food. My first sweetheart, John, would years later find himself and, the courage to come out as a proud gay man. I still love how he hand-plaited a headband for me and bought me a two-dollar ring as a sign of two righteous nine year olds’ love. And then there was the other John, an American boy with stunning green eyes, and who defined the meaning of “player” before I even understood the word.
These were the friendships of my youth - unspoken connections and simple needs that were easily satisfied. But, I never once had the fabulous female friend that all the other girls did. You know, the kind you’re probably expecting me to write about in a column like this. My Gayle King so to speak, who’d seen my highs and lows and big bad hair, my temper and my ’80s obsession with leggings, who buoyed me, believed in me, laughed and cried with me, told me the truth but never let me down. That someone who could always find it in her heart to think I was a good person, and even great, despite it all. I was sure she was a fallacy. And I was sure I didn’t want her anyway.
When I first met X, I regarded her as a bright tool in the shed, driven, ambitious and yet, kind, sincere and happily silly. When we passed on polite chitchat and went straight for raucous and rollicking, I thought I’d hit pay dirt in the great female friendship stakes. With my tendency towards optimism, deep thoughts and clowning versus her impatience, energy and ambitiousness, a balance maintained itself.
We supported each other through difficult times, with a lightheartedness and gentle jest that often belied our troubles, and a mutual ability to get right back in the saddle no matter how rough the ride.
I began to feel that it did exist, this close platonic female friend. If it was supposed to feel like a beautiful, but comfortable pair of shoes that fit well, but left room for expansions and contractions, then I was ready to lay my claim.
But I had ignored how big a part X’s value system would play in our future, wrongly assuming it to be much like my own. And for that I eventually paid the price of finding out just where my value and meaning lay with her.
As our lives began to pan out and our personalities to solidify along with our ambitions, desires and decisions – as they succinctly do in your thirties – I realised we were poles apart. I took the path less travelled to work in isolation as a writer, she the coddled corporate route. Should it have mattered? It didn’t to me. But to X, somehow, my life’s choices had failed to live up to her set of expectations. While she blazed ahead in the salary and benefits, I had to count my pennies prudently. Conveying her ill-concealed disappointment in me through questions, assumptions, and silent disapprovals, she revealed herself to me. And for the first time, I saw X with new eyes.
Finding herself in unfamiliar territory, my pal chose to disrespect my choices instead of confronting her own fears. When I didn’t buckle, she quietly started to erode me from her life, despite my attempts to clear the air. When no amount of her hiding behind work and a new relationship could explain X’s absence in my life, it became clear to me: she no longer considered us equals. And that’s when I gave up.
My personal evolution has brought me right back to the beginning. I now know for sure what it is to have a less than fabulous female friendship. I don’t think that applies to everyone and I haven’t written the concept off entirely, but, it didn’t work for me. I’ve also rediscovered that to know the love, strength and support of friendship, it’s not always healthy to commune with just a single person.
These days I’m happy enough vacillating between a tiny brood of broad- minded individuals and the simple company of myself while I watch to see if the fable of the fabulous female friendship can grow into an easy, spacious kind, humble and real sort of thing.