For me, it really was love at first sight. Someone I didn’t know I missed and now can’t imagine my life without. She and I, we met via mutual friends, abroad, both on Erasmus, feeling so grown up but still figuring out who we are and want to be – and whom we want to have by our side. For a solid/good seven months, there was not a day that we didn’t spend together.
Don’t get me wrong – I still have friends from my childhood, friends I went to school with, friends that lived in the same part of town whilst growing up. However I personally think that the friendships I formed once I had to actually look for friends (after moving out for the first time, going to university or moving abroad), I formed stronger and deeper bonds that have been at a more constant level of intensity than a lot of my childhood friendships.
But when we moved to our respective countries after Erasmus, it broke my heart.
I am your typical milennial if you will – we are hard to tie down, constantly prone to moving to different cities or countries, whether for travels or our academic or professional careers, But she, really, has been my relationship success story.
Since then we have been in a long-distance-friendship-relationship, and we are looking back on six incredibly successful years. We use every channel of communication to be in each other’s lives. We can sense when we are not feeling well. We support each other. We cry together. We get drunk together. If we are out drinking and are in different countries, we drunk call each other. When that happens, by default the people around us always think we are phoning up our lover, simply judging from how our faces light up and our high pitched voices trying to get a word in between all the giggles. She got me through my break-ups and heartbreaks, she celebrated successes and birthdays with me, life decisions, and grieved with me. Being jealous of or in competition with her is unimaginable to me, and we managed to stay close despite the distance and big changes in our lives. Even though she is in a very happy relationship, I have never once felt that this means I am playing a minor role in her life now. We have always communicated openly about how her priorities will be different, how things between us might change once they moved in with each other – and though things naturally have changed, the changes have been good and necessary and we still make it work, even though I now sleep on the sofa when I come to visit.
Spending a few days in a row with her leaves me on a smiling high that is the essence of happiness for me. I once waited for her to come and meet me for a quick lunch, as I was only in town with work for a few hours and had a tight schedule. I was standing there, nervous and giddy with excitement, and as always we started running towards each other, bags flying left and right, suitcases thrown down in the middle of a busy street. It was then that I thought – how will I ever meet a man that makes me as happy as seeing her does. And that might be the crux of it.
I am single, and have been for years. And though I have been in relationships, involuntarily broke hearts and got mine broken, I am very happy with my single status. I am your typical millennial if you will – we are hard to tie down, constantly prone to moving to different cities or countries, whether for travels or our academic or professional careers. But she, really, has been my relationship success story. Sometimes when I am asked why I am single, I want to say, hey, don’t pity me, I am doing great in the relationships department! This friendship (and of course also my other three or four very close female friendships) require work, time, attention and a big chunk of honesty – as every relationship does. And that is why we should not belittle them. Friends are the people you turn to when your relationship fails. Friends are the people have the potential to be there for you all your life. They live with you through first loves, marriages, children, funerals and sickness. The highs and lows. Interestingly, when talking to my male friends, also they all have a best friend, or some very close friends. However, a lot of them (and I am not saying all), would only share this kind of closeness, that women often experience with their female friends, with a significant other. I am not saying my female friendships substitute a relationship for me, but admittedly, they are able to substitute a lot. They are my shoulder to lean on, my people to call for good and bad news, they are my vacation destinations, my gossips, my advice, my self-esteem boost and, yeah I will say it, often my cuddles.
Rebecca Traister, a writer for the New York Magazine put this perfectly when she wrote, that these strong friendships aren’t “a consolation prize (…) In fact, they may be doing the opposite, finding something vital that is lacking in their romantic entanglements, and thus setting their standards healthily higher.”
Our friendships are valid and important, and they deserve the time and nurturing just like any other relationship does – especially because our generation is so restless and ever moving, we rely more on friendships than we might have previously done, because proper relationships often do not last across the distances – friendships, however, can. William Rawlins, a professor for communication studies at Ohio University notes that “in the hierarchy of relationships, friendships are at the bottom. (…) This is true in life, and in science, where relationship research tends to focus on couples and families”. I feel it is time to give friendship relationships more credit. Not giving them the attention they deserve is obsolete in a world where the Pew Research Center predicts “that a quarter of millennials might never marry.“ It is ok that friendships change. That you will have different priorities. Whether that is a relationship, marriage, your professional career or children or all of this. And friendships are forgiving – you can go months without talking to a close friend and within minutes you break down barriers and start where you left it – that is one of the wonders of the friendship relationship.
I want to advocate for friendships in general. Our friends are so important to us when we grow up, when we try to figure out where we want to go and who we want to be as young adults – and then we tend to slowly, slowly hibernate when we fall in love and plan a future with a partner. We don’t find the time for hanging out with our friends anymore. I am sure everyone has experienced this dilemma from both ends – happily and crazily in love, without the need of seeing anyone else than your new romantic love affair, as well as seeing friends disappear into a relationship.
Whoever has experienced their parents separating after many years of marriage will confirm how crucial friends are when everything else you knew falls apart around you.
So, here I am, advertising for a better recognition of (female) friendships, because seeing them as somehow inferior to other relationships is not going to work anymore.