Of all the breakups I’ve had, the saddest and hardest to get over is the one with my platonic girlfriends.
Before I go on, I should clarify by saying that, by any reasonable measure, my girlfriends and I are still close. We visit each other in our respective cities. We text each other obscure jokes, and it goes without saying that we’ll be in each other’s weddings.
But this level of closeness – perfectly socially acceptable and supportive – is nothing. It’s nothing compared with what we once had, as what we once had was visceral, telepathic. Young and single, we filled all the roles that a person’s significant other would. We went to the grocery, knowing exactly what the other would buy and rolling our eyes when one of us, predictably, spent ten minutes deliberating over the weight and texture of oranges. Weekends, we crawled beneath the covers, crouching over a single screen to watch some horrible TV show and then talking through the entire thing. We knew every shameful crack in each other’s family stories, and we felt their shame like it was our own.
When we were young and single, we talked endlessly and urgently – sometimes about music, often about boys. We knew immediately when someone had a crush, and when one of us was snubbed or rejected, it made our stomach’s twist, too. When things went well, we felt the oddest things: vicarious excitement, a tinge of jealousy, something like protectiveness, and sometimes, a subtle sense of unease. Of these, it’s the unease I remember most. Though I could hardly put my finger on it then, it was as if a hint at what was to come. The unstoppable future. The slippery passage of time.
Of course, we were competitive, too. I denied it, then, but it’s comically clear to me now. We felt it when a boy’s eyes veered to the other, or a grade was a few points above our own. It wasn’t discussed, but it was certainly noticed. And even that made us closer, because who can understand you better than one who measures herself by your life? How could our boyfriends know the tart taste of mutual envy, of suspiciously watching someone, and knowing you’re being watched in return?
Sometimes, it reached a boiling point. We erupted at each other drunk, on a sidewalk, unleashing all of the tiny resentments that accumulated from years of codependent behavior. The worst fights occurred when we sensed that one of us had strayed, even slightly, from her “true self,” altering her personality to impress a new friend, denying old interests, or adopting a cringingly different voice around boys. It was as if we’d surpassed the level of friendship that could be plausibly defined by a pastel “BFF” frame. As though we occupied a sacred realm, where the thin film that normally separates people was dissolved, replaced by another that separated us from the rest of the world.
One year after the Season 2 finale of GIRLS, a single line from the episode haunts me. It’s not even a line that was said out loud, but rather, typed on Hannah’s computer screen:
“A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.”
That this is slipped into an episode in which none of the girls are on good terms, and which ends in a grandiose, Rom Com reunion between Hannah and her emotionally-abusive ex boyfriend, seems to hint at some stranger meaning. It’s as if, with this one line, the entire depth of Hannah’s and Adam’s relationship is quietly undermined by her tumultuous love for Marnie.
When we were young and single, we thought time would never pass. But of course, it does. We have real “partners” now, and demanding jobs, and dreams that pull us to one end of the world or another. Our conversations, though heartfelt, are infrequent. This gradual waning in closeness…it has been my greatest break-up, and I scarcely even noticed it happen. One boyfriend just led to another until one day I realized that all of my emotional needs had been slowly replaced. I don’t “miss” my girlfriends in the way you do an ex or a foreign fling. We can call each other any time, after all. But I miss what we had at one time, and what – despite our familial love for each other – we’ll never quite have again.