In elementary school, I frequently made and lost female friends, usually over some conflict, sometimes for no reason at all. Some of these friendship breakups led to other girls bullying me, which marked the beginning of my severe trust issues with other women. In addition, to the mistreatment I received from my peers, my stepmom was also abusive and controlling. Consequently, I began to associate women and female relationships with drama, backstabbing, and hostility. Eventually, I withdrew into myself. My introverted shyness then developed into social anxiety, depression, poor academic performance, and self-harm.
These issues also led me to have low self-esteem. Over time, I came to believe I was a smothering person who no one would want to spend much time around. This insecurity still factors into how I handle many of my relationships now. Namely, I make sure to give people space. I try to balance reaching out to friends often enough that they know I care about them, and letting them initiate contacting me.
I learned to establish such boundaries after some intense and tumultuous close friendships I kept having with people. To further illustrate this, in middle school, I became best friends with two other girls in my grade. While other people drifted in and out of our group, the three of us spent so much time together we were basically an exclusive friendship.
Despite our love for each other, one of the girls in the group and I frequently clashed. I think our conflict can be attributed to our personalities being too similar as this girl and I were both fervent in our emotions and had explosive moods. I also suspect our conflicts resulted from how much time we spent together as teenagers just entering puberty.
Friendships in those years can have “unparalleled intensity,” says Diablo Cody: director and screenwriter of the film Jennifer’s Body. Cody’s sentiment was definitely true for me as I remember regarding my friends at that time as more precious to me than my family. We understood each other better than anyone else, and that was why my female friendships were such complicated relationships in my life.
So it’s probably no surprise the friendship ended when we were 18-years-old. We had become toxic to each other. I recall some moments of me lying in bed thinking how much I hated the friend I never got along with. Still, it broke my heart that our relationship ended because I thought our bond transcended such petty breakups. But when I reflect on it over a decade later, I’m glad that it ended. Not because I regret the friendship, but because it was no longer benefitting me.
I learned friendships should be symbiotic, lest they become harmful. It had served its purpose in giving me the type of love and support I needed during that period of my life, and for that, I will always cherish it.
One of my closest friendships today went the opposite direction; we started off hating each other as kids and eventually came to regard each other as platonic soulmates. This friend and I live in different states, texting each other daily but otherwise not actually spending too much time together. Therefore we don’t suffocate each other and appreciate one another even more when we are together. And while we have plenty in common, we’re different enough that we balance each other out, rather than overwhelming one another with similar flaws. As we’ve grown, we’ve also developed into more mature people, with a better understanding of each other’s needs and how to support one another.
My friendships continued evolving into adulthood. In my early twenties, I started developing friendships with other queer women, which led me to explore my own queerness. My friend took me out to a gay club, the first nightclub I had ever been to, along with her girlfriend. I had my first kiss with another woman while at that club. My friend and I also made out at one point, and she and her girlfriend let me watch them have sex. These intimate encounters with friends I had considered to be platonic caused me to re-examine the boundaries of my female friendships.
In addition, I began to perceive women differently than I had as a child. I had shifted from viewing women with distrust to admiring them not just as friends but in a sexual and romantic sense as well. My newfound admiration for the women in my life allowed me to form stronger emotional connections that continued acting as a source of support during difficult times.
For example, after my dad died, the biggest amount of support I received was from my female friends. One of them let me stay in a guestroom in her apartment for a couple of months without question and without obligating me to pay rent or buy groceries. Another friend helped me load up furniture from the house I had lived in with my dad. She drove me (twice) all the way to the storage unit located thirty minutes from my former home at night, with her toddler accompanying us, and without a single complaint.
Correspondingly, when my brother had initially started dating his girlfriend, we barely spoke to each other despite our many commonalities. It wasn’t until after they broke up, and she experienced her own tragedy soon after my dad’s death, that our own friendship blossomed. However, even with these positive instances, some of my relationships with women have continued to struggle. A former job of mine had me starting and ending a friendship in the span of about two months because she interpreted my anxiety as anger towards her. Yet, in another job I had, my coworkers would frequently get me coffee and sometimes random gifts and food without any expectation of compensation.
So yes, my relationships with other women have been complicated. But that’s because the relationships I’ve had with women have been deeper and typically more impactful than what I’ve experienced with male friendships. My female friendships have been marked by complex emotions and messy history. They have ranged from abusive, to tempestuous, to nurturing, to lustful, and back to abusive. However, I still find my female friends to be a valuable asset in my life for the ways women have the ability to support each other in a society perpetually working to keep us down.
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