At age 31, I’m afraid it says a lot about me that the last people who asked me to be in their weddings were my aunts. That was about twenty years ago.
While most other women in their twenties were doing permanent damage to their credit scores buying satiny dresses and throwing destination bachelorette parties, the closest I ever came to being a bridesmaid was several years ago, when a college roommate got married.
Envy this ass
During our sophomore year, she threatened to murder my “creepy” pet sea urchins (which I begged from our biology lab teacher after a singularly heartless morning spent studying gametes), left piles of hair under my desk when she absentmindedly pulled her braids out while borrowing my computer, and always managed to beat me into our bathroom when we both had a morning class.
She said she was jealous of my big butt and, as a Ghanaian unfettered by pre-Nicki Minaj/Iggy Azalea US beauty standards, genuinely meant it as a compliment. She stood up to anyone on campus who tried to push her around, including the faculty, magically produced endless pots of Jollof rice and oily red peanut butter soup in the dorm’s tiny kitchen, and didn’t mind that I hated fufu no matter how many times I tried it. She was one of my bridesmaids — even though the wedding happened to be on her birthday.
When she got engaged, she asked if I would help decorate the church for her wedding. I immediately said yes. She added that she had thought of asking me to be a bridesmaid, but knew I would probably be too busy.
I was equal parts relieved and disappointed. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen her.
No bridesmaids’ dresses
As this terrible, terrible article called “7 reasons why you’re always the bridesmaid” claims (with tips like focusing less on your career so you can carve out date nights in advance just in case Mr. Right comes along and feels threatened by your work hours), nobody really wants to be a bridesmaid. We’re all just waiting for our “turn to wear white.”
Somehow, having reached adulthood without a best friend to my name, I have the opposite problem. I had my glorified day in white at age 23, but no-one has ever asked me to line up at the altar behind her, holding a modest bouquet and emergency Kleenex. I’ve never been to a bachelorette party.
Even the supremely arrogant, misanthropic Vicodin addict Dr. Gregory House gets a best friend in the long-suffering oncologist James Wilson. Larry McMurtry, my favorite novelist, specializes in inventing best friends so close that they can’t manage a proper romance. Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call always have each other’s backs, to their lovers’ lifelong chagrin. So what’s wrong with me?
Good Christian bullies
I grew up in a small private religious school, and over the years, my friends and I took turns bullying each other as only good Christian girls can. We’re scattered throughout a few US states now, but have occasional nostalgic get-togethers. The inescapable bond of years of sleeping-bag squeal-fests over Leo, JTT, and Prince Will still pulls us out of the crowd and into our own little orbit at holiday church services.
I had a long-distance best friend in high school who would compulsively fold the clothes in my exploded suitcase when she came on family trips. This was before Facebook, kids, and we wrote reams of letters. She loved She-Ra and coffee; I loved reading and my golden retriever.
In retrospect, I’m willing to take some blame for the day things fell apart. She called me at work in a bit of a panic one summer day. She had booked a jaunt out of town and told her family she was staying with me. I had no word of this plan until the universe suddenly threatened to have our parents cross paths at a funeral on that very weekend. Could I, uh, convince my parents to lie to her parents about her being at my house?
I refused. Today, I’m not sure if I was pissed (or was I hurt?) because I suspected she was doing something risky, or because she’d used me as her cover story without confiding in me.
Years later, neither of us attended the other’s wedding.
Best friend monogamy
My parents, who got married in 1981 and still do almost everything together, have a framed quotation on the wall: “Happiness is being married to your best friend.”
Instead of inspiring me, it weighs on me. Making a marriage work is quite a feat. Now that I’ve hit my thirties, we may be heading for an even split between weddings and female friends returning to their maiden names (no judgment; I can’t see the inside of anyone else’s life). And as I now know, finding and keeping a best friend is no easy task, either. Are we really supposed to have it all rolled up into one person for life?
If figuring out whether or not you’re really “in love” can be a minefield once you’re a few months or years into a promising romance, is bestowing that “best friend” label any less fraught? Does it just happen naturally? Or does someone broach the question before you decide to commit?
Sometimes, with items like this BuzzFeed list of “27 Texts You’d Only get From Your Best Friend” (implying that best-friend-hood is a natural, hilarious, universal experience), I wonder if our culture’s obsession with marriage and monogamy hasn’t leaked into our concept of friendship, because our destiny as someone’s best friend seems almost as important as getting married. Nowadays, there are as many rom-coms about actual couples as there are movies about watching a best friend go to the altar in a crucial, debauched, painfully hilarious ritual of love and letting go.
What are you doing here?
Today, though best-friend-less, I don’t have any major social deficiencies that I’m aware of (although when I was in high school, someone did advise that more girls would be friends with me if I was less openly opinionated). I have a wide circle of friends, some of them fairly close, partly due to my work as a freelance writer and editor.
Because of my job, and because I’m very outgoing, I realize that some acquaintances are probably rolling their eyes at my lonely self-concept.
My husband laughed when he joined me at a gallery opening and watched people come up to me all night in the crowd. He knew it wasn’t because people want to talk to me. I never was and never will be the popular kid (when my husband and I began dating in college, it seriously lowered his capital with the cool girls on campus).
Nowadays, nobody (at least out loud) seems to be following the lead of a guy I grew up with (in the school picture above), who said “what are you doing here?” when I had the temerity to say hello that time we ended up at the same freshman year house party. A decade or so later, people either know I’m a writer or they spot my notebook, and they’re thrilled to see me…because they have a great story idea.
The power of plus one
I often wonder if I’d go out with friends as much as I do if my job didn’t involve attending events, and I didn’t have a steady stream of passes to plays, concerts, and previews. Would they be so keen to get together if I wasn’t a fount of free tickets?
Does it matter? Don’t we all use each other to a certain degree?
“The +1 thing sometimes creates interesting dilemmas,” a friend and writing colleague said in an e-mail when we decided to attend a show together. “I wind up trying to figure out which friend might want to go to what show without creating expectations that they will always be invited. Often I just go on my own to avoid the whole issue.”
This struck me, because I have never once worried about this. Is it because I’m insensitive to others’ feelings? Or because I do not have any friends so close that they would expect an invitation? My plus ones are generally first come, first served via social media (if I like you), or I’ll invite people based on their interests, not their closeness to me (my spouse could not possibly attend all the events that I cover — my guess is that being married to a writer is no picnic, on many levels).
So I go out with a lot of different people. But I often feel intensely lonely. Is it the same for everyone? Friends have shared their secrets, cried on me, and told me I felt like a sister. I’ve cared for them when they’re sick or heartbroken. But when I’m in the trenches of my depression — and I’m talking the mud-caked, front-line, WWI trenches here — I think of who I could call and come up blank, even though, especially since I took my mental health story on the radio, a few people fondly urged me to reach out anytime.
For some reason, this always seems impossible in the moment.
If there was someone I was willing to call — someone with whom I could bear to share a real tear-soaked glimpse of myself — does that mean I’ve found a best friend? Someone incapable of being offended via text message? Someone you’re not having sex with who’d share your profile photo? At least until, like a lot of married couples do, we drifted apart?
Last weekend, a close friend introduced me to one of her other friends. I’m “one of [her] best friends from college,” and the other woman is “one of [her] best friends from high school.” I was touched. Also, this girl is on to something. Screw BuzzFeed. Can best-friend-ship be an open relationship?
Because by now, pleased as I would be to budget for a strapless bra and dyed-to-match shoes the instant a friend got engaged, I’m beginning to think that just like some people aren’t cut out for marriage, some people aren’t BFF material. It’s not you. It’s me.
But I am definitely getting another golden retriever.
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