The subject of female friendships has always been uncomfortable for me to linger over. You see, I’ve never quite gotten the hang of them.
I mean, when I was young, being with other girls was easy. I don’t remember fretting over imagined or actual slights. It was all sleepovers and tree climbing and pretending to be horses. (I was a skewbald pinto named Man o’ War, and I preferred my dry oats with cinnamon and sugar.)
|And I was MAJESTIC.|
One of my friends broke my nose ("horsing" on a trampoline is not recommended), and we didn't lose a step over it. Friendship was simple.
As I got older, the idea of making and maintaining female friends became so fraught with uncertainty and potential danger that I decided just one close friend was plenty. I had my best friend, and I was not taking applications for additional ones. I know now that this was a misguided attempt to insulate myself from rejection. Then and now, I craved approval from my gender peers . . . and middle school had taught me a hard lesson on that subject.
I started to open up a bit in high school, and even more in college. And if I made a list of every girlfriend I’ve ever had, it would have a lot of names on it. I have known and been fond of many women in my life. But the relationships either never grew past a certain level of intimacy or we lost touch. I suppose losing touch is a likely outcome when you move away from every friend you’ve ever made and also happen to be terrible at using a cell phone for anything more involved than text messaging.
To make a long therapy session short, this is an area where I’ve always found myself lacking. I want to be less guarded with women, less intimidated, more genuine . . . unapologetically earnest even. I’m almost 30. I may start having babies soon, and I live thousands of miles away from my family. I would not be exaggerating if I said this sometimes keeps me up nights.
|It's not healthy to identify with Annie Walker on several levels, y'know?|
Enter Susanna Sonnenberg, who insists on making me think about this sensitive subject with her book, which examines her relationships with various women throughout her life and the ways, minor and major, they changed her. I think whenever anyone writes introspectively, there’s a risk of sounding pretentious and self-involved. (Have you read any of your old diaries lately? You sound like an asshole. Trust.) That tone certainly crops up in this case, especially if you have a terrible habit, as I do, of being overly critical of other women’s intentions.
But set that critical tendency aside. Ride out the occasional note of pretention. Because if you do, you will find pieces of your experiences reflected back to you (mixed in with some situations that are foreign to you of course, because of how we are all unique and such).
For instance, saying goodbye to a summer camp friend:
I was crying, and she was, too, as we embraced by the cars. We were girls, we lived big. Our arms chained around each other’s necks, our sobbing was pure. No lovers had been parted so cruelly, no bond had been severed so swiftly. (p. 42)
Or struggling to maintain a sense of self in relationship with women:
I knew how to make men last, trusted their allegiance and their reliable limitations. Women didn’t last. Unable to help my hope and longing at the start, I opened myself, gave away everything, immersed in a woman as if I wished to disappear. (p. 8)
When you get right down to it, it’s difficult to remember the details of these vignettes, even immediately after reading one. And that’s OK. They belong to Susanna; she’s just letting us wander through them for a while. What the book gives you to keep is an impression, an overlying feeling that you, too, have had such friendships, that they mattered . . . and that you had forgotten just how much.