I once had a best friend who meant the world to me, yet we navigated our emotions differently. We met in 2010 when I became friends with her then-girlfriend as we served at a restaurant. She sat at the bar in her air of toughness, but was immediately chill once she started talking to me. She held a strong, silent confidence that I did not carry. I was happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic and felt my emotions deeply, whereas she lived with a sense of detachment and deflected her feelings by using humor at my expense. Although we created over eight years of memories together, I could not sustain a friendship where I lacked emotional safety and a strong sense of self.
She had the upper-hand one night, as she drove us to the club with me in the backseat. She asked me questions I did not have the answers to about the woman I was dating at the time. Before I was ready to admit it, she knew I was in the wrong relationship. While I was aware my life was not completely figured out, I understood my decisions were for me to decide. To show her I appreciated our friendship, for her birthday I wrote her a heartfelt message that filled the entire left side of the card I gave her. She proclaimed, ‘You have to let people come to these things in their own time.’ Although this was not the response I would have liked, I did not express any apprehension because I did not want to ruin the moment.
I decided to take a break from our friendship after the morning of a sleepover at her friend’s house. As we sat among a group of girls in her friend’s bedroom, she jokingly said, “Barbara will date anybody.” After waiting a few minutes to process what had just occurred, I rose from the floor and waited downstairs for my sister to pick me up. I was hesitant about talking to her again and did not spend time with her for a month. When I forgave her, our relationship became stronger.
We met at coffee houses often and shared late night parked car conversations. We enjoyed buying each other books and read together in Barnes & Noble. When it mattered most, we would wear the same colors without planning it: like when I wore a blue blouse to her mom’s wedding and the entire wedding party was wearing blue, or when I wore a purple floral dress to her mother’s funeral, and the family was dressed in purple. We also wore black tees to the Tove Lo concert for my birthday. We talked on the phone almost every day after work, whether I had much to talk about or not. I watched her lift her veil of toughness over the years, and I listened to her cry about her relationships. Her softer side was beautiful to me, and I told her so.
Her first moment of vulnerability with me occurred at Minuti Coffee in downtown Houston. We had not been spending much time together while I was dating Reuven. As we sat at the table across from each other inside the cafe, she presented me with a card and a clear, rectangular magnet with printed words inside that read, “If not now, when?” She started to cry and told me she didn’t have many friends and our friendship was important to her; it was a very heartfelt moment for us. I was not fully aware of how my relationship was impacting her.
Following our time together at the cafe, she came over to my apartment for a home-prepared vegan meal to show that she was willing to adapt to the lifestyle change I accepted in my relationship. She wasn’t a fan of the texture of tofu, but I appreciated her willingness to try it. She didn’t fully like the person I was spending my time with, and Reuven did not support homosexuality, but all of us agreed to have dinner together after work one evening at one of my favorite Thai restaurants. Without discussing it, her and I were dressed in black and white attire. For the entire meal, they made small talk about movies, just for me.
She and I were able to have our own adventure before Reuven came into my life. We went to San Francisco in 2014 for Pride Fest and experienced a monumental block party and an amazing daytime dance party outside of city hall. In 2016, when my relationship ended with Reuven, she wanted to take a trip together while I was 5 months pregnant before motherhood began to help fulfill one of my dreams of visiting Grand Canyon West. We traveled roundtrip by Amtrak train to Arizona, and it was a beautiful experience. Soon after, she organized and executed my baby shower.
When it was time to be admitted into the hospital to give birth to Joan, she left her job early Friday morning to keep me company in my hospital room. She made me laugh while I was having contractions. Joan did not arrive until Saturday at 1 a.m. Still she stayed with us at the hospital until Sunday night and slept on the sofa inside our room. She took one day away and returned to my apartment to help me sleep and eat, and to cradle Joan in her arms.
Motherhood was a tough transition for me. I felt more sensitive to any issues or trauma I had not addressed. Before, I could just ignore my feelings and keep my emotions placid to maintain my friendships. Now, I expected her to understand and respect my decisions because we were closer and had spent more time together. I felt highly insecure in my new mom body. In my friend group, I felt I was not a good enough friend because I could no longer meet up with them regularly. I was the only one in my friend group who had a child.
She eased my fears by inviting me and Joan to her house more. We became closer to her family. We slept there with my dog for an entire week once, while her mom was away on a cruise. To help me be better prepared as a single mom, she took an active role in my financial life. I created a list of my expenses for her to help me with budgeting. When she understood I had more debt than she was aware of, we entered into a loan agreement. Over time, I paid back everything listed in our agreement, but not right away. Soon after, the temperament of our relationship changed. I started noticing signs of disrespect.
One evening as I was cooking tofu in her kitchen, to integrate plant-based foods back into my diet, she decided to show me that she detested tofu by making fun of it in front her family. It bothered me, but I did not say anything. I decided to bring it up later in a phone conversation. I had to learn it is best to address a problem at the moment it occurs, if you can. This bad habit of wanting to discuss my feelings after-the-fact became a high annoyance for her because I held her to a higher standard than she preferred. I learned the hard lesson it is never okay to put someone on a pedestal. I expected her to respect my eating choices, and to not make fun of things I chose to do in my life, even if it was only food. She later admitted she found it admirable that I could change my eating choices because it was a weaker area for her.
To prove I could be a good friend and not sweat the small stuff, in 2017 I decided to jump out of a perfectly good plane to celebrate her birthday. Skydiving was never on my bucket list, but I was tired of only being the family friend and the one who listened about the good times she had with her other friends. These friends were not interested in jumping out a plane. While I was cool, calm and collected as we waited our turn to jump, I struggled with breathing as wind gusts hit my face on the dive out of the plane. The skydiving instructors advise you to scream when it is time to drop, but I forgot to do so. While everyone else’s skydiving photos looked like they had an amazing experience, I looked like I was struggling.
After our skydiving experience, she went on a vacation in 2018. I decided to shave off my dreadlocks to refocus on myself. When she saw that I had cut off all my hair, she could not understand and asked, ‘But why?’ We found ourselves having a conversation later about how she wanted to make new friends. She offered ideas about things I might be interested in doing without her. She also stated I needed to get thicker skin.
A pivotal moment materialized when things became more stressful in her life regarding her family. She began to spend more time with friends she could go out drinking and play basketball with and started to distance herself away from me. Our family-oriented, tight-knit friendship was changing. I was losing a lifeline. Each moment she became less available felt like the ground was breaking beneath my feet. All of the things I thought I had done to become more free did not compete with the impact of anxiety and unenoughness I was undergoing. It was the emotional breakdown I needed to see how flawed I was and how heavily I relied on her for connection in my life. Our friendship met all of my needs, even when we disagreed. Yet, I no longer wanted to suffer.
I knew I was ready to walk away when I watched myself shrink like a mouse into a corner, while listening to her on the phone tell me about my life when I had not asked. She finished her point by stating she was not going to settle. I became mute. I let her carry on with her conversation and exited the call when she was done. I journaled about how upset I felt at myself for freezing while on the phone with her. The circumstances in her life at that time did not account for my defensiveness or an argument. I realized I could no longer allow anyone else to tell me how to live my life, but me.
She once said to me, ‘I don’t know what your life would look like without me.’ I am grateful to say I have discovered peace and ease without her physical presence. I have learned how to mother myself by tending to my own needs. I am now someone I can depend on because I listen to my intuition. I engage in the simple chores of cleaning out the old to welcome in the new. To take in the magic and possibility all around me, I bask in the sun and changing seasons, and feast my eyes on the moon, sky and trees. I practice giving gratitude throughout my day for all of my blessings, and I acknowledge the people who are loving towards me and who honor my gifts. I give myself rest and permission to be imperfect. I set boundaries. When someone feels unsupportive or unsafe, I do not allow them in my surroundings. I practice acceptance when the universe closes a door where it sees fit.