It’s the way we come together. It’s the way we drift apart. It’s the way we fall in love, fast or short, and it’s not romantic but it’s a heady and powerful rush. It’s the way we turn to silence and exclusion, or shouting and inclusion. It’s friendships that span for decades, and they last. Or they end suddenly, or die a slow and quiet death over tens of years. It’s the fact that for many of you, I wouldn’t even know you again. I wouldn’t even try. I wouldn’t even know that what we had then, we don’t have now. Or that what we didn’t have then, we do have now. I guess we can thank Facebook and other social media for that.
I spent most of the weekend finishing up “My Other Ex, Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends.” I don’t like to write about books I haven’t finished, mainly, but I also could not put this book down. It made me question the causes and effects of several friendship breakups throughout my life so far. Quite frankly this book made me feel raw in the best ways, it made me feel wise as if I already knew so much, and it made me feel fragile as I examined the many ways in which friendships dissolve. I also thought about my children and the inevitable pain they will feel in their lives. It’s there waiting.
In 6th grade, the elementary schools all spit out their former 5th graders together for the first time, and I arrived at the new school to see that my previous best friend, who had moved schools two years earlier, had replaced me with a new best friend.
In 8th grade, it happened again with one of my oldest and sweetest friends. We were best friends and then she decided to share that title with someone else. So I did the same with a new friend I had a strong connection with until..
She dated the boy I was “in love with” in 9th grade. It wasn’t even the love triangle that separated us. It was that we drifted and I told her I felt the drifting, and she said she didn’t mind. She liked the drifting. That was that.
For years, I thought and sometimes still think there’s something wrong with me. That I’m not meant to have just one best friend. And perhaps I’m not. I have many close friends and my family and our pets. And I have two sisters.
I have a very full life right now, but I could bring up these ancient stories to my mind, as vividly as if they had happened yesterday. The stories in this book tell of both old and new friendships – separations from early childhood, the terrifying teen years, and even adult and motherhood. These women can tell you their raw and painful stories as if they had happened yesterday, no matter the story. No matter the history. The book discusses the dark underbelly of female friendships and how the hard stuff starts so early – the aggression in the forms of manipulation, exclusion and withholding friendship rather than aggression in the forms of fists or hurled insults. I have been a mean girl. And I have been a victim to mean girls, although all of that stopped completely by 7th grade because I had four tough siblings and a mouth on me that would scare a truck driver.
In adulthood, post kids, I’ve had to drift or end friendships only twice, in cases where it started to feel unhealthy. When I started to feel panicked, anxious, scared, and annoyed. When I stopped wanting to hear and tell stories about these women, because sometimes there are only so many stories you can hear and tell. I just saw one of these women for the first time in several years and it was actually quite wonderful. I regret the disintegration of something beautiful and whole.
These stories are resonant and lifelong, and often more vivid and humiliating than the breakups of romantic relationships.
The first story of the book unfolded like a dance and a dream, and I found myself holding back tears from its pain. Strange, because I don’t even think I was mourning anyone directly, but I was mourning a friendship my sister had once that stopped cold turkey because quite honestly, I think her best friend turned into a demon. Sometimes that’s the only explanation.
In “My Other Ex”, some women were dumped. Some did the dumping. With many, I not so secretly hope these ex-friends read the beautiful stories that feature them. I hope they recognize themselves, and maybe even the pain and regret. Or the wonder. I watch my daughter, even in kindergarten, navigate the icy waters of mood and friendship changes.
Sometimes it amazes me that friendships do survive childhood and adolescence and beyond. And they do. And many don’t.
I have the attention span of a gnat these days. I had TEN photo shoots in the last two weeks. My sister got married. I’m not sleeping enough. I have writing to do up to my eyeballs. I’m largely disgruntled at many things. And yet. I read this book.