When I friend-crush, I friend-crush hard. Everything a new friend says or does seems totally ~magical~ to me, and I find way to awkwardly jam their name into any conversation, no matter how inappropriate it is: “Oh, are you reading the new Zadie Smith? My friend Emily told me about that book. Yeah, Emily’s really smart. She’s also super funny and has a wicked record collection and smells like sunshine.” Then, inevitably, “Emily” will commit some horrible transgression (i.e., reveal herself to be a normal flawed human being) that will make me do a 180 and see her as evil, which is just as wrongheaded as seeing her as perfect.
One friend that I fell really hard for started to lose her luster when I noticed that she trash-talked our other friends a lot, often about incredibly petty things (“God, have you ever noticed how loud Marie’s laugh is? It’s so obnoxious”). But when we would go to a party together, she went back to being super fun, and my crush would be reignited. My feelings alternated between too hot and too cold, which is clearly super healthy and the type of thing you should look for in any friendship.
Now, one of the big differences between famous people and your actual friends is that your relationships with the latter aren’t one-sided. So instead of having to figure out how to accept this friend’s trash-talking on my own, I was able to talk to her, to let her know I wasn’t OK with it. Calling her out wasn’t easy or fun—at first she just mumbled something about how she was merely “venting”—but she obviously got the message, because she stopped gossiping so much around me, and we were able to hang on to the good parts of our friendship, like going out and getting into crazy shenanigans. I didn’t let one little shortcoming undo the genuine fun we had together. I think this is called maturity?
While there are definitely valid reasons to end some friendships, if I did that every time I hit a speed bump with someone, I wouldn’t have any friends left.
My junior year of college, I had a complete mental breakdown. It started over nothing—it was Halloween, and I was dressed as a 1980s Republican (because where else was I gonna be able to wear my pastel-pink polo shirt and my yellow plaid blazer with shoulder pads?). Walking to a party with my friends, who were all dressed in adorable flapper and nurse costumes, I started to get into character, saying what I thought a social conservative would say: “Hussies! You’re all dressed like hussies.” My friends laughed, but as the night went on (and I drank more) I kept beating the joke with a broken stick. Wasn’t it funny how every girl at the party was dressed like a slut? Aren’t sluts the worst? Sluts sluts sluts!
At that time in my life I was working really hard to be the most perfect, self-actualized, inclusive feminist in the world, as if social justice were some competition that could only be won by being perfectly consistent at all times ever (which I now understand is a losing battle), so my friends knew I didn’t really mean what I was saying, and they just started ignoring me at some point in the evening. But when I woke up the next morning, I feel HORRIBLE—like I had committed a mortal sin. I texted everyone saying “SORRY IF I LET THE JOKES GO TOO FAR I DIDN’T MEAN IT” and they all replied something along the lines of “Anna, it’s fine. We know you weren’t serious.” But I wasn’t satisfied. What if somebody else at the party overheard me and didn’t realize I was joking? What if I made some stranger feel terrible? Was all it took to turn me into a raging asshole a few drinks and an ironic disguise?
That incident triggered a lot of anxious feelings that I had never really dealt with before. I started remembering every bad, stupid, offensive, or hurtful thing I had ever done. There was that time I gossiped about a friend’s secret, and that ninth grade chemistry test I cheated on, and every cruel thing I’ve said to my mom in an argument. I suddenly lost all faith in my ability to be a good person.
Eventually I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which I am now dealing with (if you become so stressed you stop eating for a week, SEE A DOCTOR), but those moments of doubting my own essential goodness still come back frequently.
With everyone else in the world, there’s a lot they don’t let you see—they have the ability to filter to some extent what you know about them. But you can’t hide from your own mind. And recognizing your unsavory thoughts can be scary.
After my breakdown, I went to see the campus therapist. I told her about the stupid jokes I had made, and everything that followed. I told her how scared I was to ever talk to anybody again or leave my dorm, in case did something else dumb.
She looked me in the eye and asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I could offend somebody,” I said. “Worse, I could hurt someone.”
“That’s true,” she said. “That’s always a very real possibility. But then what will you do?”
It was a simple question, but one that caught me completely off guard. It made me realize that even if I do something bad, life goes on—it’s possible to live with myself even thought I will never be perfect. I will never stop embarrassing myself or having bad thoughts or making mistakes or trying to correct them. I will also never stop learning from them.
Not obsessing over my every flaw helped me stop freaking out over other people’s, too. I realized that I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by idealizing my friends, my family, or even Amy Poehler (she is kind of a superhero though, I mean come on). No one can live up to unfair expectations, and no one deserves to be punished for being human. All of that is exhausting, for idol and idolizer alike.
It’s scary to let people just casually step off their pedestals instead of making them topple, because when they’re on your level you have to look them in the eye; you have to grapple with their humanness and let them see into yours. You can do it, though. You got over that whole Tooth Fairy thing just fine. ♦