Live Through This

Friends Beyond Compare

I reduced my BFFs to characters in my own personal drama, and faulted them for not following the script.

Illustration by Allegra

Illustration by Allegra

I have known Bianca* since we were toddlers; our mothers met at a playgroup when we were two years old and we’ve been in each other’s lives ever since. We both loved “chemistry,” though our version of it mostly consisted of mixing together Silly Putty, sparkly nail polish, poster paint, and whatever other materials we could get our hands on to see what goopy, sparkly “potions” we could concoct. I loved the idea of having a partner in crime who I could share everything, go on adventures, or just have fun. We were like sisters, and I don’t mean that in a cheesy, “LYLAS!” middle school way. We were comfortable enough with each other that I felt like I could truly be myself around her, without feeling like I needed to impress her. We were close, but we still had our own personalities. Bianca was always more popular, better at sports, and knew how to make friends easier. She knew the right things to say when talking to people, or when to laugh at a joke. I was much more introverted, obsessed with school, and happy to spend my recesses alone, reading books and not talking to anybody. These differences were never a problem. Until middle school.

As we grew up and our interest in science experiments was replaced with an interest in getting invited to parties and fitting in with others, we started to fight. By fifth grade, cliques had started to form—she hung out with the cool girls, the ones that were already wearing makeup and dating, and I was put into the gifted program, where my new friends were a group of girls who still thought boys were gross and liked to spend their free time writing fantasy stories. I thought her new friends were shallow, she thought mine were geeks, and in our unflinching honesty we told each other as much. We gradually stopped trying to force the friendship. We still spent weekends together—she had been in my life for so long that not seeing her regularly was something I never even considered—but we had an unspoken agreement about what was OK to talk about. Movies and Neopets: OK; our non-overlapping friends: not OK, unless we wanted to get into an argument.

In seventh grade, I was accepted into the school I had been dying to attend, a small private school downtown with a focus on academics (it was very Rory-Gilmore-goes-to-Chilton). My family was middle class, but sending a kid to such a fancy school for two years required a lot of saving and scrimping by my parents, and for the first time in my life I became acutely aware class differences. I was an outcast amongst my new classmates, who bragged about how far away they traveled for vacation could tell the difference between a real and fake Louis Vuitton by the age of 12. I continued to spend my weekends with Bianca, and our friendship slowly regained strength as my animosity towards her friends was replaced with an animosity towards the kids I went to school with. Bianca started playing an extracurricular sport called ringette (it’s like women’s ice hockey, but played with rubber rings), and she made it sound like fun, so I joined the team. It was through this team that we met Lisa.

Lisa was team captain, Bianca was assistant captain, and I was the bench warmer. Bianca and Lisa became friends right away. Their friendship made sense; they were the talented ones, the team leaders. I would sit beside them quietly after games as they complained about an unfair call a ref had made or to compliment each other on their wrist shots. Soon Lisa was hanging out with us every weekend, going to the movies or the mall. It was nice to have a mutual friend that met us halfway—she was athletic and popular like Bianca, but she also liked watching artsy movies and exploring vintage stores downtown, the sorts of outings that would just make Bianca roll her eyes. By high school, Bianca had moved to a suburb outside of town, and Lisa and I were hanging out all the time, often just the two of us. Bianca never got jealous or compared herself to Lisa. But she didn’t have to—I started doing it for her. To this day I cringe when I remember how I treated my loyal lifelong friend.

Lisa was fun, but I missed Bianca, the first close friend I had ever had—and the only one until Lisa came along. Soon I started to resent everything about Lisa that was unlike Bianca. Lisa always wanted to go out; she never wanted to stay home, make mac & cheese, and watch silly movies like Bianca and I used to do. Lisa couldn’t automatically tell what I was thinking or feeling the way Bianca always did. With Lisa, we were constantly watching experimental films, but sometimes I was in the mood to watch Mean Girls for the zillionth time, which Bianca was always game to do.

Here’s what surprised me most: After missing her so hard and holding her up as this golden standard of perfect friend-ness, I thought that when I finally got to hang out with Bianca every weekend, I would savor every moment I had with her. But instead, I started comparing her to Lisa and finding Bianca lacking. Why wasn’t she openminded like Lisa? Why did she call the movies I liked “weird”? Instead of seeing Bianca and Lisa as wonderful, complicated, unique individuals that I was lucky to know, I saw each as all the things the other was not. I wanted both of them to be everything at once.

In retrospect, I think that the more Bianca and I grew apart, the more desperate I was to cling to her, or, more precisely, the idea of her as a BFF, and the less I actually valued her as a person. I had started to view my friends in terms of what they could do for me—how much fun I had with them, how comfortable I felt around them, and always on my terms. I relished the idea of the “best friend,” a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants type of perpetual acceptance and unconditional love. I was such an outcast at my new school—I rarely went to parties, dated, or did any of the things it felt like all the kids in teen movies and on The OC and at my school were doing—that I started to see Bianca and Lisa as trophies, proof that not only did I have friends, but my closest ones were relatively popular girls. I reduced them to characters in my own personal drama, and faulted them for not following the script.

None of Bianca’s outside interests or new friends fit into my script, either, which scared me. I’m sure she was scared, too, of who I was becoming. Right before she and I and Lisa scattered to different colleges, we had one last dinner together. We exchanged hugs, tears, and promises to keep in touch. I never see them anymore.

At my new college, I found myself doing it again. I met dozens of lovely people during my frosh week, but all I could think about was my friends back home. What’s the point of forcing conversation with all these strangers? I thought. None of them are going to be like my real friends back home. None of these new people could ever be as reliable as Bianca, as fun and creative as Lisa. My old friends stood together in my imagination as twin pinnacles of perfect BFF-ship.

It was in the middle of one of these thoughts (No one will evvvver understand me like good ol’ Lisa and Bianca) that it finally hit me. (I know, it took me long enough.) Of course these people wouldn’t be like Lisa and Bianca. They would be like themselves. And who did I think I was, counting essential friend qualities to see who measured up, whom I would deem good enough to be my friend? It’s not like I was overflowing with great qualities—loyalty, devotion, and common sense are three deficiencies I can think of off the top of my head.

To no one’s surprise, once I stopped seeing people as lists of attractive/useful features, it got a lot easier to make friends with them. It was just a few days after my big “stop comparing people to other people” epiphany that I met my current best friend, Caitlin, during an outing at an amusement park; I suggested that we go to the gift shop to look for Bort license plates, and she was the only person in the group who understood the Simpsons reference. For the first time, I resisted the urge to compare someone new with Bianca or Lisa. I got to know her as an actual 3D human being, and gave myself the chance to appreciate her unique strengths, flaws, and interests.

I used to think that BFFs had an obligation to stay exactly that: best friends forever. But now I know that it doesn’t work that way. If you take someone’s friendship for granted the way I did Bianca’s and Lisa’s, they will hopefully move on and find people who value and respect them for who they are. And I thank them for helping me figure out that when you find a friend who truly understands and loves you, you can’t look for what she’s missing, or you’ll miss everything she is. ♦

21 Comments

  • alienbabe July 2nd, 2013 3:34 PM

    I would consider myself the more introverted friend too. I think everyone goes through this at some point in their lives.

    http://sweetandsourstyle.blogspot.com/

  • AliceS July 2nd, 2013 3:55 PM

    My story is a little different, but this article resonates to me so much. Thank you so so much for sharing your experience.

    http://toomuchlightburnsthenegative.blogspot.it/

  • martaosbourne July 2nd, 2013 3:57 PM

    I can relate to this. Clinging to old friends, even when they were gone, has stopped me many times from meeting new people. And I regret it a lot.

    “Things change. And friends leave. But life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

    filthygrrrl.tumblr.com

  • Hannah L July 2nd, 2013 4:19 PM

    it’s painful how much this resonates with me

  • Amelia July 2nd, 2013 4:20 PM

    I clung to every word of this article, sometimes I can get so caught up in my own whimsical little narrative that I start pitting people against each other when they aren’t working to my advantage and expectation. Gosh, and you worded it so eloquently, it really brings me down to earth to see someone else owning up to it and learning through it.

    It’s definitely hard to feel like the more inward friend of the group, too. While you didn’t mention it entirely, I have always felt obligated to do as my childhood-now-social-butterfly-queen friends do, even though they already have intuitively realized that it makes me miserable. And I suppose that’s why they’re my friends, to grab me by the shoulders and remind me who I am.

    And I try to do the same, as the article says, embracing every little nuance of a person is so important for healthy friendships. ah, oh, thank you rookie..

  • ColoredSoft July 2nd, 2013 4:29 PM

    This is…perfect. Thanks for sharing it, really helps.

  • abby111039 July 2nd, 2013 4:31 PM

    This is so relatable for me. In 7th grade, my two best friends from elementary school both ditched me, and thus my entire group of friends there decided they too didn’t want anything to do with me either. I was so down about it for the longest time that I didn’t even notice the greatness of the new people I ended up around. Luckily those new friends have stuck around so far, and now I look at the loss of my old friends as a blessing in disguise, as I probably wouldn’t be close with all the lovely people I am with today if I didn’t lose those old friends. So yeah, great article. (:

  • Tiger July 2nd, 2013 5:25 PM

    This was so relatable and wonderful, I feel like I am in almost your same position. It’s hard, seeing teen movies and things, that make it seem like your friends will always be perfect and fun and exactly what you want. I am admittedly very guilty and comparing my friends to my favorite fictional characters, wishing they’d be perfect, and all it does is discourage. I love you Anna, and I love you Rookie, as always!

  • Sophie ❤ July 2nd, 2013 5:51 PM

    This is SO BEAUTIFUL! it reminds me of Hope and Jane, my two best friends.

    http://plainlysophie.com

  • GlitterKitty July 2nd, 2013 6:24 PM

    This really related to me. I’ve had this one friend for a long long time but recently she isn’t being so nice to me and our interests are becoming more and more different. The natural conclusion would be to end the friendship but if I do, I will have lost my only long time girlfriend. I know I need to just let her go and I want to but it’s just very hard, especially considering we go to school together and she’s friends with my sister.

    I’ve always wanted a BFFL type friend but never had one. This made me realize that I need to stop looking for a perfect friend and have different friends who I can have different friendships with.

    Thank you Anna for a great article as always.

  • Abby July 2nd, 2013 7:03 PM

    Well… I cried.

  • MeBeKi July 2nd, 2013 8:15 PM

    I love this article. I’ve definitely had my fair share of comparing others in the past, forgetting that it’s important that friendships evolve with the people involved. I think that everybody goes through this at some point.

    http://theoriesabound.wordpress.com/

  • spudzine July 2nd, 2013 10:06 PM

    Rookie does this really weird thing where every time I go through something, there’s an article about it like two days later. This REALLY resonates with me. I’ve moved around a lot and switched schools a lot, so I just compared all of my friends based on these similar qualities I thought all true friends should have. But I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter how many “true friend” qualities a person may have, they may still be a horrible friend, or an even horrible person. I’ve had friends who I only hung out with because of their very few good qualities, and I honestly regret spending time with such people. There are so many great friends to make not because of specific qualities they may have, but because they’re great to hang out with, and you don’t have the urge to commit mass homicide(just kidding seriously just kidding)! Okay that may have been kind of inappropiate I apologize. It’s a good sign if you can be yourself around your friends and you seriously do not hate them. Trust me.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • thelionheartedgirl July 2nd, 2013 10:43 PM

    This hit me really hard. I think that… I behave this way too, but I only found out about it while reading about your experience. Wow.

    Great piece, btw!

  • kikikaylen July 2nd, 2013 11:33 PM

    I’m going away to college in a completely different state almost 1,000 miles away from home this fall. I’ve never moved more than a half hour away in my life (and that was only once when I was five). I’ve had the same best friends since elementary/middle school.

    This article resonates with me so much, and I think it’s a good reminder that even though I’m terrified about whether I’ll find new friends to compare to my current ones, one of the most important things is remembering that they don’t necessarily HAVE to compare to them. In fact, they shouldn’t be compared at all. Everyone is their own person, and I need to appreciate the chance to get to know different people with whom I will have different but hopefully equally valuable friendships with.

  • sissiLOL July 3rd, 2013 9:45 AM

    This article is so genial and sweet!
    Stylebruch.blogspot.com

  • Sparkie July 3rd, 2013 11:19 AM

    I am the complete opposite, if I’m finding myself growing apart from someone I just find new friends and move on immediately to avoid the drama that tends to happen in these circumstances, which is really bad because, although we might be changing, they still were great friends to me. And it’s not that I won’t talk to them ever again, but I put less effort into trying to meet up regularly and that kind of things and therefore our friendship inevitably fades away into memories. But I’ve had so many friendships ending in abrupt hard ways that I’d just really rather avoid it..

  • AnaRuiz July 3rd, 2013 2:42 PM

    In one of Nabokov’s answers to the critics of Lolita as a piece of “immoral” literature, he answers something like “I don’t write to moralize… I write for the ascetic pleasure that literature can give.” That word, ASCETICS, has stuck with me and has defined the way I see many things. Up to what point is it good that I live my life because I want to “live the life of a poet”?

    http://anaruizwriting.blogspot.com

  • fushigichris July 3rd, 2013 9:02 PM

    This hit very, VERY close to home.

    I lost my best friend of 11 years almost two years ago and even as I’m about to start college I find myself comparing new potential friends to the old relationship I had as a young teenager.

    I think it’s almost human nature to romanticize past relationships in such a way that we tend to forget the reality of those past interactions. Even now I catch myself thinking “Well, she will never understand me as well as Melanie did,” when the reality of the matter was that Melanie understood me so well because our relationship was co-dependent.

    I’ve always had an inkling suspicion that my inability to create long lasting friendships, even two years after my friend breakup, is the comparison which you speak of and more than anything I’m glad I was able to read your article before entering my freshman year of college. I’m still learning to think through this fallacy that media and young adult media has ingrained into our heads, but for now, I think I’m ready to let go.

  • Hailey Mah July 6th, 2013 3:32 AM

    This was a great and insightful piece. I definitely enjoyed reading it, and felt many pangs of recognition of my own behavior. These revelations, once they come, are so powerful and influential. I’m glad you gained a fresh perspective and can impart it upon us readers.

  • ♡ reba ♡ July 8th, 2013 2:51 PM

    i like how this article wasn’t too preachy, just a nice anecdote :-)