This post was written by Jordyn Turney, 20, who writes young adult novels and is in the process of finding a literary agent. Turney is an author of RED the Book, a collection of essays written by 58 American teenage girls, available in paperback.
I'm not here to talk about boys. We've been warned enough about them; there are so many sad songs. Instead, I want to talk about friends, about female companionship, about the girl who tugs at our hands and asks us to sit next to her, asks us to be her friend. Her best friend.
Here's the story, as told to us by our mothers, our aunts, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: Female friendship is supposed to be perfect. It's supposed to be easy, safe, last forever, and make the other things bearable. But it's not always, and nobody warns us. It's like if a person can't make you pregnant, then she's not dangerous. Yet these are the breakups that can hurt the most and make us feel most ridiculous when they upset our whole world.
I don't talk to my best friend anymore. I guess I can't really call her that, because she hasn't been in so long.
If there were a support group for girls whose friends have mistreated them, I'd be the one to arrange the folding chairs in a circle. I'd stand and say, "Hello, my name is Jordyn, and I don't know what's wrong with me." Everyone would chorus my name, welcome me. And I'd tell them. I'd tell them about the girls who've been my friends, the ones I considered bests or at least closes, who I talked to about my family, my fears, and the stories I wrote. The ones I trusted who couldn't return the favor.
And it's not about high school, or college, or being a certain age; it's just about the fact that those girls, those friendships, are out there.
But thanks to those girls, I know things. I've learned what friendship is and, maybe more important, what it's not. I've learned what happens when a friendship isn't right.
It's when other people, plural, started telling me she wasn't a good friend. When she made me feel unsure about myself. Every conversation was about her; her emails contained no questions. I was afraid to tell her things because of her reaction. I changed myself, hiding who I really was, to be her friend. She ditched me and canceled plans often enough that I started feeling like the backup. After spending an afternoon with her, I went home sad, angry, discouraged. She said things -- insults, backhanded compliments, criticisms disguised as questions -- that made me feel like I'd never be good enough.
The problem with all of the above, aside from what should be incredibly obvious, is that there was no way to call her out on it. Because all she had to do was feign innocence and charge me with being oh-so-sensitive or can't-take-a-joke and suddenly I'm the crazy one. But I've seen Gaslight and I know it's not nice to make people think they're going insane.
Here's the main thing, though, true of every toxic friend I've had: They made me feel like crap. Learn from my mistakes. Pay attention to when she makes you feel invisible, makes you feel small. If you conveniently miss her calls, dread opening emails, and have to find excuses for her behavior, it's not cool. I've had friendships that have, at times, made me physically sick; don't let it get that far.
That's what finally happened with one girl in particular, the one who isn't my best friend anymore. Despite living on opposite coasts, we were inseparably close all through our teenage years. She was the girl I came to about boys, the one I talked to when I moved away from the only place I'd ever known and nobody liked me and I didn't know how to act. She was there for me, I was there for her, and for a long time that was how it worked.
Until it didn't anymore. Until it was the same two or three fights over and over again, like a song so overplayed I wanted to smash the radio to bits and the car along with it. She had an issue with everything, took offense at the strangest things -- the shows I watched, words I used. After a while, it was impossible to ignore.
When I finally ended the friendship, it was over email. I was honest, to-the-point, and as nice as I could be while breaking off a nine-year relationship. It was three months ago, and she never wrote me back. There are still days when I miss her so suddenly, so deeply, it's almost impossible to keep myself from writing to her. Losing her hurts in a way no breakup song, no "You can do better" from a best friend (see?) can lift.
See, toxic girls don't act the way you'd expect. They don't do anything outright. None of them came over to my house and punched me in the face. They never stole anything from me -- not a boyfriend, not even a CD. They didn't start hate groups against me on Facebook, or tell me I was ugly.
The things my so-called friends did were sneakier. They called when they were fighting with their other friends and then dropped me as soon as things were better. They lied when I asked if they were mad at me, if there was something they wanted to talk about. They acted like everything was fine. They made me feel like I was being paranoid and crazy. But I wasn't paranoid or crazy. Being around the right people is important. Having enough self-respect to have friends who treat you right -- no excuses -- is important.
Sometimes that means breaking up the friendship, even when it's the most difficult thing you've ever done. Sometimes it means being more private with your life and the information you share. And it hurts, and it's hard, but it's worth it. Your true friends -- and you will find them -- will tell you the same.