I’m part of a three-way best friendship between two ladies who complete me. B is a fastidious, engaging, honest lunatic and L is a messy, cuddly, gregarious, drunken, motherly lunatic. I’m a mix of the two maybe? (Definitely also a lunatic.) We fit together and have for the past 15 years. Over those years we’ve traded boyfriends, towns, apartments, clothes; we’ve stayed up countless nights together; we’ve seen each other through petty and epic break-ups. I mean, we were all in our 20s together: it’s been crazy. B & L are my sisters.
Currently, I’m being driven a little crazy by a situation with B that I can’t seem to get over.
Several years ago when my then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were in the middle of a hard-fought reconciliation, B threw a party with her then-boyfriend/now-husband, E. There were drugs, loud music, strobing lights, alcohol and a smoke machine. That night E kissed me in the doorway and as soon as I felt his tongue I sprang back like I was bitten. No way did I want any part of that, I didn’t even want to kiss him in the first place but there was mistletoe hanging in the doorframe and I’ve been bred to be polite to men and acquiesce so I did. Anyway, the next night, B said she saw me kiss E. But not briefly in the doorway. She saw me on the floor, making out with him, like, hardcore. I denied it; she waved me off. I had done it, that was the end. I asked her if she was going to talk to E about it, she said no and, anyway, she had made out with his bff that night. I went to bed reeling. I was trying to reconcile with the love of my life and I did not remember kissing E AT ALL. I felt like she was gaslighting me so that it would be “okay” that she made out with his friend.
Anyway, fast forward a few years, we’re all married, I’m pregnant and E Facebooks me that I’m so sexy and awesome and it’s super uncomfy. I tell our third BFF, L, and we both kvetch for a minute and I decide it’s not worth the drama to tell B because it felt like it was tied somehow to that Christmas years ago and I was scared to have everything upended. Last holiday, we all get into a 3-way fight thanks to L who admits she’s not herself around us, not really, because we shame her and L heavily hints that none of us are really that honest anymore. Hint, hint. (L and I had talked recently about how B makes us feel like children and I brought up the making out accusation.)
Okay, so there’s the big drama. There’s also lots of little/big things that maybe are normal in such a long relationship. Like, I don’t feel like my feelings are very respected. For instance, B has only ever apologized to me once for that time that she literally stole my boyfriend though that’s as much his fault as hers and I didn’t much want him, anyway. She can be rude and insensitive and brittle so every few years, I lose my shit and write some long-winded email about how I’m struggling under her reign and basically she waves it off like I’m just being crazy.
This past spring I emailed about my NOT making out with E and how I felt gaslighted and how he hit on me via Facebook and we all got upset and didn’t talk for a day. She stuck to her story about absolutely seeing me make out with her husband (ugh) and confronted E about the email (he said he was trying to make me feel better because I’d gotten really fat while pregnant and was super insecure about it). I hated he knew anything about me, which is another issue: I feel like she doesn’t respect my privacy. Anyway, after 3 tense days, we all just sort of let it go. Had to. (I guess E is saying he remembers making out with me? I don’t really know how that works.) Then a few months later we got together and she asked some weirdly worded, sort of bullying questions about when I was going to wean my toddler (which I’m sensitive about) and I got upset and told her she was being rude and she… waved me off again.
So, look, I could go on and on and on about the good and the bad. On one hand, she is my soul-sister, my biggest support. I admire her and I love her. I’m godmother to her first-born son whom I adore. Cutting her out of my life doesn’t feel like an option I can live with but when I’m not on anti-anxiety meds, I can get all worked up about how all of this is friendship-ending shit. I’ve dropped the whole husband-making out conversation twice because I felt as though I would have to walk away from this friendship if I didn’t. I had to take my finger off the trigger or lose my best friend, the person who got me through my father’s death, me and my youngest brother’s current estrangement, sleepless nights as a new mother, etc. Obviously, it’s up to me to put this to rest but I’m struggling.
I always say the trick to a long relationship is a short memory but ACK. I’m haunted by everything that’s wrong about this relationship even though I value it so very much. How the fuck do I let this (and everything else) go?
C (Obviously, the long-winded one)
I know that you love your friend and your intentions are good. You want to get everything out in the open. You want to clear the air. You want everyone to be honest with each other. You want to let this go.
If I had the tiniest bit of evidence that you’ve exercised self-restraint, listened to other people’s feelings, opened your mind to the fact that two people can remember the same event in different ways, given others the benefit of the doubt, put yourself in your friends’ shoes, and, above all, taken personal responsibility for your actions, then my advice to you would be very different.
Instead, here you are, waiting for an apology from B. But if I’m B, I’m still waiting for you to apologize for kissing my boyfriend/husband instead of writing long, attacking emails, repeatedly bringing up what I was doing that night (which is a separate issue since it didn’t involve you or your boyfriend at the time), and casting aspersions on my marriage by gossiping to our mutual friend that my husband “hit on” you, when he says he only wanted to make you feel better about your weight. Instead, I have to eat shit for talking to my husband about my friends? And I have to tolerate your insistence that my memories are inaccurate?
I know that there’s a lot of water under the bridge, and you guys have been friends for a long, long time. Those conditions make it very challenging to stop and take the other person’s perspective. You have this long history that allows you to simply write B off as someone who thinks whatever she wants to think. You say that you’re all lunatics, but you’re sort of invested in the notion that she’s worse. You firmly believe that you’ve put up with far more shit than she has.
But you’re wrong. Dead wrong.
You know what B is doing when she waves you off? She’s practicing restraint. Your refusal to listen to her side of the story makes her crazy.
So what if E really is hot for you? I’m not sure I buy it, based on the evidence at hand, but let’s suppose it’s the case. How do you think that feels for B? Should you maybe cut her a little slack for feeling some antipathy towards you over the years, considering your history of kissing her husband, regardless of whether or not you were on the floor? You’re not even factoring in her possible lingering envy or jealousy or nagging notion that he once thought you were worth a drunken pass? And instead, she needs to apologize to you?
Basically, you’re behaving like the immature twentysomething you were when you met these two friends. You need to grow up and start taking a hard look at the way you deal with the people who matter the most to you.
First, though, a word about long-winded, attacking emails: Don’t write them, ever. Don’t write short attacking emails. Don’t write short, mildly aggressive emails. Friendship troubles are not solved via email, period. Unless you are apologizing, don’t write. Here’s your friend, walking around, trying to be cool about the fact that her husband thought you were hot at one point (clearly B mentioned your weight gain and insecurity to him PRECISELY BECAUSE that kiss still weighs on her mind). At some point, you should’ve recognized her emotions about this and told her, “Look, we’ll never agree on exactly what happened, but I’m so sorry that ANYTHING happened. Because nothing should’ve happened, period. I made a big mistake, plain and simple.”
Instead, though, she has to walk around feeling vaguely haunted by this event, and then she has to field a long email from you in which you 1) insist on setting the record straight once and for all, 2) paint yourself as the victim of her “gaslighting,” instead of acknowledging her feelings, and to top it all off 3) accuse her husband of hitting on you RECENTLY. If I were her, I’d definitely be doing more than just grumbling and casting aspersions on your breastfeeding choices.
She’s rude to you because you refuse to apologize or take responsibility for yourself. Even if you’ve apologized before, you should do it again. You should demonstrate that you understand that she still has strong feelings about the kiss/ make out, and that it still bothers her. You wonder why she isn’t over it. You know what I wonder? Why are you such a fucking stickler about being right about a crazy, drunken shared memory like that one, when it’s a memory that hurts her, not you? What skin do you have in this game? She needs to understand that you didn’t want anything to happen with him, right? That you aren’t a bad friend at heart? She wants you to help her get over the feeling that he once had a thing for you? But every single time you bring it up, you insist on your version of events, you re-accuse her of invented crimes, AND you suggest that he’s STILL into you?
Dude. YOU are the wound.
Now, I know you don’t believe me. I’m sure I’ve gotten some detail wrong that justifies ignoring my entire response, because that’s how you seem to operate. And look, I’m sure I AM wrong about something in this picture. But I’m not wrong about your inability to own up to your own missteps and mistakes and fuck-ups. If you don’t believe anything else that I’ve told you, believe this one thing: You need to take a close look at how you move through the world, because you’re stepping on people’s toes left and right.
Do not send any more long, angry emails, ever. Pick up the phone and call your friend and start with an apology, then listen. Do it when you’re in a good mood and have an open heart. If you have an urge to argue, set things straight, prove that you’re right, just don’t do it. It’s her turn to tell you the truth about what she’s been through with you.
Finally, you must see a therapist on a weekly basis. Tell her or him that you really want to look closely at your behavior without fear and defensiveness, so you can grow up and be a good friend, wife and parent.
I’m sure you’re incredibly charming and wonderful otherwise. You long-winded types usually are. I bet you’re worth every bit of the bullshit you put your friends through. Maybe you’re not getting enough love and understanding right now, plus you’ve got a little kid who’s clinging to you around the clock, and you’re afraid to say no. Your fear of saying no, though, is what gets you into trouble. You think “How could I be a bad person making bad choices? All I ever want is to make other people happy!” But that’s where bad choices come from, don’t you see? They come from slavishly trying to make other people happy, then resenting them for it secretly (or not-so-secretly).
You need to see a therapist and learn to take care of yourself a little better. You need to learn to say no. Once you start to say no when you really don’t want something, that’s when you’ll be flexible enough to look at the past and say, “Fuck, I handled that wrong.” This kiss with E isn’t about the kiss itself anymore. It’s about how badly you handled it, then and now. You haven’t stopped handling it badly. Because you’re incredibly defensive. Because you’re worried that you’re crazy.
You ARE crazy, because you’re so afraid of being crazy that you can’t admit when you’re wrong. That’s the definition of nuts: not being able to admit when you fuck up. The second you take an unforgiving look at what you’ve done in the past, and how you handle things now, and how it must feel to be on the receiving end of your diatribes, and how it must feel to have your close friend claim that your husband is hitting on her? In that second, you will be a million times more evolved than you are now. You just have to make the choice to be wrong—really, truly wrong, thoroughly mistaken—for once in your life.
You are wrong about a lot of things. Admitting that can actually be liberating. You’d be amazed at how good it feels. It makes everything much easier and more relaxing. And people want to be around you a hell of a lot more, too.
I’ve a problem with my best friend.
You see, we are pretty tight, me and her—Thelma and Louise, talk-for-ages-on-the-phone-despite-the-fact-that-we-hung-out-the-same-day, really-truly-understand each other type tight. I’m very happy and lucky to have her, and—my immediate family excluded—she is definitely the most important person in my life.
However, of all the things we really truly understand about each other, there’s one thing about her that I don’t understand, and it’s been bugging me forever: despite us knowing each other for over 15 years and being BFFs for over 10 of those, and how well she treats me in all other aspects, I’ve come to see that I’ll always, always come second to whoever it is that she’s dating at the moment.
I should elaborate. Me and her, we have distinctly different romantic lives and ways of approaching that whole aspect of our existence: while she got her first boyfriend at 16 and has practically never been single since [she has dated a lot of people, but most of those were pretty serious relationships], I have only dated one guy that was really close to me—for about 2 years, and only after I turned 22; while she barely talks about anything else, and cannot even imagine life without a significant other, I tend to put romantic interests pretty high on my priorities list, but definitely not higher than everything else, including my friendship with her. We are vastly different, and I respect that.
Thing is, I’ve come to realize she’d still value even the guy she’s been dating for two months [for example] over me—despite us having been much closer, for much longer, and the fact that as always, I’ll be the one standing next to her when their relationship falls apart and she needs support. I’ve always been very careful not to put her in a position where she’d have to choose between me and her current beau; it’d put unnecessary tension on our friendship, and it would make her uncomfortable. But sometimes it’s unavoidable, or she’d make it unintentionally obvious—and I’ve come to understand it with a painful clarity: while I believe in friendship as the purest, more valuable of human relationships, and always put her first, she’d always prefer her boyfriends, or sometimes just guys in general, regardless of how serious her relationship to them is.
[I’m talking stuff like paying more attention or spending free time only with them if she has limited amounts of it at the moment, guy emergencies always taking priority over best friend emergencies, or willing to put me in relatively uncomfortable positions to get guys to like her, etc.]
I tried talking to her about it a bit—and she agreed and then shrugged it off, telling me that’s just the way she is and she can’t help it.
Now I realize how rare a good friendship is, and would definitely hate to lose her, for any reason; I also know that no one’s perfect, and I probably tick her off in some ways, myself. Thirdly, I know that trying to change anyone is a huge no-no—both because they probably won’t, or even can’t, and because people should be loved for who they are instead of being turned into hobby projects.
That being said… is there any way to make her see that years and years of support and understanding are more important than the mere existence of a Y chromosome? Am I even right in thinking that? Or am I simply being egocentric—or a naïve girl, brainwashed by too many examples of the ‘friends over guys!’-type chick pop culture?
And even if I am right, is that even a serious enough problem for me to be concerned?
Thank you so much for your help in advance.
Fighter For Friendship
I know exactly how you feel, but I think you need to be patient. Women who place their boyfriends/partners/husbands over their girlfriends do so for a lot of very personal reasons, not all of which amount to immaturity. It’s tough to say why your friend is the way she is, but I don’t really think you’ll have any success in trying to change this aspect of her personality. You could sit her down and say, “I wish you could see things the way I do, because you and I will always be friends while men come and go. I wish you could see how important we’ll always be to each other.”
Maybe that’s worth saying. But as long as she’s generally good to you, I wouldn’t expect her to change her ways dramatically.
This is my guess: She wants to find the right guy. It’s high on her priority list. When this phase ends—either when she finds someone, or gets over this as her central obsession—she’s likely to value you a lot more. Love and emotional security are something she craves so much that she just can’t manage to think about much else. She doesn’t realize that when a woman is careful to give a lot to her female friends, to trust in them and rely on them, it strengthens her ability to stand up for herself and confidently develop trusting relationships with men, too.
It’s true that your friend could end up disappearing into a marriage and becoming even more remote. I don’t really think she’ll do that, based on what you’ve said. I think that she’ll become more secure and less obsessed with men, and that will allow her to see how precious your friendship is.
If situations come up where she’s discounting your feelings for the sake of a man, you have to address that when it happens, and be very clear about the behavior you expect to see from a close friend.
If she’s being a good friend in general, though, you just need to accept that you two are very different. Tell her you love her and want her to see how crucial and important female friendships are. Encourage her to reshuffle her priorities, if you can do it gently. But be respectful of how she feels about this. You’re not wrong to believe in female friendships, not at all. But she’s not wrong to believe in love, either.
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Top photo by faith_lee. Illustration published by Auchincloss & Bro., from the Boston Public Library.