When your BFF goes AWOL

By Caitlin Kelly

Do you have a best friend?

I wish I did!

Best Friend Forgotten
Best Friend Forgotten (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new movie by Noah Baumbach, (whose “Squid and the Whale” I really disliked), addresses the push-pull of female friendship in your mid-20s, “Frances Ha.” It’s about Frances and Sophie, who meet at Vassar and are still BFFS at 27, but being pulled apart by work, life and boys.

Fans of the series “Girls” on HBO might find some of the themes similar, and Adam Driver, who stars in the series, is also in this movie.

Frances is a modern dancer, tall and gangly, financially struggling and a bit of a mess. She never brushes her hair and is repeatedly pronounced “undateable”, with which (ouch) she is quick to agree.

Sophie snags the banker boyfriend, Patch, and moves with him to Tokyo.

It really hit a chord for me and I left the theater, alone, an hour before sunset, feeling melancholy and wishing I still had a best friend like that, someone with whom I still shared a ton of history, in-jokes and the sort of sexual secrets that make for excellent blackmail material.

I lost my BFF, or she dumped me, or maybe or we just got fed up with one another — it was never clear or resolved or even discussed or addressed — about a decade ago.

We looked alike and were often mistaken for sisters. Hyper-competitive, in life and with one another, she’d say, “I’m the smart one.” I’d say: “I’m the pretty one.” Or vice versa.

I knew her mom and Dad and sister. I knew she’d always have a huge hunk of Brie in the fridge. She had three cats, one so enormous he could have doubled as a doorstop. I still remember their names.

Both bubbly, chatty Geminis, we were also both ex-pats who had moved to the U.S. and then to New York. She had a tiny studio in the West Village and we’d go dancing at Polly Esther’s and flirt with boys a decade younger, sometimes more. We both dated wholly inappropriate men. One of hers was a musician in a famous band who had very few teeth. Another was a friend of mine, but they argued constantly and eventually broke up.

Like Frances and Sophie in the movie, we sometimes platonically shared a bed and woke up giggling on a sunny Saturday with nothing to do and no one to report to. Bliss!

She held my hand while I wept really hard during my first divorced Christmas and climbed a hill in a snowstorm after the cab couldn’t go any further to accompany me to my first knee surgery — and caught me as I fell, tree-like, into the bathroom door afterward.

We traveled together to Venezuela where we both got trapped, terrifyingly, by the 1999 landslide that devastated the countryside. I got the last scheduled flight out, at 8:00 a.m., but she was stuck there for a week or more and returned home traumatized by the smell of dead bodies.

We went to visit her home country, where her father scared me by getting really drunk. We hired a small airplane and a pilot to fly us to where we wanted to go, meeting him at dawn. It felt exactly like the final scene in Casablanca.

But she met a man I didn’t like much, who boasted about his money and looked at me like I smelled funny and replaced all her charming furniture with his ugly, chunky, dark choices. She married him and moved to a huge lakeside house.

I saw little hope for our friendship continuing. And I was right.

It’s been a long time since we stopped being friends.

I’m lucky, though, to still have two dear girlfriends of very early vintage — one from high school and one from my first year of university. They knew me thinner, pre-marriage(s), before I left our native Canada for the United States in 1988. I see each of them once a year or so and keep up with them by phone mostly.

One of them, even though she was then living so far away she was practically in Alaska, came all the way to New Y0rk for my first wedding and again, in 2011, to Toronto for my second. We met when we eye-rolled at one another in our freshman English class. We added a few vowels to our first names and became The Pasta Twins. I still use the tattered, stained cookbook she gave me in the ’80s.

I pray that both of these women remain in my life for decades yet to come. It’s very comforting to be deeply known yet still well-loved, to share so much of one another’s long life histories.  We need to explain nothing — why we ditched that man or how our mother drives us nuts or the reasons we’re still chasing a few unlikely dreams.

We know.

Here’s a perfect list of 22 ways you know you’ve found your BFF, from Buzzfeed; 2,3, 13, 15, 16 and 20 really rang true for me.

Do you have a BFF?

Have you ever lost yours?

My unexpected refuge

This is the view from what might be my truest home, one to which I’ve been returning — lovingly welcomed in good times and bad, whether I was lonely-and-single, freshly-divorced or happily-remarried — for more than 20 years.

It’s in Toronto, the home of a friend I met when I was just starting out in journalism, a woman 11 years my senior, a witty, fun, worldly publicist.

Through our work, and with her, I had some of my best adventures, both personal and professional, like one of my first-ever visits to New York where I (yes) performed eight shows of The Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada (as an extra.) She took me to see “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway and loaned me money when mine was stolen.

As I spent my 20s in Toronto, forever single but professionally doing well, she saw me through some mighty tempestuous affairs, one with a local legend, an eccentric/talented guy we still talk about and recall with some fondness. My own parents never met or even heard of some of  my ex-es, even the Big Deals, but she remembers them all.

Like me, she’s had plenty of dishy beaux and never had kids. Living alone suits her.

What she so generously offers, to me and many others, is a place of refuge.

I once stayed with her for three weeks as I recovered from being victimized by a con artist in New York in 1998, an experience that left me so terrified and traumatized I seriously considered — for the first time since leaving Canada in 1988 — returning to Toronto for good. I needed time and a safe place to heal far, far away from the fear and, even worse, my local police and DA who dismissed his six felonies, and my experience, with a laugh.

In all my subsequent visits over the years, M and I rarely hang out or have long heart-to-hearts. She’s always super-busy, but gives me a key and we bump into one another in the kitchen for a few minutes or chat as she’s getting ready to go out to another meeting or event. But the full-to-bursting fridge is mine to raid, the teetering stacks of newspapers and magazines everywhere there for the pillaging.

Most important of all, though, her home is a place I feel safe and loved. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my 50th, inviting 10 of my oldest friends. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my husband’s 50th as well, only a few months later.

She is, it has taken me a long time to fully understand, true family.

I left my father’s house for good when I was 19. He sold it weeks later and went to Europe to live on a boat for a few years. My mother was traveling the world alone. My home, then, was a tiny studio apartment. I had no aunts or uncles or cousins nearby, no siblings and no family support.

My parents never told me it was OK to come home again, not after my divorce, not after losing a few jobs and trying to weather the recession. My troubled mother lived a six-hour flight away and my father had a new family with little tolerance for me hanging around.

M’s house — I finally, gratefully realized after all these years as I sat alone one morning this week with a cup of tea in the darkened kitchen — really is home, if home is the place you are always greeted with love and kindness.

I finally told her that this week, even though both of us are uncomfortable expressing so much emotion. (We WASPs just don’t do feelings!) 

Do you have an unexpected refuge?

Or have you offered one?

When Your BFF Goes MIA

Two females, possible a mother daughter team, ...
Image by mikebaird via Flickr

Women know that losing a best friend can feel like the worst break-up ever, even more devastating than the loss of a spouse or boyfriend. We may think, hope, even assume that our best female friends are there for life. But they’re not.

I “lost” G a few years ago and I still mourn the loss of someone who once marked every event in my life with a hand-written card, whose apartment I helped re-decorate, with whom I shared adventures in Jamaica and Venezuela. I looked forward to many decades of good times-to-come, maybe even cackling over G & Ts in the nursing home. We’re both boarding-school veterans, world travelers, loudly laughing blonds who were frequently mistaken for sisters. We’re also sufficiently competitive we’d reply, joking: “Yeah, but I’m the smarter/prettier one!” She has a younger sister but I have none, so I especially treasured this aspect of our relationship.

Instead, she dumped me a few years back, and has since refused to answer any attempt to find out what I’ve done so wrong. While I have some lovely female friends, and have since made some new ones, I’ve not yet found another BF, so I was intrigued by this new book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, written by a colleague, Irene S. Levine PhD, who is also a therapist. She’s also The Friendship Doctor on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-s-levine.

What made you want to write the book?

I was always very curious how my own friendships compared to those of other women.  I realized that many close and wonderful friendships, that I thought would last forever, had drifted apart over time. I was never really clear about why this happened to me—or if it happened all the time. As a psychologist, journalist, and woman, I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about these complicated relationships.

Why now? What new or different is there to say?

After I started doing research on the topic, I realized that there are still many taboos about female friendship that make young girls and women reluctant to talk about their friendship problems. For example, women are often judged by their ability to make and keep friends. People look askance when they see a woman sitting alone in a restaurant or a theater.

A spate of recent books, movies, and TV shows has romanticized the myth of “best friends forever.” While the acronym BFF is overused on greeting cards and t-shirts, in real life, friendships are far more nuanced and those that last forever are the exception rather than the rule. Yet women are made to feel guilty and ashamed if they are dumped or end a relationship because it no longer is satisfying.

Do you think women see friendships differently now than, say 10 or 20 or even 50 years ago?

Of course, all relationships are affected by their social context but the desire to be a best friend, the chosen one, and have close friendships hasn’t really changed. Every woman wants to have at least one best friend and be a best friend!

There have been changes, however. Fifty years ago, women (as well as men) were less mobile so their friendships tended to be closer at home. Also, women were less involved in the workplace so the majority of their close friendships were with schoolmates and neighbors—as opposed to colleagues. The growth of the Internet has enabled asynchronous communication among women 24/7 across the miles.

If you’re married and your husband/partner is your “best friend” what role does a female BF play?

By virtue of their common experiences, women can share things with each other that they can never share with a man. What husband wants to hear his wife ruminate about her frustration in finding a great bathing suit or hear about her bodily secretions, or can truly understand the acrimony between a mother and her adolescent daughter? Discussing marital problems with a girlfriend can help a women put these things in perspective and solve problems, and make her a better wife/partner/mother. Finally, it is unrealistic to think that any one person, male or female, can meet all of a woman’s needs for intimacy and affiliation.

When you lost your BF, which you refer to in the book, how did you feel and what, if anything helped you make sense of it?

Especially when it’s one-sided, losing a BF can be as painful as losing a husband or partner. When I lost mine, I was young and had no frame of reference. I don’t think the adults around me truly understood the loss and tended to minimize it. I felt sad and misunderstood until I found a replacement!

In an age of text, IM, constant virtual contact, how, if at all, has this BF relationship changed? Continue reading “When Your BFF Goes MIA”