“Being a good girlfriend can be exhausting, especially when we’re living in such a polarizing time. Especially when we are expected to be so many things to so many people. And especially after we’ve all experienced the collective trauma of trying to make Zoom cocktails a thing.
We’ve become a generation of women who are drained by the responsibility of friendship. In fact, if you were to put all the responsibilities of friendship down on paper, I would wager that it would end up longer than all the stories your kid tells you about Minecraft put together. I mean, you’ve got the basics like:
- Being nice
- Supporting each other
- Texting back
- Remembering birthdays
- Noticing haircuts
But then you’ve got to keep in mind all the nuanced pieces of twenty-first-century friendship like:
- Sending topical memes
- Knowing emotional triggers
- Gauging her multi-level marketing preferences
- Knowing which type of feminine hygiene product she might need in a pinch
- Being aware of her stance on Pinterest board collaboration
A Moment Of Relief
It’s so much to keep straight, which may be why a large portion of us were somewhat thankful to be relieved of a lot of social responsibilities during this century’s global pandemic. Do you mean I can hit ‘pause’ on attending large gatherings of people and making chitchat for a full calendar year? I’m not seeing a downside here… And, of course, someone would explain the downside and you would be like, ‘Oh my God, really?’ and they would be like ‘Yeah.’ And you would be like, ‘Oh man, no thanks.’ And then they would be like, ‘Too late, you already signed up for the pandemic.’ And you’d be like, ‘Crap.’
Because we never knew how unprepared we were for friend-shipping during whatever the heck 2020 was, mostly because so many adult friendships are way more fragile than we realized and many of them just weren’t strong enough to withstand month after month of airplane-style slaps in the face from current events. It’s hard enough to maintain a friendship when you don’t share the same stance on your favorite Kardashian (Kim, duh). But what happens when you don’t agree with your president? Or vaccines? Or religion? Does this automatically mean you snuff out your friendship altogether? Kick ’em to the curb? Put the kibosh on the whole shebang?
A little piece of me wanted to say ‘yes.’ Set boundaries. Delete your friendship cache. Get rid of the people who don’t make you feel like your best self. But then I remembered something that happened back when I was a butterfly-clip-wearing middle schooler, and I committed one of the most egregious Girl Code violations on record.
Girl Code Violation
It was the night of one of our school dances, and the hormones of 200 sweaty pre-teens hung over our middle school gymnasium like a mushroom cloud. My girlfriends and I had congregated at my house beforehand to apply glitter to our temples, slick back our ponytails, and give my mom our Domino’s order for post-dance pizza.
While we were getting ready in my bathroom, Jen, one of my very best friends, was going on and on about how she really wanted this guy Dave to ask her to dance. Dave was okay, not really all that cute in my opinion, but Jen really liked him. Standard 1998 pre-dance hype protocol dictated that our other friend Anna and I assure her that Dave would totally ask her to dance, while we took turns spritzing her with lethal amounts of Gap Dream perfume. They returned the favor by telling me that the guy I really liked, Evan, would totally ask me to dance too. We were all totally going to dance with our dream guys! It was going to be totally perfect! And we were all going to smell totally dreamy!
At 6:59 p.m. we clamored out of my mom’s spruce green Mazda MPV and literally sprinted into the school gym. That was the beauty of middle school dances. You were ready to bump and grind like an adult, but you were still enough of a little kid to run fast because you were excited. Once we were inside, Jen, Anna, and I handed our xeroxed dance tickets to eighth-grade student council members who wouldn’t even look us in the eye, and then…it was all happening.
Right there between the PE locker rooms and carts of semi-inflated kickballs, we danced with abandon to the Space Jam soundtrack and every radio edit hit from Puff Daddy. We got really sweaty doing the Macarena and the Electric Slide and giggled when our drama teacher tried to join in. Between trips to the water fountain to guzzle mouthfuls of water like we’d been participating in an NBA game, Anna and I started hassling Jen about Dave. If he wasn’t going to ask her to dance, then she should ask him. What did she have to lose? Like the writing on the wall at Limited Too always said, GiRl PoWeR!!! But despite all our amazing hype work, Jen refused, saying if Dave wanted to dance with her, then he would ask. Like the card game I was looking forward to playing during our sleepover after the dance, I called B.S. Or maybe I said, ‘bullcrap,’ because what if one of the teachers heard?
Empowered by my own psych-up speech to Jen, I lumbered over to Dave like an ox with braces, to demand he dance with my friend. How dare he ignore her when she was over there looking so cute in her brand new Animaniacs long-sleeved T-shirt? I saw him looking at me as I made my approach. Just then ‘I’ll Make Love to You’ or ‘Nice and Slow’ or some other equally sexual slow jam started blaring over the speakers.
‘Wanna dance?’ he asked me.
‘Um sure,’ I answered. But only for a minute, and just to ask him about Jen. Because I was such a good friend. The song droned inappropriately on and I did bring up Jen. Dave very politely said he would ask her to dance, but that he just liked her as a friend. I said, ‘Okay.’
And then he asked me out. And I said, ‘Okay.’ I said okay.
After the song ended, I wandered back to Anna and Jen to report what had happened with a huge smile plastered on my face. ‘He asked me out!’ I screamed over the music.
‘What?!’ was their perfectly appropriate and loud reply. ‘How could you do that?’
‘Well, he obviously likes me and not Jen. How is that my fault?’ I said without a glimmer of self-awareness, slowly turning away to do The Sprinkler with some other friend before Jen and Anna could continue harshing my mellow.
After my betrayal, the rest of the night didn’t go so well. News of my back-stabbiness spread through the gym like lice at a slumber party—fast and mostly to girls. In the end, I went home alone to eat pizza for three and sulk over the fact that I was being so wrongly persecuted for looking cute now that my palate expander had been removed. It was so unfair. Dave and I ended up going out for one single, not-very-magical week, at the end of which he had Evan (remember him?) call me and break up with me. #Karma, am I right?
But here’s the thing: Even though I was terrified that Jen was going to stay mad indefinitely, she and all the other seventh-grade girls I had offended on her behalf forgave me. They let me know I had screwed up and broken their trust, but they didn’t write me off forever. Before long, we were sitting at the same cafeteria tables again, eating square pizza from Styrofoam trays, and planning the team spirit outfits for our next away soccer game.
When I feel a strain in a friendship or have the urge to excommunicate people I feel at odds with, sometimes I remember this story. (Other times I act like a butthead and think I’m a superior being, but let’s not focus on that.) Kids have this natural conflict-resolution strategy preloaded inside them. Without ever having to be taught, my middle school friends set boundaries and expectations for our friendship moving forward, and I respected them because I learned what kind of friend they needed me to be. That’s how healthy friendships work. Of course, I’m not saying it should be mandatory that we always let people who hurt us stay in our lives, but when it’s possible, keeping space for them to show up and try again gives people a reason to grow and change.
Offering people an opportunity to ask for forgiveness and show up for you in the way you need them to allows for our Responsibilities of Friendship list to become a whole lot shorter, and I for one prefer it that way.
Responsibilities of Friendship:
- Respect each other.
- No more Zoom cocktails.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly Bandas. Follow her journey on Instagram and TikTok. You can pre-order her book here. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more from Kelly here:
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