Updated: Nov 8, 2019
I ask because, truth be told, mine didn’t. For four decades.
The Bechdel Test, for those not in-the-know, is a measure of female representation in fiction. To pass the test, a work must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. Sounds easy, right? But you’d be amazed at how many of your favorite movies and books fail it miserably.
Likewise, I was deeply disturbed to realize, at the age of 40, that my own life often failed to live up to that most minimal of feminist standards. I mean, sure, I had female friends. Plenty of them. And we talked. A lot.
But the vast majority of what we talked about revolved around boys and men. Who we thought was cute, who was making our life a living hell (often one and the same), and so on.
Even in my ever-so-brief incarnation as an Angry Lesbian™, I found myself focused not, as I had anticipated, on making plans for the Feminist Utopia™ yet to come, but on Smashing the Patriarchy™ and raging against the male-dominated machine (no trademark on that one as I’ve already used that joke three times, and I am a law-abiding humorist).
In short, despite having two kickass sisters, I had managed to live most of my life without fully grasping the value of sisterhood.
And yet, for most of my life, I still somehow managed to think of myself as a friendship expert.
In fact, at one point I made a living coaching socially awkward Seattleites on the finer points of connecting with other humans, and even led workshops on how to make new friends. And, in my defense, I was (still am) extremely adept at making friends. I make friends the way a bartender makes drinks. It’s a largely unconscious process, and I’m not necessarily interested in partaking of the finished product. It’s just… what I do.
Being a friend, though? Turns out I pretty much sucked at it.
This I learned the way I learn all worthwhile lessons: the hard way.
First, I lost the one friend I thought I was mine forever: my adoptive sister Rebecca. Though the details of that debacle are not for public consumption, suffice it to say that I was, as usual, prioritizing the misters over my sisters, and it bit me in the ass. Hard.
After two years of not speaking to me, Rebecca eventually allowed me to make amends, and we are now back to being thick as thieves. But that experience made me realize just how much I had yet to learn about friendship.
And yet, for THREE YEARS I failed miserably in that quest. Like Cinderella at Prince Charming’s ball, every time we got close to making a real connection, I would panic and disappear.
Well, okay, not LITERALLY. I didn’t ghost her or anything. I just… held back.
See, as I mentioned, my priorities back then were very much skewed toward the romantic/sexual: I was obsessed with finding my soul mate, and anything else just seemed like a distraction from that quest.
Viewing the situation through that filter, I saw Maryann as a contender for the role of Life Partner. And when she didn’t come charging after me, glass slipper in hand, to find out why I wasn’t actively pursuing her, I figured she just wasn’t that into me, and I let it go.
Eventually, though, we had a breakthrough. We were in, of all places, the steam room at the Olympus Spa (a women-only, all-nude spa). I reached over to investigate one of her rings, and when our fingers touched, it felt as though we had just completed an electrical circuit. We both felt it. There was no point in denying it. It was, in a word, on.
After that, we were officially an “item.” Cue the romantic montage:
Us at a cabin in the woods near Mt. Rainier, trying on each others’ lingerie and drinking champagne on the back porch.
Us on a nearby riverbank, providing a spectacular show to any hikers who may have been lucky enough to wander by just then.
Throwing parties together. Shopping together. Being basically completely fucking inseparable and insanely fucking adorable.
Feeling queasy yet?
Still, something was missing. We both knew it, but she was the one brave enough to finally say it. We had just taken a bath together, and she was sitting on the edge of the tub when she asked the dreaded question:
“Can we walk?”
We all know what that means.
She told me the truth: that she knew in her heart that her life partner was going to be a man, and that as much as she treasured our relationship and was enjoying the “benefits,” this wasn’t “it” for her.
I very maturely agreed that we should redefine ourselves as Best Friends and continue to pursue romantic partnerships elsewhere. Then I waited for her to leave so I could ugly cry on the floor like a banshee chopping onions.
After the requisite grieving, though, I discovered an altogether unexpected problem with being Maryann’s best friend: I actually had no idea how to do it.
See, once I stripped away all the sexting and the flirty talk and the oh-so–witty banter, I found myself at a loss for words. I mean, I had already filled her in on all my previous relationship dramas and interesting life stories. What else was there??
Geez, no wonder my female friendships tend to fizzle, I thought, staring blankly at the phone.
Determined to do better this time around, I did something completely out of character for me: I shut up and listened. I let Maryann do most of the talking, and I just held space for her and empathized.
And you know what? It worked! We grew closer as I learned more about her, and little by little, I started to contribute organically to the conversation. Soon enough, we were back up to speed, chattering away like it was our job.
In fact we were having so much fun, Maryann decided to invite some other ladies to join the party. She created a WhatsApp group where her closest girlfriends could chat and get to know each other. Here is the original group:
Top row (left to right): Lindsay, Adrienne (me), Maryann, Raven Bottom row: Dionne, Kate
Tragically, though, Kate (pictured here in the pearls and floral print dress) passed away just a few months later. Lindsay, who had been introduced to the group via Kate, disappeared immediately following her death, and Dionne left the group a few months later. And so we were left with a triad: Maryann, Raven, and me.
Adrienne, Raven, and Maryann: an ARMy of three
Raven’s Earth Mother energy added a new dimension to the dynamic between Maryann and I. Whereas M and I tend to think alike (to the point where we will frequently say exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, much to Raven’s amazement and amusement), Raven provides a fresh perspective and keeps us dreamers grounded in the here-and-now.
Here are the top three friendship lessons I’ve learned from these amazing women:
Be interested, not interesting
I’ve come to realize that for most of my life I treated friendship like a performance. I told my most entertaining stories, trotted out my best routines, and generally angled to win the unspoken Most Interesting Person at the Party competition. And a lot of the time, I won. I do, after all, have some pretty epic stories.
But friendship isn’t about being liked or admired. It’s about opening yourself up to another person, getting to know them on a deep level and trusting them with the Real You, not just the sparkly version of yourself you project to get by in the world.
The best way to do that, I’ve learned, is to stop putting focus on being interesting to other people, and start getting genuinely interested in them. Who they are, what they value, where they’ve been, and where they’re headed.
I don’t just mean being a good listener, though that’s certainly part of it. I mean going beyond just being a polite audience for their well-rehearsed stories and store-window behavior by asking some probing questions and being prepared to accept even those answers you find shocking or disturbing.
Just beyond that moment of “Woah, I did not see that one coming” is where genuine intimacy lies.
Like all relationships, friendships require regular communication.
In this day and age there’s honestly not much excuse for falling out of touch with someone. Between text, email, phone, social media, snail mail, and of course the good old-fashioned get-together, if you can’t find a way to communicate regularly with someone I think it’s a pretty safe bet that you don’t actually value that relationship as much as you think you do.
And that’s okay. There’s no shame in letting go of old friendships to make room for new ones, particularly those that aren’t serving your current needs. Just accept that you two are in different places right now, and move on. Who knows? Things may change and you may find yourself reconnecting at some point in the future.
For example, I recently reconnected with an old friend from graduate school, Ottiliana. We hadn’t spoken in years, but when she popped back up I was absolutely thrilled to hear from her, and we quickly got right back in sync as if no time had passed. We now Skype every other weekend and make regular visits, despite the fact that I live near Seattle and she lives in SWEDEN.
There’s no need to burn any bridges, unless there’s some sort of dysfunctional dynamic going on between you, in which case, burn away.
If, on the other hand, you’re committed to maintaining a friendship with someone, reach out regularly. Don’t wait for them to make the first move. Start conversations. Ask questions. Create opportunities to spend time together. Because–sorry to get morbid here, but it’s true–you never know when they won’t be around any more, and it’ll be too late to connect ever again.
Keep it real
I’m not gonna lie: Raven and Maryann are my biggest cheerleaders, and vice-versa. We encourage each other, compliment each other, and basically fill each others’ confidence buckets nonstop. But that’s because we genuinely believe in each other. We don’t just blow smoke up each others’ asses.
When the hard conversations need to be had, and the difficult stuff needs to be said, we don’t shy away. We simply say what needs to be said with as much kindness as bravery.
And while we love to share our joyful and triumphant moments–the selfies that turned out amazing, the job interview we just aced, the pure preciousness of a child asleep on our lap–we never shy away from sharing the shitty moments, either.
The sleepless nights. The grocery store meltdowns. The projectile vomit all over the backseat road trip extravaganzas. These are the moments that bring us closer together and help us feel less alone.
Oh and one other thing…
I’m happy to report that my fears that friendship would somehow distract me from my quest to find a soul-mate were entirely unfounded. In fact, having a stable support system that was in no way dependent on a romantic relationship has allowed me to blossom and become whole in ways I never could have anticipated.
With my besties by my side, I was able to shake my drama addiction, get out of the dysfunctional on-again-off-again relationship that had plagued me for four years, and become genuinely content with my own company. I was also able to get some experience and practice with genuine intimacy and generally become a human being worth spending time around.
And that, naturally, is when I met my life partner, David.
I’ll end this post with a challenge: go ask a woman about something other than a man, and report your results in the comments, below.