I sent Jess the email not realizing she was the friend I most needed to see. Yet, thinking back to that moment, something in me probably knew she was the only friend who could help me pull through one of the most emotionally draining moments of my life.
The note was casual, considering I was living in a remote part of Ireland, and my relationship with the man I thought, and hoped, was the love of my life was falling apart. Jess and I were emailing about an article I was writing for Real Woman—our friendship was forged in the late 1990s in our college newsroom during late-night deadlines, and our careers as editors meant we got to collaborate with each other long after graduation. In her email, she asked how I was doing. I replied that there was much to catch up on, that I was a bit homesick, and that I wished I could warp her to County Clare for a pint of Guinness.
She could sense the things I couldn’t type: I was sad, uncertain about the future of my relationship, and confronting an unknown future without my usual self-assuredness. Ten minutes later, I got a reply with flight details from Philly to Dublin. Two weeks later, we walked down a country road, patchwork-green hills as far as the eye could see, and into the local pub, and waited for our pints to arrive.
If our college newspaper—The Review—was the nerdy version of a sorority, Jess was my “big sister.” Two years older and a bold, confident writer and editor, she made me want to write for her. From the start, she held my feet to the fire, pushing me to do better while also seeing in me a talent I was just beginning to uncover. We became co-managing editors of the magazine section of the newspaper and ditched classes and frat parties to work 16-hour days, sneaking in chats about running our own magazine one day—Ani DiFranco albums blaring in the background. The intensity of that time, growing into the women and the professionals we’d become, was a recipe for closeness.
Jess graduated. Then I moved to Ireland for a third-year abroad program and fell in love. She moved to San Francisco during the dotcom boom (and, eventually, bust), got married, and had kids. I moved to New York, Colorado, California, then back to Ireland, when that Irish love and I reconnected 13 years after we’d first met. While Jess and I kept in touch over the years, our closeness had morphed into that background noise that many friendships often do. That is, until she flew across the Atlantic Ocean to be the friend I needed most. She wasn’t my actual sister, nor one of my best girlfriends (who are like sisters); those women would blindly fight in my corner no matter what was in my long-term best interests. Instead, Jess was my friend and my editor. She helped me look at the story of my relationship and the beauty in what was there—and encouraged me see to how that story needed to end.
It was over that first pint of Guinness, a long, windy walk along the Cliffs of Moher, ambling through the streets of Galway, and even drinking wine in the kitchen of the tiny cottage I was living in with my boyfriend, that she held up a mirror to my face. She showed me that in the desire to make this relationship work, I had lost a piece of myself. Not all friends can do that. Or will. They worry they’ll hurt you or lead you down the wrong path. But Jess gave me the greatest gift of all when I needed it the most: the truth. At the right time, with the right friend, truth can be the Holy Grail.
There have been other crises since that moment when Jess left Ireland, wishing she could take me with her through customs. The fallout from my breakup. The challenge of figuring out where I should land next. And she’s also had her own world-rocking issues in the 3 years since. But the Ireland experience forever changed our relationship—shaping us into friends that can deliver hard truths when needed and share unbridled joy in our greatest triumphs.
Looking back, it isn’t surprising that we ended up as each other’s truth tellers. During the inception of our friendship, we spent hours working on that college newspaper and talking about the world we wanted to create, the stories we wanted to write, and the women we wanted to become. Over the years, we’ve looked to each other for career and relationship advice, pushing one another to be the best version of ourselves.
It’s hard to quantify how we got here, but my best guess is that we laid the groundwork over junk food around midnight at The Review. A few years ago, when Real Woman won an award for best new magazine, I reminded Jess of what she told me one night in 1999, somewhere around midnight in that messy, paper-strewn newsroom. She confessed she wanted to one day start a magazine that went beyond makeup and clothes and sex to deliver real meaning for women. I wanted to remind her that she achieved her dream. While I was happy to be there at its inception, I’m even happier to see it realized.