They’re there for us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and, if we’re lucky, ‘til death do us part. They’re our girlfriends—and they hold the power to make us happier, healthier, and feeling supported in the ways only a girlfriend knows how. Here, a few stories to help you celebrate and strengthen the relationships with the women whom you feel lucky to call your friends.
Evolution of a Friendship
Almost two decades into our friendship, she became the person I needed the most. And, thankfully, there’s no going back.
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.
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.
Lessons from the Friendship Guru
Kristi Birrell is still close to the first friend she ever made, four decades ago, and she puts a lot of time and energy into maintaining most of the friendships she’s made along the way—even the long-distance ones. These are her secrets to making and keeping friends for a lifetime.
- Small gestures really do matter. I try to be thoughtful about remembering things: sending a handwritten note, calling, remembering birthdays. I put a lot of effort into making people feel like they are the most important person in my life. When I’m with you, you’re the most important person. Isn’t that all anyone wants—to feel like they are important to someone?
- Live with a lot of forgiveness in my heart. I always want to see the good in people. With relationships, I think the good usually outweighs the bad, which helps me get through some of the tougher times. It’s gotten easier as I’ve gotten older because I’m more comfortable being vulnerable or accepting when my needs aren’t met.
- It’s a two-way street. I used to drop everything for my friends when they needed me, but I wasn’t as good at letting them be there for me when I needed them. I’ve realized that’s not fair to them. Being a good friend also means I need to let my friends be there for me. Asking for what you need is hard sometimes, but it helps your friends know you.
- Sometimes being there is enough. Being there for someone in the most difficult moments doesn’t necessarily mean having all the answers. Sometimes there are things you can’t make better. People often try to fix instead of just be. Just being there really counts.
- No one friend can do everything all the time. You need lots of people for lots of things. And that doesn’t mean you love one friend more than another— but our needs change, depending on what’s happening in our lives. You might have one friend who is an amazing listener but another who you call when you want to go dancing. That’s what makes it fun. —Kristi Birrell
How to Find New Friends
It always amazes me how easy it is for little kids to make friends. They lack the inhibitions and insecurities that plague us as adults—scars from our high-school years when we were judged and were also quick to judge—that can make us a little wary when we meet new people.
When I moved into my neighborhood years ago, I remember getting nervous asking our neighbors if they wanted to get together. Would they criticize our ratty furniture, old cars, and style of parenting? Did they even want to socialize with us or were they busy with their established posse of friends? The reality is, you just have to put yourself out there and see if the friendship takes. Just like you did when you were a kid.
Sure, school makes it easy for kids to meet friends, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build new relationships when you’re older. In fact, if we put on our kid goggles, we’ll see that the same situations that allowed us to make friends easily when we were little still exist in the grown-up world:
Work. Look at the office as a grown-up version of the classroom. You have a common connection with your coworkers and can easily bond over the great (and not-so-great) aspects of the office. So, try to get to know your co-workers on a deeper level. Ask one if she’d like to grab lunch or a happy-hour drink. If you’re new, you might even bring in your famous brownies or truffle-butter popcorn. Self-employed? Consider renting co-op office space where you can feel a sense of camaraderie with other self-employed folks.
Kids. No one has kids to make friends, but if you have them, use them. Kids are an instant bonding experience for parents. Some of my adult friends are people I have nothing in common with except for the fact that we’ve both suffered through sleepless nights with multiple kids vomiting. Consider involving yourself in your child’s school. PTA meetings, class trips, and even being a lunchroom volunteer are all great ways to meet other moms.
Activities. “Extracurricular” activities—say a yoga class, a marathon-training group, or a beginner pottery class—will allow you to do something you love and meet new people while you’re at it. There’s nothing like laughing over a failed attempt at a headstand to bring people together. If you want to take on more of a leadership role, try looking for opportunities in your neighborhood, hospital, or community to join or lead committees.
Neighborhood network. Drama gets people talking. (Remember when you were in high school and spent hours on the phone dissecting salacious rumors or ruminating over friend fights?) The same thing applies as an adult, although it’s generally not as gossipy. Was there a big snow or rainstorm? Share stories with neighbors about how you thought the tree was going to come through your roof. Were there fire trucks on your block? Compare notes with the folks next door about what’s going on. For some strange reason, nothing brings a neighborhood together like sirens. —Anne Taulane
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.
When is the right time to end a relationship?
We’re all guilty of giving too much time, head space, and heart to people who bring more negativity than positivity to our lives. In part, that’s because it takes effort—and sometimes a little pain—to walk away. Relationships like these take a toll on our quality of life, and ending a toxic relationship is easier than you might think. Here’s how to identify—and end—a relationship that’s no longer serving you.
When it’s a childhood friend …
It’s sweet that you’re still friends with your grade-school bestie, but if you’ve grown in different directions and your values no longer align, that’s not enough of a reason to remain friends. Just because she’s been a pal for a long time doesn’t mean she’s good for you.
Take space: Ask yourself if this friendship is still adding something to your life. If it’s not, go ahead and break the ties. Unless this relationship brings you joy, you don’t need to put more effort into it. Depending on your approach, there may be an awkward conversation or two, but you need people in your life who boost your happiness, not take away from it.
When it’s the “in-crowd” …
You drop the kids off at a school function, and once again there is a gaggle of moms who ignore you. Great! More time for you to spend with people you actually like. The theory that we all have to be friends isn’t practical. Life just doesn’t work that way.
Take space: As tough as it might be to do at first, try to remind yourself that you don’t actually need the approval of anyone else to feel great about yourself. To embrace this concept, think of your best friends. They’re always excited to see you and listen to you, no matter what you’re bringing to the table, whether it’s a funny story or a troubling one. Will it sting a little to miss out on fun parties and events these “popular” moms organize? Sure. But in the end, it’ll sting worse not feeling accepted and loved for who you really are.
When it’s someone you used to be close with …
She’s seen you through good times and bad and been an amazing friend to laugh and cry with. Now? She makes you feel stressed out, or worse, inspires angst before, during, and after you hang out. Maybe she makes you feel smaller to make herself feel big. Or maybe there’s an unspoken competition between the two of you. Whatever it is, trust that if you’re feeling more stress and angst than fun and ease, it’s probably time to cut ties.
Take space: Remind yourself that the relationships you should preserve are those that strengthen you, make you want to be a better person, and bring you joy. Then, have a hard conversation: Tell your friend you need space because you feel kindness and encouragement are lacking in your relationship. It might be hard, but it’ll also help you make room for new relationships that feed your soul.