Why Every Woman Needs A 'Brutally Honest' Friend

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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Do my boobs look lop-sided in this shirt?

Ugh… mean mom was at school pickup today and I had to say hello to her.

I’m thinking of getting waxed down there. I’m scared. Should I do it?

These are the typical texts that fly across my phone screen on a regular basis with one of my very closest friends (almost exclusively over text, because we have five kids between us). A friend I’ve had for 18 years, the person I can tell anything to (literally anything). If you’re a Grey’s Anatomy fan, you’ll know what I mean when I say she’s “my person.”

I’m not sure which of us is Meredith and which of us is Cristina, because we are both a little bit uptight and insecure and a big old hot mess. Most of the time, we balance each other out—when I’m down, she’s there to pick me up. The next week, or month, she might be the one teetering on the brink, needing me to reel her back in.

Can you talk?, my text might read.

I need advice, hers sometimes says.

Or sometimes one of just needs to scream Uggggghhhh to someone else. Someone who gets it. Someone who gets motherhood and womanhood and wifehood and how all of that wrapped up in one ball might need to get ugly before it gets pretty again.

Maybe it’s because I met her at one of the loneliest times in my life, when I was in desperate need of a friend. Maybe it’s because she was also a high school English teacher (like me) who became a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom (like me), so she understands how hard that transition was. Maybe it’s because her husband travels like mine does or because she’s moved to a new state and had to start all over, like I have.

Or maybe it’s because of all of these reasons that she’s my person.

But I think the greatest reason we have the friendship we do is because I know she’s there, willing to listen, ready to spew advice if I need it, and ready to tell me the truth if I ask. She’ll tell me to get my shit together if I need to be told to get my shit together. But she’ll never judge. And every woman needs a girlfriend like that.

We met in October of 2000, studying abroad in England. Two American girls in a sea of Europeans, confused by British accents and words like loo and lorry and people driving on the left side of the road. I wanted so much to love my experience abroad, but from the minute I stepped foot on that giant island, I was homesick. Lucky for me, she was too.

I sniffed her out in the computer lab. Like a dog who senses another puppy to play with, I saw her across the room and I made it my mission to befriend her. Also lucky for me, she welcomed me into her life with open arms. Perhaps it was because I hunted her down, I don’t know. But honestly, I think she needed me just as much as I needed her.

After our return to the opposite ends of the U.S.—her to Washington, me to Massachusetts—we kept in touch and visited each other whenever we could. We were bridesmaids in each other’s weddings and were on the short list to call as soon as we found out we were pregnant.

She was there for my successes. Each time I moved, landed a new job, or got to teach the classes I wanted.

She was there for my failures too.

Over the years, we grew up from being two kids trying to figure out England’s train schedule and how to convert U.S. money into British pounds into women, teachers, wives, and mothers.

Through marital strife, miscarriages, and battles with in-laws, we were there for each other. When one of us had too much wine and made a scene, the other was there the next day to say, “You messed up. Everyone does. Make it right and you’ll be okay.”

We still live several states away from each other, and we haven’t seen each other in person for a few years. But that doesn’t matter for true girlfriends. Girlfriends who know when you are acting a little bonkers and will tell you to reign it in before you blow up at your husband or child’s teacher or crabby neighbor. But who know you need to blow up at someone so you can do it with them.

They say that as you grow older in life, you don’t need a huge group of friends—just a couple you can truly count on. I would agree to that, and I’d add that even in that small group, you need someone to be your person. Someone you can cry to when you feel like you are failing at life and also talk to about a weird growth on your nipple. Someone who will hear your confessions and put your secrets in a vault for all eternity.

Someone who, on your very worst day and very best day, loves you. Someone who helps you see how strong you are, when you don’t feel strong. But who also carries you when you need to be weak. And who tells you the truth, because sometimes you need to hear the truth.

To my friend — and all those kinds of friends out there — we are eternally grateful for you. (And yes, your boobs do look a little lop-sided in that shirt.)

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