An article titled Intoxicating and heady: Why female friendships are better than romance recently showed up in my newsfeed. It didn’t feel like click bait, rather click worthy. You see, I know these feelings because I fall in love with all of my friends. I also want to clarify that the in-love feelings are different than the ones I felt when I fell in love with my partner 20 years ago. The vulnerability, trust, and warmth are very similar though.
The article referenced a scientific study that shows women often follow a “tend-and-befriend” response instead of a “flight-or-fight” one when it comes to stress or distress on our systems. Our bodies release a burst of oxytocin, most commonly known in terms of sexual reproduction but is also associated with social bonding. It seems that we are biologically wired to reach out to nurture others when we feel tense. By reaching out, we are nurturing ourselves. We are creating chemical reactions that allow us to be and remain safe.
We seek people who make us feel good, people who stimulate us and entertain us. Our brains flood with dopamine, and we feel better. We feel happy. And if we are lucky, we feel the extraordinary and unconditional love of friendship.
Turns out, I had been missing this for a long time. I just didn’t know it.
I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was a kid. I had teammates. I had neighborhood friends. I had a few girlfriends. I got along fine with everyone, but at a very young age, I knew I was gay. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, my goal wasn’t to make all of my girlfriends gay or get them to fall in love with me. The girls I had crushes on were rarely my good friends. But because I had this secret, I had shame and fear. I put up a wall and didn’t allow myself to really love my friends, to really allow myself to feel loved by them. I was too afraid of being found out, as if my feelings of affection would be confused as feelings of sexual desire.
I met my partner when I was a freshman in college. She was a sophomore and already comfortable with the routine of college life, and I managed to work my way into her circle of close friends. I was still a bit on the outside, but I was okay with that. I finally had real friends. My feelings for my now-partner turned into more than friendship, and her feelings for me did too. But coming out in the late ’90s wasn’t easy, and we lost those friends. All we had was each other and some other random people we found to rent an apartment with. I had my partner but was once again without friends.
But I am a social creature and what you might call an extroverted introvert. I want and need to be around a crowd of people; I get high on holding court and making people laugh, but at the end of the night, I only desire the attention of one or two people. I need to recharge alone or in small groups.
When I was new to Vermont, I sought out softball and rugby teams (could I be more of a queer cliché?) in order to meet people and find community. Acquaintances turned into friendships. I was slowly learning how to trust, not just the people around me, but myself.
Fifteen years ago, I made two of my now oldest friends. It felt odd, but nice, to trust these women. They were already good at friendship, so I learned from them. I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to let a few more friends know me, to see me. I was able to slowly start to look at myself in the same way they saw me; I started to give myself worth. And with worth, I started to take better care of myself. I started to wonder what it would be like if I loved myself the same way my friends said they loved me.
During all of this travel and discovery, I realized I want to trust fall into people who I know will catch me without hesitation. I have finally made friends. I finally have my tribe.
All of these chemicals and lessons and feelings collided on the day I announced my drinking problem. When I told the people who I loved and admired most that I was broken, that I was scared. I was afraid of being judged, of being seen as a failure or as someone too messed up to love. I was terrified people would only ever see me as an alcoholic. I knew I would not feel this way about a friend in need, but feeling deserving of such love and support is not easy for me.
To have someone say they love me and not want anything in return is not something I grew up knowing. To give my big queer heart to someone else has not always been safe or easy. My heart has been judged and feared, so I was cautious with it.
I am learning I was wrong. My friends see me as so much more, just as I see them as more than their quirks or faults or struggles. They see me beyond my sexuality. My friends like me — no, love me — for me, not in spite of what I think are my flaws, but because of what I have made of them. The inside jokes, stories told over and over again, contagious laughter, discovered common interests, and surprising disagreements are all layers of relationships I plan on exploring and keeping for a long time.
Real friends see each other’s souls and aren’t afraid to tell each other about the beautiful view. My female friends make me feel dizzy with love. And I make no apologies for falling head over heels with them every day. Life is too short to be cautious with our love.