What This Year Taught Me About Friendships With Women

by Susana Kuehne
Valentin Casarsa / Getty

“I just need to take some time for myself,” read her text message. We had met freshman year of college, and our total of nine years in the friendship was swiftly thrown out the window after the election results were revealed. For over five months, I heard nothing from her and was hurt that she thought temporarily shelving me was a viable option.

Maybe it was time to make new friends if people I thought were close to me actually didn’t even care about me. This friend missed my wedding and baby shower, had never met my child, and didn’t make time for me even when I flew to her city. But I never noticed the imbalance in our friendship until she slammed the door on it.

This year I spent a good chunk of time sacrificing sleep, time with my husband, personal preferences, comfort, and even money to try to build new relationships with women in my life that maybe were new to my circle or just kinda floating around as acquaintances in an effort to establish the closeness you see in movies like Bridesmaids or Beaches.

I straightened my hair to go out to dinner when I really would have preferred to catch up on reading or the laundry waiting to be folded. I spent money buying jeans that fit me nicely so I could look presentable in something other than my husband’s sweat pants (which I wear any place that isn’t signing my paychecks). I invited people I normally didn’t see outside of work to lunch and faced the awkwardness of trying to make conversation with someone I didn’t know well. I drove over 60 miles to meet up with a friend who never asks how I’m doing. I even continued to make playdates with my son’s friend despite being constantly ignored or manipulated by his mother because I’m a believer in second chances.

And you know what? I regret it all.

In the minutes when I was waiting for my check at a restaurant, I could have been doing something I actually wanted to be doing. Those times I tried to be overally social or outgoing because I felt that’s what people wanted, I could have been hanging out with real friends who understood I only use words when there’s an interest or need, not as space fillers. There were new mommies I had met that kept pretending they didn’t have time for me, yet I continued to see if they want to do something. I didn’t have to leave my son crying in the entryway as I left to go shopping with a girl who only texts me when she’s having boyfriend issues. But I did it because I thought that’s what it means to be a good friend and I pride myself in being that friend you can lean on, trust, laugh with, ugly cry in front of, and call up when you aren’t sure what outfit to wear or what to say about your mother’s latest insult on your personal life.

And honestly, those are some of the components of a solid friendship, but they fall on their own. If it’s constantly only one person investing feelings and time, and the other hangs on a thin line to everything you’re offering, then the friendship is doomed. Just like any relationship, it takes two. And I learned that, as a mom, I no longer care to be the one who’s constantly begging the other person to be there for me or tirelessly waiting for them to offer me something other than conditional support, time they get from another’s cancellation of their plans, or the after-thought from having nothing better to do at that particular moment than to check in on me.

It occurred to me that people like my former college roommate might be examples of friendships that didn’t work because it was only one-sided and started to evaluate my role in other friendships. I didn’t want to be the one letting others down who were actually exerting energy I took for granted, so I started turning back to friends I had since high school. The ones that saw me through my acne phase, but still swear we looked awesome back then compared to now. The ones who didn’t care when my mom yelled at them as if they were my own sibling. The ones that are not yet on the path of marriage or parenthood, but still remember that I’m an individual that once wore perfume and had hobbies of her own. These are the friends whose parents still welcome me with open arms everytime I’m in town and never fail to be there for me despite the distance when plenty of friends that live around me don’t bother to make plans with me. Ever. And dodge my texts and calls like a bullet coming at them in slow motion.

I don’t think it’s pointless to meet new people and see where it goes, but it almost feels like dating after marriage. Why continue to do it when you’ve already found someone that you’re compatible with? If there are only so many hours in a day and rarely enough time to spoil yourself after taking care of the kids and finishing your house chores and work assignments, then why waste those precious extra moments with people who are more likely to disappoint you than your besties would?

I’ve taken charge of my social life by not communicating with people that never initiate contact with me, separating myself from people who aren’t uplifting (you know, that one person that always puts you in a worse mood or spends the entire time gossiping), and putting energy back into the friendships that have seen me through hell and back and are still pretty even on the give and take scale.

When you’re a mom, it starts to matter who you hang out with because a) time is so rare and because b) you’re so rare. If you’ve got someone lingering in the outskirts of your life that just absorbs all of your energy and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth just talking about them, it’s time to toss them. And you might think that now as a mom it would make sense or feel better to make new friends who are also moms (since some of your non-mom friends have started to take a backseat in your life or you in theirs), but that’s not necessarily true. Sure, someone who can empathize with an infant who’s not on a sleeping schedule yet might be nice and a woman that can accept you having to cancel because of a “diaper emergency” without crucifying you is also relieving, but don’t search the ends of the Earth for these women if that’s what it will take to be in a friendship that works.

Revel in the amazement of being close to people that know you inside and out and are still willing to grow with you, regardless of what stage in life you’re embarking on. Fuel the friendship with love and attention because the fact that they’ve stuck by you this long is a treasure even your hubby will learn to appreciate when you need something he can’t offer.