I have a confession to make. These days, 99.9% of my female friendships exist on my phone. Whether it’s video and voice messaging through WhatsApp or good old-fashioned texting, I stay in touch with the women I love without ever getting to hug them, hang out with them, or do stupid shit together in person.
Earlier this year, I temporarily moved across the country to get my family’s support while raising my young kids. But let’s face it, even when I was in the same city as my closest friends, we barely saw each other. Those who didn’t have kids were busy as hell with their jobs, relationships, and traveling. And those who did have children navigated the unpredictable life of being a mom. I was stuck somewhere in the middle of both groups, as I tried desperately to maintain some sort of creative life outside of my babies from the moment they were born. But like most SAHMs, I found myself constantly coming up short in both areas, as I struggled to secure fulfilling work and found myself constantly orbiting around my hubby’s full-time job.
As isolating and challenging as motherhood has been at times, I’ll admit that it has offered me temporary freedom from needing to feel vulnerable in person with my lady friends. While there have definitely been moments when I could have used a good face-to-face pep talk or some evening laughter over a glass of wine, I’ve felt oddly at peace doing away with the internal pressure of being consistent with the women around me. Because no matter how rewarding the relationship, when you aren’t actively in someone’s life, you’re able to avoid the potential discomfort or conflict that comes with showing up for them. Since I’ve struggled with allowing females into my heart for much of adulthood, that freedom has felt quite comforting — and comfort is something I’ve been in short supply of these days.
If you were to ask my therapist, I’m sure she’d tell you there’s a very clear psychological reason for why I don’t always let myself feel all the feels with my female friends. She’d be totally right too, which kinda pisses me off (just kidding). It’s taken me a long ass time to own up to some facts because, to be honest, I’m still coming to terms just how different my childhood experience was from others. And it has made the journey of learning how to be a real friend feel like cold running the NYC marathon without an ounce of training.
Since I was a young kid, my all-time greatest BFF was my mom. Now, before you queue up some Meghan Trainor and start happy dancing with me, let me explain. It’s one thing to feel like your mother unconditionally loves you, cheers you on, and always has your back. It’s quite another to feel like you can never disappoint her, that you must tell her everything floating around inside of your head, and that you two just might be the same person. The truth is, I spent my entire youth deeply enmeshed with a caring mom who loved me tremendously but who has also been struggling with her mental health for as long as I can remember. And it has royally fucked up my female friendship skills.
If you had asked younger me why we were impossibly close at the time, I would have said it was because my mom was my favorite person in the whole wide world. Looking back on it now, though, I can easily say it was because I didn’t know any other way of existing.
My friends growing up would see how tight we were and envy a relationship they honestly knew nothing about. On the outside, I was the picture of youthful achievement as I obsessively maintained straight-A’s, a thin body, an accommodating personality, and a passionate drive to be the best. But deep down inside, there was a teeny tiny, people-pleasing perfectionist who constantly hustled to be the kind of child – and friend – her mom wanted and needed. If my mom broke down in tears while dealing with my dad, I’d confront him for her. If it felt like she was feeling lonely over the weekend, I’d stay home with her and avoid hanging out with kids my own age. I also used my mom as the only real moral compass in my life, asking for her frequent permission to take risks and try new things instead of learning to trust myself.
Whenever I accidentally messed up and it resulted in random acts of physical or verbal violence (which was often), I immediately forgave my mom for losing her way.
The kicker was, for every traumatic moment, there were dozens of positive ones that kept me inextricably linked to my mother. She was, on her best of days, the most awesome mom a kid could ask for. She helped me with my homework, signed me up for a variety of afterschool activities, pushed me to dream big, and was available to chat whenever needed her advice. But the heartwarming aspects of life with my mom just made the volatile moments so fucking hard to deal with. Oftentimes, the deeply personal stories I’d share with her about my struggles would be thrown back in my face during arguments between us, leaving me paralyzed with fear to open up to her again. Eventually I just became too damn afraid to be vulnerable with anyone, to fail at anything, or to even express myself in the way I honestly wanted.
As an impressionable kid, the message I took from every angry tirade was loud and clear – it wasn’t my mom who was the problem. It had to be me – and me alone – who was inherently fucked up for not being the type of kid who could always make her parents happy. This led me to inevitably conform into a version of myself that would grant me lasting parental love, and I went to the most extreme lengths to be as pleasing as I possibly could. In my personal life, I kept every single friendship in middle school and high school at a distance, never allowing myself to get too close. I held tightly to the fear of my true colors ever leaking out to someone, which I thought would prevent me from having the chance to be truly loved.
The chronic bouts of low self-worth I felt as a youth have ultimately colored every single relationship I’ve had with women up until now. I’ve either avoided getting too close or have made the mistake of getting too close too quickly, only to ghost someone shortly after connecting out of discomfort and embarrassment. I’ve dropped the ball on communication with friends more times than I care to admit, I’ve taken so many things personally that I now realize were not deal-breakers, and I’ve even been scared to befriend women in the first place because I was hardwired to believe that I’d ultimately disappoint them. Or worse, I’ve spent years worried that I’d become so attached to whoever I chose to align with that we’d eventually become as enmeshed as my mother was with me.
The pain that has accompanied my lack of skills in the friendship department has also kept me from owning the hardest truth of all about myself. To try and protect the young girl who constantly got hurt, I worked hard to become a grownup who chose ways of living that didn’t reflect what I really wanted. When I entered parenthood, I was surprised to find that all my walls forcibly fell down as I began to face so much transformation in my new role as a mom. Suddenly, that lifelong pain caught up to me and begged me to face it for the very first time.
Thanks to the help of my amazing husband and family, trusted therapists, and the healing power of antidepressants, I am now coming to terms with the trauma that has handcuffed me to shame and fear for far too long and am learning how to heal the deepest parts of myself. Thanks to some immense support from the best group of women a person could ask for, I can easily say that I’m finally leaning into my female friendships with the courage and willingness that can only come from learning to truly embrace yourself.
I want to make something abundantly clear. I love my mom, and I always will. She did the best she could with what she was given, and there is no doubt in my mind that she tried to be a good role model to me. While I’m currently doing the hard work of finding a way to forgive her for the overwhelming mental health battles that directly impacted my childhood and adult years, I am so appreciative of my mother for helping me realize all that female friendship has the potential to be – and what it absolutely shouldn’t include in it.
I was diagnosed with complex PTSD this past year, and I felt empowered enough to reach out and share the news with my friends. I hit rock bottom back in May and was struggling with thoughts of suicide, and so many of these women generously stepped in, showering me with gifts to help take care of me and standing by me through the darkest of days with so much love. I’ve felt courageous enough to be the rock they’ve needed when they stumble and the cheerleader in their life when they’re questioning everything. And when I haven’t been okay – an often occurrence lately – I’ve felt fully able to open up to them and receive their words of support and encouragement.
For the first time ever in my adult life, I’m mad as hell that there is any amount of physical distance between me and the women I love. Because I’ve finally found the lasting rewards of tangibly showing up for the females in my life and giving them the space to show up for me too. I want to thank each and every one of them for endlessly sticking by me when I couldn’t stick by myself.
It’s about to get mushy AS FUCK in here, so why don’t you go ahead and queue up those Meghan Trainor beats after all.
To the women in my life right now – to Ashley, Becky, Julie, Courtney, Jerin, Melanie, Kennette, and Foster, thank you for unconditionally loving me. Thank you for cheering me on. Thank you for always having my back. I know I’m a bit of a late bloomer at this whole friendship thing, but I also happen to be a quick learner. I’m taking a huge ass risk when I say that I undeniably trust you’ll continue on this bumpy and beautiful journey with me. And even more so, that I’m so worthy of being joined on the journey in the first place.
I may not have been able to choose my past, but I sure as hell am choosing my now. And it most definitely includes a bunch of badass babes by my side – and I will always be one of them.
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