Since the first time I met Sarah, the woman who would become my mentor, best friend, and surrogate sister, I began my courtship. “We should be friends!” I exclaimed with all the subtlety of a “You up?” text.
What followed was a mutual pursuit: birthday cards, homemade meals, my drink of choice on the top shelf of her fridge, a walk uptown, a work from home date, a blow-out on her dime, the sharing of chili recipes, partner workouts, a good morning message every morning…
Now, we reflect on and recall these moments of wooing with glee. We introduce the other to our separate friend groups telling our How We Met story with the precise details of a couple 3-months-in and sure they’ve found the one.
While my friendship with Sarah has evolved into one that’s unlike many others in my life—uniquely honest, surprisingly instant, and infused with a teacher-student vibe that our 16 year age gap lends itself to—the way we started is standard for me.
Maybe it’s chemistry, maybe it’s gut, but when I get a vibe that we could click, I pursue a platonic friendship with that person… aggressively. Of course, not all friendships have evolved with the same intimate fervor as my friendship with Sarah has (hey, a girl only has so much time), but there’s been remarkable staying power in the friendships I’ve formed as a result of this style of courtship: the assertion that I want to be their friend, an invitation and then sustained follow-through. Only one of these courtships has ever turned sour (a mutual love interest, ringworm).
Sometimes I wonder if my commitment to my friendships interferes with my ability to be in and sustain a long-term romantic relationship. I’ve been accused by my partners in the past of cheating, emotionally, with my friends. And it’s true, my friendships are woven with a thread of intimacy that borders romantic. An intimacy that, in the absence of a romantic partner, is sustenance, as often as it’s invisible.
I answer the phone with a gleeful “Babe!” I tell my friends I love them (and mean it) on a daily basis. I celebrate Galentine’s Day and have been known to gift my female friends sex toys. I wax poetic about their fortitude, kindness, and ferocity to whoever will listen. I gas them the efff up, and in turn they respond in kind.
I’m not ashamed to admit that as a single person, my female friends keep me afloat. My friends flood my world with love and joy, with connection and that essential feeling of being seen, and with laughter. To date, I haven’t found a partner who is able to make me so undeniably seen, so deeply cared for, or so sought out for my advice, opinion, and mind. I invest my emotional energy into my pals, and (because I’m lucky), they invest theirs into me.
Growing up, I watched my mother cultivate friendships that mirror the ones I now have. The golfing dates with the girls, the girls weekends away, the shopping trips, the lunches. I think I was captivated by the deepness and perceived happiness in those relationships—which was so missing in her relationship with my father—and I sought to recreate them. I longed to create the relationships she had with her friends: shared leftovers, an impromptu cup of coffee or glass of wine, walks around the park.
When my parents finally divorced, she told me that it was her friends who got her through it. I bore witness to their sustained presence, so knew it was true. She emphasized the importance making and maintaining female friends. “More than boyfriends and partners, female friends are the ones who see you through it all.”
If my current collection of close friends is any indication, I took her advice to heart and have effectively emulated the female friendships I grew up seeing.
There’s Allison, the doctor and coach with whom the friendship grew with intensity over the course of two years into something deeply comfortable. Nyna, the fashionista who gifted me the book that got me through my last breakup. Dani, the woman I met at a sex conference and felt immediately drawn to because her eyes smile. Emily and Z, the people I talk to for at least 15 minutes a day on the phone. Elizabeth, who I grew up with and write notes to monthly. Catalina, the writer-turned-politician who sends me heart-healing poetry. There are others. Women I do CrossFit with, others whom I rock climb with. Women who I meet for dinner once every six months, others who meet me for brunch once a month.
These women are an essential to my life. If I go too long without one of those Here’s My Whole Soul convos with one of these women, I feel myself beginning to get antsy. That’s because at its best and most functional, having 15 to 20 women who I know I could call if say, I got the stomach bug, or had just found out my partner was cheating on me, is world-making.
Sure, at worst, it can be a lot to juggle. But I prioritize these friendships and will continue to prioritize these friendships because I feel privileged to have these friendship in my life.
If this all sounds corny, allow me to double down: Loving these women platonically hasn’t just taught me how to love. It has taught me the value of communication, loyalty, and follow-through. The power of reciprocity, laughter, and making time. How could it not?
I think it’s these lessons that lead me to so publicly celebrate my gal pals—when I might shy from doing so with romantic partners or potential romantic partners. These relationships might not be legally sanctioned, or celebrated with a holiday, but they are crucial. And I chose them. And I will continue to choose them.
So here I am, celebrating these friendships always, but especially today because Valentine’s Day is about romance and intimacy and connection. And while I may not have a partner, I have all of these things thanks to the friends who have allowed themselves to be pursued, and have pursued me back.