Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it, #ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
What About Your Friends?
By Roxanne Fequiere
Our Valentine’s Day plans were fairly straightforward. Whoever made it home first on the evening of February 14 would order dinner—J.G. Melon, our favorite spot, was now delivering via Postmates—and then we would get comfortable in bed with burgers and the new season of A Crime to Remember. This would be our eleventh Valentine’s Day together, and we know each other well enough to know that neither of us were very interested in grand gestures. In our relationship, those are reserved for birthdays, Christmas, and other assorted calendar days to be determined by spontaneity and circumstance.
Of course, by the time the evening of February 14 rolled around, I’d been engrossed in the creation of several grand gestures—seven, to be exact. After much deliberation, Cam and I had decided that perhaps we would have a wedding party after all, and, as is my wont, I had begun writing lengthy, soul-searching letters to each woman I hoped would accept my invitation. The Internet had provided all kinds of information and ideas on how to “propose” to my bridal party, but the very idea of such a giddy approach sent chills down my spine. In my mind, public proposals opened up the door to public refusals, and I was hardly presumptuous enough to assume that this wasn’t a possibility.
So I wrote seven letters to seven women, some of whom I’ve known my whole life, some for half, others since college, some for just over a year. I told each of them how I tend toward my father’s gruff exterior and wonder if my loved ones know that that’s what they are to me. I told them about how the thought of asking them to be in my wedding seemed a precipitous proposition. I laid out a rough sketch of what accepting my invitation would entail, with lots of you don’t have to’s and if you can’s sprinkled in for good measure. And when I hit send on each of those emails, it felt as if I’d removed several layers of my own skin. I hoped that this unvarnished version of myself would pass muster. For his part, Cam was bewildered by my roiling anxiety. “Your friends love you,” he said with enviable certainty. “Of course they’ll say yes.”
Perhaps I should pause here to clarify: none of the women I wrote to are what one might term “frenemies,” and it’s not that any of them have made a habit of being anything but supportive, kind, and generally delightful over the course of our friendships. It’s just that I’ve long been afflicted by an unyielding apprehension when it comes to evaluating where I stand regarding bonds of mutual platonic affection—friendship impostor syndrome, if you will. My mother used to tell me that, if at the end of my life, I could count my true friends on one hand, I should consider myself lucky. The unspoken caveat there seemed to be that I very well may end up with none, and I’ve never been able to shake that notion. Have I ever truly known the warmth of an inner circle? Or have I been simply been lulled by the lukewarm heat that reaches its periphery?
I often look to books and film for indications of what that true warmth might look like, but there is an inimitable interiority to each and every female friendship that can often be hard to package into a plot. At least in my experience, neat arcs that involve an easygoing, lifelong friendship (or at least a long-ago, offscreen pairing) that come to a head over one seemingly earth-shattering disagreement, only to be resolved with hugs and tears are rare. I’ve found that female friendship tends more toward something like Frances Ha or Swing Time—youthful attachment tested by maturity, divergent life paths, and latent ambivalence—than Thelma & Louise, though they all have their own cathartic merit.
This month, I’m searching for more of that catharsis in narratives about the ever-shifting bonds of female friendship. As Rebecca Traister puts it, “Female friendship has been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women,” and so exploring the subject seemed a fitting way to celebrate Women’s History Month. Meanwhile, I’m learning that I might not be the only one struggling to situate myself in the friendships that I (think I) have—one of the women I asked to be a part of my wedding party confessed that she wasn’t even sure if she would be invited. Perhaps my energy would be better spent focusing on getting past my inherited gruff exterior and simply being a better friend rather than losing sleep over who considers me as such and to what degree; perhaps these books will help.
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.