Keepin It Real

Friendships

“Why aren’t you friends with Leslie anymore?” I knew I shouldn’t have came here. I thought to myself. The group got silent as everyone leaned in to submerge themselves into the story they were about to hear. No doubt they had all heard the rumors and now they were ready to listen my side of the truth to dissect later and redistribute to their friends.

“I don’t have female friends. Most of my friends are men. Women are too much drama.” I said. It wasn’t the answer they wanted but it was the answer they were gonna get. They knew Leslie wanted to fight me but they didn’t know why and talking about her at this party was only going to strengthen her desire for bloodshed. What was point? I had no plans on every being friends with her again so why were people still asking about our friendship? They wouldn’t ask these questions about a boyfriend I had just broken up with. Ending friendships can be just as hard and messy as a romantic relationship…

“Most of my friends are men because women are too much drama.”

Have you said that? Yeah…me too! I truly believed it for awhile. I thought that men were somehow happier and lacked inner circle conflict because they use bravado, passive aggression, & competition to mask their disagreements and drama. In fact, if you compare mental & physical health stats between men and women you will see a huge disparity. Men (white men make up 75% of suicides yearly) are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than women. Many therapists and psychologist agree that the current state of men’s mental health in America is a silent crisis. One of the biggest reasons health professionals are calling this a crisis is because men tend to be less socially connected. Meaning they tend to have fewer intimate relationships and more surface level acquaintances. This makes it clear to me that men as a whole do not have this whole valuable friendship thing to a science. So why are women painted as the ones who can’t get along with each other when men can’t even talk to their friends about their feelings?

We all know that forming relationships are a necessary part of the human experience, yet, most ‘self-help’ books focus on the romantic ones. There aren’t too many books about navigating platonic relationships even though, outside of marriage, these are the relationships that tend to last the longest. Now, I admit…I wasn’t always the best kind of friend to have. I was a liar, I was a manipulator, & I was wishy-washy with my opinions and morals. It’s taken me awhile to figure out what a good friend is and how I can be one. I don’t ever want to be the PERFECT friend but I do want to be the PROGRESSING friend. The more I progress, the more I require the friends in my inner circle do the same. Along the way, this requirement has caused some strife and has shown me what a good lasting friendship looks like. I had to sit down and take inventory of what my life looks like and what kind of people I have to surround myself with in order to meet the goals I’ve set. Looking back at all the friendships I’ve had (good and bad) I realized that all the toxic ones fit into one of these four categories:


The worst friendship I was a part of was with Leslie. Some of you may remember Leslie from the Real Love Series. She’s my former best friend who slept with my high school boyfriend while we were dating. We became friends during our last year in middle school. She was the most popular girl at our middle school and the second prettiest girl in the whole school. I wanted to be friends with her so bad. Heck, I wanted to BE her. She was always smiling and laughing and surrounded by the adoring looks of our peers. Somehow I had convinced myself that if I could be friends with her, I could have the picture perfect high school experience I saw in movies.

Leslie and I bonded immediately when we were among the dozens of people who tried out for the high school cheerleading team. We were two of a select group of freshman chosen to be on the Junior Varsity Team. The summer before our freshman year was magical! We spent it practicing cheers, going to our first cheer camp, sleepovers, team bonding activities, and dreaming out loud of what high school would be like. All of these moments continued as the school year started. I noticed that the more people noticed Leslie, the more people noticed me. I loved the new found attention (especially from boys) and I found myself doing things outside of my character to keep it.

In retrospect, I now see that Leslie and I were just two broken and fatherless girls on a mission to find self-love and validation from manipulative and horny boys. We were unintentionally each others Kryptonite. See, the thing about most toxic friendship is, they don’t start out that way. Neither did my relationship with Leslie. It started out that I was her mirror. I was her reminder of her beauty and popularity. When we became friends she had better clothes, sense of style, & friends. She would always ask me to come over to show off her school outfits for the week. If she went shopping she would call and list all the things her mom bought her because she knew my mom couldn’t afford to do that. Even though I had better grades, she had all the social capital. She had longer hair, a coke bottle figure, & she had a list of boys dying to date her. She befriended me because I wanted all those things and being friends with her was the only way I could get them.

Once Leslie helped me step up my game, I made my own name at school. Now, people knew me as Janae and not just Leslie’s little friend. I had taught myself how to sew and put together outfits from old clothes I couldn’t fit. I took on a new confident persona when I realized that I was good at cheerleading. Boys noticed me but not the ones that Leslie liked so all was perfect in our world. We were this unstoppable force that was taking over the school. Slowly pushing out the upperclassmen to take the throne. Any girl that crossed our path the wrong way would pay. Most times, the cost was whomever our adversary was dating. We would pretend to be interested in the boyfriend of our enemies and make sure she knew we could take him at any moment. The enemy would back down and we’d continue on our reign of polite terror. We encouraged each others bad behavior and in many ways reveled in the idea that no one wanted to mess with us. What we didn’t know is that in taking over the throne, there would only be a seat for one of us.

Our reign was short-lived. I had fallen in love with my first REAL boyfriend and I frankly had little to no interest in any activities outside of him and cheerleading. It no longer felt good being bad. I found myself putting in hours of extra cheerleading practice while Leslie and some of our mutual friends spent that time going to parties and experimenting with sex and drugs. I was far from an angel but I knew that if I wanted to make it to the ultimate cheerleading arena (The National Team), that I couldn’t be concerned about popularity anymore. Oddly enough, this desire to separate myself was the very thing that brought my friendship with Leslie to a boiling point. Anytime that I would receive praise from our cheer coaches, I could hear Leslie making a sarcastic comment about me that was covered in a joke.

At first the sarcasm did not bother me. It wasn’t until I gave into the new trend of social media where people could submit anonymous questions for you to answer publicly that I realized something was different. One night I received a question that said, “Y do u act stuck up like ur tha best cheerleader. Ur not even gud!”

My heart shattered. Is that what people think I’m doing? Do they think I’m full of myself? I called Leslie to tell her what I just read.

“Well, you do act stuck up sometimes.” Leslie responded. “Who do you think sent it?” This shook me. Maybe I am stuck up. But I don’t mean to. Maybe I should try to not do so well at practice.

These thoughts filled my head until I decided that I would actively try to be the most mediocre cheerleader. During practices, I was lazier than usual. I let stunts and tumbling go down on purpose to try to show whoever sent that message that I wasn’t perfect. My coaches knew something wasn’t right with me and my teammates were disappointed because most of them were counting on me. I remember looking over at Leslie while all this was going on. She was having the best practice of her life. She was smiling ear to ear during conditioning. She was laughing while I got yelled at by the coaches. She seemed to be singing a silent tune of joy. This is when I knew something was wrong.

Looking back, I can see all four elements of toxic friendship in the relationship I had with Leslie. Sometimes I want to kick myself for allowing myself to be involved with someone who didn’t have my best interest at heart. At the time, I had no clue what real friendship looked like. I thought you should determine your friends based on what they can do for you and what you can get out of it.

The craziest part of all of this is that I see this same attitude toward platonic friendship all around our society today. People are scared to cut off or change friend circles just because they’ve known someone for years. People pretend or cover up their need for human relationships with a love for money, alcohol, and weed. They feed into the lies these celebrities tell that it’s okay if your friend does you dirty as long as they have a good reason to do it. The reality is you cannot twerk your pain away. Money will only buy you an enabler NOT a friend. Competition should only be with yourself.

If we as people (especially women) take the time to truly evaluate the people we speak to everyday and commit to only allowing healthy relationships into our lives, we would then be able to flourish beyond our wildest dreams. If you find yourself always in drama or discourse, the source of it usually comes from the people you hang around. If you want to change your path in life, start with your friends….not your man! True friends can spot out a toxic man quicker than you can so if your friend circle is healthy the other things in your life attached to you will be too.

k, good talk

-J

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