I remember a friendship break-up from my childhood. We met in the late 70s when my family moved onto a dead-end street. We were the only girls on the block and became fast friends. We enjoyed a fairly long leash that allowed for hours of playing outside. We did it all, from pretending we were roller-skating gymnasts to racing super balls in the gutters with Star War figurines tied to twig rafts. It was in seventh grade that things began to fall apart—new friends, different interests. I was a late bloomer, though I didn’t know it then. As the era of boys standing in corners and girls fluttering back and forth in front of them descended, I lingered near the black top courts during recess, clinging to the time when we all played together,
We had a fight in eighth grade, though I can’t recall exactly what it was about. I painstakingly wrote the lyrics to Elton John’s Your Song in pencil on notebook paper. I may have even recorded it on cassette from the pop station and labeled the tape something pithy. In any case, she was unmoved by my overture. She was in many ways like a first love, the only person that I really I believed was my best friend.
Over the years I’ve had other friendships, but I’ve never again reached that level of wanting a friendship back. Maybe because through her I realized that friendships aren’t promised to last forever. There have been other friends, women I’ve wished to connect with in the way that so many people talk about, but it’s hollow. I know now that there are things about me that make friendship unlikely and I’m ok with that.
When I was asked to review this book, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends, I wondered if I was qualified. I have online friends, women that I confide in and trust, that I think of when I am hurting, but real friends? Genuine, in-person friends? Not many that fit into the traditional mold (although I have an unexpected friendship realization I’ll be writing about soon.) I decided to sidestep my fear and give it a try, maybe the subject matter would shed light on why friendships can be so hard.
I have to tell you that it was nothing short of revelatory to read the stories in this book. I suppose I’ve had this very juvenile idea that women, normal women, share certain traits that I lack. Then I began reading unflinching stories of lost friendships. I think we all believe, no matter what the unspoken terms of a friendship may be, that we will be protected, that in the moment of conflict our friends will leap to our sides, blind to anything but the need to enforce our alliance. Arnbeya Herndon reveals how it felt to be left undefended. She does so with surprising humor, but you also realize that a heart is breaking. Her story, barely five pages in all, is incredibly powerful. I found myself rooting for her, but also being grateful for the reminder that there are circumstances that reveal character, not always for the better.
The other stories are equally unfettered by happy endings or saccharine editing. I was grateful to ride the emotion and wisdom of stories that owned responsibility, revealed life-long hurt, and acknowledged that relationships are hard work endured by imperfect and lovable people.
After reading it, the soft covers worn and curled by my flipping back and forth from Alexandra Rosa’s story of the friendship that never was and Alison Lee’s story of finding her way back to a friend, and so many other richly unafraid voices, I feel a sense of calm. None of us have it all figured out, though we all share an almost irrepressible hope for connecting and being cherished.
You may not have a specific ex story that comes to mind, but I bet in reading this book you’ll find shades of your own story and maybe, just maybe a mix of forgiveness and hope will take root. The ending feels much more like a beginning, with Katrina Anne Willis saying, “I choose the other side, where love and forgiveness abound. And most importantly, even when someone else might not, I choose me.”
My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friendships is available here. I will be lending my copy to a friend of mine, but I encourage you to buy a copy. I am delighted to say that Jessica Smock, one of the editors of the book, is from Upstate New York.
Because I believe in giving books as gifts, I would also like to give away a copy of the book. Please leave a comment, it can be a relationship story or something else. I will announce Sunday who is the lucky winner.
Sara, Stephanie, and Julie you are winners. Please let me know if you’d like Kindle versions or paperbacks. Janet, I will lend you my copy after Ashley is finished reading it. 🙂
Thank you to everyone for your stories, they were amazing to hear.