Lit Thursday: On the Lifesaving Bonds of Female Friendship

An excerpt from It's Messy: On Boys, Boobs, and Badass Women.

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I've always been what would be considered a girl's girl, and if you're reading this book, chances are you're one, too. I live and die at the altar of female friendships. Too much emphasis in our culture is placed on finding romantic love, but I've always believed that it's the platonic love of our girlfriends that is crucial to long-term sanity and success. That's certainly been the case for me. After lovers have consistently disappointed you, and your family has yet again proved to be impossible or unreliable, your girlfriends are there to hear you out, support you, advise you without judgment until death do you part. My BFFs are as much my soul mates as my lovers have been. Even without the sex part, the connection and love is just as deep and should be honored and valued as such.

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For as long as I can remember I've always had intense, complex connections with my girlfriends. My first best friend—and first kiss, as well—was another little girl called Amanda. We were nine. She was American, and her family had moved to London for her father's work. We were inseparable, like Bonnie and Clyde, if Bonnie and Clyde were two little badass tomboys. Amanda had a thick New York accent and the latest American swag. She introduced me to scratch-and-sniff stickers and Hello Kitty everything, which I still have a penchant for all these years later. She saw me and I saw her for exactly who each of us were, in the way that tween girls often do.

I became completely obsessed with Amanda, the first of many codependent relationships I would have. Kiss chase was a popular playground game during the height of our mutual obsession, the UK version of traditional tag. It was challenging when Amanda and I both played because if anyone tried to kiss her or me it caused a problem in our relationship. One of us would always end up feeling upset and rejected, and an afternoon of attempting to "make up" would ensue. This became a dynamic that would play out in all my subsequent relationships, so there must be something about that tension that I enjoy.

I cannot tell you how many times my girlfriends have figuratively talked me off the ledge. They have filled the well of unwantedness at the center of my being in a way that romantic relationships never have, and helped heal my fractured heart in a very special way. At every stage of life, my ladies have held me up when I was going under.

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My sanity was restored by women who did not judge me and showed me that there are thousands of us who have stories of abandonment, abuse, and addiction.

When I was shipped off to a boarding school called Benenden at age eleven, the only thing that saved me was the extraordinary sisterhood of my schoolmates. Many of the girls I bonded with came from the kind of so-called privileged backgrounds that commonly meant a lot of money and not a lot of love.

Contrary to reports in the media that Courtney Love and I were lovers, I've only kissed two women (both times when I was seriously inebriated), but at boarding school it was the norm to have innocent "crushes" on other girls. I formed very intense friendships at school. It was not unusual to share your bed or bathe with your best girlfriend. It was comforting to lie next to someone else, to feel another heartbeat, to not be alone. Being sent away to boarding school when your parents are in the middle of a heated divorce is comparable to suffering a massive loss. Or at least that's how it felt to me, the eleven- year-old girl who just wanted to be at home, play with her hamster, and read Enid Blyton books about magic forests. I still think that loss of any kind is one of the hardest things to navigate in life, but the support of your best girlfriends makes it a bit easier to endure.

***

One of the biggest gifts of friendship is being able to witness my friends live their lives up close, through the celebrations as well as the hardships. I was often alone after my parents' divorce. I had no one to help me learn how to navigate the world. I learned how to get through life by watching my friends. That, and reading autobiographies about women I admire and asking successful women a lot of questions about how they made it.

My girl Brody Dalle and I have lived through similar traumas (details I won't go into here) and understand one another without needing to say too much. We're two peas in a pod, our brains and hearts sync up in both the best and sometimes worst ways. My youngest daughter Ella told me that she feels safe when she has sleepovers or playdates with Brody "because she reminds me of you."

I met both Amber H. and Amber V. whilst shooting these sweethearts for magazine stories. I call them my sister wives because we all look so similar.

I became friends with Amber Heard when I photographed her for Allure about ten years ago. If I had a little sister, it would be her. I have lived through some super shitty times with her and lived to (NOT) tell the tale, if you know what I mean.

My other Amber I met eighteen years ago, and from the moment we met, we fell in love and often joke that if one of us had a dick we would be set. Alas. Amber is one of the most consistent, reliable, and honest friends I have, and I can always trust she will tell me the truth without judgment, which is invaluable to me. I encourage you to have at least one friend who you know will tell you what's REALLY up, not just what you want to hear.

There are also many women I've met along the way in my recovery who helped put me back together in ways I could never have imagined. I'm trying to be mindful of the guidelines of my chosen recovery, but I will say that I am 100 percent the product of the many women I met in recovery who loved me unconditionally, taught me about the importance of self-reflection, accountability, friendship, trust, truth, and authenticity. They taught me that a crucial component of friendship is a willingness to be honest and vulnerable. There's that word, vulnerable. Get to know it, get familiar with it, embrace it! Being vulnerable is the key to freedom and happiness (at least according to Brené Brown and me).

My sanity was restored by women who did not judge me and showed me that there are thousands of us who have stories of abandonment, abuse, and addiction. Meeting others with the same damage as I had dismantled a belief system that somehow I was a bad person because I'd had to deal with a long list of scary life experiences. I also learned I didn't need to feel shitty about what happened to me or about choices I made in the past. That kind of support is more than friendship; it is lifesaving.

It's Messy. Copyright © 2017 by Amanda de Cadenet. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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