I moved to Los Angeles when I was almost 30, chasing love. The love, fortunately, worked out; but for a long time Los Angeles didn't. I was lonely, bound in by concrete and car exhaust, unable to wrap my head around the city's optimistic sprawl, unsure where and how I would ever find any friends. They certainly didn't seem likely to emerge from the population that I surveyed every day at my neighborhood Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: girls in Juicy Couture velour, headshots peering out of handbags, as nervous as wild colts as they assessed the competition over their nonfat Ice Blendeds.
So when an old friend hooked me up with a woman I'll call Jessica, a whip-smart, idiosyncratic artist who had also recently moved to town, I was elated. The two of us — along with another recent-transplant friend, let's call her Claire — soon became inseparable. My first years in LA were defined by our friendship: art openings, dim sum, hikes in Griffith Park, spontaneous dance parties in our backyard, long conversations over chilled rosé. I watched her career explode; she supported me through the publication of my first novel and the birth of my first child.
And then, after six intense years of friendship, Jessica ghosted. First she stopped returning Claire's calls and emails — "She wasn't elevating me," Jessica told me when I tried to play intermediary — and then, not long after, it was my turn. She just … vanished: My phone went silent; texts disappeared into the ether; an invitation to a dinner party got a strange, terse response: "Can't make it, have a blast." And then that was it. As if our entire history together had been erased, overnight.
It's shocking when a friendship dies that way: It feels impossible that you can experience total platonic love and devotion for another woman — BFFL all but tattooed on your heart — and then, abruptly, realize that you didn't know that person at all. That your friendship was not what you thought it was; that it was just a way-stop for the other person on their path to bigger, better things. Those of us left behind in Jessica's wake turned to each other, hurt and confused: Was it something we had done? Were we the failures here? Aren't your closest friends supposed to be the one thing in life you can rely on?
This particular self-doubt was, unfortunately, familiar to me: This wasn't the first time a close friend had dumped me. While I have had lovely, lifelong friendships with women, my history has also been peppered by a series of intense friendships that felt more like romantic relationships, both in their duration (years) and in their termination (abrupt, confusing, and ultimately devastating). In my experience, friendship is often something that burns hot and strong before dying without warning, like a lover jilting you at the altar.
Women don't talk as much about those kinds of toxic, temporary friendships. Instead, we like to romanticize the forever-friendship, idealize enduring sisterhood as the norm — Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff together, to hell with men, just them against the world.
We idealize this notion because that's what we want to believe.
But the truth is that many friendships have something festering under the surface — some resentment, some inequality, or just the inevitable annoyance that comes with spending insane amounts of time with another human being. Healthy friendships overlook these flaws or address them straight-on, but both parties have to be onboard.
Looking back at my years with Jessica, I can see how unhealthy our relationship was, how I overlooked the unsettling signs of imbalance in the name of friendship. I see now that I wasn't allowed to challenge her; she was a classic narcissist who needed me to be in thrall. And there were things in her history that should have rung alarm bells early on: the string of old friends she didn't talk to anymore, all of whom had been guilty of mysterious personal betrayals; a certain knack for reinvention that she had clearly mastered along the way. The way she seemed so keenly interested in people with power and money, of which I had neither, and also so condemning of our friends' weaknesses.