A Particular Kind of Self-Care: To a Year of Female Friendships

Halfway into 2013, I climbed a ladder to the roof of a small white boat in the Caribbean and steadied myself against the bobbing and the salted wind while my best friend Becca did the same next to me. The air was deliciously hot, we were wobbly from a rum and juice punch called Donkey; “Diamonds” by Rihanna was blasting from a boombox. We crab-walked to the edge, grasped each others hands, counted to three and leapt into the waves below.

That moment was one of the best moments of the year, right up there with testifying while a dookie-braided Solange covered Selena on an outdoor stage in Brooklyn and alternating between doing the Cupid Shuffle on Christmas morning with Megan, basting a ham, and helping her little sister highlight her hair. Each of these instances, and many more just like them, involved women, all outside of my family’s bloodline.

This last point is worth mentioning because I come from a sprawling country family overflowing with women. Family events are crowded with aunts, cousins and sisters — girlbodies — shaped in forms that echo my own, arranging and rearranging around each other. The near-complete absence of men has become something of a punchline, a permanent inside joke. Once, at Thanksgiving, a neighbor wandered in while my cousin Lisa worked on a turkey, shearing meat off its frame and sliding the steaming slices onto a big flowered plate. “Hey, that’s the man’s job,” she yelped, in between slurps of her Big Gulp. No one even paused to acknowledge the comment, everyone just laughed and laughed. I think my Aunt Larnie might have drawled out a friendly and syrupy, “Oh honey, look around you,” but mostly I think everyone continued heaping food onto platters and carrying them over to the already heaving table.

A necessary and important addendum to that backstory is that I am the youngest of five girls, one full-sister, the rest halfs, and at the present moment, I’m not on great speaking terms with any of them. They are all infuriatingly stubborn and difficult, as am I. I thought that hardness would soften as we grew into adults, but sadly, it hasn’t. It is a realization that has led me to seek out kinship beyond my own skinfolk, in the event that we can’t manage to reconcile our differences.

While I’ve always felt at home in the company of women, this year was the year that I deliberately sought it out, invested my time and energy into cultivating relationships with women instead of with random dudes who weren’t clever enough to respond in kind to my cute emoji pictograms or appreciate sly Beyonce puns in my Instagram captions.

Falling head over heels in love with women was a habit I thought I’d thoroughly grown out of in middle school, when a group of about five girls and I color-coordinated our outfits and spent weekends and even some weeknights sprawled out in each others bedrooms. But rediscovering a special kind of female magic that is thick and all-encompassing, supportive and blunt in its realness that eventually gives way to a connection that goes beyond brunch once a month or obligatory catch-up drinks after work. This was real-deal friendship, the kind you probably don’t have time for after you partner up or have kids or both. It’s endless gchatting during the day that turns into texting after work and back to gchatting the following morning, falling asleep in each others beds, feeding each other dinner on Sundays, clutching each other for life in the ocean and at after parties, getting under each others’ skin and sometimes not being all that nice or friendly, but knowing they can handle it.

Its a particular kind of self-care, replenishing and satisfying in the same way that eating well, regular yoga, and a solid night of sleep is.

I met women all over, on the train, at bars and in parties, over Twitter, made a point to talk to them, hear their stories, respond to their texts, read the books they recommended, the documentaries on Vimeo that they hyped up. When I visited my family in Virginia, I tracked down my seventh grade best friend and sat in TGIFridays near a mall for hours, laughing while her daughter took insane-looking selfies on my phone. I sought out former roommates that I stopped talking to after I moved in with my college boyfriend and sat in their living room for hours, petting one of their salty newborns as she fretted and fussed before inexplicably settling down to the clip of Kanye melting down during the interview with Sway on YouTube.

I loved all these women, admired the blunt way they rebuffed catcalls, their elaborate, full-bodied eyerolls to everyday indignities, and they way they asked for what they wanted, talked about their relationship troubles, money problems, admiring their shade of lip color, the way they openly and bluntly talked about things like their marriages dissolving, sexual assault, giving birth — the real-world shit that comes with being a woman that doesn’t come up unless you dig in and take root. It wasn’t always easy — getting dumped by my female friends for their newfound boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends stung; I felt like a jilted lover, heartbroken and wondering what I’d done wrong. But it was also easier to forgive them, to accept what time and energy they were willing to offer, even if it was less than what I wanted.

Even popular culture seems to agree with me. The sister witches on American Horror Story: Coven and the VHS-footage of baby Bey and Kelly Rowland in the “Grown Woman” video, for example, plus, the most recent episode of Ja’ime: Private School Girl revolved around the theme, and even the glimpse I got of the first few episodes of the next season Girls follows a similar arc. There were the BFFs who boned each others’ sons in Adore, and that scene in Francis Ha where Francis can’t stop texting her best friend while her boyfriend asks her to move in. The list goes on.

Not all of these new friendships will be permanent; that’s okay. Some only lasted the time it took to drain a pint at a party and some are still being tended to, gently solidifying around the edges. Even when short-lived and temporary, they are about feeding off each others energy and ideas, mutual femininity and humanity and even sometimes giving practical job advice or tips for owning a meeting. But they are informing me and how I want to be a person in this year and the years to come and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Previously: Where (My) Girls At?

Jenna Wortham is a technology reporter for the New York Times.