Kerry Cohen's Girl Trouble: An Illustrated Memoir caught my eye at the library last week. Female friendship was an academic interest of mine and is, of course, a personal one as well. Cohen tells her life story as she chronicles her various female friendships in (more or less) chronological order. These reflections on friendship are honest and insightful and surprisingly specific. Many of her female friendships have been troublesome, but she owns that. This memoir is not fueled by a sense of victimhood or defensiveness.
Here are two thought-provoking passages from Girl Trouble:
"I miss all of my ex-friends. They are stamped onto my heart like old romances, lost loves. They are part of me in ways no one warned me they would be. Had I known, I would have chosen more carefully. I would have better thought through what we did to one another, how we used each other, and how we split apart" (111).
"I have figured out that the formula is kindness. Don't be an asshole. Don't try to hurt people. Try hard to have boundaries and limit expectations and take responsibility for your own heart. Because you never know who will return in all their truth and beauty" (127).
Our friendships shape and define us. Sometimes our friends teach and lift us. Sometimes they limit and diminish us, though not necessarily on purpose. Over 41 years, I've been blessed with many female friends of the best sort, but as with most women, I've lost friends along the way. Not any dramatic break-ups that I can recall, but some slow, vague drifts toward silence, indifference, distance. What I tell myself (and truly believe) is that even if a friendship does not last forever, that does not mean it was not true, real, or necessary during a particular time in my life.
I think if I endeavored to reflect on and write about my female friendships over the years, I'd feel overwhelmed with gratitude for the lessons learned and laughter shared. I think I'd also feel overwhelmed with regret and shame for the times I have failed my friends and for what those "failures" reveal about me. I'm no monster, but we all have our flaws, quirks, and blind spots. It might be more comfortable for me to reflect on friendships by asking myself what I learned from each, what better (or worse) version of myself I was able to access with each. I doubt I'll turn my pen to this anytime soon, but I'm intrigued by the idea.
In the spirit of the season, I am truly thankful for my female friends. The ones I see each day. The ones who knew me when. The ones waiting in the wings.