Monthly Archives: February 2015

BFF–Then and Now, by Deborah Carroll

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Ellen was everything 16-year-old me wanted in a best friend. She was fun, smart, skinny, and never without a string of guys lusting after her. Occasionally, she’d push one in my direction. I trusted her: she was perfect.

So I ignored the warning signs of her imperfections and mine, I guess.

When Gail who sat in front of me in English class turned around one day and whispered that Ellen had been speaking ill of me behind my back, I dismissed her message. I liked Gail and knew her to be pretty down to earth but I chalked her warning off to jealousy.

When I saw Ellen had scrawled “SKINNY 8s” in lipstick on her bedroom mirror, motivating her to get her weight to 88 pounds, I looked the other way and pretended that wasn’t weird or scary.

When I broke up with my boyfriend because I just wasn’t feeling it with him and told him we’d make better friends than lovers and she started dating him a week later without checking with me, I told myself it wasn’t a betrayal.

We chose to room together at college. That’s when alarm bells blared too loudly to be ignored. Our common boyfriend, still her actual boyfriend at the time, was also at our school. Back in those stone-age days otherwise known as the time before cell phones, we shared a hall phone for four rooms. From about Day One, the time it took for Ellen to meet a new guy, she’d give me instructions on what to say when the phone rang. “If Harry calls, tell him I’m at the library,” she’d say when she was actually in the boys’ dorm across the courtyard with Dave. “If Dave calls,” she’d say when she was with Jim, “tell him I’m shopping on College Ave.”

The problem was not just that I was lying to these guys, all of whom were my friends. The problem was Ellen was instructing me to lie to my friends. It made me wonder: Would my friend Ellen lie to me?

I watched her lie to other girls as she fabricated stories about her life. I watched her tell lies about how much she ate, sometimes lying to herself, as she would talk about how little she ate even after I saw her eat the cookie she swore she never touched.

But I never caught her in a lie to me. And I wasn’t forthright or strong enough at the time to talk to her of my concerns about our eroding trust. But at one point I did tell her I would no longer make excuses for her when the phone rang. I saw the look on Dave’s face when he stopped by one day looking for her and I had to lie about where she was. He was crestfallen as it dawned on him he wasn’t her first (or only) priority. It dawned on me about that same time. If Ellen would put me in this position, causing me to hurt people I cared about, how could I trust her? Why was she my best friend?

So, I gently broke the news to her about my inability to keep up with the lies. She didn’t take it well and started yelling at me.

“That’s what friends do for each other! They lie! They put each other first.”

Do they?

I thought about it. I wasn’t witty or articulate enough to debate the point at the time. I backed down and we continued to live together until ultimately I manufactured an argument about $2 she owed me for the curtains in our room and got angry enough about it to request another room assignment. I moved across the hall. We never discussed our break up. We didn’t see much of each other as we both had boyfriends who took up most of our time. The next year I transferred to another college and we just lost touch.

Many years later I was in a department store dressing room with my friend Judy. As a grown up I don’t often describe anyone as my “best” friend anymore but if I were to do so, it would most likely be Judy. We were in there trying on scarves. Yes, scarves, an accessory not usually tried on in the privacy of the fitting room. But Judy had lost her hair after having chemo and she didn’t want to expose her bald dome in public. No one but her husband had seen it. Plus, neither of us was the kind of woman who had the “tying scarves beautifully” gene so we figured we’d experiment in private. We laughed until our eyes filled with tears, mostly from how bad we were at designing anything lovely with scarves, but also, I’m sure, because her bald head silently spoke volumes about our fears.

And for reasons I’m not quite sure about, Ellen came to my mind. I realized sitting there basking in the glow of Judy’s head, how deeply Judy and I trusted each other. Trusted each other. Not just how much I trusted her but how much she must have trusted me to allow me the honor of seeing her in her most vulnerable state and knowing how the sight of her that way would only make me love her more. I thought back to my days of eroding trust with Ellen and was only then able to figure out the flaw in our friendship wasn’t that I couldn’t trust her. It was that she couldn’t trust me.

I had never done the work it took to build that trust. I had seen her vulnerabilities – her “Skinny 8s” on the mirror, her constant need to have a string of guys, her penchant for impressing people with stories about how great she was – but I didn’t understand those were vulnerabilities, not strengths. I missed the signals my friend had sent me about the ways in which she needed my support. In my narcissistic view of the world at 16 I thought it was about whether I was getting the trust and support I craved.

I am a better friend now, I hope. These days I strive not so much to have a best friend as to be one.

 

Deborah Carroll is a former educator, the author of two parenting books, and numerous educational publications for newspapers as well as several young reader serials.

 

 

The Devil Made Me Love Prada, by Peggy Northrop

Like Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, I showed up at Vogue in 1990 with all the wrong clothes. Andy’s were cheap and preppie. Mine were cheap and just….weird. I had moved to New York from San Francisco, where my idea of dressing up was to wear a vintage boy’s tuxedo jacket in metallic blue, sleeves rolled up to hide the stains (from what, I never stopped to wonder), over pegged black cotton pants and ankle boots. I owned three beaded evening gowns from the ‘30s, a Norma Kamali grey belted sweatshirt dress, a few ‘50s bowling shirts and one black skirt, knee length. But no jackets. No suits. No heels.
Anna Wintour hired me to be her health editor, so she probably figured she could keep me under wraps somewhere until she got me sorted out. I had a long way to go. It was the winter when all the fashion editors came to work in hip-length fitted jackets over tight black leggings. My first day in the old Conde Nast building at 350 Madison, I remember a sense of confusion bordering on panic: ‘No one is wearing any pants!’ It was the reverse version of my childhood first-day-at-school nightmares, where I’d slip-slide in my white anklets down the hallway at North Franklin Elementary, having forgotten my maryjanes.

My Vogue makeover began in week three, when a longtime fashion editor invited me to lunch at the Royalton. I was touched by what I assumed was a friendly gesture. Over tuna nicoise (which I ate, unlike my date) I was asked if I had a hairstylist in New York, and if perhaps I’d like her to arrange for me to go to the Donna Karan showroom to buy some clothes wholesale?

Now, unlike Andy in the movie, I knew some designers’ names. Plus I actually admired my boss (after all, she’d just doubled my salary). And I had been an anthropology major at Berkeley—I was determined to participate, not merely observe.
First to go was my bad late-80s perm, dyed faintly purplish to cover my premature gray. I was so brave, I even let the stylist wax the back of my neck to even out my hairline. Short choppy brown hair achieved, I schlepped my one black wool skirt to the drycleaner and had it hemmed to the regulation 19 inches. (Minis were the leggings alternative that season. Anna’s were Chanel. Mine would shortly be shiny with wear.) At the Donna Karan showroom I tried on a flesh-colored gathered-front jacket over a skirt (which the showroom muse told me sternly did not go with my coloring) and a fluid chocolate brown pantsuit. I bought both. I remember my hand trembled as I signed the credit card slip for $1,723.

Though my fashion editor friend (okay, not friend—that first lunch was our last) pronounced airily that she “wished the suit had more interesting buttons, perhaps of horn,” Anna could see I was trying. “How do you like your new haircut?” she asked me one day. And, “I’m glad to see we got you into a short skirt!”

I spent five years at Vogue, my tenure marked by fashion missteps large and small. For Christmas one year my husband, obviously coached by an expert, presented me with a tiny, bandage-tight Azzedine Alaia miniskirt. The look on my parents’ faces as they watched me wriggle into it over my pjs was something I hadn’t seen since I was 16. When the weather warmed up I realized I could not risk the subway in the skirt, especially if I wore my skintight white velour top. In the cab on the way to midtown, the driver turned completely around in his seat to leer happily at me through the partition. (We lived in the Meatpacking district, pre-fashionable and full of hookers, so his mistake was understandable.)

Then there were the car-wash pants. No name designer this time, the pants appealed to me because of the cunning strips of fabric that flowed from knee to shoe tops. Standing still, you see, the pants looked completely conventional. In the slight breeze of the fitting room, I glimpsed a few slices of calf. What I didn’t figure on was the flapping sound I made as I walked—or the escalator from the subway at Grand Central, which threatened to masticate and swallow the trousers, not to mention my legs. Anna called me into the Vogue art room later that day to review a layout, and watched, mesmerized, as the pants streamed in behind me and settled back down. In the silence someone said, “That’s an interesting choice.”

I had always wondered why so many of the most famous fashion editors on the planet wore what amounted to an upscale waitress uniform every day: black pants, ballet flats, white shirts, black cashmere sweaters looped over shoulders. Now I got it.

I came to love and appreciate and even covet high fashion while working at Vogue. Granted, my seat at the circus was high in the bleachers. The subjects I covered (health, and later politics and women’s issues) were considered nonessential, not filler exactly, but certainly never center ring. Once, when a story of mine was deemed too lousy to run in the scheduled issue, I asked, “But what are you going to put in its place?” Anna answered brightly, “Another frock gets lucky!”

Still, the negative cult of personality that has grown up around Anna Wintour never rang true for me. I’ve worked for terrifying bosses, and she wasn’t one of them. She had high standards – she would occasionally write the single word “dreadful” on copy (it usually was) but just as often her verdict was “wonderful.” She respected passion, which meant you could argue with her and win. She worked hard, expected people to show up on time and do the same, didn’t gas on about herself in meetings, went home at a decent hour. Most of the people who worked at Vogue when I did still do. She’s loyal.  She once told me she felt she owed it to her staff to be decisive. Whenever I dither, I think of those wise words.

When I left Vogue after five years, a rumor made the rounds that Anna had offered me a Chanel suit if I would change my mind. This is a good story, but it is not strictly true.

When I announced that I was leaving (a bad move, Anna told me, and she was right—the magazine I joined folded after five months), she deputized a staff writer to stroll down to my office and see if there was anything that could be done to convince me to stay. “Well, I have always wanted a Chanel suit,” I mused. His response: “If you stay, I’ll make sure there’s a Chanel suit on your desk on Monday morning.”

I was tempted, I really was. But to be honest, Chanel never did it for me.
I should have asked for Prada.

Peggy Northrop is the Co-founder and President of Shebooks.net. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Sunset Publishing and a former senior editor at PN web 004.

A Shared History, by Lisa Lewis

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 When my best friend and I met in 10th grade, we had a lot in common: we were both smart, sheltered suburban girls, slightly goofy, just emerging from our awkward phases. We were also young enough that a shared naïve sensibility and similar class schedule were enough for us to form a bond. We giggled a lot; we learned dance routines together in our flame-red drill-team polyester skirts and sweater vests. We were 14 and not prone to introspection.

We didn’t realize at first that we also both had family histories of unhappiness, a bond that was far more lasting. This was the undercurrent that ran beneath our friendship. When I felt churning anxiety, I had a tendency to be controlling. Her response was to be adventurous, to make bold choices that provided an escape. But by then, the friendship had acquired an aura of permanence, each year adding another protective layer. “It’s been that way for 6 ½ years and always will be,” she wrote in a collage she gave me for college graduation, spelling out the words with colorful letters cut from glossy magazines. “That’s why we’re still best friends.”

For the next two decades we passed through life’s stages in tandem, marrying in our twenties, having kids in our thirties, and then beginning to care not just for our children but for our parents and our spouses’ parents.

We knew the family legacies we’d inherited: the anger and depression, the legacy of suicide attempts embedded in our family trees. In her case, productivity masked bipolar tendencies; in mine, being moody and critical was a cover for depression.

The flaws in our friendship usually retreated into the background. But there were times I criticized her, my own insecurities more visible in the radiance of her many successes. And she could wound me with her words, calling me on my shortcomings when she felt hurt. It was easier not to dwell on these rough patches, to focus instead on the longevity of our friendship.

Then, when we were 42, a single conversation triggered its collapse. “I have news,” she said. “We’ve decided to move to Israel!” In a happy rush, she shared a flurry of details, including how they’d now be near her in-laws. Her husband had already negotiated a job transfer.

Perhaps I should have simply been happy for her. But as we sat in my living room that warm fall California afternoon, I swallowed back my own feelings of loss. I wondered, too, about the other plan now evidently abandoned: the cross-country summer road trip to visit the key landmarks of her parents’ lives. It had been one year since her father had died, just over two since her mother had died. The trip had been a major focus of hers as she’d channeled her grief into planning.

Later, I told her I was bummed she was moving and that I’d miss her.

“A lot of people have said that when we told them,” she said sympathetically.

If she were someone I’d met as an adult, I might have let the comment slide, or dismissed it as the verbal mis-step of someone still coping with loss as well as the immensity of a trans-Atlantic move. When we talked on the phone the next day, I might have been secure enough in our friendship not to get hung up on her words. But perhaps I’d never really transcended the dynamic of our teenage years. I couldn’t help revisiting it. “It doesn’t make me feel any better to know how popular you are.” Even as I said it I knew how petty I sounded.

She hung up on me. The legacies that had been held in check for so long had finally broken through. She sent me two lengthy emails, then called my husband the next morning at work. She told him tearfully that my comment sounded like one her mother would have made.

I hadn’t told him yet about our falling out and was embarrassed he’d been dragged into it. Over the next several days she continued to call him and to send emails to both of us, each one escalating in tone.

The unhealthy subtext of our friendship had resurfaced. Even as I saw the breach tearing open, I couldn’t resist being angry too. Our argument echoed with the discord of old family patterns; I felt justified in my anger yet panicked by her rejection. If only I could find the right words her anger would soften into understanding.

I chose my words carefully. I left a voice-mail. When she didn’t respond, I sent a follow-up e-mail recapping my apology. We had stirred up powerful emotions in each other, but over the years she’d been my closest confidante.

“First, I wanted to apologize for what I said. I know that the comment I made wasn’t kind, so I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry,” I wrote. “At the same time, though, your response seemed disproportionate – the volume and the intensity of your anger.”

But by then it seems we were too far gone. Soon after, I realized she’d unfriended me on Facebook and severed our connection on LinkedIn. It pained me to realize the foundation of our friendship was far less solid than I’d thought. Three weeks after she’d announced her move, I sent her a final note of good-bye.

As May Sarton wrote, “Though friendship is not quick to burn, it is explosive stuff.” I didn’t anticipate the final eruption, the lengthy e-mail she sent to my mother two days later detailing my numerous shortcomings as a friend, daughter, wife and mother. Various confidences I’d shared had been twisted and distorted in one final missive. She blind-copied the note to me and to my husband.

I wish I could say I didn’t crumble. That I didn’t feel the old, familiar dread as I watched my mother temporarily come undone, the adult relationship we’d carefully built wounded by the serrated edge of those final accusations, the knifepoint scraping away at the emotions of our own relationship during my teenage years. That I weathered the next few weeks calmly until our mother-daughter bond shakily righted itself.

“She’s trying to destroy all of the relationships that are important to me!” I sobbed to my husband, who wondered how I could even think she somehow had the power to corrode my marriage or my family bonds. I wasn’t yet able to see that I’d become the focal point for her displaced anger. The dormant issues in our friendship had bubbled up, providing an outlet for the other tensions pooling below.

My kids are still too young to understand why the close ties between our two families were suddenly severed. They miss her kids, but they’re content for now with my explanation about her family’s overseas move. I can’t explain to them that the breach that’s torn open is far less navigable than the ocean that now separates them from their friends.

I can see now that the ending was entirely understandable, fueled by powerful undercurrents. We were too steeped in common hurts, too vulnerable to regressing into old adolescent patterns. For nearly 30 years our shared history had bonded us together. But eventually, it was what broke us apart.

Lisa Lewis is a contributing writer for Literary Mama and has also been published on Prime Number Magazine.

Reader post: No Girls Allowed! by Laura Probert

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My girlfriend of many years brought her son and daughter to the only birthday party my son specifically asked to be all boys. In the middle of the bowling alley, while I was organizing the rowdy group of boys who had made their way onto the floor, doing their best John Travolta impersonation to the Saturday Night Fever that was playing in the background, she asked me if her daughter could stay. When I made up some lame excuse about not having enough goodie bags she grabbed her daughter’s hand and stormed out, leaving her husband and her son there in her wake.

That was the day I lost my friend.

 

I watched as she left in her huff and I panicked, realizing that I had offended her. I ran to her husband and begged him to plead my case with her over the phone. She wasn’t answering. I wouldn’t have a good chance to explain until much later, when too much time had passed and our egos were too large for deflating.

 

My girlfriend and I were part of a bigger friend group that had been bonding for years. The five of us and our husbands and families did life together, first the weddings, then the babies. All our kids were regulars at everyone else’s kid’s parties, and I did understand her confusion. If she had RSVP’d to my formal mailed invitation she would have seen the details. Boys. Bowling.

 

Instead I had to call her the day before to ask if her son was coming. My bad, I didn’t mention it was just for boys on the phone that day. I didn’t think I needed to. I had just chalked it up to her being mildly rude by not RSVP’ing, and she was a good enough friend that I would give her that by.

 

My friend was so mad, so offended by my response at the party that she never got over it, even when I apologized. Even when I tried again several months later with a heartfelt letter, and again the following Christmas when I emailed a “Hello, how are you?”

 

I felt such a deep shame after this event. At first I wondered what I had done, and decided that I should have just said okay and let her daughter stay. What harm would it have been except to disappoint the birthday boy? I second guessed myself and took on the blame for our falling out. Not only would our relationship suffer, but our whole five-some would eventually “split up.” Oh the guilt.

 

When I made the effort to apologize and connect several times without an equal response I had to let go. I had to come to the realization that even if the mistake had been mine, I did all I could to do repair the friendship and that it was in her court at that point. Letting go was really hard. I had trouble tolerating the feelings inside, the idea that I had been a bad friend.

 

The emotions I felt after losing my girlfriend felt worse than some love relationships I have had. I was really stuck in a lack of self worth, and shame. It didn’t seem right. It took me a really long time to be okay with that break up, and come to a place of peace with it.

 

Nowadays I hear rumors about my friend’s life and successes and I feel happy for her with a small pang of regret. I think about the communication break down that was ultimately the cause of our split and I feel grateful for the lesson it taught me. I have worked hard over the years since to know my worth, find my voice and speak from my heart. I know that the current friends I have benefit from that, and I can be thankful for the painful experience it took to wake me up.

 

Today I make it a practice to listen to my intuition, speak from my heart, and get clarification when I need it in my relationships. I don’t have time for petty arguments, judgement, and superficiality. What makes great friends is awareness, listening, and authenticity. My friend taught me one of the best lessons I could ever learn.

 

 Laura Probert, MPT has practiced the art of physical therapy and awareness for over 20 years. Connect with her here: www.bodyworksptonline.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Submission: The Thick and The Thin by Christine Benvenuto

Christine Benvenuto’s story is the first in a series of reader stories about friendship breakups we will be sharing on our blog in the coming days.

 

The Thick and The Thin

Christine Benvenuto

Right smack in the middle of one bright winter Saturday afternoon I called my friend’s cellphone. “Hey,” I said when she picked up, my voice friendly, casual. “Where are you? Whatcha doing?”

“You tell me where you want me to be.”

“No, really, I was just wondering – ”

“You tell me where you want me to be and I’m there.”

Despite my certainty that I had conveyed just nothing of the crisis moment I was having, she wasn’t having it. She knew. A few minutes later, true to her word, her car pulled up curbside and I hopped in.

She rescued me – that day and countless others during the tumultuous course of a nasty breakup and divorce. It wasn’t a one-way street. “I have to see you,” she texted the day she suddenly wondered if a harmless office flirtation maybe wasn’t quite so harmless after all. On the road to my home, I veered off to swing onto hers. She told me everything. We told each other.

We weren’t childhood friends, college friends, friends as young singles. We met as mature career women, wives and mothers with virtually nothing in common. Different religions, different cultures, different economic backgrounds. In some respects, different values. We shared a few, though. Like the value we placed on friendship.

If all the ways we weren’t alike didn’t keep us apart, nothing would. During times of man trouble my friend would spin out our shared future: we would buy a house together, or she would just move into mine. We’d be old ladies together, strong women who didn’t require men to keep us from being lonely because we had something better: female friends. Our collective brood of half a dozen children would come and go from our home. Her daughter and one of mine were going to be best friends for life, just like us. Sooner or later, they’d bring our grandchildren along with them.

Oops. This is where we stumbled. Our daughters were friends, good friends if maybe not quite BFFs. Until, one day, they weren’t. My daughter kept making me invite hers. The answer wasn’t no. It was silence. “I’ll ask her and get right back to you,” my friend would say or text. Then: nothing. I got it. It was too hard to keep making excuses. Too painful to keep saying no.

My daughter didn’t know what was wrong and neither did I. tried to ask my friend if anything had happened between the girls. She insisted, convincingly, that there was nothing. “I would make them talk it out if anything had happened!” she told me. And she would. If they’d had a fight, she would have kept them talking until they made it up. But there was no fight. Her daughter had simply stopped being my daughter’s friend and there wasn’t a darn thing either of us could do about it.

My daughter mourned. She suffered. Her heart was broken and I held her while she cried. Then the day came when I dried her tears and told her she had to move on. And, wonder of wonders, she did.

It’s wrenching to see your child through her first rejection, but as mothers we know that’s part of the job we signed on for. What do you do when the cause of that heart break is your friend’s child, the very friend you would have otherwise told all about it?

In the months since our daughters’ friendship ended, we’ve tried to stay in touch. We’ve sent messages. Asked each other to meet. We’ve agreed to meet, only to have one or the other of us cancel at the last minute. It’s awkward. It’s weird. It’s the elephant in the room, or rather it would be if we were ever in a room together.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending. It doesn’t have a sad ending either. It doesn’t end at all. We will find a way back. Sometime. I think so.

In the meanwhile, I have to marvel at our undoing. Who would have guessed that the wedge that would come between us would be one of the very few things we have in common? It’s our wild, passionate, and utterly committed motherhood that has thrown our friendship onto the rocks. The most important trait we share.