or most of my life, I’ve desperately wanted a big group of girlfriends. Decades before Issa Rae and her #blackgirlmagic yacht parties, or Taylor Swift and her infamous girl squad, I believed the societal narrative that successful, nice girls should have a big group of friends. It would take me years to learn that the quality of my friendships was more important than the quantity of them.
I had friends galore during my pre-adolescent years, but then trouble hit: None of my elementary school friends went to my middle school, and I had to start all over socially. My love of Moesha taught me that it was imperative for me to find a big group of friends, fast. As if conducting my own anthropological study on cliques in middle school, I spent my first painfully lonely weeks trying to discern what it was that made throngs of girls like each other so that I could successfully infiltrate an established clique. I’d watched Clueless many times and noticed that girls in that movie liked to compliment each other. So one day after social studies class, I cornered two girls in my target clique. “I just love your nails,” I said, with a hand on my hip pointing toward the blank expressions on their faces. After a moment of shock and horror, they just laughed and walked passed me.
I was still nursing the wounds of that disastrous experiment by playing Radiohead’s “Creep” on repeat in my head when I met two girls in orchestra. Unlike other cliques, we didn’t “match.” We were all different ethnicities and wore different, sensible shoes (none of which were popular). We were like the middle class version of Cher, Dee and Tai, except we never shared clothes because I was twice the size of both of them. They were just as straight-laced as I was, if not more, so we never got into the hijinks I’d expected of us based on Stephanie Tanner’s teenage years on Full House: There was no getting caught smoking in the bathroom or sneaking into unchaperoned parties, and we were okay with that. Even at that age, I knew the rarity of finding friends who didn’t force me to do things I didn’t want to do, so we quickly became best friends. I was very grateful for that, but my desire to have a big group of friends never fully dissipated.
By pleasant surprise, the three of us went to highschool and college together. But like a cough you can’t shake, my desire for a crew came roaring out of remission over and over again. When Facebook became a thing while I was in college, I longed for albums filled with my 12 closest girlfriends wearing matching college tees and cowgirl boots while holding matching tailgating tumblers of vodka and orange juice on a cold, crisp West Texas afternoon. Potential suitors would browse through this album marveling at how socially adjusted I was, and if they didn’t already find me attractive, they’d consider me attractive by association with my 12 attractive friends. Instead, my college photo albums showcased midnight trips to Walmart, dramatic pictures of my truck, and cooking in one of our off-campus apartment kitchens. At the time, my social life felt like a really nice consolation prize, still short of a medal.
This unquenched thirst continued into early adulthood with Girlfriends and the Real Housewives franchise as my most trusted pop cultural manuals. According to these shows, successful women gathered. I wanted my social life to register as that of a normal, fun chick who does whatever it is that normal, fun chicks do for fun, which I assumed did not include listening to Wilco while doing art projects or watching bad TV unironically. Upon seeing me with a big friend group, my parents could rest assured that I’d outgrown my quirkiness and became an Adult with a calendar full of potlucks, charity events and alumni college football games. The older I’ve gotten, though, the more I’ve seen the cracks in these unrealistic expectations of what our lives “should” look like. In a counter-intuitive act of self-preservation, I’ve started to shift my focus away from who I “should be” so that I can embrace who I actually am — and this includes appreciating the fact that I don’t have a huge group of friends.
My best friends and I have done life together, shoulder to shoulder. We’ve celebrated each other during happy times like graduations and new cars, and we’ve supported each other through uncomfortable life challenges like illness, marriage separations, and family drama. We’ve shared 22 years of life. Seeing that for the prize it is has transformed me from the girl who spent her time strategizing to get more friends into a woman who knows her two best friends are all she needs.
Illustrations by Amber Vittoria.