The friendships I value the most are ones in which vulnerability has played a big part. When the other person has parts of themselves offered up on the line. Raw unfiltered words from a friend to me is what keeps the existential loneliness bay.
I understand it’s very difficult to wear your vulnerability with pride. Me and my friends are in our twenties, we’ve been around a while now, we’ve internalized some pretty awful messages about what makes us worthwhile and how we should be. But I think making sure we’re honest with our friends is a good way to practice trying to wash some of those toxic pressures we put on ourselves out. One of the earliest examples I can think of, when I began to think I wanted more authenticity from people, was at exam time. No-one had left the house to do anything social in the months running up to our A-Level exams, and we were all terrified. We’d all been told that these exams were so important that they would decide our futures and frankly, our worth as thinking beings. So I was surprised to learn that apparently, no-one had done any revision. “I’m definitely going to fail because I just didn’t revise! I don’t know ANYTHING!”.
I’ve come to really savour friendships which consist of “I’ve worked so hard for this, if this doesn’t pay off I’m going to be so upset”. The fact is that we are acutely social creatures, and we should not underestimate the power of each other’s abilities to read our faces and tones and words and know what we’re really going through. I know it’s incredibly difficult not to revolve around an envisioned persona for yourself, a strong impressionable personality, practised into reality. But they don’t make good friends. It’s very difficult to stop those friendships starting to slip away into superficiality, and personally, for me to not feel offended that someone I care so much about thinks that a) I can’t read them and b) I hold their own hopes and fears against them. I don’t.
Self-awareness is this really volatile thing, where you need to have the perfect amount of it without measuring it. You harder the focus on it, the fuzzier it gets. You’ve got to know what traits you have, how they will affect what you do and how you’ll be received, but if you’re wrapped up the fact that You Are Clumsy, or You Are Oversensitive, or You Remember People’s Birthdays, they become things you actively fold into your personality rather than naturally express. And then we’re back to being friends with a persona. How well are we meant to know ourselves? What is the healthiest degree of self-awareness?
We need to use each other to figure this out. We need to draw the edges of each other’s personalities, we can’t do it ourselves. We need sensible, reasonable and supportive responses to the way we act in the world, but for them to be helpful in our growing and maturing conceptions of themselves, we have to give them real authentic stuff to work with. I long for friendships where we draw each other insightfully. Curve around their insecurities, and they’ll sketch parts of you to be proud of.
So I think for ourselves and for our friendships, we should place our deepest fears on the table with pint glasses and candles and giggle at them. As women there are a lot of things we’re taught we’ve got to be. Nearly all of these things are degrading, whether we like it or not. We get a short-term shot of relief and success when we play ball with the patriarchy on these things, and for this reason we are seeing liberal feminists getting caught up defending things like make-up, hook-up culture, your highest heels, even carving a fresh new gender identity for yourself. Don’t tell me it’s empowering, tell me you’re hooked on something that makes the pain go away, just for a while.
“All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.”