BY LAURA GOZZI
I have always been struck by the scarcity of material that circulate on the topic of female relationships. I say this in the context of today's bottomless internet stock of think pieces, articles, listicles and advice columns: What proportion of them revolve around the theme of romantic heartbreak, and how many focus on another kind of break up, that of a friendship, that might involve fewer tears and less longing--but just as much, if not more, cutting pain?
I think of all the artists who have sung about losing a partner or a lover: How many of them have touched upon the subject of the loss of a friend?
The exceptions might be rare songs by (predominantly female) artists who have taken to music to attack or shame fellow artists (Taylor Swift's Bad Blood is the rumored latest single of that sort) and films that revolve around female bonds, which have happily recently proliferated outside of the chick-flick genre. But, in general, female friendships have essentially been underrepresented in current popular discourse.
This is understandable, on a superficial level: female friendships are probably not as glamorous as romantic relationships--there's less poetry in going for endless brunches than in a sweet, stolen kiss with a tragic lover. Equally, though, whoever has experienced the sudden decay of a friendship knows that it can hurt just as much as a bad break-up, and it's strange that the topic hasn't been explored more, and better.
This is especially true for women, as the concept of "best friends" is one that pervades the lives of young girls and teenagers alike.
In primary school, a “best friend” means unfaltering companionship against taunting boys, a guaranteed playmate and the recipient of all secrets and fears. How comforting it is to have somebody to share everything with, from chocolate bars to made-up languages!
Later, a best friend becomes the person who holds your hand while your mind and your skin and your body change, steadying you every time you almost falter under the unbearable weight of your 14 years. You give each other terrible advice on clothes, boys and parents, and you might be miserable, but you're miserable together, like a single sturdy block of confusion kept together by endless phone calls and afternoons spent staring at the ceiling and feeling like you're going to be a terrified teenager forever.
Shoplifting, divorces, break-ups, bad marks, spots, cigarettes, new siblings and older boys form a friendship between two girls which can be so tight a bond as to resemble sisterhood. But sisterhood isn't necessarily the sisterhood of noughties TV seriesthat of the Travelling Pants or the Sleepover Club, where girls run into the sunset squealing joyfully, or today's Instagram "squad goals," all empowerment and no tension.
Sisterhood--as those with actual sisters will know--inevitably includes times of pure hatred and total disgust at the person standing in front of you. It's more Liam and Noel Gallagher than Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss. If and when a friendship has endured a certain number of tests, the bond between two females can fuse them into one. And that's dangerous, because while real sisters can say the very worst things to each other safe in the knowledge that their blood ties can never be dissolved, friends can be just as awful to each other and then find that nothing keeps them together anymore.
That's when it starts to hurt.
The better you know someone--with their weaknesses and their secrets--the more precise your blow can be when you decide to hurt them. And so, for many girls and women whose friendships collapse, the trauma can be greater than any other.
Romantic break-ups are often followed by feelings of shame: shame for what was said or done throughout the relationship, when one felt safe, like in a cocoon. It can feel as though everything that had been private has the potential to fall through the cracks of the relationship as the person drifts away with parts of us that were never meant to be seen by anyone else.
Similarly, the knowledge about each other that friends accumulate during the clichéd girly brunches, nights out and holidays can be terrifyingly intimate. In many cases, this is because it has been built bit by bit throughout a long period. By the time a woman reaches the age of 25, it's not uncommon for her to have known her best friend for the best part of a decade, and to have confided in her throughout a string of other relationships, romantic and platonic, with their mistakes, joys and disappointments.
Often, then, a best friend is a woman's only island of continuity with her past, her experiences and the world around her. When the island sinks, another one can't just float along. Nobody else could possibly catch up on the years of pure life that have been lost; nobody else will remember the drunken nights when you said things you'll never repeat to anyone else; no one will be there to warn you when you're about to make the same mistake in a long history of bad patterns.
Losing a friend hurts. Much like a relationship, there are things--feelings, memories--that are impossible to get back. But in a more acute way than boy-girl romantic relationships, a girl who loses her best friend also loses a part of herself--one that has seen her at her best, her worst and her terrible, without the filters and embellishments of romance.
We are talking everything, from ugly breakdowns to terrible haircuts to family issues, crippling jealousy and scathing self-loathing. It's hardly stuff that you'll willingly brief anyone else on, preferring, when given the chance, to show a totally sane and untarnished slate.
And so as she lets go you let go too, a chunk of your past floating away, taking parts of your foundation with it. What remains is an emptiness that--try as you may--can never quite be filled again.
Laura Gozzi is Italian but has lived in Belgium, Ireland, Paris and Moscow, before eventually ending up in London. When she’s not on a plane or trekking in a Kazakh desert, Laura studies for her Master’s degree in journalism