The concept of ‘girlfriends’ had always been strange to me. I had a couple of friends in elementary and high school. A few more between high school and university. But no best friend. Nobody that I would share my deepest thoughts, plans and secrets with. In many ways, my mum was the closest to a best friend I had growing up. As I got older, I met people who I became friends with, met for coffee, shared life stories and discovered common interests. Most were colleagues from work, some were people I met through the community.
And then Sabrina happened. When she was a child we did tea parties and read Dr. Seuss and went to baseball games. As she got older, we delighted in spending time with each other and made every minute count. Sabrina gets me. She is surprisingly unlike me, which is probably what makes our relationship happy and interesting and uncomplicated. When Sabrina moved to Africa, we had a going-away party for her where she announced that she was looking for a best friend for me and was happy to interview potential candidates. I under-estimated how very much I would miss not having my best friend to hang out with.
The diagnoses of cancer have brought unexpected blessings my way. Friends, old and new, started reaching out to me. Slowly, slowly, I let down my guard and allowed many into my life. This was a new feeling, a bit scary, a bit daunting. I understood instinctively that having great friends is about being a good friend and this takes time and effort. It’s also about being vulnerable, showing parts of you that are not all put-together, and trusting your story with others. That’s part of the reason why it took me 50+ years to do it, even as an extrovert. It takes courage and patience to build deep, meaningful connections.
Today I am blessed to have many girlfriends and relationships that I cherish. My girlfriends range in age and interests; some I connect with individually, some together, some I see often, some rarely, some virtually. They have expanded my world in so many ways and have helped me find a new normal during my complicated relationship with cancer.
Girlfriends bring a new dimension to a relationship. And while I have a pretty fabulous husband who is the love of my life, and a son who I love with all my being, there is something about having a strong contingent of women around me that make me whole. (On a separate note, I have often told my son that when I speak with him, it’s as therapeutic and satisfying as speaking to a best girlfriend!). My surprising discovery is that women connect with each other differently than we do with men. My girlfriends can read my mind and emotions and intuitively know what to say. They are there to listen and empathize, offer perspective, challenge me when necessary and provide a shoulder to cry on. They randomly send WhatsApp messages of encouragement and shared interests (recipes, music, quotes) to nurture the relationship. When one of us is hurting, the other lifts them up; when one succeeds, it is like we all succeed. We talk about our feelings, our hopes and fears, death, cancer, work, family, career, triggers, fun things. It’s this hodgepodge of trivial and meaningful that is so precious. But the best part of my relationship with my girlfriends is the laughter – loud, contagious, spontaneous; the type of laughter that gets noticed by others; the type of laughter that stays with me well beyond the interaction.
To all my girlfriends, I say a big thank you for bringing so much joy in my life. You rock!