Ava Bourdeau
10 June 2023
For most of my life, my best friend was called Isabella. Izzy. We became friends as little girls. The last time we spoke, we were teenagers pretending to be women.

There is something truly fascinating about friendships between young girls, in how we cling to one another as we grow to understand the terrifying implications of womanhood. These relationships are codependent and volatile. They feel as if you are rocketing down a highway, speeding a thousand miles an hour towards a burning horizon. Then suddenly the friendship will end as if the driver has slammed on the brakes – your head snaps back as inertia punches you in the stomach.

I vividly remember being thirteen and making the pilgrimage to Victoria’s Secret for the first time. Izzy and I went together. After years of being around the same size, I she was now towering over me. She was tall and blonde and freckled – the perfect “California girl”. In comparison, I was homely at best, and ugly at worst. Small and awkward with flat hair and unstylish clothes, I walked in Izzy’s shadow. But somehow this never bothered me, at least until we went to Victoria’s Secret. Standing in front of the mirror in matching teal bras, I couldn’t help but notice how ridiculous I looked. Even in the smallest size, my chest refused to graze the insides of the padded cups. But Izzy stood next to me in her perfectly fitted undergarments, appearing divinely feminine. She stared at me like I was a little boy dressing up in his mother’s underwear.  She laughed. I didn’t get mad – she was right, I looked silly. However, I was struck with grief by the reality of our mounting differences. Izzy was experiencing things I had yet to understand; in growing faster than me she had also become more cynical and rebellious. She was cutting her bangs and getting high for the first time while I was still shopping in the children’s section with my grandmother. She had always been bolder than me, but her urge to explore all the grimy glories of being a teenager had increased tenfold. Unable to keep up, all I could do was stand on the sidelines and watch her change.

For so many years, it felt like Izzy was all I could ever need. Female friendships are indeed unique in their level of dependency. Sociologist Deborah Tannen claims that friendships between women often hold a higher degree of closeness due to the fact that women, on average, find more gratification in deep emotional intimacy. Perhaps that’s why there’s something so intoxicating about the destructive, intense communion that occurs between young girls.

The media loves studying relationships between women. Mothers and daughters, sisters, and friends provide easy avenues for emotional drama in ways that two men apparently cannot. Taking into account the nuances of the female experience, this makes a great deal of sense. When we’re young, it is comforting to cling to one another as we discover the quiet brutality of womanhood. Only another young woman can relate to the terror of being catcalled for the first time – the feeling when you go to sleep a sweet child and wake up a sexual commodity. Becoming a woman comes with an ominous increase of an enigmatic sense of pressure. Studies suggest it is encrypted into our biology to compete with one another. Stereotypically, men are presented as more competitive than women. Yet, it would appear the opposite is true – women are just far more quiet in their battles. In maintaining such an impressive level of communication, we come to internalize all of our friend’s traits to a point where we cannot help but compare ourselves to her. As teenagers filled with hormones and intensity, this competitiveness comes to a crux, as every misstep has the potential to feel like the end of the world.

By high school, Izzy and I were shooting stars, hurtling toward the people we were to become. But in doing so in parallel, we continuously crashed into one another, burning each other with our fiery, exaggerated emotions and increasingly separate ambitions. The last time we spoke was on Halloween in our senior year. I was in the midst of post-heartbreak mania, compensating for my newly single status by being as flirtatious as humanly possible. I had boobs now, was glasses-free, and stood at the now acceptable height of 5’6. I was as tall as Izzy.

I kissed twelve people that night. I felt as if I was the only creature in the world;  I was the sun and my fellow partygoers were mere planets in my midst (I’m very annoying when drunk). I think that in Izzy’s eyes, I had forgotten myself. In my newfound, yet still rather synthetic self-assuredness, I had become the center, Izzy was now my moon. I’d clawed my way to the precipice of confidence, bleeding and panting and determined. It was the first thing I would ever do without her. But instead of feeling her absence, I could sense my impending evolution–  a process I now know signed the death warrant of our friendship. The evening concluded and I was fundamentally altered, both by the likely contraction of mono and the loss of a fragment of my soul. After so many years, Izzy had woven herself through my being. Hearing her berate me in the same belittling tone I’d heard my whole life as we drunkenly walked to my front door was like staring into a vengeful mirror. I simply couldn’t take it any longer. Perhaps I hadn’t made many wise decisions that Halloween, but I absolved it by swallowing the hardest, densest pill I could: Izzy was never entirely good for me.

A few months ago, I reached out to Izzy. It had been over a year since we’d spoken face to face, and I ached to know how she was doing. I thought she’d be happy to hear from me; I pictured us excitedly exchanging the details of our new lives in college with a fresh cast of characters to gossip about. It was selfish to think she’d want to rekindle our relationship as I did. Instead, I received a single, curt text:

Stop trying to come back into my life whenever it serves you.

I contemplated her response. I didn’t text her with my own benefit in mind, I texted her because a part of me, the part that’s still fourteen and timid and adores her radiant best friend, cared deeply about Izzy. But what had that gotten me? Memories, sure, but also a laundry list of insecurities enhanced by our unhealthy friendship. I understood then that Izzy’s place in my life had never fully “served me”. It simply wasn’t something she could do for me, nor I her.

I know now that Izzy and I could never be friends again – we’re just too different. It’s a horrifying realization, one that still keeps me up at night. I know it’s for the better, I know she’s happy out there, far away, without me. We grew up fighting a quiet battle against each other and ourselves, lovingly licking the blood from the lacerations we cut into the other’s skin. We had finally gotten to a point that had left us too pale, too tired, too resentful. I wonder if this is the nature of girlhood; making enemies of one another when the real battle hasn’t even reached up to knock at our bedroom door.
As we mature, there is a tendency for women to become more distant from their friends. Perhaps there comes a day when we no longer need such a significant connection. However, I think it’s more likely that many of us have been burned too badly by our adolescent friendships. Maybe inside of us all, there exists a small, scared girl who is terrified of losing another the way she lost her best friend when she was 12, 16, 20. Yet my heart remains open. I know that I can love, because I have loved before. I loved Izzy and she loved me. Even if the bond between us was severed, its existence within my memories will forever serve as a reminder of the beautiful, complex ways women love one another.