City of Girls

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My first encounter with Liz Gilbert left me unimpressed. I remember hearing all the buzz around this new movie called ‘Eat Pray Love’ a couple of years ago. Apparently it was based on some bestselling book by a lady who rediscovers herself. How unoriginal I thought. I was of course, in my teen years at the time. Still quite some way from any discovery, let alone any re-discovery. At a time in my life where everything felt achievable and the lives of most people older than me felt like stale bread, full of mistakes I was never going to make (you can laugh) and completely unglamorous, the idea of reading a book about a middle aged something who takes a trip just to, what…find herself again? Ew.

Skip to a couple of years later, I finally saw the movie in my twenties. By this time my worldview had become slightly more balanced, and I was also going through one of the first (though certainly not the last) heartbreaks in my life. And so naturally, I didn’t want to surround myself with people who were having a better time then I was. I wanted to unite with my fellow failures. This is how my second meeting with Liz was on better footing. She had one failed marriage behind her and I was newly jaded. She wanted to get back out into the world and eat to her heart’s content, and I had newfound appetite for donuts. Specifically, eaten in my bed. She was feeling spiritual, and I was…ok well, I was lighting incense sticks in my room to battle the donut smell. That counts for something. She wanted to find new love. I was completely uninterested for myself, but curious to see how it turned out for others before I even thought of venturing out again. I can tell you, I really enjoyed the movie. I think I even cried in it. I never managed to read the book though.

Skip to now. I received two of her books as a birthday gift form a favorite cousin. City of Girls and Big Magic. I won’t talk about Big Magic here, because it deserves a post of its own. But I will take some time to talk about City of Girls. I have to say, my appreciation for Liz has only gone up. Much like ‘Eat Pray Love’, I feel like City of Girls found me at the right time. As things often do. On the cover of the book sit says this is a book about celebrating female friendships. But it is a lot more than that too.

Honestly, it didn’t even feel like I was reading a book. The tone of the book is so conversational, you almost feel like you are being narrated the story by a close friend of yours. A friend, who, though you like very much, you cannot get behind every single decision of hers. And this is often the truth. Things are so much more fun when they aren’t clear cut. Because which one of us doesn’t have a friend we simply cannot support in all areas of their lives? We like them, yes, but we like them enough to admit they can be a pit of a pain sometimes. And would we live our lives like they live theirs? Absolutely not.

It also talks about friendships that you have to let go of. Some because you grew apart and some because you messed up. Both are equally hard to accept as I am finding out. Let me tell you about a friend of mine. Back in the day (not too far back though, I am not as old as I pretend to be sometimes) I was friends with a girl who was dating a man I could not stand. And I wasn’t overreacting or being imposing. None of my other girlfriends could stand him either. He had that quality about him, as some people do. But in all my youthful arrogance I thought I naturally had a say in the matter (a mistake I have since repeated many, many times). So, I went up to my friend and told her she should break up with the man. Simple as that. I won’t keep you in suspense as to what happened next. She didn’t break up with him. Not only that, she broke up with me! The audacity. She was kind enough to do it gradually though. To an outsider, it would almost look like we naturally grew apart. But I knew what the reason for this newfound distance was and I wasn’t happy about it. I absolutely refused to see how I could have been, maybe, wrong in this situation. And so, for many years after that, I could not get over this. How could someone I was so close to choose not to keep the friendship alive? With me?! But after a while it stopped being a why question. It stopped being an anything question, it just was. And the book put into words something I have felt for a long time now. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it just gives you some perspective. Am I still hurt over that friend? Probably. But I also get it now. Some things you just cannot control.

Another thing I loved about the book was when the protagonist talks about all the fun she has as a youngster about town. I love how unapologetic she is about it. I think that for a lot of us, especially women, fun is treated as a finite quantity. In some cultures, certainly in mine, it is also treated as something that will inevitably have bad consequences. I don’t know how to put it into words. But there is this idea that was drilled into us from a young age where I’m from, “don’t have too much fun, you’ll regret it later on.” Or, “if you laugh now, you’ll cry later”. Or, “don’t look so happy, someone might jinx it.” And to that I say, um, why not? Sure, you need to understand that there are consequences to everything you do. If you drink too much, you will have a hangover. If you drink too much over a long period of time, you might run the risk of becoming an alcoholic. But surely not all fun needs to be so severely monitored and quantified? What about harmless gossiping with friends over coffee, or laughing at stupid things, or taking spontaneous trips, or healthy flirting? I like how Liz talks about all the fun her protagonist has. There is a part in the book, where our heroine talks about how she and her friends would head out every night to look for trouble, and hit the city “full throttle”. I loved it. You have all your life to be serious, but only right now to have fun. So, for those of you who are looking to spend a couple of days in the company of friends who know how to have fun unabashedly, I highly recommend the City of Girls.

Losing friends

I am sure everyone has this, but there are a lot of times in my life, when I think I am the only one making any effort in my friendships. I seem to be the only one constantly reaching out, asking to meet up, or asking the other person how their day has been. While this description feels tilted in my favour (and rightly so, since I am very unlikely to cast myself as the villain in my own story), I do acknowledge that it might sometimes also be the other way round. Maybe there are people in my life – friends – who feel like I’m the unresponsive one. Like I am the one who never wants to reply to texts on time or to hang out with them. While I certainly know the first instance to be true, I am self-aware enough to admit that the second one might not be so far from reality either.

So why have I been losing friends? Why does anyone lose friends?

Apparently, there is an age beyond which most of us will start to lose friends. That age is 25. Quite accurate I think – since I’m 26 right now. Till you’re about a quarter of a century old, you have the energy and the willingness to keep expanding your circle and to cultivate whatever circle you have. But more often than not, once that mark has been reached, your enthusiasm starts to wane. You inevitably start letting go of people. And that isn’t a bad thing. You start to let go of people because you are (usually) no longer looking for transient or frivolous connections. Now is the time to build a life you want, and people who do not contribute to that in a significant way will inevitably be left behind. That is just the way it is.

And I’m not talking about emotionally draining or toxic friendships. Those you should let go of regardless of the stage you are at in life. I am talking about good, decent friendships that one may have enjoyed at some point in their life. I am talking about really good school friends or college friends.

Another reason a lot of people have been writing about nowadays is the pandemic. Because the pandemic clarified a lot of our priorities, naturally, the only people we spoke to during this time were either people we deeply cared about (thereby removing an entire layer of superficial friendships) or people that we found convenient to talk to (thereby removing some long distance friendships too). The pandemic led to the formation of something called ‘pandemic pods‘ in terms of relationships. It reduced the number and kind of people we had historically interacted with to either people who were very important to us or people who were following the same standards of care and hygiene as us.

But as guilty as I feel for not reaching out to people more often, or as mad as I am about people who don’t bother to reach out to me, there is nothing unnatural about losing friendships as we grow older (and hopefully wiser). It could be for a number of reasons. Reasons I have mentioned above, or even some of those toxic reasons I have deliberately left out (don’t we all just have a couple of friends or people we know that are such an emotional drain on us?). Instead I really like to think of it in terms of this new concept I learnt – something called “friendscapes“.

As you can probably tell by the name, it means cultivating landscapes of different kinds of friendships and acquaintances that serve different purposes in our lives. Put simply, “your friendscape can change during certain, specific situations during life – going away to university or a summer camp, or being in a certain job – and you often begin curating new friends to fit that current life situation. Not everyone can fit into your current friendscape.” I like this idea a lot because this is exactly how I feel about a lot of people that have either come into or gone out of my life. There are friends I have lost touch with because I became busier than them, and friends I have gained instead because we work the same kind of hectic jobs; friends I have lost touch with because they are in long-term committed relationships, and others I have gained instead because we are a bunch of singles looking to do fun group based activities around town.

So, yeah, while it is tempting to think of lost friendships in terms of blame and bitterness, I think it is a lot more helpful to just think of these lost connections as a fact of life and move on. Makes for a more peaceful existence. And I’m nothing if not obsessed with that.