I’ve been wondering a lot lately about competition in friendship. I’ve been quite lucky in my adult life that this hasn’t really been an issue. Almost all my closest friends and I have very different career aspirations, and there is certainly no “I want to be the first to get married/have kids” craziness. If anything it’s the opposite—at least with the kids thing. No one is in any rush.
I do have one old friend who is in the same business as I am. We used to work together, though now we’re separated by a few state lines. Ours is a very specific and very important relationship. We are each other’s cheerleaders.
Brooke and I worked together for two years(ish). In that time we sat across from each other and often ate lunch together at the makeshift table we created out of a file cabinet and some desk chairs. We became each other’s voice of reason. When I needed a brilliant edit before sending something to the boss, I trusted her eyes only. When she was looking for a clever headline, or advice on the wording of a work email, she came to me. Even when we worked only a few feet away and shared a title, there was never anything but encouragement.
Three years later, we live miles apart but still act as each other’s career advisors. At least, she is mine. I send her any big projects I’m working on because I trust her as a reader and respect her smarts. When she writes “groooaaan” next to a painful cliché, I say “thanks!” I’d rather her point out a lame bit of writing than my editor, after all. And at the core of all her notes—good and bad—is an unflappable belief in me. If another person, including my editor, called a sentence lame I’d be insulted (I know this, because it has happened). But if Brooke said it I’d know she meant “you can do better” not “you suck.” Perhaps that’s why it works.
I realize this friendship is rare. I hear one nightmare after another about friends betraying each other over professional ambitions. There are plenty—too many!—stories of BFFs working in similar fields who avoid talking about the job for fear it might get awkward.
It’s not only a career thing of course. This clip from a recent Oprah Show features two cousins who say they can only stay close friends when they’re both overweight. During the times that one or the other has slimmed down, the competition and jealousy surrounding skinniness has driven them apart.
As women, we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others and want what they have—clothes, jobs, hair, all that good stuff. But where does that fit into friendship? Can BFFs who maintain a competitive relationship last? And is there such a thing as friendly competition?