We plan our futures with our partners, but we examine our present with our friends.
I was tired, exhausted, and still getting over a cold when my partner dropped me off at the airport a few weeks ago. Not for the first time, I thought maybe I should skip this trip.
As much as I like the annual reunion with my girlfriends, planning this one had been particularly trying. Our original destination, and host, had fallen through when one friend decided to get married suddenly to her new beau. After reconnecting with another friend now living in Los Angeles, the four of us still interested in the trip agreed to head there.
But a million other pressing things—conferences, papers, meetings, and piles of unread books sitting on my work desk—seemed to be calling my name as I crammed into my airplane seat. Could I really afford to take this weekend off?
Of course I could. It was Girls’ Weekend Out, after all.
In my senior year of college, I decided to create an alternative Valentine’s Day celebration for my girlfriends and me. It seemed like a brilliant plan: a girls’ night out, a break from campus, and a way for all of us single folks to have fun plans for what could be the loneliest night of the year. Drinks and dining at Dave and Buster’s, and a gift exchange would kick off what has now turned into a 10-year tradition.
I knew even then that college was a sacred time for most women. Soon enough, children, husbands, and jobs inevitably carve into the time reserved for exploring our passions, interests, and friendships. I thought if I could get us to set aside this time while we were still single and free, that precedent would be set forever.
Since then, Girls’ Night Out has turned into annual Girls’ Trips. We’ve boarded planes for Puerto Rico and Hawaii, or jumped on buses for spa nights in Philadelphia. And they’ve always been completely worth it.
Reconnecting with old friends requires that you catch them up on your life, the things that have been hard in the last year, and the moments you loved most. We find ourselves reflecting on the kids we were when we first met and the women we’ve become. We encourage each other, listen closely, and offer advice. We go hiking, meditate on beaches, and lay in sunshine. We celebrate our achievements and grieve our losses.
For some of us, this is the first time we’ve taken a break from work all year, the first time we’ve given ourselves space to think and be present. It is lovely and necessary in every possible way. Though, ironically, I always seem to forget.
In a society that makes marriage and children markers of success, this time with my friends has become one of my proudest rituals. Women so easily lose track of themselves as they assume new identities—becoming a mother and wife silently eclipses dancer, athlete, and globetrotter. In establishing habits and routines, we find ourselves making concessions and compromises that eclipse the hopes and dreams we used to have.
But our friends remember: They remind us about our passions, push us to focus on our own values and plans. They ask us if we’re happy and know when we’re lying. Friends question how we are doing—and really want to know.
On this recent trip to Los Angeles, one of my friends explained how one of our trips had given her the courage to quit her job and move to San Francisco. This summer, two years after her move, she’s getting married and is settling into work that is far more satisfying. Being with girlfriends literally changed her life.
And she’s not alone. I’ve seen how these trips have affected each of us in equally important ways, altering our paths and renewing our spirits. Your friends love you because they admire the person you are, they see your strengths and accept your weaknesses, and they love you with open arms. Unlike romantic love, friendship is based on more than exclusivity and physical intimacy. We plan our futures with our partners, but we examine our present with our friends. Seeing my friends is like returning to a home that I built all by myself, a home I built for me.
So this is a plea of sorts: Women, make time for your friends. Organize a spa night, an old-school slumber party, or a weekend in Vegas. Laugh, catch up, and renew yourselves with your friends. Your husbands will wait, your babies will survive, and they’ll appreciate the woman who returns. What sense does it make to give up love for love?
Khadijah Costley White is a faculty member in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.