By Ashley Mays
I’m so weird, you guys.
I made a rain jacket out of plain silver duct tape and actually wore it in high school. I didn’t really use makeup until I was well into my college years. I longed to have braces growing up but never needed them, so I used to unfold paper clips and wrap them around my teeth to pretend. (Well. That sounds even weirder now that I write it out…)
I don’t speak often because I don’t like how words sometimes create chaos. When I do speak up, I can be too blunt in my effort to be honest. I am extremely literal and have exactly zero sense of nuance. My sense of humor is strange and a little on the dark and dry side.
Read all of this and it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you that for the first 18 years of my life or so, I really struggled to find and keep female friends. I had a lot of guy friends, but the girls I knew in high school snickered at me and imitated my awkwardness in ugly, pinched facial expressions to others when they thought my back was turned. The world of women often felt to me like it was all about this-for-that, backhanded competition, and I was never interested in any of it.
I don’t say any of this in an effort to make people feel sorry for me. (Zero sense of nuance, remember? Hinting at things isn’t me.) I’m just saying I’ve often felt out of place in the world even while I really appreciate how God created me.
So when my roommate and I found ourselves locked in a bathroom (don’t worry, it was super clean!) at the fanciest hotel in Colorado Springs, it was a surprise to me how quickly we were able to connect. We’d already been sharing a room for a few weeks, but that day she shared more of her life, her hurts, and her secrets with me.
Partly because she’d trusted me with her stuff, I felt safe to reciprocate. I told her about the overwhelming shame I was experiencing after the manipulative relationship I’d escaped less than two years earlier. I wept as I talked about how I couldn’t get over a guy I’d dated for a mere 27 days. I shared the anxiety that had been a constant heavy chain wrapped around my life since I was very young.
It’s been over a decade now since that conversation. We’re still friends, and I don’t think it’s because we’re super-similar or because it’s convenient or anything like that. (We’re honestly pretty different. And we’ve rarely been in the same time zone, so convenience isn’t really a thing for us.)
No, I think we’re still friends partly because of that discussion. Because she’s seen my differences, my things-that-make-no-sense, my hard stuff and she’s made it clear to me that I still belong in her world. No need to change anything to fit in; all that’s needed is the real me. Our friendship is freedom to me. I don’t think I realized how much those moments of vulnerability with her changed my life (and my other friendships) until years later when I found myself having a different vulnerable conversation with another female friend, spurred on by the assurance of safety and joy that still existed in my friendship with my roommate.
I have several cherished female friendships now, women with whom I’m 100% comfortable to be my melancholy, literal, weirdo self. Some I’ve known for years and years, and time and memories from camp and college and church blessedly continue to draw us together. Others I’ve only known for a couple years, but it feels like we’ve shared so much more than that in moments of laughter and pain.
I call these women my “heart friends” because they see my heart, they know my heart, and they love me. And they also openly share their hearts with me.
I need their joyful acceptance of the woman I am, no questions asked. I need their celebration of my individuality mixed with their gentle encouragement to grow more as a woman who follows Jesus even more than I did the year before. I need their stories and whispered confessions and honesty.
I don’t think I knew friendships like this existed fifteen years ago. I’ve always been close to my mom, but I’m not sure I thought any other excellent female friendships were possible.
But then, one day when I least expected it, sitting by a sink in a bathroom at a resort in Colorado Springs with my knees tucked to my chest, God generously gifted me a heart friend. And in the years following, He gifted me another. Then another. And another.
My heart is so very full with the gift of their friendship these days. The friendship of these exceptional, strong, wonderful, trustworthy women. Some days it makes me weep with gratitude. Some days my heart throws a party instead (confetti included), and they’re all invited.
Ashley Mays writes award-winning fiction to inspire young women toward strength, dignity, and laughter. She is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Agency. Ashley is unabashedly introverted, a lover of heart-to-heart conversations, and enthusiastic about mentorship. You’re welcome to start a conversation with her on her Facebook profile, her Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, or her website. If you’d like to hear from her once every few months, her email newsletter is always open to new subscribers.