I’ve always been a girls’ girl. For my entire life, I’ve had a core group of female friends who I rely on for good conversation, even better insights, and a strong support system. Despite all the shit we have to go through, the number one reason I love being a woman is the community we create for each other. It’s why I decided to attend the women’s college I’m at now.
Because of all this, I’ve failed to understand why a woman would ever put a man first. I’ve watched close friends disappear the second they get into a relationship. Then, when they have some awful breakup, they come crawling back to me wondering why they prioritized an S.O. over their girlfriends. In my experience, relationships are fleeting. Friendships are so much more reliable.
Or so I thought.
Freshman year of college, I was terrified of not establishing close friendships, and the first people I met seemed alright, so I quickly found myself spending almost all of my time with them. One of those friends was Katie*. We weren’t super close – mainly she was a person I went to bars with, usually as part of a group. If we had met at a time in my life when I had more options for friends or when I was more secure, we might have never hung out at all. I stuck around her because we knew a lot of the same people from home, and because she was dating a boy named Raphael*, who I liked way more than her. I never even considered the fact that I had a crush on him, but I was far more likely to be up for going out when he was coming with us, and when I saw him with her, I had an unreasonable urge to flirt with men around me, just so Raphael would see.
As the year went on, I found friends who were more my speed, and Katie and I drifted apart. Still, if we ran into each other, we would say hi, and we’d occasionally comment on each other’s Instagrams. We didn’t see much of each other anymore, but I definitely still considered her a friend. And when I heard that she and Raphael had broken up, my first thought was, I guess I’ll never see Raphael again. That’s too bad.
But six months later, at the beginning of my sophomore year, Raphael asked me on a date out of the blue. I spent an afternoon calling each of my friends for their advice as to whether it was OK to go out with him. The responses I got ranged from “you can go out with him as a friend, but don’t hook up with him” to “she wasn’t even a good friend, go for it!” So I decided to meet him, but I had made up my mind to keep things platonic. It would be completely wrong, un-feminist, and cruel to my old friend to so much as kiss her ex-boyfriend.
However, we did kiss, at which point I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I liked Raphael romantically — a lot. When the night ended, we made plans to see each other again. It was bizarre to feel so excited and happy, and also so guilt-ridden and disgusting. Who had I become? Apparently someone who snuck around to date a friend’s ex behind her back. If someone had done that to me, I would have been furious — and rightfully so.
Not all of my friends understood my dilemma. It wasn’t like Raphael was cheating on Katie. But I felt like I had violated one of the unspoken rules of female friendships. As “Mean Girls” taught us, “Ex-boyfriends are just off-limits to friends. I mean, that’s just, like, the rules of feminism!” I didn’t just fear that Katie would hate me. I feared all of our mutual friends would, too. I would be throwing away my connections with at least four amazing women for one man. That went against my very principles. But there was something about Raphael that made me want to keep seeing him. So I did.
A few months later, Katie found out about Raphael and I on social media. She ignores me when she sees me now, and all of her friends do the same — they clearly chose Team Katie. But Raphael is amazing, and we’ve been dating for more than a year. I wish I didn’t have to sacrifice any female friendships for him, but he’s become a closer friend than Katie or any of her friends ever were.
It’s taken me awhile to stop feeling guilty about what I’ve done. Looking back, there were some things I could have handled better. Perhaps I should have reached out to Katie so she heard about it from me, not Instagram. But when I start to doubt my decision or hesitate to call myself a feminist, I try remember that feminism, like most things, isn’t cut and dry. There are always going to be nuances and extenuating circumstances. I hope others agree, but even if they don’t, I stand by my decision.
*Name has been changed.