Reflections on a Week in the Life of a Gen-Z-er Without Her Best Friend
July 29th, 2020
I just went for a week without talking to my best friend.
I met Jordan* five years ago, when we were in the same class in eighth grade. In the following years, they quickly slid into the role of my confidant, therapist, and rock –– the boy I’d been dating since the age of 12 had grown distant; I texted Jordan to try to figure out my love life. I was feeling bored with my athletic training during summer break; Jordan (after looking up my PSAL stats and reassuring me that I couldn’t give up now) stayed on the phone with me as I did core in my aunt’s basement. I fell in love with my other best friend; Jordan reminded me that all of our friends were gay anyway, so no one cared if I was bisexual, and advised that if I was having feelings for her then it was probably a sign to break up with my current boyfriend.
In freshman year, I hated looking at the stretch marks on my skin. Jordan told me to shower with the lights off. I was stressed about my increasing responsibilities as my younger sister’s caretaker; Jordan came with me to pick her up from school, and has since taken on the role of her surrogate older sibling (Jordan says it’s more like “grandma,” because all they do together is sing karaoke and eat ice cream). Even when there’s no major roadblock in my life, we spend more time together than I do with my parents –– between our joint summer internship on Wall Street last year, getting cookies at 7pm in Long Island City on school nights, and now Facetiming while we watch cartoons on Netflix Party, it’s enough for my other friends to have accused me on many occasions of codependency.
Before quarantine, I never really took those accusations to heart. Sure, I relied on Jordan to help me out of mental and emotional ruts, and to decide whether or not I should date somebody, and sometimes to convince my sister to do her homework, but there was no problem with that way of life –– I was thriving, with the clearest skin and most self-love I’d ever had. Without Jordan, who knows if I would’ve even made it through the first couple years of adolescence. But as the months of lockdown went on, and Jordan and I Zoomed or Facetimed or called for hours every night to the point that it became more of a habit than a genuine desire for conversation, it was Jordan who pointed out in a simple, poignant text message:
“I’ve spent more hours talking to you than I have gaming.”
Jordan’s not the most avid gamer I know, but suffice that statement to say that Jordan and I had exclusively occupied each other’s time for a total of over one thousand hours. Equivalent to more than six weeks of nonstop, 24/7 communication. Obviously I understood the extent of our friendship subconsciously, but I had never actually taken a moment to acknowledge that I had never gone without talking to Jordan for more than a couple days in the last five years.
So, to prove to myself and to my friends and at least partially to Jordan that I was more independent than those stats would seem to imply, I announced that I would be going the following seven days without talking to, texting, or Zooming Jordan (group conversations excluded –– that would just be awkward).
In many ways, it was the hardest week of my life.
First of all, there were at least five times where I nearly forgot –– at least five times where I opened our text messages to comment on a random thought I’d just had, like about whether or not Batman would be inclined to eat Spiderman; at least five times where I clicked on the airplane symbol beneath an Instagram post and clicked on Jordan’s user (the first suggestion, as usual) and almost hit “Send” before remembering not to. The second night –– a point at which “remember not to talk to Jordan!” was no longer the first thought on my mind, but my nightly habit of calling the contact labelled “J” at 11:30 had not yet been broken –– I actually hit the Facetime button before my brain froze with the memory that I was supposed to be distancing myself, so I kept my thumb pressed to the screen for a long moment before dragging my finger down and releasing it over a harmless, blank space. Crisis averted.
I ended up editing my lock screen to be a pretty view of a scenic landscape in Corsica, with the words “don't text him <3” cryptically pasted onto the lower left-hand corner. It was a depressing yet effective reminder.
But besides the difficulties of remembering my week-long challenge, it was just hard to ignore Jordan. The avoidance was one-sided, so I still received TikToks and the occasional text from Jordan’s number and social media accounts, but I forced myself not to look at them until Sunday (the end of my seven days) arrived. (Jordan took advantage of that by sending me a bunch of those “Send this to your friend and if they don't respond in 15 minutes they owe you McDonald’s” videos, accompanied with a text saying “can’t wait to get free stuff at the end of this!” and a demonic >:) emoji). And although I got used to not being able to send the memes and videos that I normally would’ve forwarded, I found a slight loophole by creating an album in my camera roll called “Jordan Memes!” of all the stuff I planned to send at the end of the week –– a collection which had amassed 43 screenshots and screen recording by the time Sunday rolled around.
The most major factor in lessening the blow of my sudden lifestyle change was probably the mere fact that I have other friends. Although Jordan was definitely the most frequent, they weren’t my only regular partner for four-hour conversations on quarantine nights, and I found myself easing into a routine of alternating calls and Zooms between my other closest friends –– Katerina, to do mini workouts and talk about the state of the world; Mariposa, to make macarons and watch anime; Rhiannon, for online tours of obscure Southern colleges with beautiful dorms and Phineas and Ferb on her Disney+ account, and Brian, for Avatar: The Last Airbender and European short films, both pleasantly drowned out by her ongoing commentary on their homosexual overtones and veiled messages about capitalism.
On what was technically Sunday morning, I Facetimed Jordan from 12 to 5 a.m. Over the last few days of talking to my other friends about how hard it was to separate myself, I had realized that although it was heartbreakingly difficult to live without Jordan, it wasn’t just because of the habits I’d formed.
As much as I had become dependent on them over the last few years, there was a reason that it was Jordan I called about my relationship issues; there was a reason that it was Jordan I trusted to take care of my little sister when I was busy –– I just enjoy our time together. I value their opinion, I like their sense of humor, and I like them as a person.
The other thing reassuring me that I had no cause for shame about our über-close friendship was that as much as I missed them, not talking to Jordan every night was actually easier than I’d anticipated, probably because I filled the space with my other friends –– whom (although I may not have dedicated quite as much time to over the last few years) I love just as much as I do Jordan. I realized that the thing that would really have pained me over those seven days would’ve been a restriction on talking to Katerina, Mariposa, Rhiannon, and Brian; even if I’d still allowed myself interaction with Jordan, that situation probably would’ve been unbearable.
I am not codependent on Jordan. But on all of my friends, combined? I might be.
It could be the product of growing up in a working-class family –– not one that is pressed for money, but one in which my parents are gone more than they’re home. I have my sister to keep me company, but our relationship is more often one of parent/child than of siblings. And perhaps because of that, I’ve turned to my friends when I came out as bi, when I was learning to accept my body, and whenever I’m worried about the future. Two to three times a week, when my sister is occupied with extracurriculars or at a friend’s house, Katerina and I eat dinner alone together after track practice. And for simple things, like when I need someone to edit my essays for school, it’s my friends that I ask for help.
But I don’t think that’s because my parents aren’t home. I have plenty of friends whose houses are not usually empty: Mariposa lives with her grandparents, and Rhiannon has regular sit-down dinners with her family, yet they talk to me as much as I talk to them –– one thing that Brian was quick to point out when, halfway into last week, I voiced my concern about my reliance on Jordan, was that if we did have a problem spending too much time together, it was not just my personal issue; by necessity, Jordan had spent as much of their life on me as I’d spent on them. And that familial-level bond between friends is not just the case with my circle. Though they’re two of my favorite people in the world, Brian and Katerina are completely different –– Brian is an introvert with strong opinions who is often described as “perpetually filled with rage”; Katerina is more of a listener than a talker, and even in quarantine she spends little time without a group of friends around her, physically or online; on the rare occasions that they interact, they don’t get along –– but they have both spent the last few months talking to their respective friends for hours, about themselves, the future, and the world around them.
I was born in 2003, placing me squarely within the cultural phenomenon presently known as Generation Z. And everyone I’ve mentioned so far is also a Gen Z-er. We’ve been getting a lot of attention lately, largely because of our performance leading up to President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, OK on Juneteenth –– in which so many people reserved “fake” tickets that although the rally had nearly one million registrants (of which they anticipated at least twenty thousand attendees, after factoring in the very public ”scheme” that we were pulling), less than 6,500 people showed up, leaving the stadium about 70% empty and President Trump leaving the scene looking very dejected.
Namely from the collective rallying of Gen Z behind the Black Lives Matter movement and dedication to defunding the police, our ability to use TikTok and other social media platforms as a means for social justice has recently taken the world by storm. But although we of the “iGen” are normally characterized by our dependence on the internet, I think the most striking aspect of our collective identity is our reliance on and support for each other. The way I see it, the long-time-coming informal policies of “girls support girls,” body positivity, intersectional feminism, LGBT+ acceptance, and the widespread acknowledgement of the unquestioning validity of BLM and other social justice movements are just some of many demonstrations of how we are focused more than ever on uplifting each other. And this acceptance and support extends not only internationally, but also to our individual friends close to home –– I think the experience I’ve described with my friends is a phenomenon that is in one way or another felt by people our age around the world. For whatever reason, we love each other more; we need each other more.
Maybe it’s because we have become so much more open to diversity, and in doing so, we have opened ourselves up to a greater capacity for love. Maybe it’s because we’re so diverse ourselves –– in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, the degree of our personal subscription to socialism, and the state of our mental health. Of all the members of Gen Z I’ve mentioned, none are white. One of them is straight. We have varying opinions of the right way to structure an economy, and that’s both a good-natured disagreement and a discussion that happens more often than you might think. We all have different family structures and home lives. So maybe we are accepting by necessity –– with this much diversity surrounding us, it would be more exhausting to try clinging to bigotry.
Maybe it’s because we’ve had to endure this globally traumatic experience of the Coronavirus at such a young age. Many of the people in this generation are still kids; millions of us will have gone through a pandemic before having our first kiss. Even those of us in young adulthood are, if we define the eldest of Gen Z as having been born in 1995, still in the midst of our neurologically formative years. Seeing the world we’ve barely had a chance to touch crumble before us has forcibly opened our eyes to the hardships faced by humanity on a daily basis, and the social distancing in particular has drilled into our isolated minds the necessity of human contact. Maybe we appreciate each other more because effectively, we’ve already lost each other.
I think in discussing the ways in which Gen Z thinks about each other and our places in the world, the presence of the internet is the elephant in the room. I think our reliance on each other is almost definitely a result of our ability to be reliant on each other –– the pathways for communication made available to us by having grown up in an era defined by the internet are absolutely essential to our connection. We’ve collectively formed habits of texting each other when we’re out of sight –– I personally don’t even think about it; texting my friends is like a reflex –– so in more ways than one, we are closer than ever. The ability to talk to people nonstop has undoubtedly led to communicating more effectively with each other, which is in my opinion simply a healthy way to live and also a leading cause of our capability to trust and therefore love each other more deeply.
Whether it’s because of our diversity, our shared trauma, or the technologically bridged environment in which we’ve been raised, to the people of Gen Z, our friends are more of a necessity than ever, even in isolation. I love my parents and the adults in my life, but I connect with my friends, to my sister, and even to people living thousands of miles away that I talk to exclusively through the internet on a level that is untouchable by someone outside of this generation.
In the last week, I’m glad to have learned more about myself. I think in some ways, I’ve actually reaffirmed those suspicions about my codependency.
But as Jordan said when I brought it up –– plainly, like there had never been a question about it –– “It’s okay to need your friends.” And I do.
I will never go for a week without talking to any one of them ever again.
*names have been changed for privacy.
Cover image created by writer.