Welcome to Love Files, our personal essay column exploring how our experiences have shaped our views on love – positively or negatively. From friendship to familial, we’re unpacking it all in this series.
I’ve always been someone that’s loved deeply. Not to be corny on #main, but I have always felt that love is our entire reason for being. To love and be loved in return. To me, there is something especially beautiful, sacred even, about the love that can be found in friendships. Perhaps it’s because I have never made friends easily. I spent a substantial part of my adolescence feeling like an outsider – ugly, awkward, simultaneously not enough and too much.
Outside my friendships, I simply never felt safe to be everything that I am. As I’ve gotten older, and carved out an identity that’s my own, I have discovered and begun to truly understand the power of chosen love. Every single one of them has given me something in some tangible way.
My tiniest friend is unapologetically self-indulgent. She adores luxury and makes no apologies. She’s unrelatable. Roll your eyes at her and remark about how bougie and spoiled she is and she’ll reply “I know” in a kittenish purr, one beautiful eyebrow perfectly arched. She’s never thought to tone herself down for anyone. I highly doubt that she’s ever thought to herself, “Am I doing too much?”. Through her, I’ve learned the importance of just being. You don’t need to explain yourself or make excuses for being who you are.
My second tiniest friend is fiercely independent and fires off lightning rounds of insults which are both shocking and incredibly funny. Through her, I’ve learned the power of refusing to apologize for who you are. Whenever I feel myself slipping into the comfort of seeking external validation, I can almost feel her squeezing my hand and whispering: No! Without her, I would still be afraid to advocate for myself, which is something she’s never been afraid to do. She has never been afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone. That kind of fearlessness is something that has flowed into me, via osmosis. Any time I appear to be dithering about anything, she’s quick to remind me that I have the right to ask for what I deserve – respect, decency, to be heard, to be taken seriously. These two friends have shown me the importance of sharpening my resolve and growing a backbone.
That being said, I can’t be sharp-tongued and hard-edged all the time. It’s simply not in my nature. I revel in the softness that is a friend who is pure unadulterated sweetness in human form. Endlessly, cheerful with a seemingly endless ability to forgive, she has given me the gift of generosity. True bravery is the ability to be kind, open and giving in a world that constantly tries to stamp out such qualities from us. Any nastiness she has faced which would harden the average person has only made her that much more generous and lovely. A true gift to me, and I love her fiercely.
Kindness is not weakness, no matter how much society wants to make us believe it is, and she reminds me of this fact every single day. I’ve also had room to air out my romantic and sexual frustrations without judgement or shame. I’m allowed to be a hopeless romantic without being painted as pathetic or needy. I’ve always felt a little silly talking about romantic love, as if it’s something I’m not allowed to want. But with my friends, especially my most artistic friend, I’m given this space to be vulnerable without the fear of rejection hanging over my head.
But honestly, the most surprising friendship that has come to define a large part of my life is the one between my sister and I. Growing up, we didn’t fight all the time but we certainly weren’t close. To call our relationship chilly would be an understatement. Think Cold War levels of distance and you’ll get the picture. But our story is how love can grow despite these circumstances.
As I entered my 20s, I started seeing my sister as not simply a person I happened to be related to, but as a young woman navigating adulthood. So many of the faults that I unfairly held against her have been recontextualized by my newfound ability to see her clearly. Her behaviour which I insensitively used to categorize as her being high strung was really just a normal reaction to the stressors of living in a city as baffling and as frustrating as Lagos.
The over-protectiveness that I once felt veered into nosiness was simply understandable worry over her little sister. For so many years, I saw her through a fractured lens. It’s with our growing bond as friends – not sisters, I have begun to appreciate all of her idiosyncrasies, like how she used to sneak into the kitchen to eat ice cream. Or the large ones – like always standing up for yourself, (or your baby sister which includes chasing a snotty-nosed teenaged boy for being inappropriate around a school). With a little bit of wisdom, I’ve begun to see her fully. And I love what – and who – I see.
It’s these women who have moulded me and shaped me in so many ways that see the fullness of my humanity and accept the jagged edges and the many faults that I possess. It’s these women that uplift me, protect me, inspire me every day, encourage me to pursue my dreams and never fail to remind me how beautiful I am. If that’s not love, then what is? There are many things that I remain unsure of in life, questions that I am not sure I will ever get the answers to. To love and be loved is a gift that’s been bestowed on me many times and it shall be bestowed on me many more times throughout my life. Whenever I have time to pause from the monotonous errands of life and I am hit with a wave of blessed silence, I remember to be grateful, to be present but most importantly, that I am loved.