Every woman needs two things: her family and her tribe. The first she is born with and has no choice but to tolerate and even love. The latter is formed of her friends who come into her life to form a network that fosters her sense of belonging and self-worth. Family brings her into the world, but her tribe makes the world worth living in.
I, too, have a tribe and I can trace its beginning to the third grade when I slapped a girl my future best friend hated; she gave me a shabaash and we’ve been fast friends ever since. The next member had the good sense to choose Boy Zone over the Backstreet Boys in class eight and, therefore, earned my eternal approval. The third sewed a skin tight pink costume on me when I played the role of Gwendolyn Fairfax in The Importance of Being Earnest and dismissed me for being annoying and a prima donna, thereby making me want to earn her approval, which I eventually did. The fact that her house had an endless supply of khatti daal further forged our tribal bond.
A fourth scoffed at my haikus and attempts at creativity and told me I was capable of much more. And when I did write a novel much later, he was there to read, edit, comment and critique everything I came up with. The fifth was befriended during the interminable rides on the (un)air-conditioned Metrobus rides to and from the University of Karachi, where we talked about life, education, and the socio-economic injustices of life.
Others were inducted over an unhealthy obsession with The Little Mermaid, uncontrollably giggling fits in mindlessly boring philosophy classes and a perverse admiration of Cliff Richards. The latest members of my tribe include a work colleague, life coach, therapist and confidante all in one and, finally, a soul sister who reads all the same books and thinks all the same thoughts and feels all the same feelings as I do.
It is my tribe that helped me get out of a bad marriage by lodging an intervention, thereby convincing me to get away and clear my head to make an empowered decision about my future. They helped me pick up the remains of my life and build something new and positive out of it.
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Looking back at these relationships, I come to realise that my friends have shaped my personality, called me out on my self-delusions, affirmed the best and criticised the worst in me. They have radically different personalities and life experiences and for some lucky reason, they chose me at the same time as I chose them.
I can think of a dozen mid-night conversations where all we did was exchanged notes on what bothered us most in our lives and what to do about it. There was and still is laughter and despair; and of course, we share the Sacred Connection of the Siesta, followed by the Holy Sacrament of Piping Hot Tea.
Which is not to say that I haven’t had sour experiences. I have had to let friendships go and live with people letting go of me. Sometimes, the tribe moves on, or you move away, simply because there is no blood connection to force you to keep holding on. Losing a member of your tribe has its own special brand of bitterness and angst. And yet, the ever evolving nature of tribe-hood means that new friends will always come your way, as long as you are open and receptive to them.
It is also no coincidence that I have hated all my friends before I have loved them. It is said that what bothers you most about other people is, in fact, what bothers you about yourself. And in every friendship, I reacted almost violently to another strong, opinionated and blunt human being whom I couldn’t stand; mostly because I was all those things myself. As clichéd as it sounds, they offer a reflection of yourself back at you.
Because, you see, friendship isn’t just about fostering a relationship with others — it is also about nurturing a relationship with yourself. Your tribe will build you up like no one else will, and they will do it not because you owe them anything. They will do it because they care, offering the most unselfish form of love that can exist. They embody what is most beautiful in human nature.