I think the dew is off the flower.
This is a real thing my gorgeous best friend said to me two nights ago when she discovered a line near the corner of her eye that she swears didn't used to be there.
Please, I told her. I've named the wrinkle on my forehead after the person I know gave it to me. I say "good morning" to it.
The truth is that both of us look fine. Sure, the passage of years means that we've changed, but she is still beautiful and here’s some proof: whenever my ex-whatever used to hear me say her name, he'd state happily, "That’s the one I like." He said it every time – and he never really liked too many people and, well, let's just say that he's slightly more critical of aesthetics than Anna Wintour, so I think it's safe to say that yes, my best friend is very pretty. Anyway, that night – after laughing hysterically over her dewy flower comment – we started talking about the weird and winding roads we once walked (and sometimes crawled) down that led us to become friends all those years ago. It’s funny: I don't remember actually meeting her, but I do remember the two of us becoming real friends in a quick progression, as often was the case during those hurried college days before the concern about forever colored things, before my wariness about getting too close spiked sky-high.
Once upon a time, there were ten of us and we were really close and we stayed that way for about a decade. Even after we no longer lived in the same house or on the same street, we made it a point to get together frequently. Of those other nine girls, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I met six of them. Many of my finest stories from those years involve them playing major roles. We shared private jokes that, even after they were told a thousand times, stayed somehow funny to us and for a very long time I knew almost everything about those girls and they knew just as much about me.
Certain memories stick out:
One of them collected every tissue and wad of toilet paper in the known vicinity and handed it all to me in a tragic clump when I found out that one of my top graduate schools had rejected me.
One of them used to take off her socks when I felt down because she knew the sight of her oddly shaped toes – they looked like water towers! – made me inexplicably smile.
But there’s also this:
One of them still has my grey Delaware hoodie and I miss that hoodie more than the person who stole it.
We had a good run, the ten of us together. But at a certain point the group splintered. To me, it felt like a natural thing and a part of me always expected it would happen because some long-distance friendships don't last. I held no animosity for the girls I no longer considered my friends and I truly wished them all well. And I had no desire to engage in the bitter war of words a few were waging for no good reason at all during the aftermath. It all eventually broke down for real when one of the people who has remained my friend emailed everyone to say that she was fucking sick and tired of showing up to showers and weddings and birthdays to celebrate the major moments in the lives of a group of people who never once asked anymore about her life. All she wanted was reciprocity and an acknowledgment of some sort that these people had become bad friends, but that’s not what she got. No, these people – who for a few years there never once asked her how her career was going or how she felt after she moved to the city – all of a sudden had a shit-ton of things to say and all of it was defensive and not one of them ever apologized. There were long emails that could have been turned into lengthy scrolls on which some girls swallowed any complicity they might have chosen to recognize and instead threw up the kind of bitter verbal bile that even smells accusatory. Not one seemed willing to harness any self-awareness in order to say, “Hmm, this person doesn’t usually send me this kind of hurt and angry email. I wonder if perhaps I contributed to her feeling this way…?” As for me, I often asked her how her career was going, so I wasn’t part of her intended audience and I didn’t know what the result would be from a group of people I already felt distant from, but whatever my guess would have been, I’d have been wrong. I watched with total puzzlement as the interactions grew ugly and it really surprised me. I never expected such fury! What was the point? Did any of them really expect that ten of us would continue to walk into bars together until we turned sixty? Had they never before grown apart from somebody? Why were they taking the loss of a friendship they didn’t care enough to nurture so hard? Was there no way to simply bid adieu to half of a group of friends and revel in the fact that now there were fewer people around who knew what we all looked like before we’d discovered waxing? Would nobody even consider looking on the bright side?
And since we’re on the subject of splintering friendships that are actually broken beyond repair, I tuned in to the season premiere of Girls Sunday night and watched as a Marnie the Bride surrounded herself with a group of bridesmaids who hate her. They do not hate her because she’s getting married; they hate her because she sucks and the four of them have nothing in common anymore because it’s hard to find real friendships that can be sustained beyond the purview of college convenience. And sure, recognizing the limits of a friendship can be disappointing – startling even – but sometimes it’s just best to move on and to do so before everything falls to shit and you can no longer recall a single thing you once appreciated about that person you once called a friend.
My experiences might not be universal, but one thing I have found is that some friendships are not fully linear. There can be a period of time that passes with nothing but silence and then a connection somehow transpires and the relationship reforms with new common ground, one that is now supported by the foundation of history. Just this last summer, I found myself reconnecting with someone who had once been one of my closest friends and we each waded back in gently but with a smile. She asked me to meet up for lunch and I took care with my outfit like I was heading out on a second date with a guy I might really like. The second I saw her, I realized three things: 1) she looks exactly the same 2) she picked out her clothing carefully, too 3) it was like no time had gone by. We did not rehash any of the old animosity because there was no anger anymore. Time had taken the sting out of anything we’d ever done to one another, and I left that lunch with a big grin on my face and feeling like I had just made a new friend who I wouldn’t have to take so much time to explain my history to because she already knows it.
Over lunch she suggested that all ten of us should get together again. I have no problem with that prospect, but I can’t say I’ve actively missed some of those people and I cannot imagine that they are losing any sleep missing me either. I mean, I’d probably do it just out of curiosity and to see if those old jokes still land funny, but I wouldn’t harbor any hope that we’d end up becoming a group like we once were. Also, I know off the top of my head someone who would rather set herself on fire than be in any room with some of those people, and while I share none of her still-raging acrimony, I can see her point.
Some friendships simply should not be rekindled once they have finally been laid to rest. There are just events some people cannot get over, incidents that once crackled too loudly to pretend there could ever be a peaceful silence in the present. That said, I am living proof that a former friendship can be rebuilt if you are both able to harness a quiet forgiveness that doesn’t need to be continually explored or rehashed because all of that is just fucking exhausting. I also know this: probably one of the best ways to avoid having to repeatedly have unpleasant conversations you don’t want to engage in is to stay the fuck off a reality show because yammering away about past conflicts so they can remain present conflicts is clearly part of the job.
And speaking of our Vanderpumpers, what have we learned about them so far this season? We know that Stassi became so lost that she was willing to believe that she found a safe harbor on a lunatic’s couch and that she desperately wants to be friends with people she used to loudly decree were beneath her. We know that Sandoval spoke for ten minutes straight about why he didn’t want Kristen to come to Hawaii – he told her all of the reasons directly to her face and in alphabetical order – and this crazy woman still walked away from the conversation by randomly announcing, “Congratulations, Ariana – you win.” We know that Ariana, of course, continues to win just because she’s not Kristen. We know Katie and Schwartz are heading into a passionless marriage and that he doesn’t ever want to sell sangria. We know that there’s clearly a fierce battle going down between Jax and James to determine which of them is awful enough that science should jump on in here and make at least one of them extinct. But perhaps the thing any of us watching with at least one eye knows best is that these people probably wouldn’t be friends with one another anymore if not for this show. It’s too messy now and, even if they all reconcile, they will end up on a two-part reunion where every single thing that hurt each one of them will be discussed ad nauseam and that kind of miserable retreading is not what typically leads to closeness between people who sort of want to maul one another.
Since we've still got a ways to go before the reunion, there's more of a mess yet to be made and we begin this week's emotional pigsty in a lingerie store that allows cameras and hands out champagne you must suck through a straw. Scheana has set up the whole shindig in an effort to reconnect with Ariana and she’s gonna let Katie watch as it happens. Also, Scheana once heard from Jax that girls trying on lingerie in a group setting is a complex fantasy some guys harbor and, knowing that it might not work out with Shay in the long-run, Scheana would like to keep herself attractive to all men so she can have herself some options. As for Ariana, Scheana misses her and she can't imagine why Ariana isn’t there for her, especially after she made sure to continue to invite Ariana’s nemesis out for drinks even after that nemesis continued to imagine aloud the very best ways for Ariana to be killed. Still, if anything can bond women it's trying on garter belts together and the whole excursion might have been a success if Ariana didn't bitch about every bra she strapped to her body. Katie walks out with some new stuff and she also lets us know that she and Schwartz have still not had sex and I wish I'd formed a bracket at this point so we could all place bets on how long this newly-engaged couple will go before one of them explodes.
On another stressful note, Stassi has been texting Katie but Katie is still not interested in making amends with someone who so ingloriously ditched her. It's not going any better for the guys in their little group. Ariana tells Katie and Scheana that Jax flipped the fuck out on Sandoval last night but Scheana is quick to correct her and to blame Sandoval for the mess because that's exactly what you're supposed to do while you're trying to win back a friend and the lingerie shopping didn't work and she hates you anyway.
Speaking of hatred, the next scene is all about James and the single greatest accomplishment of his life. Yes, I too thought it would be his tank top collection, but in fact it's a Pump complication CD! So just how talented is James? Well, let's allow him to tell us! "I don't mean to be conceited," says this ridiculous human specimen that needs to be studied quickly. "But I'm the white Kanye West." That can't possibly be a statement that'll come back to haunt him, right? (Ten bucks says he copyrights that sentence and starts putting it on tee shirts.) I think what James means here is that, just like Real Kanye, he too is easily 50% more influential than any person – living or dead – on planet Earth and in a totally unrelated note, is there an ETA for when a civilization is ready to start on Jupiter because I think I need to move to a planet where people refrain from saying such idiotic things. As for our White Kanye, he's working in the studio on his masterpiece when Lisa comes by to check on the status of the project because she's the one who is financing this little operation. James tells her that his song with Lala might not make it on the CD cause bitches be crazy. He also lets her know that he’s been making the very intelligent choice to miss Kristen. Shaking her head at his nonsense, Lisa tells him to stay away from negative influences – like alcohol and his ex-girlfriend – and James thanks her for her advice with an odd glint in his eyes that is so weirdly cold that it almost caused me to shiver.
There's something very off to me about young James.
In an office across town, Schwartz and Sandoval sit together in a waiting room. It's a rough day for Schwartz. Sandoval is getting his tattoo removed so they will no longer be ass tattoo buds and it’s sad when something real ends. I'm not taking it too badly, though. I think these two will be married to one another in less than a decade and I'm already happy for them. But before I can purchase them some flatware, Ariana calls to tell Sandoval that Jax – age 36 – claims that the reason he lost his mind the other night and formulated sentences like, "I'm the most popular one!" was all because Sandoval wanted to talk about his band. The entire fight between these two is so silly and there's no time to focus on any of it because we're about to see Sandoval’s ass tattoo get removed with a device that looks like it was developed in a medieval torture chamber.
In an IKEA-and-Pier-1-decorated torture chamber across town, Stassi is starting to feel right at home getting trashed on Kristen's couch during the daytime. She's even able to offer her benefactor some support! Kristen, who is known mostly for her dramatic roles, is involved in a comedy project (besides Vanderpump Rules) and she's a bit nervous about it, but the subject almost immediately gets changed to Stassi’s obsession with Katie, a girl who seems to have somehow morphed from Dullest Vanderpumper Ever into Queen Bee of a hive I’d guess is rather sticky. Stassi doesn't know what to do because Katie won't talk to her, but Kristen has an idea! She will drag Katie to Palm Springs and shove her unknowingly into a room with her former best friend and she will hope for the best and she says this like it's actually a very good and sane idea. Stassi, who is clearly losing her mind due to what I hope is some undiscovered form of Stockholm Syndrome, hops on board with the “Blindside Her Into Listening To My Apology” plan and then she and Kristen sit side by side on a couch and lament the loss of friendships they didn’t seem to appreciate in the first place.
In yet another waiting room, Brittany is filling out medical forms for her breast enhancement while her miserable boyfriend tells her that he's unhappy in all areas of his life. He feels like he's falling back into bad habits and he doesn’t want that for himself so he tries to be a little more mature right then and there and he accomplishes such a feat by fondling some silicon in the doctor’s office, saying "boobs" several times in a row, and purchasing his new girlfriend some new tits.
Who says bad habits can't be broken?
As for those new breasts, Jax all but peer pressures his girlfriend (who might not ever become President of MENSA) into believing that yes, she totally wants to be a D cup, and the two of them giggle once the decision is made and I sort of hope that her new cleavage crushes one of them during the night.
Two people who probably should be in a doctor’s office are Scheana and Shay, but they are at home where they’re having another conversation about his drinking issues and her mothering issues and, listen, these are major issues – true problems – and now it seems that Shay has some other problems too. The guy is thirty and has no career and no prospects but he does have a new video game. One day he would like to teach and coach, he says. But looking at these two? That day seems very hard to imagine.
In a happier space, Ariana rubs lotion on her boyfriend's tender heiny and then Jax enters and the mood grows dark. He's there to help remove the couch on which he once nailed Sandoval’s girlfriend while Sandoval’s slept blissfully oblivious in the next room. Now, I'm not sure how great it would be for the environment to burn Naugahyde, but I think the thing should be destroyed forever and we can maybe risk a minor biohazard to rid the world of that stained sofa. While moving the furniture, Jax decides to keep the change he finds beneath the cushions so maybe he can also purchase Brittany some brand new nipples as well. The peace between the three of them does not last. Outside, Sandoval and Ariana confront Jax about his crazy behavior and he reacts by crazily screaming and yelling and pointing fingers and deciding that it's Ariana who is escalating the situation and I really wanted him to walk down the street muttering, "Congratulations, Ariana – you win," but I guess some dreams don’t come true.
Now it's the day of Brittany’s surgery and Jax, backwards baseball hat and all, is positively giddy about the gigantic boobs heading his way. The surgeon begins the procedure by saying, "Let's rock and roll," and Jax compares his girlfriend's swollen chest to a 70" TV – evidentially not a flat screen – and then enters the recovery room by calling her "Boobs McGhee."
I swear that I no longer think this guy is real.
Over at SUR, Lala chats with Peter about how she's now reading Ayn Rand because she's had the time to allow philosophy into her life after cutting James loose. Peter's got some good gossip about the guy the planet at large will eventually name Earth’s Best DJ – so long as all the other DJs have gone missing first. Seems James and Richardson, Lisa's head guy at Pump, got into a spat that might or might not have started after James decided to drunkenly profess his love for Kristen. Apparently, James told Richardson that the guy is below him and he tossed several other class-related insults the guy's way. Upon hearing this information, Lisa is appalled and I hope that we'll get to watch him be fired in slow motion after which he'll ride off on a Pegasus into the animated heavens just like the Real Kanye’s mother did during his fashion show/album release/most recent pubic mental breakdown.
Back home and sore, Brittany needs Jax's help and he's not really a guy so accustomed to helping, but since new tits are part of the equation, he summons up all the kindness he can muster. She requires assistance bathing and changing and peeing and all I can think when I look at her is that she's only been here for a few months and her boyfriend has already been arrested and she's already had some surgery. Katie and Schwartz stop by next and they let Jax and Brittany know that they're having a party at the beach while they take their engagement photos and Lala will be there because Katie wants to stop the invitation fatwa they've been randomly waging against one another. Schwartz is kind of dreading taking the engagement photos for reasons I don't fully understand and this is maybe the most grumpy engaged couple I've seen since that girl I know got engaged to that gay guy.
On the beach, the happy couple meets up with Sandoval, Ariana, Shay and Scheana. Why there's a crowd gathered to watch them take engagement photos confuses me, as does the fact that anyone feels the need to make sure that other people know that Jax's account of things might not be totally accurate since he's a fucking pathological liar. Still, it takes Sandoval explaining things slowly to Scheana for her to finally understand that Jax is the asshole in the latest scenario, not him. And then the asshole arrives and he really wants to hear a story about someone who might be a bigger moron than he is, so Scheana puts on her Mother Goose outfit and tells Jax The Tale of James. The story goes that James wandered into work at Pump already drunk and insulted everyone in his eyeline and now he has to answer for his actions. The guy he verbally abused will be there as Lisa tries to get to the bottom of the guy’s latest fuck up. She knows he's going to be a ball of warped contrition – that he will beg her for another shot – and that's just what he does. He tells her the Lure of Kristen made him behave badly and he’s sorry the night became a complete fiasco. In another language, Lisa implores Richardson to reveal just what it was James said to him that night and it turns out to have been some form of, "You're nothing and I'm James Kennedy," making the White Kanye slightly less grandiose in his assertions of self-mastery than Real Kanye. As for Lisa, she wants James to understand that those are the kind of words he speaks when he's drunk and that he's maybe not cut out to work at Pump. In response, James rolls his eyes and begs for just a suspension and Lisa tells him to go away and grow the fuck up. His response is to cry and to ask about his Pump CD and then fold his arms across his chest when it’s revealed that the greatest DJ in the land has been demoted to being a busboy.
That sound you hear in the distance is Kanye West weeping about how he’s now the planet’s sole genius.
At a party she was finally invited to, Lala feeds right in to Jax's blatant instigation when he asks her where James is and how he can possibly be involved with someone new when he was just shouting about his love for Kristen from the gutters. Desperately needing a friend because of that time she was ostracized in the third grade, Lala happily agrees that James sucks before the conversation changes to Kristin and how she brought a new guy to her comedy showcase where she made sure to tongue him in front of cameras just in case Sandoval stumbled across the footage. But Ariana could care less about the new guy in her stalker's life. What she wants to concentrate on here is how Kristen is pretending that she knows anything about sketch comedy when that bitch hasn't even taken a motherfucking class and nobody takes sketch comedy more seriously than Ariana and that must be why people always seem to have such a joyful time in her presence. Nobody laughs anymore, though, after Katie tells Ariana that she's being really gloomy right now and Ariana responds by saying that she's been pretending to enjoy Katie and Scheana's company for about a year. There's a beat of silence that tends to follow the truth and one is taken here as well and into that silence bounds James. He has shown up with some girl named Laurel, but Lala has vowed not to break and allow jealousy over this idiot to consume her. She glares at James who in turn glares at Kristen who is staring out into the abyss and wondering how long it will take for the tides to sweep Ariana away forever and this is what I'm talking about: there is zero reason for so many adults who dislike one another so severely to ever be in the same space and these people just keep thrusting themselves back into these questionable scenarios in an attempt to revisit relationships that are brimming to the rusty rim with toxins and they are getting fucking paid to do it.
Proving once again that he is a garbage person, Jax immediately sits down with Kristen to tell her that Ariana was talking major shit about her and her new mastery of sketch comedy. See, Jax once accidentally stumbled into a Psychology 101 class after he stole a beer cozy from a campus bookstore and, harnessing his impressive education, he now has a plan. In an effort to redirect all of the problems he's caused with Sandoval, he will instead blame Ariana for riling him up and to prove that Ariana is nuts, he will have Kristen attack her in public so Ariana can lash out and prove her total lack of stability in the process.
I didn't say it was a good plan.
Nothing makes Kristen happier than the thought that Ariana hates her because that must mean that Ariana perceives her as a threat! But while she alleges that therapy has made her far less confrontational, the thought of verbally bitch-slapping her until Ariana eats sand gets her all tingly. (Guess ignoring the issue is just out of the question. Did therapy not cover that strategy?) They all start screaming at one another and it comes out quickly that Jax and Scheana have been talking about Ariana a lot ("It's because you're negative," explains the crazy lady. "If you can just be positive and be normal...") and see, that's when I would have gotten up and either calmly stated, "Fuck this" and removed my microphone and walked away into the sunset or ripped every stringy hair out of Kristen’s head and made a dreamcatcher out of it that I would hang over the bed where I happily slept with the bitch’s ex-boyfriend.
As for why she's so close to people who used to abhor her, Kristen wants Sandoval to know it's because she has learned to own her shit and Ariana and Sandoval stare at her kind of blankly when she says that, but I think it's because they're just scared and I sort of don't blame them because Kristen is so delusional that she has become a genuinely terrifying presence.
On another section of the beach, Jax laments to Peter about how there must be something wrong with him to be this age and still be so screwed up. He is not proud of himself for a lot of his actions and he wonders if there is "something wrong upstairs" because he is fueled by a mindset in which he needs other people to be talking about him or it means something is wrong. Maybe the guy has a narcissism disorder. Could be that he's a common sociopath. Perhaps he's just a jerk. Whatever it is, with an interior monologue like the one he’s got running through his brain, a reality show is either the perfect place for him to exist or the very thing that might eventually drive him legitimately mad.
Do I believe that Jax feels badly about the problems he’s caused for himself and for others? Sure. Do I think that anything will ever change? Not in a zillion years. But on the plus side, I have discovered that watching Vanderpump Rules can be both an edifying and soothing experience. I have learned that there is no limit to the damage former friends can inflict upon one another and I look back now at the people who are no longer in my life and I forgive every single one of them. Not one ever slapped me across the face or recommended that I puff up my tits. As far as I know, not one ever slept with my boyfriend on a couch I paid for or told me that she faked enjoying my company and what all this means is that I have officially decided to just move on. I even forgive the girl who stole my hoodie!
Fucking bygones, am I right?
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.