first person

I Rebounded From My Boyfriend With 4 Women

Photo: Leonora Hamill/Getty Images

The whole thing went down in a way that was so awful and banal, it could only have happened in New York on a Monday. When I woke up, I was part of a couple, as I had been for years; by the time I went to bed, I was not. Not that I actually made it to bed. I never got past the couch, where I spent the night weeping and drinking vodka out of a mug and quietly reciting lines from “Landslide” to myself, while he went to sleep at his best friend’s place. 

A few months later, everything was new. New studio apartment, new subway stop, new insides (bruised and scooped-out most days, jittery the rest). I also had a new project: remaking my social life. When you’re in a couple, you never need to work to get your communing-with-other-humans fix. Coupled life comes with a built-in social pulse, a baseline rhythm of meals, movie nights, and joint trips to the grocery store. I did discover the greedy pleasure of dinner alone at the bar, particularly when the restaurant was crowded and the novel freshly purchased. But I’ve never really been a solo bird. I’m one of those only children who are destined to spend their lives seeking teams to join to compensate for the siblings we never got to take car trips to Disneyland with. I shifted my natural extroversion into overdrive. I hosted parties and went to parties and asked everyone I knew and liked in New York City to brunch at least once.

A year later, one of my friends B went through a pretty bad breakup herself. Our friend K took control of the situation, announcing in her tough little bark, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna go to the Century 21 in Bay Ridge, we’re gonna buy you new sheets, and then we’re all going to the firemen’s bar.” K had had a long-term relationship end recently, too, so we trusted she had a handle on the protocol. K’s friend came and brought her friend X, who was newly single — figuring, I guess, that X could probably use some linen shopping with a rum-and-Coke chaser, too.

This was the beginning of what I sometimes call my breakup club but more often refer to by our self-assigned collective nickname, which is simultaneously too ridiculous and too precious to commit to print. (It has to do with our theory that the kind of men we wanted to meet could be found at fancy steakhouses.) A few weeks after Bay Ridge, we were joined by S, the sister of a friend who had just gotten divorced, and from that point on we were like Single Lady Voltron. Together, we were mighty.

We emailed each other every day, filling long Gmail chains even though we saw each other most weekends. We went grocery shopping together and met each other’s families when they came through the city. We referred to each other as “my loves” and reveled in the depth of quotidian details we knew about one another. You got the chickpeas on your salad today? That surprises me because I don’t see you as a legume person. We masked any sadness with breezy routines in which we cast ourselves as spinster heroines (ugh, who needs any of it; I just want to hang out with you guys). We texted just to say hello. We drank a shit-ton of wine. 

Rebound relationship is not a flattering term. It implies less-than, just-for-now, here-to-get-my-basest-needs-met. But now that I’ve been in one with four other women at once, I can see the beauty in the phrase. Because rebound suggests both the fall and the recovery, the hard smack and the swinging launch. As in any committed relationship, the five of us shared our highs and lows. I was lucky in my single New York days: I met a lot of sparkling, smart women to whom I felt comfortable telegraphing, I like friends. You seem cool. Let’s be friends! (It’s a thing women have more license to project than men, I think.) But with the club, I could also say, without fear that I might be wearing out my welcome, I’m lonely. I want things I do not have. I think I need to lie down here in the street for a while. Will you make sure I don’t get run over by any cars?

One night, S and I were out, just the two of us. S was the club member least like me: chic, put-together, like she was born on a polo field. I’m not sure we would have found each other if it hadn’t been for the post-breakup friend setup. We were a few Manhattans deep that night when, who knows — some combo of alcohol and loneliness and fear just cannonballed me, and I burst into profligate, snotty tears. S whisked me out of the bar and into the dark Brooklyn street, marching me into a bodega past the younger, male co-worker who had spotted me from across the street and was, horrifyingly, trying to wave hello. She bought me a bottle of water and then hailed us a cab to my new studio apartment, where she made me change out of my city-armor dress, took away my phone, and put me to bed. S sat next to me until I cried myself to sleep, and then she turned off the lights and let herself out.

About a year ago, I traded the snap-crackle-punch of New York for the fleecy mellowness of Seattle. I ostensibly moved for a job, but also because a kind of itchiness had crept into me. I found myself wanting to see who I might be away from the glittery tidal wave that is New York and all the identities I’d accumulated in my decade there. And while I’d never say that I “outgrew” the club, their affection and support was a big part of what made me feel secure enough, paradoxically, to leave them. I could move all the way across the country, to a city where I barely knew anyone, because they made me feel like the world wasn’t such a lonely place.

The club has changed over the years, as any group will. Individual relationships have shifted; the email chains have slowed. I feel less like a member of an intense, private society these days and more like a lucky girl with four great friends. But I’ll always think of the club as one of the most important relationships of my life, because they were my village when I needed one. They taught me that my life didn’t need to be limited to the peaks and valleys of coupledom and singlehood — a fierce love could find me at any time. 

I Rebounded From My Boyfriend With 4 Women