Like many of you, I’m pretty excited about Mindy Kaling’s new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Last week I read an excerpt that included her “Best Friend Rights and Responsibilities,” all of which are very reasonable, I suppose, if you have that kind of relationship with someone. Sure, I guess if I knew my lady friends’ preferences for feminine hygiene products I would keep them around. And I guess if my lady friends and I ever slept in the same place with intention – as in, not because we passed out drunk before we forgot to stumble home – we would sleep in the same bed. And I’m sure if I had friends who didn’t take taking me for granted, and vice-versa, as a given, I would explicitly tell them that it’s fine to take me for granted. I’m sure all of those things are true, hypothetically, but who has friends like that? It seems like everyone, but when I compare these kinds of standards to the people in my life, and even when I ask the other women I know about their friendships, it seems like the answer is hardly anyone.
I have a friend with whom I play the “Guess Who I Hate Game” (like Twenty Questions, but spiteful!) and drink bottles of Barefoot while watching Mythbusters or Pinky and the Brain. I have a friend with whom I go to Big Lots and buy tacky costume jewelry. I have a friend with whom I occasionally end up doing shots named “The Vagina” with bouncers named Thor. I have a friend with whom I bake cookies and carve pumpkins and plan elaborate craft projects that we never seem to get around to actually starting. I have a friend with whom I share all of my silliest, deepest insecurities about myself while we take long walks in the wee hours of the morning. However, none of these friends are the same person, only about half of them are ladies, and only a couple of them are even friends with each other.
The mythology of the BFF, sometimes Best Friends Forever, but in this context, Best Female Friend, is almost as deeply ingrained for me as the mythology of the soul mate, or the one and only romantic partner for you forever and ever until death do you part, Amen. Honestly, I don’t believe in either, but that doesn’t stop me from occasionally feeling as if I am somehow failing at Being a Lady Person 101 because I don’t have a single lady friend, or a single lady friend group, who will loan me clothes, nurse me back to health, tell me my ass looks fat in the sequined skirt I really really really am desperately in love with but maybe only because it’s marked down to ten dollars at T. J. Maxx and it’s shiny, and whose approval I require on my romantic partnerings.
In one Sex and the City episode, our intrepid lady sex-havers and city-dwellers decide, as if it is some great overarching female victory, that they are each other’s soul mates. (Side note, Sex and the City: still relevant? Clearly, if I am still mentally using it as the pop cultural barometer of representations of female friendship!) And that’s great! And if you have friendships like that, good for you! I am so glad! However, I guess I find the representation of the “girl needs her bestie(s)” narrative to be kind of tiresome, don’t you?
Something I found revelatory about this past summer’s lady-movie mega-hit/supposed game changer for women in comedy Bridesmaids was the moment in which, feeling as though she has lost her BFF, Annie (Kristen Wiig’s character), asserts to Megan (Melissa McCarthy’s character), that she doesn’t have any friends. Megan responds by smacking her around a little, both verbally and physically, pointing out that there is a person right in front of Annie trying to be her friend. Later, Rose Byrne’s character, Helen, sniffles to Annie that she doesn’t have any female friends as the two of them try to work together to find their mutual friend in time for her wedding. These two moments, which I didn’t feel the film explored in any depth – and I wish it had – struck me as deeply truthful insights into women’s perceptions of the validity of their own relationships.
I think a lot of women feel that because their relationships don’t match up to the mythical movie and television ideal of how a female friendship is supposed to function and what kind of rights and responsibilities a friend has, they are somehow less legitimate. Women don’t get drunk in groups of four and label each other Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha because of the shoes and the Cosmopolitans, despite what a lot of people seem to still believe. They do it because the ritualization of the comparison to the characters feels as though it will validate their own connections and their own groups’ mechanisms of friendship. But what if you don’t have a Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha? Does that mean you are missing out?
And what if you don’t have any Taco Tuesday friends? Or what if your Taco Tuesday friends all live in different cities? The conclusion that Bridesmaids seems to come to is that Annie’s relationship with her BFF won’t end because her friend is getting married, moving to a different city, and meeting new people; it will just be different. However, it seems like overall we have yet to develop representations of female friendship – or any friendship, really – that accounts for an era in which we are able to continue close relationships with people with whom we are unable to get tacos or pink drinks on a weekly, or even yearly, basis and in some cases, may form close relationships with people we have never even met in person.
And what if you are a person who likes to do things alone, or who doesn’t like to consult with people on her personal life? I have recently discovered that I am one of these people, but it isn’t something that I ever would have learned about myself if not for necessity. Since I relocated for school two years ago, I have discovered that I am perfectly capable of doing almost everything all by myself. And let me tell you, people will look at a woman alone in public, at the mall, at the beach, at a church service, like the flying purple people eater. Look at me! I am The Amazing Woman Who Sits on a Park Bench Eating a Sandwich Without Company! We are socialized to be social creatures. This isn’t to say that I am not a social person, but that the extent to which I had come to believe in my reliance on doing things with friends was a fabrication.
Media representations of women who function without female friendship are pretty much limited to the Cold-Hearted Corporate Bitch, Sad Sack, Action Heroine, or Girl Who Prefers the Guys Because Bitches Be Crazy, Am I Right?, and Smug Married categories. Is it so much to ask to see a woman sit alone on a park bench eating a sandwich without company without the absence of her sassy bestie being a noticeable plot point? And while the conventional wisdom for healthy, and even feminist, heterosexual relationships–I can’t speak as accurately regarding the conventional wisdom about queer relationships, having never been advised in how to be in one – is that you should find your best friend and marry him, it seems that women who have done that and are content are regarded with suspicion, or as somehow kidding themselves into ignoring what they lack.
Some women have a best friend. Some women have three. Some women are best friends with their partners. Some women only have casual friends. Some women’s best friends live in different countries. Some women have never met their best friend in person. All of these companionship formations are equally valid, but not equally represented. I find that disappointing and, ultimately, damaging.
What say you? Do you have a best friend? What are the basic “rights and regulations” in your friendship? Or do you have many friends who fulfill different specific needs for you? Do you live near your friends, or far away? Do you consider your Internet friends a separate pool from your in-person friends, or not? Share your thoughts in the comments!