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F#!@ing Female Friendships, How Do They Work?

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!

By (e)Kelsium

Kelsium lives in Southern California with her partner and collection of almost (almost!) kill-proof plants. She enjoys the beaches, but finds the lack of acceptable bagels distressing. She considers herself an expert in red lipstick and internet rage.

17 replies on “F#!@ing Female Friendships, How Do They Work?”

The nature of having moved tens of times made me realize from a young age that not all friendships are going to last a lifetime and a lot of friendships, although they can be close at times, won’t always reach the BFF stage or will only temporarily be in that stage.

Currently, I don’t have any super tight female friends. I have girlfriends that I hang out with here and there for varying interests, but I don’t have one go to female friend. My best friend is my husband (cliche?), and growing up, my best female friends were my mom and my sister because no matter where we went or which continent we lived on, we at least had each other, a common shared past, etc. I don’t think I believe in the best female friend stereotype outside of Anne and Diana from L.M. Montgomery’s books.

I think a sign that you’ve grown up is that you eschew the horseshit idea that you have to have a best friend, or a group of very best friends, to the exclusion of any other kind of friendship, or relationship in general. Or at least, that’s the deal in my case. Growing up, I moved around a lot, which means I was the new kid a lot, which means I read a lot, which means, I had no best friends but wanted some dearly. Probably not even for the fun sleepover/whatever one does with BFFs parts of it, but just so I could be normal, and not stick out, because normal girls had best friends, everyone knows that. That need followed me all the way to college where I inflicted it on every woman I met, to hilariously disastrous effect.
As soon as I gave up on the idea of a friend/soul mate, I started making proper friends, or accepting the friendships I already had for what they actually were, rather than what I wanted them to be.

Meanwhile, I’ve honestly forgotten how to make friends, because the ones I have are so used to me being an abrasive asshole, and I can’t fake small talk. So, you know, we all have our issues, I guess.

Interestingly, Kaling does kind of address the lots of “bffs” vs. one really good friend thing in another part of the book (which I think you will love; I’m writing up my review of it for later this week). She talks about having this clique of friends and having bracelets with their initials and hanging out with them exclusively and then finding herself drifting away from them and to a friend that had more in common with her. I don’t have my copy with me right now, but she goes on to say something about friendships not needing bracelets to prove the friendship. I’m making it sound more sappy than it was in the book, but it’s a good point about, even from a young age, our tendency to have this idea of what friendships should be. And the disparity between that and what they actually feel like, which is different for everyone.

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!

this x500.  i love doing things alone.  i like to be by myself.  company is great too, but i just prefer doing most things solo.  i don’t really have THAT female friend.  i have some good friends, but not one you see in all those movies and tv shows, like you described.  i used to feel like i was missing out on something that EVERYONE has, but eh…i prefer having an assortment of people to hang out with, rather than JUST THAT AWESOME BFF or THAT AWESOME GROUP OF FRIENDS WHO DOES EVERYTHING TOGETHER ALWAYS.

 

I’m one of those women who thought (and wanted) for a very long time a large group of friends full of clichés (because that’s what they are). Sometimes I still do. But more and more often I realize that I prefer my time by myself and my not-categorizable friends over Moviegeek!Friend and Sexuality!Friend and Housewife!Friend.

So much this. I don’t have a female BFF but then again I’m not close to anyone, really. I mean, I have a Very Good Friend that I grew up with. She’s the type of friend I know I can call if I need a ride to the airport or something.  And then there are the friends I met thru her that have become my friends, too.

What I’m noticing is that there is one friend of mine who seems to be in some sort of one-sided competition with me to be the BFF of a mutual friend of ours. If she hears I spoke to her, she’s jealous. Or she’ll brag about how they went here or there and ask me if I’m upset they didn’t include me.  Que?  What is this?

But, what do you do when someone says you are their BFF and you are like, “Huh?” It makes me very uncomfortable to be considered someone’s BFF when I don’t feel the same way about them.

I have various groups of friends, and people in keep in better and worse touch with, and people whom I miss more and less when we’re apart and value more and less when we’re together, all of which is probably true for many of us. I have friends with whom I do different things, with whom I feel like I get to participate in different of my interests/enact different parts of my personality, etc. But sometimes I actually think I end up limiting my friendships this way, like when I assume my friends who I drink and watch TV with wouldn’t be interested in my academic stories; I could be closer to some people if I didn’t compartmentalize them so much. (Some friends–not all of them!) I have just been realizing recently that I tend to do this, and in my case it’s part of why I sometimes feel so MISUNDERSTOOD (insert my own angst). I don’t think that’s necessarily typical, but it’s an issue I’ve been noticing in myself.

The various groups of friends I have are all great, whether I’m a core “member” of the group or not, but sometimes I worry about how they might all know different parts of me, so that potentially if they all got together (like at a wedding or something), who would I be? Friendships are complicated, moral of my story.

The idea that one person could be the perfect complement to you in all ways is weird. That’d be like, your doppelganger/murderer, not your best friend. It’d be creepy. And what if that person like, fell in love and left you? Life over! Better to diversify, I say.

I love this post! My best friend is my dude, without a doubt. Things are good with us, but sometimes not having a woman as my best friend makes me feel like a codependent loser and a bad feminist to boot. Plus I also legitimately enjoy being alone, further compounding my “I’m an utter social failure complex.” It’s nice to get a reminder that friendships don’t have to follow a media-approved formula to work.

There’s a dark side to close female friendship that isn’t often explored publicly or casually (but it’s recognized psychologically and developmentally): the insular and eventually toxic female friendship.  Jennifer’s Body touched on this but not well enough.  The book The Myth of You and Me is about this, but again it’s not good enough to fulfill the need that just broaching this subject can create.  It is very difficult to find the middle ground between having one BFF who consumes your life and branching out into broader groups without feeling lonely and distant from everyone.

I think we don’t take ENOUGH for granted sometimes.  I have lots of acquaintances and many friends, some of whom I would genuinely call close friends even though I haven’t been to most of their houses or seen much of their inner mental landscapes.  Recently I was present for my friend’s surprise birthday party, at which her boyfriend also asked her to marry him.  I was so, so honored to have been invited, and momentarily thrown for a loop because as fond as I am of the couple, I hadn’t thought that they regarded me so highly.  I think most of us who are prone to over-analysis would be surprised to find out how many people consider us to be very good, dear friends.

Reading this, I remembered what Kurt Vonnegut wrote about why he thought so many marriages didn’t work out: “You’re not enough people”. He was talking about extended -v- nuclear families, but I think the same principle applies to friendships. As a child and teenager I was terribly anxious about my lack of a “best friend” and often put effort into friendships that didn’t deserve it, out of the hope that girl would suddenly become my “best friend” and I’d be “normal”.

Now I have about three distinct groups of friends, and some in each group I’m especially close to. The person I’d consider my “person” (Grey’s Anatomy reference, sorry) lives in another country and we get to see each other maybe twice a year, if we’re lucky. I also have a very good friend who I see maybe every three years, if we’re very lucky. But I don’t need my friendships to be exclusive or ‘monogamous’, and it’s better if they’re not.

Breaking my several-months PMag silence (wow, everything looks different, etc etc) to chime in.

When I left undergrad and moved far away and nobody ever visited me, I gave up on a lot of friendships. I’ve always had online friends, but I thought the friends I’d made In Real Life couldn’t possibly be friends if we never hung out together anymore. I’d been mistaken about the value of those relationships, or so I managed to convince myself. And sometimes that was true; some of them didn’t have the sticking power they’d had when all it took to re-attach them was a cup of coffee once a week. But I gave up on all of them.

It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto that I realized I’d really screwed up there. I’d had long-distance friendships for almost a decade by that point, online and on the phone and in some cases never once in person that I still valued immensely.

Then I got here. And for the first time, I had only one person. And he’s easily my best friend and I’m ok with that, but I found myself with a lot of loneliness, because I was missing people. So I called, or wrote, or emailed. I ate some crow and issued some major apologies. And I managed to salvage a few of them, the better ones.

This is a roundabout way of saying that now all of my friendships are long distance. My best-friend-who-shares-my-career (librarianpirate) and my best-friends-in-other-categories that happen on tumblr, the friends I’ve known since I was eight, the ones from college–they’re all in the same category now. And that’s both weird for me–I’d always sort of treated my long-distance friendships differently than my in-person ones–and really liberating, because I’m a lot more myself with people when they can’t see me blush (have I ever mentioned how prone I am to blushing?).

This comment isn’t really saying anything, and is responding to this post and your last one at the same time, and is mostly me working through the way I feel about my friends these days. I hope I get to see you in March. Carry on.

As usual, I feel like women are expected to live up to some high standard, and this time it has to do with friendships. Movies and teevee continue to tell us what is “normal” and “acceptable” when it comes to friends. Why are we still listening? The way you act in your relationships should have no bearing on anyone but yourself and the others in that relationship, yet women are expected to adhere to the Sex and the City trope of female friendships. The question is, why do we keep holding ourselves and others up to impossibly high standards, or even any standard at all? There is no right or wrong way to have a friend or be a friend. For instance, I have found, through Tumblr and other online places, that internet friends have become as important to me as IRL friends, and I never would have thought that 10 years ago. So we’re changing. We’re evolving. And we have to let this myth die out and stop listening to others who tell us what’s right and wrong for female friendships.

I think that expecting one person to fulfill all of your emotional needs, whether that person is a significant other or a BFF, is often really damaging, and yet it seems that’s what we’re sold, media-wise.

Too often it seems that there’s a hierarchy, that some loves should be more important than others, but even though some of my relationships are more intimate than others, that doesn’t mean they’re less important. And my relationship with myself is important, too, and takes work.

My only “friend requirement,” because I think it covers all, is care about me and know I care about you.

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