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Yes, We’re In A Relationship and No, Not That Kind: A Look at Female Friendships

Sterls and I met at an opportune time. We sat across from each other at a scuffed wooden table placed in a tiny “conference” room at the university newspaper. It took some warming up on her end, but we soon spent all our time together, talked about each other nonstop, and slept in each other’s beds every night. Our relationship was one that developed so fast, that everyone in our proximity was slightly overwhelmed. Despite both of our mother’s (and some of our separate friends) insistence, we were not romantically involved but were very much smitten.

So smitten in fact, that when we got into a huge argument and Sterls sent a rapid succession of texts exclaiming “how she couldn’t do this anymore” (she’s very dramatic y’all), I got out of bed, went into the communal shower and sobbed for 45 minutes.

Dramatic fight? Check. Oscar-winning reaction on my behalf? Check. Hot water beating down the back of my neck in a subtle parallel to the internal beating I was taking? Check, check and check. Just imagine, two strong-willed and terrified young black women arguing in the middle of Oklahoma, trying to slam no-slam doors.

Our friendship was made for the big screen, yet we rarely see female buddy movies as often as their male counterparts. Besides the obvious sexism running rampant in Hollywood, intimacy factors a large role in what we see on-screen. There is a pervasive uncomfortability with intimacy and vulnerability between two people of the same gender seeping out of the media we consume and into our daily lives. It is assumed that because two people are extremely close, there must be sexual implications. And if there aren’t any? That’s just strange.

In reality, there is no greater feeling than being close to someone without worrying if romance and lust are going to roll in and bungle everything up. I cried harder over that “breakup” than I have over anything I’ve experienced because of dating. Our friendship made my days better and helped me dream of a brighter future. She’s inspired me solely on her sheer brilliance and made me want to be the best friend that I possibly can.

Sterls and I made up a couple of weeks later, but that fight and the intensity of how strongly we cared for one another set the precedent for the rest of our friendship. When I think on it now, I’m reminded of the huge fight Molly and Issa got into in the first season of Insecure. It was rooted in a genuine concern for one another that quickly spun out of control. The fight wasn’t about men or petty jealousies, but a serious need for therapy in Molly’s case and a lack of honesty from Issa.

My best friends and I will continue to have fights throughout the rest of our friendship. We will continue to pave the way for what female friendships mean for us and the people we see on screen. I did not see many representations of this kind of bond in mainstream American media growing up. The biggest films of my time, Mean Girls and High School Musical, weren’t exactly meccas of female empowerment and solidarity. Great movies but extremely “eh” friendships.

The women in the shows that I watched growing up were friends, sure, but all they seemed to talk about were men and shopping and men again. Don’t get me wrong, I find myself talking about my dating mishaps with friends often– a little too often because I am not good at it– but those conversations always steer towards what we’re learning about ourselves and how much we appreciate the support from the rest of the friend group. We don’t sip Cosmos and take off gallivanting into a New York sunset every time we see each other.

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Solid female friendships can be something special and magical– but they do require work. There’s an insane amount of support, building each other up and shared tears and disappointment. There is nothing like having a good female friend and it is about time that norm is reflected in media.

I am not the only woman with strong, deep friendships, but you’d think otherwise from what you see onscreen. It’s implied that women cease to exist when there are no men around to be talked about or interacted with and that we have no issues outside of men. That is hardly the case.

We fight a lot, about small stuff and big stuff and then we make up and try to treat each other better the next time. We party together and roll our eyes together and sometimes we sit around and braid each other’s hair. What I, and I’m positive many other women, experience in my friendships is a depth that often isn’t reflected on-screen. Female bonds are often depicted as rooted in jealousy and united in misery. I would have assumed before that maybe it is something that is hard to capture or explain, but in reality that isn’t the issue.

Until recently, not enough women were allowed to make movies, shows and other on-screen features about what happens when you fall head-over-non-romantic-heels in love with your best friend. Luckily we live in an age where more women are creating and producing stories that feature the true depth of female friendship.

We can tune into Illana worshipping Abby’s butt on Broad City. We can watch Issa taunt Molly about her broken vagina and then show up at her house with hot Cheetos on Insecure. We can see the Crystal Gems learn how to rebuild and communicate effectively after being lied to by one of their friends on Steven Universe. Thanks to the increasing rank of shows and movies about women, by women, we can scheme and devise new plans and dreams for a brighter future– together.

By Mikala Everett
Cover Photo: AP/Ali Goldstein