Girls the day after the night of truth-telling. Photo: Mark Schafer
Is there anything quite like the disappointment of a faded best female friendship? Of the rigid forced fun of ‘girls nights’ ‘like old times’ where everybody emails all day about how excited they are and then on the night wishes they were home watching True Detective with their boyfriends. Or worst of all, sit in silence, stirring their outrageous drinks that somebody ordered a round of and not really drinking them. Someone will drink too much, someone will gab too much and too brightly, someone simmers, and everybody goes home feeling a little bit bereft because things have changed, and if this group of women aren’t your best friends, then who are you really?
The epic truth telling/healing gone wrong scene in this week’s episode of Girls reminded me of best-friendships past. For reference here is a handy Buzzfeed listicle on the friendships you will have in your life. I would like to add in the best friend you have when you’re on a just broke up with someone bender, inclusive in that is the BFF you have when you’re single and on the prowl and the pen pal best friend that you met on social media.
But unlike Hannah and Marnie in Girls, whose best-friendship has long been on the rocks (oh the wound fight!), I don’t have a BFF.
Rashida Jones as Ann Perkins, Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in an episode of Parks and Recreation. Photo: NBC
Rather, I have an assortment of excellent female friends that I have cherry picked throughout the last 28 years. The women in my life, as Parks and Recreations' Leslie Knope would say to her BFF, Ann Perkins, are of the“beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk ox” variety. But I’m glad, and feel fortunate, that there’s more than one of them.
Indeed I’m quite sure that having one BFF, a sole person to transmit all of your frankly terrifying hopes, fears and desires onto is actually a flawed concept.
Look at what happened when everybody got drunk and mean – “truthful” - at Marnie’s family friend’s beach house.
“All you’ve done for the past couple of years is disappoint me,” Marnie tells Hannah.
“Well, then maybe you should lower your expectations,” Hannah fires back.
“I can’t lower them any further,” Marnie says, cold as ice.
Having a BFF can mean piling unrealistic expectations on them until they’re more like a construct rather than a real, and flawed, person. We might be our most vulnerable selves around them, but giving too much to one person can mean a lot of responsibility for the upkeep of one’s sense of calm, purpose and happiness. Yes, you don't have an automatic maid of honour/chief bridal slave should you get married, and your life might not look like a Kate Hudson movie, but that's a small price.
Beyond Girls, pop culture is full of the aching disappointment and sadness that is a fizzled out BFF relationship. Look at how Frances Ha and Sophie can never quite get their bed sharing closeness back when one moves on before the other. Or how in Bridesmaids Annie almost ruins Lillian’s wedding because she can’t let her go and doesn’t want to share her. The eight best friends in Mary McCarthy’s 1963 game-changing book The Group scatter and separate after the intense closeness that living on campus at university tends to create and is then impossible to maintain. And Nora in Claire Messud’s brilliant novel published last year, The Woman Upstairs has everything she had pinned on her best friendship with Serena implode in the most humiliating and soul shattering way.
This is not to say that best friendships with women are not the most important relationship you will have, or that you should only be friends with dudes because they’re “less drama” (only people with low self-esteem ever say this). They are important, and they do need to be nurtured.
A best friend is, as Katie Heaney writes in her new memoir about never having a boyfriend, Never Have I Ever (the best friendships that were built on that game!) a “lighthouse person,” “magnetic and luminescent.”
In fact never before has female friendship been quite so (rightly) celebrated as now. As Michelle Dean in The New Yorker wrote in a piece about writer and political theorist Hannah Arendt and novelist Mary McCarthy’s unlikely best-friendship “We are in a moment of unprecedented popular interest in the matter of female friendship, and this has been greeted as a triumph for feminism.”
But perhaps we need to take more applications for best friends in our life, and be open to the idea that sometimes, just how the fake silver on those two halves of a BFF heart necklace will oxidise, some best friendships are only for a certain time.
Not all make the distance and leaving them behind might be the bravest and most beneficial thing that you do. It will also save you from ever having to go on a group holiday for “healing time”, because you’ve probably already talked about what’s been bothering you. And it might just be that it’s time to break-up.