I’d like to thank Kate Elliott for starting this chewing on my brain.
There’s a weird social cachet that comes from being a girl who’s “only friends with boys”. It paints the image of a girl who has no time for “drama” (a ubiquitous concept that seems difficult to define only that it’s usually “girls being crazy”) and who doesn’t care about the various stereotypically “girly” topics or activities, to her credit. She’s down to earth, fun, and usually a little bit transgressive.
Because girls can’t actually be friends, you see. Girls are inherently catty; they go to each other’s throats after ridiculous things; they’ll stop speaking to each other for weeks or even months for reasons no one else can understand. Meanwhile, guys can get mad, punch each other, and go back to normal no problem, because they understand that friendship is paramount. Girls, on the other hand, only stick together until a boy comes to give their real attention.
I used to subscribe whole-heartedly to this mythos, to the extent that I actually retconned my own history in order to fit into it. I think back on it now and I want to slap myself.
I was an awkward kid. I was not pretty, I hated my body, I was profoundly uncomfortable with femaleness and the idea that my physical self was transforming into this undeniably female … thing … that I would cry myself to sleep. I had no interest in dating, and considered makeup and female dress to be pretty much the signs of the apocalypse. Somewhere along the line I decided that being friends with “mostly guys” fit my narrative better, and so I told myself it was so.
In elementary school, I was mostly on the sidelines (or dragged into the middle) as two particular friends divided our grade into turf wars again and again and again, and so I used that as the fuel to start my story. I told people how I hung out with guys in high school and how it was so much better than the drama-filled backstabbing friendships I watched my girl friends have with each other. I was more evolved than that, and since I was decidedly not attractive and therefore not seen as a sexual object by any of the guys I hung out with, I did manage to sit back and chat with them without incident, and it did seem like I connected better with them.
Until I thought about it, and here’s the thing: I may have hung out with a lot of guys for a lot of high school — I might have sat with them in class, or in the cafeteria before the first bell in the morning — but I was not friends with any of them.
Who did I call when my mom got cancer, again? When I fought with my parents? When a teacher upset me? When the pressure of being the perfect oldest child got to me? When I had no real reason, but just felt icky and needed sympathy? When I wanted to sit and not be judged or questioned but just know that, deep down underneath it all, I was accepted and loved?
My girl friends. The ones I was so eager to dismiss because society said I’d be a cooler girl if I did.
I would not have trusted any of those guys whose friendship I so eagerly declaimed with my personal feelings. They would have laughed. Our “friendship” was based on sitting together and making nasty remarks about others, except that because we did it while laughing and being “clever” instead of the sly, subtle way girls backtalked, I somehow thought it was okay.
I can think of very few guys I knew in high school that I was actually, genuinely friends with, who would hang out with me on our own instead of in the group at school. Fewer still whom I would trust with my feelings, my fears. This is not a rant against guys, or to say that mixed-sex friendships can’t and don’t exist, because they do. I have them. But I wonder how many girls who toss their heads and say that they just “connect better” with boys because there’s “no drama” would actually be able to call any of those boys at three in the morning, in tears, and feel better at the end of that phone call.
Again and again and again, while I can think of maybe three guys with whom I had an actual close friendship in high school, by sheer number, the girls win out. Girls saw me through my first awkward, sexless crushes; girls saw me through every illness my mother had in my childhood and adolescence; through school stress and parent stress and work stress; through hating myself, my body, my femininity, my failures. Girls taught me that no matter how weak we think we are, there’s strength together.
No matter how exasperated I was with Girl A for being obsessed with Boy B, whom she’d never really talked to, or Girls B and C for starting a huge throwdown and declaring their friendship over FOREVER (again), as soon as I needed them, I knew who to call. And the thing is, if they needed me, if they called me — about boy trouble, parents divorcing, family health issues, pets dying, suicidal thoughts — I would drop everything for them, and they knew it.
It sickens me that I would erase that because the social narrative paints female friendships as these fickle, worthless things. Because a girl whose strongest relationships are other girls is written off as silly, as having no real meaningful connections.
It sickens me to see it in life; it sickens me to see it reflected in fiction, in our movies and books and television. Female friendships should be celebrated, should be given every bit as much consideration as the venerable bromance. It’s time to stop rewriting history.
To my girl friends, if any of them read this: I love you, and I’m sorry.