“Thirtyish woman seeking best friend. I hate hipster irony and suburban blandness in equal measure. I love learning, dancing (mostly to hip hop right now), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Beyoncé, obviously (I play her concerts on repeat while I’m working), classy-ass cocktails and wheat- and sugar-free cooking (but I’m not an asshole about it, I promise), as well as Virginia Woolf, Frida Kahlo and Hedy Lamarr—my icons. I’m into people who know how to spell, too. If you share some of my perspectives and value consistent, drama-free fun times with friends, we might hit it off! I am super open to all identities and welcome everyone—except straight men. Straight men need not apply, thanks.”
So read an ad I posted on Craigslist earlier this summer. I’d finally finished my dissertation in art history and, after what felt like 100 years of solitude, I realized, semi-shocked, that I no longer had any truly close besties with whom to celebrate. I used to have lots, but over the years, we’ve moved around, some have married and some have had babies. We stay in touch, but we’re not tight like we once were. I’m fortunate in many ways: I’m educated, I’m employed and I even found my dream dude by a fluke on Facebook. Yet, I still want the kind of friendship I read about in Judy Blume books: sandy limbs tangled sleepily in the sun, shared nail polish, late-night confessions and unconditional support punctuated by a heartfelt fight once a decade or so—but only because we love each other so damn much. Is that kind of closeness even possible in the post-grad years? Like learning a language or playing the piano, making a best friend is easy when you’re a kid but crazy-hard as an adult.
You wouldn’t know it looking at pop culture right now. Real-life besties Amy Poehler and Tina Fey star in the forthcoming comedy Sisters. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer created Broad City, a hilarious comedy about two BFFs getting high and slacking away their 20s. Then, of course, there’s Taylor Swift’s bestieship with Karlie Kloss, which includes coordinated ensembles, a shared Vogue cover and a viral video of them facing off to determine who is the best best friend. Thanks largely to Swift, such high-achieving power couples are increasingly expanding into squads, gangs of accomplished babes with #squadgoals, a collective aspiration that can range from book-clubbing the forthcoming Patti Smith memoir to becoming the next Golden Girls. All this is a huge shift from the toxic frenemies I grew up watching, perhaps because female friends are the ones producing this content now instead of men. (Remember Brenda and Kelly competing for Dylan on Beverly Hills, 90210? Or the Machiavellian machinations of the Heathers? Guys created those characters.) I’m glad Swift and her squad are shifting the focus from romantic connections to equally important, often overlooked platonic ones, but I can’t get with their glossy, commercial brand of bonding. To me, it smacks of immense privilege and sets up an unrealistic ideal: no adult woman has time to cultivate 20 gorgeous, wildly successful model, actress and artist friends while still holding down a job, maintaining a romantic relationship and fitting in the countless other obligations that come with modern life.
Instead of a squad, I’d settle for just one close friend—a Thelma to careen into a canyon with one day. When I posted my Craigslist ad, many people wrote me to tell me how much they liked it but said literally nothing else. After sifting through a bunch of non-matches, I finally made a date with a girl who professed her love for the entire Knowles family and shared my hatred of small talk. Getting ready, I was surprisingly nervous. Maybe it was madness to start randomly meeting women from the Internet. I fretted over my outfit: a Beyoncé-Misfits mash-up tee with black skinnies and a slouchy black beanie. She wore a patterned neon-green miniskirt that flattered her thick-fit thighs. We got matcha lattes, walked in the sun and talked about female rappers, spirituality and bats. Afterwards, we added each other on Twitter, started texting about boys and manicures and made plans to go makeup shopping.
I had another date with a Twitter friend whom I’d never met. With my often obnoxious opinions and black-on-black uniform, I was excited to meet because her online persona is similarly dark and opinionated. When I saw her on the subway platform, I immediately felt good. She’s a writer-editor like me—but in porn—and our convos spanned goth-workout playlists, travel, feminism, Kim Kardashian and kombucha. We’re supposed to go out again, jogging and drinking—hopefully in that order. But she already has a bestie, who apparently brings her smoothies and makes her breakfast when she’s hungover.
This raised the issue of exclusivity—something I hadn’t considered in terms of platonic courtship. One of my dates commented: “Similar to how people want the type of romance they see in movies, on TV and in books , a lot of people are looking for that in friendship, too—soulmates.” I also found myself uneasy about whether or not to make the next move after I’d met someone for the first time: should I send a follow-up text or wait? Unfamiliar with the etiquette, I called Irene Levine, a psychologist and founder of The Friendship Blog (its tag line: advice for navigating friendship at every stage of life). She told me that searching for “the one” might not be the best approach.
“As a practical matter,” suggests Levine, “it’s prudent to have more than one friend because one individual can rarely fill all your needs.” As with romantic dating, it’s best to play the field.
That’s exactly what I did for much of the summer—until real responsibilities demanded my attention and I put my search on hold. Then something strange happened: there was a cool chick on Twitter whom I admired but assumed was a total stranger until she changed her profile picture and I recognized her face. I’d met her once at a Halloween party, where she was dressed as a dead Victorian child—a character from a morbid children’s book I love. I thought maybe the Twitterverse was sending me a sign, so I asked her out for drinks at my local dive. Over beers, we finished each other’s booze-fuelled sentences, ranting about politics (body, office, gender) and raving about the feminism of Magic Mike XXL. She kept referring to me as her soulmate. It’s too soon to tell, but this could be the beginning of a beautiful femship.
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