I’ve been watching Girls on HBO. 8 episodes in, I still wasn’t impressed. I wanted to like it because Lena Durham is a good writer and she’s so comfortable showing her body. I wanted to overlook that the show is so white that it’s set in New York City and still doesn’t have any people of color in it. I wanted to applaud her for letting sex be weird and not at all sexy. But I’ve been ambivalent. I was excited about the buzz before it debuted, and disappointed that it hasn’t yet lived up to the hype for me.
This week’s episode, which was more about friendship than sex, finally made me think that this show might live up to my expectations. Mostly, I wanted it to be more relevant to me than Sex and the City.
Don’t get me wrong—I was a fan of SATC. I watched Carrie and friends religiously in college. I may have been very punk rock and anti-establishment Freshman year, but my idea of a fun Friday night was curling up on my bean bags with Mike (the friend that would later introduce me to Mister BS) to watch a slew of episodes. Four girls—who I don’t really talk to anymore—and I all had martini glasses that said “single and fabulous” and we went as the foursome to a Halloween party one year. I wrote a paper about the show for an American Studies class that required me to analyze constructions of race, gender, and class in popular television. I knew it would never reflect my reality, and that the characters were all at least a decade older than me, but if I had to pick a TV show that reminded me of my college years, it would be Sex and the City.
Girls went ahead and just made the inevitable comparison to Sex and the City in the first episode (a show about a writer and her three friends living in NYC… it’s gonna happen). Shoshanna, the virgin who says “like” a lot, has a SATC poster in her room and is shocked when her cousin Jessa has not heard of the show. So that scene was a good strategy to get me over the similarities, and I like self-referential humor. And Girls was poised to be more realistic. The girls live in Brooklyn and not Manhattan. They don’t wear designer clothes. Their problems are similar to my own, or at least ones that I was dealing with just a few years ago (I’m a couple of years older than the Girls girls). The relationship drama is well outside my experience, but I have been thinking about girlfriends and what they mean to me a lot lately, so I was glad when last week’s episode tackled that issue with Marnie and Hannah’s big blowout.
Perhaps friendship has been on my mind so much because I’ve been reading this book, MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche.
I’m the same age as Rachel was when she embarked on her yearlong search for a new best friend. I am also married. And white (though not Jewish). So when this book made its way onto the weekly top ten (meaning it was among the ten most requested books) at the library, I added it to my hold list. I was looking for nonfiction titles that aren’t too heavy and dense—it’s summer, after all. And I’ve never been particularly good at making friends. When Rachel moved to Chicago she longs for a girlfriend she can call “just to say hi” or invite over to watch TV or meet for last-minute brunch, and I don’t have someone like that who also lives in Lawrence, so I could relate to her predicament.
I’ve had the same best friend since I was in first grade. We bonded over a fuchsia crayon and have been close ever since. Luckily, she still lives under an hour’s drive away, so we see each other frequently. But she has a young son (who I adore) but who makes it more difficult to schedule BFF time. So though I’m technically not in the market for a new best friend, I could relate to the idea of being married, childless, and not having a lot of in-town BFFs. And seriously, who couldn’t use more friends?
Rachel’s book is a chronicle of 52 “friend-dates” which she embarks on with the idea of meeting a new BFF before the year is out. Not someone to replace her NYC besties from childhood, but someone local. Interspersed in the chronicles of her quest are lots of pop-psychology references. Her writing is occasionally amusing—she’s at least not afraid to share stories that make her seem a little odd or crazy, and I like that—but I don’t think we’d “click”. She has a very narrow view of the world, for all her talk of travel and seeming sophistication, and we don’t share any common interests (I hate reality TV and gossip magazines, two of her favorite topics). But even if I didn’t like Rachel, I wonder, could I strengthen my existing friendships, and perhaps meet some new ones, by employing her techniques?
I’ll confess that I don’t make friends easily. I am not particularly social. I don’t tend to seek out new friends or ask people about themselves or anticipate that they’ll care about my life. In this way I’m the opposite of my husband. Mister BS knows everyone. I’m often annoyed when we’re constantly stopping to chat with people on the street when we’re strolling downtown or if he invites along a friend to our date night dinner reservation.
I blame my difficulty with making new friends on growing up in a very small town where there was never any need. I graduated high school with the same fifty kids I started kindergarten with, give or take a few. I was popular in junior high because my parents owned the local pizza restaurant, so I had the hook up on after school snacks. My school wasn’t immune from cliques, but the lines between groups were fluid. My other core group of high school friends went to other schools, but we bonded because we competed against each other every weekend in debate tournaments.
In fact, I’m still closer with many of my high school hometown or debate friends than my college friends. In college, I had “party friends” and “study buddies”, but didn’t make a lot of close friends. My college roommate got married last weekend, and I wasn’t even invited (though I had my wedding in December just so she could attend, because she was living in Japan at the time). I wasn’t even offended, because it was a small ceremony and other than bumping into her at the coop or the farmer’s market, we haven’t really talked in a couple of years.
I worked in an office for several years and never had much luck with making work friends. When a girl my age joined our team, I thought we’d naturally become friends. I babysat her young daughter for free and let her raid my work wardrobe for clothes that were too big for me. We went to the gym together and shopping together. Then, inexplicably, she turned on me, transferred departments and gossiped behind my back. There were other ladies I was friendly with, and I even hosted several baby and wedding showers…but no one I’m meeting for drinks after work or going to yoga with on the weekends. Now that I have a new job, the only person I’ve gone to lunch with is the autistic mail clerk (I adore him).
Unlike Rachel Bertsche, I am not dying for female companionship. In fact, most of my close friends are guys. They aren’t just my husbands friends. In fact, a lot of his close friends are people he met through me.
Perhaps I’m not more proactive in searching out girlfriends because I have an extensive network of women online who satisfy my need for girl talk. Quite accidentally, I’ve developed a close group of writer friends and other women who shar similar interests with me. I can vent about my mother or Mister BS with them in long emails or gchat sessions, or I can tweet a link to a pair of shoes and get immediate advice on whether they’ll work with a certain dress. We gossip and share book and restaurant recommendations. It’s almost as if I have a 24 hour support system. This is the miracle of social media.
Though Rachel Bertsche only mentions it in passing (she’s too busy with all her friend-dating to make a big commitment), I have lots of friendships with the women I volunteer with and get a lot of support from them. Since we all share a passion for reducing the impact of violence in our community and are feminist-minded, even if we don’t have other shared interests, I get a lot out of my relationships with them.
I’m mostly content with my social network. I have my best friend, and after knowing each other for almost 25 years, I’m not trading her in anytime soon just because our friendship now requires me to commiserate with her about the horrors of toilet training. My sister is back from Morocco so I have my last-minute wine and Buffy marathon date (much more my style than brunch and pedicures). Even if I hang out mostly with guys, I get my daily dose of female companionship virtually. I may not have made many friends at my old job, but there are some promising fellow booknerds at the library who I may develop closer friendships with.
Last week, Mister BS brought a couple over I’d only met once before, at a Radiohead pre-party held by friends. Though I usually hate last-minute visitors (especially when I’m wearing yoga pants and writing), we had a nice time. They had recently relocated to Lawrence and he bumped into them downtown. She reached out to me, confessed to not knowing any other girls in town, and wanted to hang out. Though my general awkwardness would have typically led me to exchange numbers and let her make the first move, after reading this book, I can recognize how difficult that initial confession can be, and I’m going to make the effort. She is the new massage therapist at my gym, so having a new workout buddy is definitely not something I’m going to turn down.
Making friends, as MWF seeks BFF discusses, and keeping friends, as HBO’s Girls illustrates, can be difficult. Though the book was mildly irritating in places, it did motivate me to reach out to people more, be less self-conscious, and value my female companions. I was ready to give up on Girls, since it seemed to not be able to move beyond sex jokes, but Hannah’s struggle to make it as a writer and the conflict with Marnie promise to be deeper storylines that can sustain my interest.
I may not be in the market for a quirky SATCesque foursome or a new BFF, but I do think it’s important to recognize the benefits of lasting friendships and supportive acquaintances.