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21 March 2016

Do BFFs on TV give women unrealistic expectations of friendship?

Writing as part of Female Friendship Week, Emily Reynolds asks, are #FriendshipGoals making us insecure?

By Emily Reynolds

It seems facile to compare TV shows like Broad City and Sex and the City. Despite the vaguely similar names and shared location, the shows are worlds apart: Sex and the City’s shiny cocktail bar perkiness has been replaced by Broad City’s mellow, weed-smoking nonchalance, and while the latter show’s blasé approach to oral sex and hygiene shares some of SATC’s frankness, it shows no trace of Carrie Bradshaw’s faux-philosophical careerism at all.

They do have one notable thing in common, however: the prominence, and importance, of female friendships. Broad City’s Ilana and Abbi are far more hedonistic than Sex and the City’s four protagonists, and less fixated on men, but they’re just as close; they fight, they make up, they do everything together. Every weekend is spent in a bar or on the sofa together; they spend most of their time texting, calling or IMing. Each group is tight-knit and inseparable, and the message is clear: no matter what your relationship status, your female friendships are the only things that really matter.

Does it really reflect how women live, though? I do spend hours talking to my best friend online, but we only see each other once every few weeks. Other friends I see even less, and I certainly don’t have a girl gang of the sort I see on screen. The buzz around apps like Hey! VINA, which markets itself as a “Tinder for female friendship”, seems to suggest that I’m not alone in this – adult women find it hard to meet like-minded people, and their relationships with the other women they do know may not have the insouciant ‘us versus them’ attitude of TV friendships.

The fact that we get so much of our emotional support online now has made it less pressing for us to see friends all the time, with briefly dashed out Twitter DMs replacing coffees or drinks. Most of my friends are too busy to hang out on a bi-weekly basis, and even if we had the time we certainly don’t have the money to buy drinks or coffee or weed. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; the fact I can keep in touch with my friends online makes me feel far less guilty when I can’t find the time to see them, and there’s a level of intimacy afforded to online interactions that’s sometimes hard to conjure face to face. Despite this, it can be hard not to feel bad about the state of our social lives.

Culturally, we seem to have moved past any Prince Charming-esque ideas about how our relationships should be. That’s not to say we’re not constantly served unrealistic ideas about how relationships work – Fifty Shades of Grey being one particularly mawkish example. We do, however, seem to recognise the absurdity of such relationships. The often ironically deployed hashtag “#RelationshipGoals” highlights this: despite all of the unattainable expectations culture thrusts upon us, we still have the ability to skewer them. We’re self critical about our romantic lives; nobody really expects to meet a Christian Grey in real life, no matter how much we might want a handsome and brooding millionaire to spank us.

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We don’t seem to have this critical faculty for friendship, though, and many women feel left out or upset about the fact that their real life friendships don’t resemble the ones they see on screen. But just as ditsy romantic comedies are a poor facsimile of what it really means to love another person, TV and film may not be the best source of inspiration when it comes to our platonic relationships with other women. Even if TV shows do reflect truisms about women’s lives, they’re not documentaries, and we could do with applying some Fifty Shades cynicism to them. After all, friendship between women can be intense, empowering, rewarding and sometimes deeply radical, no matter what it looks like.

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