The Golden Girls. Sex and the City. Lena Dunham’s Girls. These are just a few of the myriad of examples TV gives us of a foursome of female friends. These shows, and others like them, romantically depict these girl groups as the perfect relationships. The quote that comes to mind here is one seen most often as an Instagram caption:
“Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with.”
Similar to the way romantic comedies infantilize the heteronormative “magic” of boy meets girl, these shows can seem to hyperbolize the closeness of these women’s friendships. Can you really trust three other people that completely? Can you really overcome the pernicious misogynistic need to constantly compete? Can these friendships really last? For years?
My answer to all of these questions is yes. I also don’t think these shows are that hyperbolic when it comes to female closeness. In fact, their grain toward frivolity can sometimes undercut the deep connection female friends share. I can say this because I’ve lived it. The foursome. The Girl Gang. The closeness. The trust. I live it still.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact origin to the friendship of which I speak. I’ve known two of the three women since elementary school and the third since junior high. Preadolescence shuffles friendships around as interests develop and change, and the four of us were shuffled together by dance. We spent hours together every night at our studio. Sweating, stretching, laughing, and crying together.
As I said, I can’t quite determine the tipping point of our grouping but I know for certain that by the end of ninth grade we had earned the monicure The Fab Four, used with affection by some and sarcasm by others. We spent the next three years in each other’s constant company. Our closeness was extreme and potentially intimidating. We shared bathroom stalls, relieving ourselves in the presence of the other three, unashamed, while we chatted and laughed. We stood in a circle, arms around one another’s shoulders, and would countdown from three then kiss. Quick, a peck.
In those days, we knew what we had was special without having to talk about it.
College meant another shuffling. The hand dealt us this time was two together, two apart. Roomates at Slippery Rock University. One in Pittsburgh, the fourth (me) in New York City.
Most adult friendships are born of convenience; we’re friends with the people we work with or the people we’re around most often. Maintaining a friendship across distance and, more difficultly, stages of life, takes real effort. It would be all too easy to let this friendship fizzle with “I’ll see you at Thanksgiving” “Oh you’re out of town? Christmas it is!” until years slip past, unnoticed, without seeing one another. Of course there have been a few missed holidays and birthdays, but for the most part we prioritize a hang out when we’re in close proximity. An especially good example of this is my first weekend trip home from college.
I’d been in NYC, about a seven hour drive from home, for two and a half months. Despite being incredibly homesick, I was trying to last without a visit home until Thanksgiving. However, my sister’s high school volleyball team made it to state playoffs so I decided to surprise her with my present support. I took an overnight bus to Pittsburgh Friday night, would spend all day Saturday at the game (that my sister had a big part in winning, so very happy I was there) and would leave Sunday afternoon around three. The only time we’d be able to see each other would be Saturday night. What I didn’t mention was that this was Halloweekend. Of course three freshmen in college wanted to go out on that Saturday night. I could have gone out with them, but the logistics just didn’t make sense. I was also exhausted.
So rather than pregame with the other freshmen, they made the 30ish minute drive from Slippery Rock, costumes ready to be donned on their way back, to sit in my living room with me and talk. We couldn’t have talked for more than half an hour and to this day I’m not even sure what we talked about. But we were together. For the first time in nearly three months we were all in the same room. Later that week one of us would text our group message saying “For about 30 minutes on Saturday everything felt right.”
From then on our friendship has continued to beat the odds. But not because of mere luck or happenstance; we’ve put in real effort. We took a roadtrip to the Maryland/D.C. area to see two concerts on two consecutive nights as well as explore the Capital. We went to Nashville over one winter break. We spent a long weekend in Florida at the beach. While being fun Girl Trips, these excursions have allowed us something we cannot access in our daily lives: concentrated time with one another. While spending a few hours with one another on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or on New Year’s Eve is fun and appreciated, it hardly gives us the opportunity to discuss the things we really want to know about one another: How’s that new job, really? Are you still as passionate about what you pursued as you were before? If not, what are you passionate about now? Do you think you’ll marry him? Honestly, how is your family? Are you happy? Are you working towards happiness?
While making sure that we see one another when possible has been an important part of keeping this friendship afloat, sometimes the best thing we can do for one another is to understand that we cannot get together, that there are other aspects of our lives that must take priority. In a weaker friendship, the “I can’t tonight” response to the only convenient time for the other three would be met with disdain and annoyance. But our friendship has survived because of our ability to understand and empathize with what the others are going through. And to trust that our friendship is not weaker but stronger because we support the others’ reasoning and decision.
Life has shuffled me up once again and I’ve left the place I so desperately desired to call home. But while I was with them during our most recent Girls Trip I realized just how many places I’ve managed to call home. And none of those places is quite like the feeling of us being together. The three of them are a throughline in my life that grounds me. No matter how much changes, they will always be my best friends, even as we form other, equally as meaningful friendships. The bond between us shifts and changes, but it doesn’t weaken. No TV show or movie, perhaps not even this essay, could accurately depict the love and affection I have for my Fab Four.