I just came across a cover story piece in The Cut by Kim Brooks about female friendships and intimacy. I was curious about the idea of what a “friendship affair” was, particularly as I believe that emotional intimacy is not something that is held in reserve only for that “special someone” in my life. I don’t have some sort of vulnerability purity ring signifying that I’ll only let my guard down with someone I also want to have a romantic and sexual relationship with. But I mean, that’s just me, I do wear a heart on my sleeve (literally, it’s one of my favourite tattoos).
In the article, Brooks talks about how she has had a tendency towards very intense and intimate friendships with women her whole life. Her description seems to characterize these connections with a pattern — she is lonely, she meets someone who shares her interests, they spill their deepest thoughts and desires to each other, become best friends for a time, then separate.
However, she makes the assumption that being married and having kids means that she cannot have these female friendships anymore. Her husband feels jealous of her most current friend, asking if she’s having an affair. Brooks admits she didn’t know for a moment if she was in love or just starved for friendship, but that she suspects she was unhappy.
After quoting several people that her husband should apparently be her best friend, and that wanting deep female friends was weird, she ends the piece suggesting that society doesn’t make room for close female friendships, and that’s really the issue here.
The real issue seems clear as day — this entire piece is about unhealthy amounts of codependency, mixed with poor communication skills and a seemingly intense lack of self awareness.
Maybe I missed something, but I’m reasonably sure that getting married doesn’t mean you have to stop having friends… especially best friends. A partner should support you in having friendships outside of the relationship, and should understand that you will likely share with those friends aspects of yourself that they don’t get to see. The author seems to have other friends, even, so on some level she must understand this — but who are these people around her suggesting that a desire for close, intimate friendships is pathological? Leaning on your partner to be not only your partner but your best friend and, well, everything else, seems like you’re asking for an overwhelming amount of emotional labour. I was my ex’s best friend, and while yes, it felt vulnerable and intimate, sometimes it also felt like I was expected to be girlfriend, therapist, cheerleader, mother, and secretary all at once.
He’s now an ex, you may have noticed.
And seriously… fire your therapist.
I think the issue is not that she wants to have these deep friendships, but rather how she goes about having them. There is a huge lack of communication around her needs, both with her friends and her husband, for a start, which will likely lead to resentment and confusion. There’s unspoken expectations for what the lucky recipient of this female friendship should be doing, and that’s going to also cause problems.
In many ways, the way she describes these friendships — sudden, passionate, all consuming, obsessive — does sound like an affair, so I understand why she calls it that. Not having sex doesn’t mean it’s not an affair, after all, and people feel their relationships are threatened by all sorts of interactions that aren’t sexually intimate. I mean, shit, I love people I have no interest in having sex with, or living with. Relationships are complex. The fact that part of the value of this friendship is the escapism from her marriage and children is a red flag, to me, not just about the friendship but about the marriage. That’s why they should be talking to each other honestly and clearly (ditching the passive aggressiveness).
It’s possible to have these intense BFFs without it becoming something obsessive and weird, though. I have a few friends who I would consider best friends, people I talk to several times a week to check in, people I pay a lot of attention to on social media, people I text and make regular plans with. I also have partners, romantic and sexual relationships I schedule into my life weekly or so. They have the same value in my life — my lovers don’t get to dominate my time just because they put their fingers in my vag from time to time. I know time with my close female friends is hugely important and helps me stay sane in a world that likes to gaslight and silence women.
Friends fulfill some very different needs in people lives than partners do. There’s also areas where they intersect and overlap. That’s why having both (if you’re so inclined to have partners) is a good idea. One of the first red flags of an abusive relationship is social isolation, and if you’re doing that to yourself, that’s not really a healthy sign. I know not everyone is extroverted, of course, and for some trying to maintain a lot of relationships may be difficult or impossible. Having time to yourself is also really important! But if you are inclined to have friends, maybe try not to objectify them as archetypes of “the life you left behind”? Because that can be really belittling and boring for the “exciting” friend.
Honestly I’m so confused that this is not only a story but a front page story. Women having emotionally intense and intimate female friendships outside of a heterosexual marriage has been going on for a long long time. Maybe the issue is more that we need to stop treating romantic and sexual relationships as the top of the hierarchy, and realize that interpersonal connections are so much more varied and beautiful.