Are best girlfriends the new aspirational relationship?
The bonds of female friendship run deep and strong, so are they the new aspirational relationship, or idealised and unrealistic? Enjoying our friendships and not overthinking them is key
In many ways, my close friendships with women are what you’d expect from TV shows like Sex and the City or The Golden Girls: emotionally intimate and involved, fierce and sassy. What these shows get right about female friendship is that our bonds run deep and strong. But they also tend to idealise these relationships. We see friends whose lives are so tightly entwined that they materialise at each other’s doors whenever needed; a ride-or-die girl group who are at your side for life.
"With marriage in decline, it feels like more of us are turning to female friendship as the new aspirational relationship"
Here, close girlfriends are filling the role we’d traditionally expect of a spouse. And with marriage in decline, it feels like more of us are turning to female friendship as the new all-sustaining, aspirational relationship.
Friendship envy amongst women
Ever seen a group of girlfriends giggling over lunch and felt a pang of jealousy? This phenomenon is called friendship envy, and it’s pretty common among women. It can manifest as idealising others’ relationships or thinking that the ones you have aren’t good enough, because they don’t resemble those picture-perfect pals we see on TV.
“We feel friendship envy because so much of our confidence is gained from us knowing who we ‘belong’ to,” psychologist Lilly Sabir told Glamour last year. If we don’t have access to the sisterhood we think we’re supposed to as women, we can feel rejected and lonely.
"If we don’t have access to the sisterhood we think we’re supposed to as women, we can feel rejected and lonely"
And just like that, having best female friends becomes another standard to hold ourselves to; another stick to beat ourselves with. These relationships are held out as a status symbol for what a good life looks like, in exactly the same way society has done for marriage.
Social media and unrealistic expectations
Just head to social app Instagram, where millions of posts using hashtags like #GirlSquad and #BFFgoals show glamorous groups of women having an enviably good time, to see what I mean.
Turns out, this isn’t great for us or our friends. It puts too much pressure on our friendships, creating unrealistic expectations for how we hope they’ll fulfil us—and when they don’t, we feel less than. Is it really fair to expect your pals to be perpetually available when you need them?
Plus, whether from a partner or best friend, as long as we seek validation from others more so than from within, we take away our own power to accept and love ourselves as we are.
Enjoying female friendships
The pursuit of idealised friendship also distracts us from the real prize: enjoying relationships. It’s true that the bonds between women are special.
We share a unique solidarity and understanding of what it’s like to live in a man’s world, and the ways we show up for each other can truly be beautiful.
Every relationship is different
Only there’s no fixed way for these relationships to look. You might have a girl squad who meet for lunch once a week, or you might have a few close friends who aren’t part of the same group.
"You might have a girl squad who meet for lunch once a week, or a few close friends who aren’t part of the same group"
Maybe you don’t see yourself in either of those scenarios, but love your friends all the same. All of this is fine—it’s the quality of your connections that counts.
Healthy, quality female friendships
One 2015 study found that being satisfied with friendships was a better predictor of overall life satisfaction than the number of friends someone had. Here, a “quality” friend is someone who provides emotional and practical support, like helping you move house.
Healthy friendships are about trust and being able to be vulnerable with each other, not checking a box to prove you’re living life the right way. There’s nothing quite like having friends who really understand you, so let’s enjoy our mates without overthinking it, shall we?
Banner photo: Xavier Lorenzo
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