Hope you had a delightful Halloween. If October’s theme, The Other, was about defining yourself in opposition to other people, this month, A World of Our Own, is about connection: specifically, one-on-one friendship, and how intense that can be, especially in these days of high school/hormones/firsts. In November, we’ll explore the mostly magic, sometimes toxic third thing that is created between two people when they come together. Here are some of the thoughts and references from the email I sent our staff to get brainstorming:
When I interviewed Greta Gerwig last year, and she said Frances Ha, the movie she co-wrote and starred in and her IRL partner, Noah Baumbach, co-wrote and directed, doesn’t feel like 50 percent hers and 50 percent his; it feels like 100 percent theirs.
Hilton Als’s essay “Tristes Tropiques” on twinship, on relationships that blurred the lines between sibling-like and best friend–like and loverly. On how he felt he didn’t exist unless he could exist as half of a pair. When you don’t know if you want to marry someone or be their best friend or be them. When my high school boyfriend (whom I’ll call Ben) and I broke up and he said to me, “I know this sounds weird, but I always thought of you as kind of like a sister.” Or when he came over one night, and I was pretty sad because I had been thinking about how we’d have to break up eventually, and we were lying together on my couch, and he looked funny cuz he had on my glasses, and I was tracing the veins on his hand, and then I got really hyper and sat up and shook him and was like, “Ben. Ben. Wait. Best friends forever?” and he smiled and giggled and said, “Yeah! Best friends forever.” I called him recently and we talked for the first time since breaking up seven months ago. I later wrote in my journal: “As soon as I heard Ben’s voice, the world became smaller.” Like this one person and who you are with them and the world you created together can come rushing back so easily and make your whole life seem so tiny, no matter how much you thought it had changed or that you’d become a different person or that you’d moved to New York.
From my interview with Lorde:
There’s a dedication in the liner notes to James, and you thank him for the “truest, purest friendship [you’ve] known,” and I just think that’s so beautiful, because people rarely talk about relationships as being friendships and I really liked that, and so how has even just the friendship part of it served as an inspiration in your writing?
I’m quite solitary by nature, I guess. I don’t have heaps and heaps of friends, like I don’t have heaps of friends that I would want to tell everything to, you know? You have like, tiers of friends. Like there are people that you would be cool with hanging out with but you don’t have that kind of next level connection. And being that kind of person, often I can appreciate a place regardless of the people I’m sharing it with, which I know a lot of people can’t do, but for me…this is really personal, but like, James and I spent a lot of time, and still do spend a lot of time, driving around all over our city, and that for me was really kind of enlightening, because for once, the company that I’m keeping is affecting how I feel about these places, and in a positive. And I think that was kind of what drove me to write a lot of the stuff on Pure Heroine, because I really thought about where I was, in conjunction with who I was, in conjunction with who I was with.
From one of my high school diaries (I have so many of these, this email could be so much longer):
I wish Claire had been there. I thought of that a lot throughout the trip, and at some point realized I’m in love with her. I can’t verbalize any kind of equation to quantify all the wonderful things about her and our friendship, to simplify the million little colorful components wouldn’t do them, her, or it justice at all. It’s something in the air, it’s not at all tangible. Because there are the technical and obvious reasons why we work well together, but then this sacred unspoken bond, colored purple and hazy and the warm light of our rooms. I hope we take a road trip together one day to her hometown of Frog Town, Arkansas, where she says 12-year-olds ride pink motorcycles. I see Claire the same way I see my version of god in my favorite movies and in Twin Peaks and in the moment where Kim Deal’s voice cracks in “Oh!” and in amazing teachers and friends and basically whenever one human makes/creates/says/does something and another receives it in a way that feels like the first person had a puzzle piece to their soul.
Angela and Rayanne: friendships where someone changes you but is not meant to be in your life forever (which I wrote about here).
“Kids will do things in groups that they would never do by themselves,” Heide says. “It starts out as talk, in my experience. It’s a thing of fantasy. […] It can often start with neither of the girls really thinking they’ll do it. They’re talking big, testing each other, and then it takes on a life of its own…and then it gets to a point where they’re at the cusp, and neither feels they can back down.”
This theme was Amy Rose’s idea to begin with, and here’s what she wrote to our staff:
The private world you architect with a best friend or lover—like how you have your own jokes and language and things you love to do together. This is such a good month to talk about where that friend/lover line blurs, how your best friend can be your partner, in this NOT CREEPY way, but in the Abbi/Ilana way. As Ilana says in the interview in Yearbook Three: “Find someone who makes you fear less.” And on Broad City, when Ilana wants to j/o with Abbi and form like an Arc de Triomphe, locking eyes and hands as two dudes go down on them, and it’s SWEET, not gross.
I’m also thinking of Pixie’s piece about mental illness, where she talks about her best friend who drives her around when she’s on the brink of nervous breakdowns:
My best friend and I would drive for hours, him with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and me with my left hand glued to the radio. We always seemed to end up at Dairy Queen, eating Peanut Buster Parfaits and talking about where we’d be in two years, two months, two hours, two minutes. We decided we’d still be friends. Maybe we’d have sex, or something, since everyone thought we were doing it anyway. Maybe we’d have sex and I’d get pregnant and my parents would kill him and then he’d be a badass ghost. Maybe we’d just build a boat and float away somewhere. Maybe we should get another Peanut Buster Parfait.
I’m thinking of my favorite moments with my friends, as a teenager and still now: The two of us posted up on a sidewalk, hella laughing and telling each other secrets, not going anywhere, not looking at a clock, being late for everything because we’re busy SAYING OUR LIVES and TELLING JOKES and doing weird impromptu dance routines and leaning on each other in this useless/purposeless space. That was so much of my life as a teenager, when I found people I loved: sitting on a curb and playing Would You Rather? and accidentally letting the things you’ve never told anyone slip out. My one friend, Billy, would sneak out of his house and bike to mine at midnight, and we’d sit on the street across from my house and talk until the sun rose, then go back home before school. When we saw each other in the halls later, we’d have this secret together. We only really hung out in that one context. (He was so cool.)
And then Anaheed added her thoughts:
Basically everything I have to say about this theme was said better than I ever could by Emma Straub in her essay “My Rayannes,” in which she says:
Teenage girls curl up together like newborn puppies, painting one another’s toes as if they were licking one another’s ears. If you sit long enough in any Starbucks, or loiter outside any high school, you will see girls climbing onto one another’s laps, kissing on the lips. They aren’t hitting on each other, not precisely, though they are in a constant state of arousal that borders on the insane. No other love is like the love of a teenage girl, all passion and fire and endless devotion—at least for a week. […] My first high-school Rayanne, from whom I learned to inhale, wasn’t a virgin, and when she was drunk, her Southern accent got stronger. When she was bleaching my hair in her bathtub, we laughed so hard and so loud that her younger sister told us we needed hysterectomies. I had never been happier, more fully in love with the very moment that I was living, even with a head that smelled like ammonia.
Who among us doesn’t know, deep down in our physical guts and breath and skin, that feeling? That woozy mix of hormones and and confusion and identity-formation and devotion and need and love? I am also reminded of this scene from the movie Hanna, in which the main character, who has been isolated her whole life and is set out into the world as a teenager on a secret and deadly mission, makes her first friend.
One more movie reference, if you’ll indulge me. Heavenly Creatures really captures this thing we’re talking about, how a teenage-girl friendship can be so intense that it gives birth to an entire WORLD. Here’s the trailer (with a very cheesy voiceover that actually unironically includes the phrase “IN A WORLD”):
It’s based on a real thing that happened in the 1950s in New Zealand. Two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, developed an obsessive best-friendship that worried their parents. Here’s what the book Famous Australasian Crimes had to say about it:
The two girls were crazy about each other. They used to sprawl on the lawn of the Hulme home and write “books” together. They had all kinds of secrets. It deemed they could not bear to be away from each other. Their mutual affection was so intense that it seemed to be abnormal.
Their parents decided to separate the girls and forbade them from seeing each other. The girls responded by murdering Pauline’s mother. (Juliet, incidentally, grew up to be a very successful writer of historical detective novels, under the name Anne Perry.)
So, teenage-girl-love is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. It can create and destroy with alarming ease.
One final note: The researcher Niobe Way, who wrote a book called Deep Secrets about friendships among boys, says that when they’re really young, boys have the same kinds of friendships that girls do—intense, emotional, physically affectionate. Then this horrible thing happens where they hit puberty and the stupid patriarchy tells them they can’t seem “gay” or “feminine” and that they have to lose those friendships in order to “become men.” This loss, Way writes, leads them to lose their grip on certain important parts of themselves. This is SO SAD to me:
Boys enter their teenage years with a tremendous desire and capacity to engage in close and intimate friendships with other boys, despite the cultural dictates that discourage such behavior. Yet as they enter manhood, they begin to lose their way. Their emotionally sensitive and astute voices become fearful and wary. Words such as love and happy, so pervasive in their interviews during early and middle adolescence, give way to expressions of anger and frustration or simply of not caring any longer. They also speak of having to disconnect from their peers and family in the name of being “independent” and “mature,” and of feeling lonely.
And here’s me again:
There’s something about being 15 and feeling so confused and hateful at all times and just wanting to give yourself over to another person and find yourself in them instead of in yourself. I’m sorry I don’t have more to give you guys as a starting point. But that feeling alone, remembering it, has me in tears right now. And it’s why I have noticed that since I was maybe 13, I had trouble cuddling with friends, because I know I love them too much, and might even be in love with them, but I still don’t want to deal with that, and I definitely didn’t when I was 14, so I would curl up like a puppy at arm’s length instead. I am reminded of a comment on this blog post of mine from freshman year, which I put together after running home from school after “So Far Away” by Carole King getting stuck in my head in the last class of the day and it drove me nuts until I could listen to it: “I guess I’m the only one who found this post pretty damn sad. It reminds me of having a crush on my best friend in high school—makes me really miss her.”
And now a message just for you readers: If you will, please email an image of a token of your best-friendship—a mix CD, a bracelet, a card, whatever—to [email protected] by noon EST on Friday, November 21, with the subject line FRIENDSHIP TOKEN, so we can put them all in a gallery at the end of the month. Thank you!