It is a fact of life that no one (fictional or real) has ever complimented a sexual partner with the adoration that Leslie shows Ann in Parks And Recreation: ““Ann, you beautiful tropical fish. You’re smart as a whip and you’re cool under pressure.” “Ann, you poetic, noble land-mermaid.” “You’re Ann Perkins! Sperm that is worthy of your perfect eggs does not grow on trees.”
Theirs is a friendship for the ages, but it is more than that – it is a love story.
The eminently quotable Rebecca Traister once said, “Female friendship has been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women,” but to glance at a list of the greatest friendships in pop culture or history, you wouldn’t know it.
There are so many ways to bromance: you can be loveable weirdos who connect on a level no one else understands (Wayne’s World); you can be ill-fated brothers-in-arms destined to sacrifice everything for one another (Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid); or you can be an odd couple who overcome your differences (Woody and Buzz in Toy Story).
In Amazon’s new show, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, the initial husband-wife relationship is thrown out early-doors in favour of the connection between the two central female characters. At a panel hosted by The Pool last week, Alex Borstein, who plays Susie, said: “A lot of movies now will have two guys and they'll call it a bromance. Well, this is a womance. This is an incredible love story between these two woman.”
Unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia entry for “womance” looks sadly sparse next to that for “bromance”. Perhaps the popularity of the term “bromance” can be attributed to the need to clarify male relationships that are absolutely, definitely, 100 per cent not gay – or perhaps it’s just catchy. Either way, we are not short on male friendships to idolise and analyse.
Female friendships can be every bit as long-lasting, passionate and absolute as a romantic or sexual relationship. The capacity for women to nurture each other, inspire each other, support each other and understand each other is immeasurable
And yet relationships between women have been seen as less important. They have been the subplot, the unresolved plotline, the characters that fade from view once the real drama gets going. In real life, they are superseded by other goals that society values: marriage, wealth, children, success.
But Traister is right. Female friendships can be every bit as long-lasting, passionate and absolute as a romantic or sexual relationship. The capacity for women to nurture each other, inspire each other, support each other and understand each other is immeasurable.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend made my heart jump every time it subverted an expectation, perfectly parodied a music genre or made a joke that could only have been written by a woman, but the moment I was truly smitten was when I realised that the real story wasn’t about Rebecca’s love life. It was about the friendship between Rebecca and Paula – because these relationships require as much effort, and are as much of an achievement as any marriage or romantic partnership. A short-lived friendship that ends unexpectedly or prematurely can be as heartbreaking as a lover leaving before you were ready to say goodbye.
I am more invested in the 16-year friendship of Busy Philipps and Michelle Williams than any other celebrity couple. Bring on the divorces and the separations and the conscious uncouplings – it is Busy and Michelle who I have fallen for. Since starring on Dawson’s Creek together in the early noughties, the two women have been besties and attend awards ceremonies as each other’s dates. We are doubly blessed with Busy’s Instagram account, documenting the two of them drunkenly dying Michelle’s hair pink at Paris Fashion Week. Arguably, the most important thing to note is that they have upgraded the classic matching “best friend” heart necklaces to matching customised leather jackets. Michelle has been quoted as saying, “I love her as deeply as I love almost anyone,” while Busy has said, ““I’m so in love with her. She’s proof that the love of your life does not have to be a man! That’s the love of my life right there.”
There is a reason why we still reference Thelma & Louise so frequently even though it is 26 years since the film’s release – iconic female pairings have not been recognised in the same way as their road-tripping, sidekicking, buddy movie male counterparts.
So, let us celebrate Mad Men’s Joan and Peggy, Broad City’s Abbi and Ilana, Romy and Michele, Frances Ha, Insecure’s Issa and Molly, Muriel’s Wedding and Taystee and Poussey in Orange Is The New Black. These are love stories; stories about women who appreciate each other as their glossiest, most successful, most complete selves – and equally as crumpled messes.
The romance of them isn’t in sexual union or physical pleasure, or even in being certain you will be friends for ever. It is in knowing that there is no better feeling than making your bestie snort in public with a flick of your eyebrow, or in texting her that you’re worried about her but you will handle that by appearing not to worry at all (because that is what she needs).
My womance is absolutely sacred to me and essential to my daily existence. She’s not a friend I’ve known since we were both playing in sandpits – or since we were both rolling on body glitter for the school disco. She’s not even a friend I had a moment of intense, inexplicable connection with, our eyes meeting across a seminar room as we discussed Jane Austen. There aren’t even that many photos of us together because we both hate being in pictures. Instead, she’s a friend that I have fused with over time, slowly interlinking opinions and references and experiences until they overlap. She once awarded me 7,000 friendship points for no reason because she knew I needed a boost – and that I respond well to points-based commendation. I want everyone to meet her.
It isn’t the case for everyone that the defining relationship of their lives is one based on sexual attraction or traditional romance. These are womances. And they are not an added extra to life. They can be the very core of it.