On my 26th birthday a couple of weeks ago, I spent a few hours jogging around Green Lake Park in Seattle, a beautiful expanse of water and naturey space in the middle of a dense urban neighborhood. When I paused to cool down on one of the docks that jutted out into the water, I reflected on how complete and fulfilling my life felt with stellar friendships, a deep sense of purpose, and physical and psychological health. I still haven’t dated a man yet, though I thought to myself, and I felt a tinge of sadness. I let myself sit with that sadness for a few minutes. Then I reminded myself that any emotional intimacy a man could give me, I’ve already gotten – through my immersive, loving, and in the past, challenging relationships with my closest friends.
Ten years ago, as a junior in high school, I started watching Queer as Folk for the first time. I liked how the show featured lots of gay sex and messy characters with tons of emotional drama. While I enjoyed the show despite its super white cast which I would definitely detest if I watched it with the racial consciousness I have now, I most loved analyzing its characters with one of my best friends. During our Advanced Composition course and at lunch, we would dissect the characters with an almost obsessive fervor. We traded commentaries back and forth: omg, isn’t it so sad how Brian’s absent father affects his ability to receive love from people, especially Justin? Okay, what do you think about Justin’s growth as a character, do we feel like he’s growing? Also, why is it so hard for Ted to love himself? This close friend and I loved analyzing people – we both dreamed of becoming therapists – and we had a shared sexual sense of humor, so Queer as Folk combined our interests in the best possible way. We came from rough families, so these conversations about Brian and Justin and Michael and Ted and Emmett almost felt like an escape – an escape that suited our shared love for empathizing with people and trying to understand them in their strengths and their flaws.
We also loved analyzing ourselves and our relationships. Our parents did not let us get out much, so we made the most of our time together during the school day and always tried to have one dinner with each other right before winter and summer break. I remember one time we ate in a booth in Outback Steakhouse and talked about our usual topics: how have we grown over the past few months? How do we feel about boys? How are we actually doing, deep down? I shared a similar intimacy with a couple of other close female friends of color too, where we talked about the deepest parts of our lives and our artistic hobbies. One friend and I Facebook messaged each other from the moment we got home after school and then throughout the day until we went to bed late at night, about our parents’ unsatisfying marriages, how stressed we felt about our AP homework, and random high school drama we wanted each other’s takes on. Another friend and I talked about the fanfiction I wrote and the characters she drew. We shared too about the serious heart surgery she had at a young age that affected her trust in people and how much I wanted to go to college to get away from my abusive mother. When I ran away from home my senior of high school, I stayed at this friend’s house and from her bedroom asked my dad over the phone why he couldn’t just divorce my mom and leave her behind.
At the time and even now, boys didn’t matter much because all the boys I met didn’t have what I wanted in a close connection. As teenagers, my female friends and I practiced intensive active listening, loved talking about our feelings, and did our best to self-reflect. In a world that often ignored our lived experiences as queer youth and young girls of color, we supported one another day in and day out. Though I do not miss my cruel childhood much at all, I feel lucky to have some favorite memories with these friends that include laughing about crude sex jokes and walking around the mall up until its closing time, talking about our dreams and hopes for ourselves and our futures. With these friends, I felt untouchable, like our conversations formed a bubble that shielded me if only temporarily from my mother and how she always awaited me back at home.
These friendships were not perfect though. In high school and early college, we blurred the lines between makeshift therapist and friend a bit much. I don’t blame us, because we didn’t have the language or access to resources to address one another’s depression, disordered eating, and anxiety. When my PTSD got super bad in undergrad, I expected too much from some of these friends, they didn’t know how to handle that, I lashed out unfairly, and after some heated exchanges and unkind subtweets on both of our ends, our friendships ended.
Ten years after I first watched Queer as Folk in high school, I defended my dissertation about Asian Americans’ body image. A few days after that, I got my hair toned to a platinum blonde, and later that week flew to Charlotte to stay with one best friend for a week and then flew to Seattle to spend time with my other best friend for a week. With my two best friends, I ate lots of tasty food, talked about our resistance against white supremacist patriarchal capitalism, and processed the ways in which the men in our lives have hurt us and how we’re so much better than them anyway. With these two best friends, both of whom I met in college, I detect some differences compared to my high school best friends: two of us have gone to therapy for several years, and all of us are extremely self-possessed and self-loving, which maybe my high school friends and I simply had not grown into yet. I’m struck though by the similarities between my adult best friendships and my teen best friendships, like the deep emotional intimacy and active listening, how we lift each other up when men or bio family members let us down, and the ways we cherish art and support and enhance one another’s creativity.
I like to think of this time in society as the golden era of friendship. Though the heteronormative glorification of the nuclear family and the patriarchal wedding industrial complex persist, I see so much more media content about best friends marrying one another and best friends prioritizing one another over romantic partners. I’ve read and tried to promote friendship-focused books like When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk, When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert, and Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell. I loved witnessing Issa and Molly’s friendship take center stage on the most recent season of Insecure as well as reading Twitter threads about how friendships have provided women with focal support for one another all throughout history, even if society still glorifies romance and men. When I think about my best friends, I feel like we create our own little world. In our relationships with one another, we form a safe haven free from the abuses of white supremacist patriarchy and the danger of settling for mediocre men, where we celebrate our queerness and self-awareness and compassion for ourselves and others.
Of course, I recognize how a healthy relationship with myself allows for me to engage in healthy ways with my friends. Upon reflection, my failed best friendships from several years ago, in combination with years of therapy, helped me grow into the friend I am now. Even though I have not yet dated a man, because of my friendships I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything at all in terms of emotional intimacy. A few weeks ago, whether on a walk to pick up takeout Thai food in Charlotte or riding the light rail in Seattle to visit the Elliot Bay bookstore, I felt many moments of pure contentment with my best friends. When we laughed together after an inappropriate joke or sat in silence and reflected on our own amazingness, I thought to myself: this is enough. What’s happening right now? This is enough.
Okay I’m just gonna say this is one of my favorite posts I’ve written ever. I love friendship so much and deprioritizing men! Open to contrasting takes though – how do folks reading this feel about friendships that have gone well or ones that have not, throughout the life course? What lessons have you learned from your friendships about yourself or relationships generally? Other reactions or feelings about this post or what it may have elicited from you emotionally? Also though I focused on my two best friends in this post I am also super grateful to the few good friends I have outside of these two best friends too, friends who bless me with their radical politics, kindness and thoughtfulness, and humor. Anyway, until next post!