Buying Flowers for Girls: The Importance of Romantic Friendships

Galentines by jane_anon/Melissa Perez

Like most holidays in America, Valentine’s Day has come to stand in for the entire month of February. While romantic love is all good and well (as are cheap chocolates and roses), WWAC Lifestyle is celebrating love of the platonic variety (and the many variations therein) this month. We started with Catie Coleman’s tips on how talking can be as important in a friendship as listening, and now Laura Harcourt shares her thoughts (and research) on romantic friendships.

You know a lot about me, readers. You know I love Wonder Woman, and that I’m a nak muay, and that at my gym, I go by Batgirl. You may not know that I’m straight. Honestly, it hardly matters, except for this small point: throughout my whole life, my most intense romantic feelings have been for—that is to say, my soulmates all have been—women.

This confused me for quite some time. I’ve never fully understood my place in traditional gender roles, and when in college I spent four years portraying male romantic leads onstage, I felt as comfortable and as confident being Prince Charming as I did in a skirt and heels on a date—maybe more so. But aside from my comfort in taking on the role of gallant girl-turned-boyfriend, I have spent my entire life falling in love with women.

leslie knope musk ox gif

In our current world of labels and definitions, full of discussions about sexual identity, the gender binary, internalized misogyny, and gender identity (to pick only a few), I’ve still felt adrift. In college, everyone assumed my best friend and I were dating. These days, I still get some careful, curious questions about my relationship with my best friend. I get crushes on girls I know and admire. Part of me still pines for my childhood best friend.

Here’s the thing, though: these feelings are intimate. They are deep, and complex. They are romantic. They make me giddy and silly and moony smitten. What they are not is sexual. It’s a distinction I’ve mulled over for a long time, but was never quite able to put my finger on until I read an article about Anne Shirley and Diana Barry positing that their relationship was a coded lesbian one. I am certainly not going to sit here and tell people not to interpret canon however they want—put on those slash goggles and infer away, friends—but something about this particular piece didn’t quite jive with me. It wasn’t only the shrugging off of Anne’s love of Princes, both dark and charming, or of Gilbert Blythe, or of her college beau: the piece entirely neglected to take into consideration the prevalence of—the widespread acceptance of—romantic female friendships in the 19th century.

chestnut haired sunfish

Here’s how Wikipedia defines a romantic friendship:

A romantic friendship or passionate friendship is a very close but typically non-sexual relationship between friends, often involving a degree of physical closeness beyond that which is common in the contemporary Western societies.

I tend to agree with them. Romantic friendships have many of the perks of romantic relationships, minus the sexual aspect. There’s physical affection like cuddling, hugs, and hand-holding, similar emotional rollercoasters with that addictive swoop of butterflies, and the security of having someone to play confidante and advisor. The Greeks might consider it to be some combination of agape and philia: the highest form of love between friends. I sometimes consider it to be a modern version of courtly love: Passionate, but chaste.

(Anne, I feel, with her dreams of Lancelot and the Lady of Shalott, would tend to agree.)

Me and my bestie showing up anywhere.
Me and my bestie showing up anywhere.

Anne and Diana’s relationship was important to me. I’d always seen my own bosom friendship mirrored in Anne and Diana, Anne and Phillipa, Anne and Katherine, and I wondered: what happened to the romantic friendship? Where did it go? Why is it no longer a welcome and accepted aspect of society? And would we have fewer girls proclaiming themselves to be “tomboys,” attacking and putting down “girly-girls,” denigrating the feminine, if female friendship was celebrated once more? What if we all strove to be a little more like Anne and Diana, or Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins?

beautiful tropical fish

So I did a little digging.

Emerson, Thoreau, Tennyson, and plenty of others have written reams, novels, epic poems about romantic friendship between men, but there are few similar texts devoted to the romantic, but non-sexual relationships between women, despite the fact that female romantic friendships were not only common, but culturally condoned. These friendships weren’t unique to young girls: this Cosmopolitan articles in Life in Girls’ Colleges details the actions of “gallant sophs” at Smith College acting as cavaliers, taking their freshmen dates to a dance:

“She sends her flowers, calls for her, fills her order of dance, fetches ices and frappes between dances and takes her to supper. The whole method of procedure is apt to impress the freshman ludicrously … Every ‘soph’ sees her partner home, begs for a flower.”

tragically heterosexual

Another famous instance defines the term “smashed,” used at Vassar to describe the infatuation of one young lady with another:

“When a Vassar girl takes a shine to another, she straightway enters upon a regular course of bouquet sendings, interspersed with tinted notes, mysterious packages of ‘Ridley’s Mixed Candies,’ locks of hair perhaps, and many other tender tokens, until at last the object of her attentions is captured, the two women become inseparable, and the aggressor is considered by her circle of acquaintances as—smashed.”

leslie knope stupid hot

In a world where young women were largely discouraged from consorting with members of the opposite sex, and where they were surrounded by like-minded girls their own age, and faced with role models in the form of female faculty members who had formed partnerships akin to common law marriage, romantic friendship was not only accepted, it may even have been the norm.

I don’t want to suggest that all of these relationships were sexually innocent, or that some weren’t in fact lesbian relationships, but many of these women had something the modern Western world has trouble accepting: strong, often lifelong, friendships and partnerships with each other, based purely on the depth of their affection.

beautiful ann

The interpretation of Anne Shirley and Diana Barry as lesbian lovers feels to me a modern one: we’ve fallen out of believing in romantic friendships, now certain that those intense intimate feelings must always be linked to sexual feelings as well. For some reason, falling in love with women must be sexual, rather than, as Anne might say, a longing of the soul, a desire to simply be around her. How did we get to this point? When did we, as a society, forget that love and sex aren’t the same thing?

In 1900, or slightly thereafter, there was something of a turning point in that regard. Freudian analysis began finding latent sexual undertones in nearly every intimate relationship; men, in particular, began distancing themselves from anything that looked like homosexuality … and the romantic female friendship was attacked as a destroyer of traditional marriage. Romantic feelings towards anyone but your significant other became something almost shameful:

“Dishonest with ourselves about erotic feelings (erotic does not mean sexual), we often hide the truth from our friends. We deny the cravings we feel for them, how we pine for them like Tristan and Iseult, the inordinate, contradictory feelings that friendship should not prompt, say our minds, but often does. We feel deep attraction toward our best friends. We long for each other’s company.”

Listen, I say we kick all that shame nonsense straight out the door.

Leslie Knope Ann Perkins beautiful

I say we get “smashed.” That we embrace the intensity of female friendships, that we celebrate each others’ beauty and strength and intelligence; that we admit to our infatuations, that we tell those girls we love that we love them. The world can only be a better place when women are able to feel deeply for each other … and who doesn’t wish for a little more of the magic of romance? Why reserve the headiness of a crush, the seduction of a new and overwhelming passion, their steady devotion, only for the person you’re knocking boots with?

Leslie Knope beautiful sunflower

Sara Eckel (a writer I now deeply want to befriend) described herself and her new friend as “star-crossed lovers,” and says:

“Although I am straight, I am constantly falling in love with women. I slip them my business card at parties, or shyly suggest a cup of coffee after yoga class. I strategize about the best ways to reel them in: dinner party? Invitation to a play? Some pretext about work? I swoon when I get their emails and chatter endlessly about them to the men I date. When it works out—when my new pal and I emerge from an hour-and-a-half of feverish conversation and realize we’re just getting started—I’m over the moon.”

There’s no need to bring in the prince for these fairy tales; no sex required for an emotionally intimate experience. If you do find yourself smashed, if you fall in love with a girl, try not to stress about it—just buy her some flowers.

Ann Perkins I love you

Leslie Knope I love you

Laura Harcourt

Laura Harcourt

Part of WWAC's editorial team, Laura has loved comics ever since her very first copy of Betty and Veronica Double Digest. Until her own superhero training is complete, she spends most of her time writing about others. She is most usually found in Western New England and is easily startled by loud noises.

8 thoughts on “Buying Flowers for Girls: The Importance of Romantic Friendships

  1. Hello! There is a possibility that the term “homoromantic” is one you may be interested in (and, if multiple lady-crushes are happening at the same time on top of a male love interest, “polyromantic” as well). I myself am panromantic on those rare occasions where I am not aromantic. We asexuals have often struggled to describe our relationships and “romantic friendship” is a common term thrown around, along with “queerplatonic lifepartners” and so forth.

    1. Thanks for the info! I know these definitions and terms (and the knowledge other people feel the same way) are extremely comforting to many people.

  2. “And would we have fewer girls proclaiming themselves to be ‘tomboys'”

    Implying there’s something wrong with being a masculine woman…? You do realize you can comfort feminine girls without demonizing masculine girls. If your feminism sounds like 101 gender roles you’ve got a problem.

    Also, I don’t even know where to start with how much this article is lesbophobic. It would end with me writing an essay. (And I don’t even want to know what your opinion is of women who are both masculine and lesbian…not ~feminist gurl power~ enough for you obviously even though they face so much more bigotry than a gender-role centric straight girl ever will.)

    1. Hi Sparrow! I’m sorry I implied that there is anything wrong with being a masculine woman. My example of tomboys comes from seeing many young women trying to distance themselves from other women, suggesting that because they are “one of the boys” and not a “girly girl,” they are somehow more complex than women who prefer to be more femme. I was a self-professed tomboy for years! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tomboys, or masculine women, lesbian or otherwise. My only point is that, sometimes, girls state that they are tomboys in order to put other, more feminine girls, down. I think all women — masculine, feminine, trans, cis — benefit from the type of close friendship I’m talking about here, without saying it’s the only type of relationship worth having, or that one type of femininity is better than another.

      1. Growing up I very much tried to make myself “Not Like The Other Girls” and being a “tomboy” was one such method (my genuine interests in video games and science aside). It took me a long time to feel comfortable expressing interest in traditionally female clothes and activities because I feared it would “revoke” my invitation to the boy’s club, so to speak.

        Nowadays I am a lot more comfortable wearing pretty dresses, am attempting to secure a second pair of heels and proclaim my love for ballet while being murdered by radioactive scorpions and arguing over who would be able to beat whom in the Justice League. HOWEVER, I am a lot more hesitant to proclaim anything (humans aside) as having a gender.

        Our perception of gender has been heavily dictated by a Western binary which has only developed (even in the West) recently (speaking broadly over centuries rather than years). With imperialism and colonialism’s effects on much of the world, this construct has been hastily applied just about everywhere, give or take a few adjustments made by local populations. While many countries have been oppressively patriarchal for just as long (if not longer) than the West, an actual idea of a strict gender binary is, I believe (have not actually sought a source so do correct me), rather new.

        Gender expression is multi-faceted, despite how many of us are raised into believing otherwise. The pressures to suppress the “female” “pink/dress/makeup/mother” to better adapt to the “male” “blue/suit/money/job” is one that people of all gender (transwomen especially) face and are often forced to succumb to just to preserve their livelihood. Mimicking the sexism of the elite is one such way of doing so and, morally reprehensible though it may be, it is understandable. Choosing your battles (mother? boss? both? neither?) is important when you are forced to fight them on all fronts.

        1. Sam, you put this concept into words beautifully. Thank you for your insightful comment! This is precisely what frustrates me re: the gender binary.

  3. Uh, you do realize that Utena and Anthy are not besties in the friendship way this article is describing, right?

    1. Hey, Qu! I used the gif largely because my best friend and I cosplayed as Utena and Anthy this year, and because the tv show (certainly not the movie!) allows some room for interpretation, though I know the general consensus is that they are girlfriends. Thanks for the comment!

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