Pop culture has taught us for time immemorial that the power of strong female friendship is unmatched. It’s the difference between a bad day and a great one; a breakup that breaks you and one that emboldens you; a good outfit and a sartorial disaster. Where would Carrie have been without Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha; Thelma without Louise; the travelling pants without the sisterhood? All of these friendships defined the lives of the main characters of these shows, helping them navigate the highs, lows, and everything in between.
Having virtually completed Netflix, I spent much of lockdown three re-watching The Bold Type. It was safe, I knew how it ended, there was no deadly virus – all the ingredients for a good time in 2021. The series, for the uninitiated, sees three women climbing the ladder of fictional glossy New York magazine Scarlet and supporting one another up each rung. Breakups are survived by leaning on each other’s shoulders, after-work drinks are taken as a trio and work dilemmas are solved by committee. One simply can’t imagine the central character, Jane Sloane (Katie Stevens) surviving her tenure at Scarlet without Sutton Brady (Maghann Fahy) or Kat Edison (Aisha Dee) and their numerous pilgrimages to the fashion closet.
Settling in for a few hours of watching the daily dramas of Scarlet magazine was as close to the feeling of going out for a drink with an old friend as I could get to in the deepest depths of the pandemic. Their lives are exciting, their interests overlap with mine and – most importantly – they act as a litmus test for the women I want to surround myself with: smart, fiercely independent and loyal.
In the first episode, the three friends face varying conflicts that set the stage for the push-and-pull narratives that pop up throughout the series. In an effort to deal with their growing frustrations, the three women head to a quiet subway platform and quite literally scream into the void – in this case, a subway train so loud it drowns out their exasperated yelling. This scene often pops back into my head and I’ve regularly felt tempted to recreate it after a bad day at work. It also seems to sum up the kind of ‘no questions asked’ friendship that Kat, Jane and Sutton navigate during the show’s five seasons.
More than just a way to while away hours, bingeing this friendship-oriented TV show forced me to assess my own inner circle. Where were my Kat, Jane and Sutton? How does one find their people in an increasingly insular world? Or does this sort of ride-or-die friendship exist only within the 32 inches of my television?
Does this sort of ride-or-die friendship exist only within the 32 inches of my television?
It has been two and a half years since I uprooted my life in New Zealand and moved half away across the world, and I am finally starting to settle into my life in London. But watching The Bold Type made me realise there remains one key thing missing: true friendship.
This is not to say I have no friends here. I am incredibly lucky to have a handful of brilliant women around me, but rather, that lockdown has changed how these friendships function within my life. With the pandemic uprooting people’s locations and a forced period of physical distance, there has been a lot of social time to be filled and thus increasingly long periods to ruminate on my perceived loneliness.
I lost one London friend to an incredible job opportunity in Sweden. Wonderful news for her, secretly devastating for me. Another’s visa ended in March 2020, forcing her to decamp back to New Zealand. My university friends are scattered around the country, and while their comfort over Zoom calls has been invaluable throughout the last 16 months, a Whatsapp message from a distance simply doesn’t provide that same level of unconditional support that TV shows promise us.
Friends are seen as something you should inherently possess, while romance is something to be sought
There’s a scene in The Bold Type, towards the end of the fourth season, where Sutton texts Kat and Jane a simple: “I need you guys”. Within moments they’re in her apartment, comforting her as she cries on the couch. How many times have I wished I could send that text to someone, confident in the knowledge they would show up for me? Do I even have any friends in London I would feel comfortable sending that text to? It occurred to me that there seemed to be a gulf between what television told me I should expect from my friendships, and the reality of it. Is it even reasonable to expect friends to drop everything in order to be there for you?
While we swipe right on strangers we fancy, seeking out friendship feels markedly more vulnerable than looking for love. Friends are seen as something you should inherently possess, while romance is something to be sought. I spent a lot of time this year strengthening the foundations of the friendships I value, and putting in effort to create new ones. 12 months on, I sat at birthday drinks surrounded by people I loved and realised I was pretty lucky.
But would any of these people be on my doorstep in minutes if I told them I needed them? I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable sending a text like that to them if they would. But perhaps it doesn’t matter. The benefits of friendship come in a multitude of shapes and sizes: support, joy, endless laughter, and this doesn’t necessarily need to include daily meet-ups or the expectation of limitless access to their time.
While I might not have one built in, formidable group, I have cultivated a selection of friends from all walks of life who I genuinely love. Loyal, kind, fun people who bolster my life and bring joy to my days. Some have the enviable couldn’t-care-less attitude that Kat possesses, others are as frighteningly driven as Jane, while a few could rival Sutton with their energy and spontaneity. While we might not have daily fashion cupboard debriefs or live in an impeccably designed flat together, what I do have is endless support and encouragement. And really, that’s enough for me.