Adult Friendship: Fool’s Errand or Noble Quest?

Ah, women of a certain age.

I’m referring to my own age bracket, mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I just finished reading MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. This book was so on-the-nose for me that it was both painfully funny and just plain painful.

I’m a 27-year-old white woman living in a new town with her soon-to-be husband. I’ve lived in four states in four years, my friends from school are in Texas or scattered across the United States, and I don’t have any local, really-truly close friends.

Well of COURSE these guys are friends. Image via iloveyouman.com

The premise of the book is that it’s hard for women in their late-twenties to mid-thirties to make a new best friend. We all know it’s hard for men to make new best friends. But men have buddy comedies, bromances, I Love You, Man. On the other hand, everyone assumes that women make friends easily: we chat, we get involved, we’re friendly, whatever. But women have Bridesmaids, full of female competition and the difficulty of keeping lifelong friends; Sex and the City, which purports to be about friendship, but the hetero-sex-focus is built right in; and Thelma and Louise, which, well, yikes.

I’m one of those women who have always said it’s easier to be friends with guys. Less drama, more videogame fun  In elementary school I had a really close group of friends, and then in high school I had a rotating clique of close, if fraught, friendships. But in high school I hung out largely with my then-boyfriend and his friends.

A high school female friendship is, to my mind, a beast unlike any other. It’s prey to so much adolescent competition: for guys, for grades, for other friends’ attention. Mean Girls is exaggerated, but not by much.

When I hit college, I made good girlfriends again. The competition diminishes in college, partly because we’re all more confident in who we are and what we want, and we’re all looking ahead in terror at Real Life. Plus, it’s difficult to stay angry at someone when you’re relying on her to help you get back to the hostel in a country where you can’t read the alphabet, let along the language.

But then we all graduated and went on to jobs or more school, and we couldn’t just pop downstairs and pick each other up for brunch in the cafeteria. And random text messages just don’t cut it.

Is this even possible?

So now I’m (arguably) an adult, living with my chosen male life-mate, and settled semi-permanently in a place where I can find friends. But how do I do it?

I’ve got a couple of girl-crushes nowadays, sure, both in real life and online, girls I would love to move from the quite-friendly acquaintance space to the very close friend spot. Maybe you’re reading this, ladies, and wondering if I’m talking about you. (See how I inserted some needless drama?)

The trouble is, we’re all so busy just getting from day to day. And it’s hard to find someone I like who is not only local but also in the same life stage. This girl is great, but she’s got young children and maybe feels I can’t really relate. That girl is my age and we have some stuff in common, but our personalities don’t really mesh.

Early in life we make friends by circumstance, and we end up with tons of them. Later in life, though, we can choose our friends, but we find and keep fewer.

Rachel Bertsche, author of MWF Seeking BFF, goes on 52 girl dates, one a week for a year… and she doesn’t really end up with a new best friend. Friends, yes, but a best friend? No.

Is it an impossible quest? Will my new friends remain only friendly? Will I ever have someone I can call just to chat? I’m really not sure.

What do you think, readers? Women, how have you found adult close friends? Men, how about you? Or, do you readers think searching for adult friendship is like that snipe-hunting game kids play: cruel, hopeless, and tons of work that accomplishes only hurt feelings?

How Not to Be a Sidekick

In the season 4 Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Fear, Itself,” Willow, upset at Buffy’s orders and doubts, storms off in the face of danger, saying to Buffy, “I’m not your sidekick!” We have to remember that in Willow’s mind, she’s the star of her own show. Willow the Badass Witch.

Sidekicks are boring. They say yes all the time, maybe provide some benign judgment about the protagonist’s mistakes, have no life outside the protagonist’s plot, and as soon as they’re finished pitching in, they disappear, never to be seen or thought of again. No one wants that—not even your secondary characters.

You don’t want to be a sidekick either. No one wants to be someone’s yes-man, laughing at his pal’s jokes and disappearing when it looks like he may get lucky, like the main character’s best friend in a sitcom. I’ve been there, acting as “So-and-so’s friend,” irritated that I wasn’t my own life’s protagonist.

Hopefully this advice—which my sixteen-year-old self could’ve used—will help you and your characters avoid the sidekick-trap.

1. Don’t forget to focus on your own plotline. Sure, you’re willing to help the main character of a given story, but you need to remember to face your own conflicts, as well. Although Dr. Watson is undoubtedly Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick, in the current film series, he has his own life, complete with fiancée, addiction to gambling, and dog. He repeatedly tries to back out of Holmes’s shenanigans and focus on his own real life, but that addiction to gambling (plus some bizarre affection for Holmes) keeps him coming back for more.

2. Don’t take orders that don’t suit your character. A true sidekick (an uninteresting sidekick) will do whatever the protagonist asks, whether it’s something he would normally do or not. If Dawn Summers were truly a sidekick, she would’ve stayed gone after Xander kidnapped her to get her away from the final battle. Instead, she tasers him and takes herself right back to the heart of the action. Sure, she learns her place and mans Research-Central, but that’s because she knows what her powers are. If you don’t want to be a sidekick, you have to take a stand for what you believe in.

3. Don’t be too helpful. If all you do is provide helpful information and run for coffee, you’re definitely a sidekick, not a fully developed character. Unless you want to be like the squints from Bones, who just answer questions and then disappear, try to make your protagonist work for your help. Look at Jayne Cobb on Firefly: sure, he’s there when you need him, and he solves a lot of problems, but he’s his own man. He’s not reliable, even if he is helpful, and you never doubt that in his mind, he’s the star of the show. Plus, a little surliness never goes amiss in holding your own.

4. Try to stay out of trouble. If you’re constantly making your protagonist come rescue you, you’re definitely into sidekick territory. While I love Amelia Pond, she never quite exceeds the Companion status in the same way that Rose Tyler does. Rose fights her own battles and kicks Dalek ass, while Amy skulks back to the TARDIS when she’s ordered there, only to get kidnapped or possessed by a Weeping Angel. A true, strong character will rescue herself, at least most of the time.

5. Unless you’re dealing with your own Big Bad, try to be there for the final confrontation. Disappearing before the end and leaving the protagonist to deal with her troubles all on her own means you’re a sidekick… unless you’re off kicking ass elsewhere. Remember the Lone Gunmen, those goofy nerds Mulder occasionally got info from in The X-Files? They got their own show, but that show flopped because those guys just weren’t interesting. They also died in a weak standalone episode of the last season of The X-Files. Because they were so incidental to the protagonists’ plot, they didn’t even get a chance to join in the major fight. If you want to stand out in memory, you need to fight like the Scooby Gang against the First.

Bottom line? Be your own protagonist

These are some badass non-sidekicks.