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In The Company Of Women: The Pandemic Void Only My Girlfriends Can Fill

Two women walking arm in arm and watching something on the other side of the road. Sankt Moritz, March 1969 (Getty Images)
Two women walking arm in arm and watching something on the other side of the road. Sankt Moritz, March 1969 (Getty Images)

People often ask, what’s the first thing you want to do once the pandemic is over? For me, the answer is easy. I want to spend a whole bunch of uninterrupted in-person time with my closest girlfriends. There is so much I’ve grieved these past 11 months, but perhaps most acutely I miss the company of women.

COVID-19 has turned daily life into drudgery. The days are somehow both busy and boring. Time with girlfriends used to be the salve, but nurturing those relationships virtually now requires a level of intentionality that is easily thwarted by the new demands of pandemic life which keep piling up, particularly for women.

I’ve never been very good at staying in regular contact with long-distance friends, but in the before-times, the consequences were minimal. Regular travel meant that even if the intervals were long, there would always be a heart-warming reunion somewhere in the not-too-distant future. A little time apart did nothing to dull my love for friends scattered across the country. At times, I felt guilty that I wasn’t better at picking up the phone more regularly, but I was comforted by the fact that whenever I saw a long-distance friend, whether a month or even a year or two had passed, we were always able to pick up right up where we left off.

But functionally, the pandemic has turned all friends into long-distance friends. This is particularly true for those of us in colder climates, where winter has callously eliminated a last bastion of sanity: outdoor in-person gatherings. Sure, some are lucky enough to have pods that include multiple families, but that never worked well for my group of local friends, a crew with too many young kids with an untenable amount of exposure.

There are plenty of ways to keep in touch virtually, and I engage in some. But texts and phone calls and Marco Polos and Zooms are a miserable substitute for the serotonin boost of a friend’s warm smile and enveloping hug. Plus, does anyone really crave more screen time these days?

There is so much I’ve grieved these past 11 months, but perhaps most acutely I miss the company of women.

I run an organization focused on how families are changing and why we privilege some types to the determent of others, so I think all the time about how quickly these things evolve. We spend more of our lives single, and more adults forgo marriage and children for all sorts of reasons (by choice and by circumstance), so it's increasingly strange that “the expectation that a monogamous romantic relationship is the planet around which all other relationships should orbit” is strong as ever.

In the narrative of happily-ever-after, friends are at best peripheral. What is the function of the “mean girls” trope, which claims most girls are backstabbers with no loyalty to their friends, if not to pit us against each other? In this light, our close friendships with other women are a form of radical resistance to a patriarchal system designed to indoctrinate us into believing that our most important roles, are those in service to men and children — as wives and mothers.

My own experience in the world with other women, and particularly my bevy of female friends, is that women lift me up, not cut me down. Some, like author and scholar Bella DePaulo, argue that the most significant relationship in 21st century American life is friendship, and I agree. In an article about people for whom a friend is their significant other, Rhaina Cohen argues that deep committed friendships can be expansive, inclusive models for what the future of intimacy and care could look like. It’s a future which acknowledges that romantic intimacy shouldn’t need to battle platonic intimacy for dominance.

As we approach a year of socially-distancing from everyone except our families, it’s clear that the whole conception of family is painfully, stiflingly narrow when it excludes close friends from the equation. These days, my partner and I look into each other’s eyes and say lovingly: “I am so very bored of you. I miss my friends.” We laugh and no one is offended.

It would be terribly unfair and unwise to expect my male partner and young daughter to fill the enormous void regular contact with my girlfriends provide.

It would be terribly unfair and unwise to expect my male partner and young daughter to fill the enormous void regular contact with my girlfriends provides.

This week when I picked up Valentine’s Day cards for my toddler’s class, I grabbed a pack to send to my girlfriends as well. If I’m being honest, they’ll probably just sit in envelopes, unmailed, like those old baby announcements, and anything else that doesn’t rise to a code-red level of urgency.

Instead, I’ll use any remaining brain space to plot the contours of my perfect lady commune where opinionated women laugh loudly and often and there is no laundry, no malfunctioning devices, and the meals cook themselves. I’ll keep texting my friends in all caps: I MISS YOU! I LOVE YOU! I’M SO TIRED. WHERE ARE WE HAVING OUR GIRLS GETAWAY WHEN THIS IS THRU?

If those Valentines cards never get sent, I’ll think of these texts as my daily love letters. I hope they will, too.

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Nicole Rodgers Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Nicole Rodgers is the founder and executive director of Family Story, an organization founded in 2015 to address and dismantle family privilege in America, and create cultural and political strategies to advance equity for all types of families.

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