Are homoerotic female friendships a rite of passage?

Are homoerotic female friendships a rite of passage?

Stepping into her room was intimate, despite the half of the small double dorm room being occupied by the roommate’s belongings. Her walls were littered with magazine clippings that made me think “my magazine bits never look like that,” but her decor was effortless and true to her (at least that's how I saw it). The room smelled fresh and lived-in and personal in a way that I always wanted my sheets to smell, but they never did. We sat, sharing her desk, my hair in her updo, and me painting her nails. 

I look at our reflection in the small desk mirror — I still look at myself in it today — with her perched over my head. Two bodies reflecting on the small surface, we fit. She beams in the mirror at her finished product, my hair in comically high pigtails she wants me to wear outside. I want to wear them out for her, but there are some embarrassments my desire to please her can’t override. 

“A stranger who knows your secrets” is how I've heard these relationships referred to on social media. More concisely, they’ve come to be known as “homoerotic friendships.” These almost-too-close-for-comfort friendships between “straight” teen girls or women in their 20s nearly always end explosively and with tears, hurting worse than any heteromatic split.

You’re going to see them in class, even after you haven’t spoken in months, and think – no one in this room knows how well we know each other, or, at least, used to. A mutual understanding that you protect the secrets you once shared, whispered over Svedka, a bagel from the dining hall, and cheap Urban Outfitters perfume (which I used this morning, even if it’s expired). 

One Reddit user posted, “Do any of you look back on the intense female relationships you had back then with a sort of awe in how willfully blind you were to how intimate they were?” In reflecting upon her own experiences with this type of friendship, the user points out a key characteristic of them: ignorance. Scrolling through the replies to her post, most of the women remark that in their own too-close-for-comfort female friendships, it was never explicitly acknowledged by those involved. You might have an inkling that it all feels a bit more intense than your run-of-the-mill bestie, but by that point it’s too late. 

Why are they doomed to face a fiery finish? Jacqueline Mroz, author of Girl Talk: What Science Can Tell Us About Female Friendship, believes the intimacy of female friendships at large may be traced back to evolution. Women relied on non-familial support networks when they left to live with their husbands, resulting in greater vulnerability to build trust. These expressions of vulnerability ultimately mean that seemingly smaller breaches in trust can lead to major blowouts. 

These relationships have lingered on my mind to the degree that I created a Spotify playlist months ago in ode to that feeling  – “sapphic longing and jealousy.” Olivia Rodrigo is the patron saint of these emotional explosions, with her song “lacy.” 

Ooh, I care, I care, I care
Like perfume that you wear
I linger all the time
Watchin', hidden in plain sight
Ooh, I try, I try, I try
But it takes over my life
I see you everywhere
The sweetest torture one could bear

The song left queer and straight fans alike speculating on the singer’s sexuality, while I, and many others, felt it harken back to these same intense relationships of our own pasts, just as Rodrigo expressed. Keeping sorrowful company with “lacy” is Sufjan Stevens’ “Futile Devices.” While it may not be about women, or really these relationships at all, the line I think of you as my brother, although that sounds dumb has made me blissfully nauseous since I first heard it as a high school freshman, in the throes of this newfound intimacy. 

Maybe it truly is a “canon event,” or perhaps I just reside in such a TikTok echo chamber that makes it seem as though this is a girlhood rite-of-passage. Has everyone else pondered the looming question “do I want her or do I want to be her?”

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