Still, even with that one line drawn, not every question is answered. What is a girl to do when it comes to loving other girls well? Reluctantly, I am thinking that naiveté as an option must go. Some guiding image of “Shirley Temple meets the Ya Ya sisterhood” isn’t a strong enough picture to define or protect female friendships in this era. The competition is just too strong. Think of Victoria’s Secret catalogues filled with images of woman as predator. Scary. Or there’s the almost “hip” mystique that same-sex sexual experimentation can take on. One high school girl explained to me that at her boarding school, all the cool girls were “bi.” Throw on top of that a culture that is intimacy deprived, and the potential for real confusion is obvious. Even when the questions aren’t overtly sexual in nature, there’s much discussion about enmeshment and boundaries in friendships. Clearly, the walls have come down and a lot of us are wondering how to proceed. Somehow, a way has to be consciously re-forged – within the realities of a real, twenty-first century, hyper-sexualized and intimacy starved culture – for girls to love girls well. …

A number of years ago, I read an editorial about marriage by Meg Greenfield, a writer at the time for both Newsweek and The Washington Post. Marriage, she reasoned, is strained in our country not because it is valued too little but because it is valued too highly. We expect too much of it, she explained. The emotional needs and relational desires that used to be met through both nuclear and extended families, which themselves were grounded in larger communities, are now telescoped onto only one relationship: that of husband/wife. That, she argued, creates a level of pressure that no marriage was intended to sustain. How much more so then, I have to wonder, does this apply to individual friendships – especially among single women?

Imagine a single woman, perhaps living away from her family in a busy, professional world. Due perhaps to serial disappointments, past wounds, a lack of available marriage candidates, busyness, or simply fatigue, her hope or even desire for marriage begins to wane. But with no solid community to which she can belong and contribute – it’s hard to come by in urban, transient, harried settings – where will she go to experience love? She might start trying harder with men. She might pour more of herself into her work. Or, as I often see with single women, she might eventually default to her friendships with women, or perhaps one friendship in particular, for her soul’s sole provision.

I began seeing signs of this in myself as I moved into my late twenties. The men in my life – a few of whom I was quite open to and desirous of – seemed so much less constant or reliable than the women. My roommates were there to hang out and eat dinner with; half the men I met would throw out a dinner invitation and then never call. My roommates and I would stay up late having meaningful conversations about life, our beliefs, and our dreams; many of the men I met – with some notable exceptions – not only had little language for these things, but little interest in gaining it.  So, I found myself relying more and more on my close friends.

On one hand, there was nothing wrong with this. Women have relied on one another for emotional support for eons. But on the other hand, I felt new and strange flashes of jealousy, need, desire, and anger cropping up in disproportionate amounts in a few friendships. It was as if I was hooked by the potential of “connection” in friendships that in reality weren’t designed to bear the kind of weight I hoped to put on them. I could not articulate this at the time, but I knew enough about health to know that this wasn’t it.