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Female Friendships: as we age, how do we maintain these bonds?

***SPOILERS FOR FIREFLY LANE*** Do NOT read on if you don't want to know what happens in the series!

I binged the final episodes of Firefly Lane this weekend and found myself in a heap of tears–not only because protagonist Kate’s cancer returns and she passes away—but because I’ve never had my own Kate or Tully, and that’s simply not fair. The series made me reflect upon my female friendships and why I’ve never had one deeply intimate female friendship that has ensued my entire life, and it left me with serious FOMO. I do wonder though if Kate and Tully’s is an accurate depiction of female friendship.

The story is an engaging, dramatic and fun journey through life’s hardships as women. Kate Mularkey, the reserved, nerdy friend, and Tully Hart, the outspoken, ambitious newscaster are well portrayed by Sarah Chalke and Katherine Heigl. The show, based on the novel by Kristin Hannah, chronicles the women’s friendship from ninth grade on where they lived across the street from one another on Firefly Lane, leaving no cringy coming-of-age situation untouched. Kate and Tully are each other’s ride-or-die.

But is their friendship realistic?

Sadly, my gut feeling is NO.

Do you remember Mary Schmich’s Wear Sunscreen speech where she writes: “work hard to bridge gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young?” The older I get, the more I think about this. Kate and Tully met at age 14 and worked their asses off to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle. As Tully became a famous news anchor and talk show personality, Kate was raising a baby in Seattle. When Tully took a job on the east coast, she and Kate spoke on the phone daily to keep in touch. It probably helped that they both were wealthy (Kate’s house in the series goes for 22 million in real life[1]) and that Tully was a celebrity, but theirs is a story of sticking up a middle finger to the geography and lifestyle differences that can pull friends apart.

The hard truth of middle-class normies, however, is that geography and lifestyle play a huge role in our connection with our friends, regardless of how important they are to us. After college, most of my friends scattered around the country. We can bridge geography and lifestyle with FaceTime, care packages and semi-consistent meet-ups, but we also have jobs and commitments and kids. Research suggests we each have a close inner circle of five (including friends and family members)[2] who help bear life’s load. How many of the inner circle live within one hour of us though? The truth is, I have leaned on neighbors and co-workers almost as much as my inner-circle, as their proximity is a default means of connection—perhaps not as deep as the inner-circle, but certainly as essential. I work hard to gap the bridges in geography and lifestyle, but my ability to visit and keep in touch only goes so far, as disappointing as this sounds. And seeing as I lived in Germany for eleven years, this was quite a feat.

Furthermore, sometimes we simply outgrow old friendships, and the people who were our best childhood or high school buddies grow in different directions. Or we have a falling-out. Though this hurts and can feel like a major loss, it is also natural. A 2022 UK poll of 2,000[3] individuals came to the conclusion that average friendship spans seventeen years, though some last over thirty years. In my life I’ve gone through a couple best friends, and I recently lost a lifelong friend over a situation with a man. Things were said that couldn’t be taken back. An ultimatum was presented. I made a hard choice. Perhaps someday the dust will settle and there will be space for a conversation and forgiveness, but right now, it seems impossible.

There were points in Firefly Lane in which I thought even Kate and Tully would have an irrevocable falling-out—like when Kate married Johnny, who had at one point drunkenly slept with Tully—yet Kate and Tully kept returning, much like with nuptial vows, to their own personal creed: “Firefly Lane girls forever.” I admire this because it reminds us of the constant commitment we need to show to our female friendships. However, due to my own situation, I question how Kate and Tully went forward after this. In the novel, Kate has lingering distrust of Tully and Johnny, which ceases to exist in the show. Does the reality of dating someone a close friend has slept with render the man off-limits? Or are Kate and Tully above that? Is anyone above that? And why was this changed for the Netflix series?

As vastly different personalities, would Kate and Tully have even become friends had they met in their twenties at KPOC Tacoma. Or was being neighbors on Firefly Lane the one true glue that could hold them together in perpetuity? Is it different watching a friend grow and change and flourish and mess up when you’ve known them your entire life? Do those roots hold stronger?

Experts say that we are most likely to meet our best friends in our twenties, when we are more selective about who we spend our time with.[4] I met the majority of my current closest female friends later in life. I am now 37. My elder cousin Jayne and I became close when I was 27. My best friend Cora and I met when we were 31. These are the women I can share anything withthe deepest, darkest, most shameful secrets—without fear of judgement. I wouldn’t compare these to the Firefly Lane girls’ level of intimacy, but they are extremely important.

Now for the ultimate question: do I wish I had a Kate or a Tully? Yes and no. Yes, because I want to know what it feels like to be loved that much by a friend. No, because their relationship seemed a bit codependent and outlandish at times (ahem, Johnny) and there is serenity in not sharing every single, gory detail of life with one single person. However, this judgement might just be a result of my jealous FOMO of never having had a lifetime ride-or-die best friend.

And, deep down, isn’t that type of love what we all truly want in a friendship?

[1] [2] [3],friend%20for%20over%2030%20years! [4]

Amy Lynn Hardy and Cora Hofstetter

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