After Prince Charming: Why We Need Stories That Center Female Friendships
Salma El-Wardany on Fairytales, Enduring Platonic Relationships, and Happy Endings that Don’t Involve Men
The real fairy tale, that has never been written, is that once the glass slipper fits, the long slumber ends, and the law of the land changes, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jasmine all go out for brunch. They complain about their jobs, discuss their hobbies, and swap notes on their sex lives and menstrual cycles.
Decades later, after they all divorce their princes because, let’s be honest, those men were never going to share the household labor or the childrearing, and a string of different lovers, partners and relationships have come and gone from their lives, they still meet every week, their friendship the real unchanging, enduring relationship of their lives. Had that story been told, if those were the fairy tales we consumed as children, life might be very different today.
The story of romantic relationships, charming men, marriage and babies has shaped our world. These stories have gotten women down the aisle, kept them in marriages and kept the population of the world rising. However, the story of female friendship, which is arguably the backbone of those marriages and babies, is one we have neglected to tell and in doing so, we have done women a great disservice.
Sure, we’ve touched on female friendship in popular culture, but often it is told as a stopgap before a woman becomes a wife and a mother. It is the thing a young woman enjoys in her twenties before the serious work of life begins, and the friends she used to hang out with become an indulgence that a mother just cannot afford.
Elizabeth Bennett and Charlotte Lucas are thick as thieves until Darcy and Collins replace their friendship and as much as I’d like to bill Pride & Prejudice as a novel about friends, it’s not. Bridget Jones’s Diary is often cited as an example of friendship in literature but the very notion that Bridget cares about anything as much as she cares about finding “the one” is quite frankly absurd.
And of course, every Disney cartoon, Sophie Kinsella book, and Nicholas Sparks movie makes a side point about the trusty friend every gal needs, but they ultimately act as a weathervane, pointing legions of women and girls towards marriage.
There are rare exceptions. L.M. Montgomery taught me about the beautify of female friendships and showed me what it could look like. Anne and Diana’s relationship is the real love story of that series, Gilbert a secondary love interest. When I first finished Anne of Green Gables, I tore a piece of paper out of my notebook and scribbled down the exact same words that Anne writes to Diana:
When twilight drops her curtain down,
and pins it with a star,
remember that you have a friend,
though she may wander far.
I immediately walked to my best friend’s house and dropped it through her letterbox. Similarly, the relationship between the Ya-Yas in Rebecca Wells’s novel is the beating heart of the book. The husbands are an afterthought, mentioned occasional but never given centre stage.
These books told the story of female friendship and in doing so taught me how to show up for my girlfriends. But I am a product of my environment, and for every example of female friendship, I consumed twenty about romantic love; like many other women, I fell into wanting the fairytale of a big diamond, a white wedding, and dreaming what my children would one day be called.
Fast forward a couple of broken hearts and an abusive relationship later and I found myself single in the city, re-imagining and rebuilding a brand-new life for myself. That life was and is made possible by the remarkable women by my side. The women who have picked me up after every heartbreak, wiped the tears from my face, fed me when I wasn’t eating and who assured me, that under no circumstances, was it my fault.
They are the ones who got into bed with me when I couldn’t get out of it, cried with me when I sobbed, celebrated the jobs and promotions and checked to make sure I’d arrived at every destination safely. My girlfriends have been more supportive, consistent, loving and romantic than any man in my life has ever been.I was adamant that this was one story that wouldn’t end at the bottom of an aisle, but instead be one of the happiest endings I’ve ever known: ending the day entwined with your girlfriends, laughing, talking, crying, joking.
It is no surprise that when I wrote my novel, These Impossible Things, I wanted to write a story that was a love letter to female friendships. I knew that no matter which characters were falling in love or getting married, the real love story was going to be between the women. I was adamant that this was one story that wouldn’t end at the bottom of an aisle, but instead be one of the happiest endings I’ve ever known: ending the day entwined with your girlfriends, laughing, talking, crying, joking.
As a storyteller I am acutely aware of how I make my readers feel, and while wrapping a novel up with a traditional bow and a wedding cake might feel good for a second, I cannot bear the thought that a woman somewhere in the world will later feel disappointed, or unsuccessful, in her life because she hasn’t found a man or had a baby yet. I won’t be the reason that she feels like a failure for not reaching a social norm that is ridiculously antiquated and, let’s be honest, not half as fulfilling as female friendships.
So, I write different stories. Stories about women and the enduring beauty of female friendships. Women who want more from their lives than to spend their days arguing over who was the last person to unload the dishwasher. I write happy endings that don’t involve men.
I tell a tale that I hope begins to shape our cultural practices and norms and reminds women that the greatest loves of their life will not be the man you married or the one you should have, but rather the women who have been by your side throughout it all.
These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany is available via Grand Central Publishing.