While, today, friendship has been at least partially relegated to secondary status—as Tara Parker-Pope pointed out in The New York Times, even sociologists and psychologists tend to downplay its effects in favor of those of romantic love—female friendship is also, Yalom and Donovan Brown argue, on the rise. As Emily Rapp put it a few years ago:
Here’s the truth: Friendships between women are often the deepest and most profound love stories, but they are often discussed as if they are ancillary, “bonus” relationships to the truly important ones. Women’s friendships outlast jobs, parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and sometimes children.
Broad City reflects that. So do a handful of other shows—most of them, tellingly, created by women. Girls, an Atlantic roundtable noted, argues that “friendships are more dramatic than romances.” The pilot for the USA comedy Playing House—a show, Julie Beck wrote, that “understands that many women’s most important relationships are platonic”—ends with a classic “one chases the other on the way to the airport” trope. Those shows are following, as Broad City is, in a long tradition—a path paved by Mary and Rhoda and Laverne and Shirley and Thelma and Louise—but they’re also building on it. They’re normalizing it.
The friendships, here, aren’t competing with romantic relationships. They’re not treated as “ancillary.” Nor are they making, à la Thelma and Louise, subversively feminist statements. Instead: They just are. “Let’s get married!” Ilana says to Abbi, and it’s awkward but also it’s not at all. And that in itself is subversive. Broad City, a show whose plots revolve around weed and booze and sex—the show whose third season intro explores the many creative and disgusting uses of an apartment’s bathroom—has one core theme. It is that love conquers all.
The rom-com is on the one hand an extremely silly genre, full of fluff and goo and thirst. But it is also a genre that, in its roundabout way, is revealing: It pays homage to what a culture most cares about. Rom-coms—heteronormative, matrimonormative, whatever else you want to call them—were triumphant for centuries because they reflected ideas their respective societies held dear: that romance was a primary, and empowering, goal of life. That idea lives on, to be sure, if Nielsen ratings for The Bachelor are any indication—but it has also broadened, and loosened. Friendship, so long relegated to second-class status as a category of relationship, is reclaiming its place—as a social institution, and as a pursuit worthy of human time and attention and love.
The new episodes of Broad City, with all their talk of marriage, suggest that the show will keep asking what Abbi and Ilana are to each other; they also suggest, however, that the definition doesn’t much matter in the end. That the line between the romantic and the platonic, in a culture that celebrates fluidity and flexibility and the phrase “cultural construct,” is a thin one. That if love conquers all, definitions that would try to constrain it must be counted among the vanquished. The root of the word “friendship,” after all, is “pri-.” Which doesn’t mean “secondary” or “pragmatic” or “while you wait for the real thing to come along.” It means, simply, “love.”