Sometimes, the best relationships are the ones you don’t have to work at.
There’s this scene in Saint Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) walk through a farmer’s market together. They pick up a few things, sprigs of greenery and a single unripe mango, and sit on a bench, eating an apple (her) and a pretzel (him), before bidding each other farewell and spinning off in opposite directions to continue their Sundays.
I have a friend with whom I have a remarkably similar relationship, disregarding all of You’ve Got Mail’s falling-in-love-in-an-online-chatroom stuff.
We met at university while she was studying to be a doctor and me, a journalist, and because she never had any time to do anything other than attend anatomy demonstrations and sleep, the foundation of our friendship was built on two things.
The first was running errands together around the suburb where we lived, which usually involved going to the supermarket – to know a person’s weekly shop is to love them – or to the post office, where I would unfurl a tote bag bulging with eBay items that required packaging and sending. Having a plus one, here, was particularly useful.
The second was sitting side by side in the uni library, twin laptops propped up against reference books, working quietly. Sometimes, on those days that we were ‘catching up’ we would barely say more than a few sentences to each other outside of “do you want some almonds” or a single, comforting, one-word inquiry (“Tea?”).
She is not my best friend, but hers is one of the only relationships in my life that I have never had to work at. She’s a low maintenance friend, unfussy and easygoing; the relationship equivalent of a denim jacket, or an Agatha Christie novel, or the entire Glossier brand identity. It’s the kind of friendship that rarely gets the recognition that it deserves.
This viral Tweet, shared over the weekend, attempts to redress that imbalance. “Low maintenance friends are my favourite kind,” user @Liahsux posted. “Haven’t properly hung out in a week? Cool. Wanna just hang out at ur place and do our own work next to each other? OK.
“Need me to keep u company while we run errands? No problem,” she writes. “We’ve got our own lives, plus each other.” (Later, @Liahsux clarified that as a student all her close friends live by and are currently jobless, so a week is actually a long time for her not to hang out with one of them. For my low-maintenance friendships, I’d up that to a month, or maybe even three.)
I’ve imbibed so many bad messages from pop culture over the years. I thought that working at a magazine would be exactly as it appeared in The Devil Wears Prada, complete with a never-ending fashion cupboard at my disposal. I believed that interviewing celebrities would be as dramatic and exciting as Notting Hill makes it look, when in reality it’s just a lot of picking things out of your teeth while you wait around in empty hotel rooms.
I learnt most of my friendship lessons from the all-or-nothing relationships on display in Sex and the City. This is what friendship should be like, I thought. It should be about pouring all your time and energy into close relationships with a small group of women you see all the time to the exclusion of all else: money, career, relationships, other friends.
For everything there is a season, and there are more than enough seasons for that kind of friendship. But it takes time to unlearn the niggling belief that there’s a causal link between intensity and strength. That the more passionate a relationship is, the truer or better that relationship is. It’s as true in romantic partnerships as it is in platonic ones.
Don’t get me wrong, I think for the most part – Carrie abandoning Miranda when she’s thrown out her back and sending Aidan to help in her place notwithstanding – the friendships in Sex and the City are good ones.
But the moments I cherish from that show are not the four central women’s grand gestures of emotion or support. They’re all the little in-between snippets of scenes, usually featuring a smaller pairing of the main quartet, doing something like rapturously eating a Magnolia Bakery cupcake, or sharing a little pot of frozen yoghurt, or agonising over another pair of Jimmy Choos. Together.
These moments of low maintenance friendship are the most realistic thing about Sex and the City, a show that posits that Carrie could live – terrifically fashionably – in New York on the income generated from a single weekly column.
I was back home in Australia last week and organised a dinner to catch up with my school and uni friends. The dinner was something of a disaster. My WhatsApp kept blowing up with complaints about the venue, the location, the time, the night, the fact that I had chosen an evening in which The Bachelor – a reality television show beloved in Oz at near Love Island levels of lunacy – aired, forcing everyone who attended to watch that night’s episode on catch up.
But my low maintenance friend turned up, on time, ordered noodle soup and slurped it companionably next to me. We won’t see each other for a while, but I’m not worried. There are always more groceries to be bought, more errands to run, more hot chocolates to be bought, more afternoons we could spend at the library working next to each other.
We have separate lives, and each other.
Images: Unsplash, Getty