Once sitting on a beach in Oahu, Hawaii, I watched two women attempt to get a kayak from the shore to a nearby small island. They capsized more than they stayed upright, resulting in lost oars, a headscarf that floated away and even a bikini top that threatened to sail off with the tide. Their lack of coordination was so dramatic it seemed like it had been choreographed and soon the entire beach was being entertained by the duo. Their nickname became Lucy and Ethel, after the kooky characters on I Love Lucy, best friends who were always up to something that wasn’t working out quite right. Beach Lucy and Ethel were a mess. But, if their laughs and the way they kept smiling as another oar drifted away was any indication, they were also totally in love with each other and this adventure.
Sitting on the beach with me were two of my girlfriends. From the outside looking in, we seemed like three thirty-something Black women in cute bathing suits and Indian print cover-ups. In truth, though, we were also a mess, dealing collectively with bad men, bad credit, bad jobs and bad balances in our bank accounts. But we had one huge thing going for us: we were with the women who were going to pick us up when the mess felt too overwhelming. This trip wasn’t just intended to see Hawaii, but for good ol' girl talk and priceless healing.
Like Lucy and Ethel, we were also in a platonic love affair with each other, friends who weren’t just good company on vacation, but who also were our crutches when things went terribly wrong. Although reality television seems intent on proving that Black women are always looking to stab each other in the back, toss a table into the air and fight, the truth is nowhere near those negative shenanigans. The women who are happiest are the ones who know that when they are lower than low, they have girlfriends who will never stop being there for them and finding a way—or a glass of wine—to make them smile.
Fortunately, the rest of popular culture seems to be light years ahead of Real Housewives and Love & Hip Hop in reflecting the power of Black women’s friendships. Who did Kelly Rowland say helped her when she was in an abusive relationship? BFF Beyoncé. And on TV, who was it that Mary Jane turned to when she was a tequila’d up train wreck forced to admit to stealing sperm to a man who kept calling her “crazy”? Her friends, who had shown all season that even though their own lives were a mess, they could still get it together to help Mary Jane (including thinking to give her driver a safe list of places to take her once she was too drunk to be anything but self-destructive). Every woman has been at those places and it’s usually our friends who will hold our hands, dispense some tough love, and make us swear we’ll call them every time we want to call him and then not hate us or make us feel bad when we don’t. It is, quite simply, the reason Olivia Pope could really use a girlfriend or two to keep her out of the Presidential bed. And why Lucy and Ethel weren’t afraid each time their boat turned over—because they knew the other would keep them from going under.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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