When I was young and like many little girls, I was bewitched by all things magical and had a keen sense of romantic sensitivity.

I would regularly claim to spot mermaids in the froth of breaking waves and would meticulously construct fairy circles in my grandmother’s garden. These tendencies would lead me to weave fanciful and elaborate dreams about my future, mainly about love. In all the rituals, potions and stories I concocted as a young girl, there’s one that sticks out in my mind. 

One particular holiday in the Blue Mountains, my cousin and I were around twelve – the age when many children start to fully understand what awaits them in teenagerhood – namely, romance. One night, under a full moon, I proposed a plan – we would cast a spell to summon our future partners and design our prince charmings. Petals were gathered from the flowering bushes that surrounded our accommodation and a large plastic salad bowl was stolen from the kitchenette and filled with water. With great reverence and solemnity, we sat on the deck and threw petals into the bowl. As each one hit the surface, we would say aloud a quality that we wanted in a future partner. 



“Dark hair!” 

When the ritual was over and the bushes were bare of their flowers, we threw the contents of the bowl out onto the lawn quite matter-of-factly. Completed with confidence, we did not doubt that what had transpired between us that night had set us up very nicely for when we were grown women. Now, as a young woman with aspirations for a career as a writer and a bachelor’s degree under my belt, I look back and question, with the opportunity of a full moon and a ritual, why did I only wish for a romantic relationship with a man? 

In my developing mind, I had an understanding that women found their identity in being the object of romantic love. To be loved by a man was equated to being accomplished – one day when I was clever enough and pretty enough, I would be chosen. However, there’s little personal autonomy as an object.  

Many pioneers of third-wave feminism have fought against the objectification of women and for their greater value in society. Much of their activism has focused on the role of women in social and political spaces. At twenty-two years old I’m still learning how to navigate my position in the world as a young woman. My sense of accomplishment with my career and my education has not always been constant. Upon reflection, there’s a source of value and abundance in my life that is disconnected from any metric measure of success – my friendships. Throughout the dawn of my adult years, my most impactful, and intimate relationships have been with my close female friends. If our platonic relationships were treated as reverently as our romantic ones, what would be possible? 

Philosopher Simone de Beauvoir described the desire to love and be loved as part of the structure of human existence. Her 1949 work The Second Sex explores women as the ‘other’ in society and how men and women often develop asymmetrical expectations of love.  De Beauvoir discusses heterosexual love as being either ‘authentic’ or ‘inauthentic’. Within her framework, to achieve authentic love, both lovers need to maintain their individuality. But in the context of heterosexual monogamy and the biological family unit, is this even possible for women?  

Many women are often first and foremost identified as wives and mothers, essentially, they have relational autonomy. Relational autonomy proposes that as the ‘Self’ is related to those around us in various ways, the way we identify ourselves cannot be a practice that is achieved alone. While an explanation such as this may relate positively to ideas of community and comradery, many women experience a loss of self as wives and mothers. 

Many women in heterosexual relationships must, to some degree, be experiencing inauthentic love – described by De Beauvoir as being based on inequality between the sexes: 

“[Men] never abandon themselves completely […] they remain sovereign subjects; the woman they love is merely one value among others; they want to integrate her into their existence, not submerge their entire existence in her. By contrast, love for the woman is a total abdication for the benefit of a master.” 

If our support systems and our identity are entangled with relationships that have an inherent power imbalance, is there space for authentic love? While De Beauvoir’s outlook may appear characteristically existential, there is a faint yet unmistakable silver lining. If heterosexual relationships leave women devoid of true identity and autonomy, what is left? Our female friendships. 

Within my female friendships, I’ve rediscovered something from my childhood that’s been lacking in my romantic relationships with men – magic. There’s something about friendships between women that makes pagan behaviour seem reasonable. I can understand why medieval witches were often accused of dancing naked around bonfires; I would do that too for my best friends.   

To be clear, I’m not saying that people don’t need romance or romantic relationships, nor am I saying that all heterosexual relationships cause harm to the women in them. Romantic relationships can be a source of unique joy and adventure. Where they become problematic is when they are the centre of our personal universes. As for romance, there’s space and, arguably, a necessity for it in our platonic relationships too. I implore you to buy a bouquet of flowers for your dearest female friend and see what good it does.  

With platonic relationships at the centre of our worlds, there’s a web of support and intimacy without the power imbalance inherent in some heterosexual relationships.

By decentralising the role of romantic love in our lives and valuing other relationships just as equally, there’s an opportunity for community building, deep understanding, and cultivation of our own personal identity.

If, at twelve years old, under that Blue Mountains moon, I had wished for an ideal best friend – when, as an adult, my romantic relationships fell short of the mark again and again, it wouldn’t have felt like I had as far to fall. Rather than the sun dropping out of my personal solar system, I’d lose a moon or two. Still a knock to the system, just not an earth-shattering one. Perhaps, feminism and gender equality can be aided and progressed by revolutionary love for our friends. 

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