When my friend Sonya asked me to do a guest post for her Hot Researcher (that’s what I call it in my head) blog, I knew I wanted to find a way to tie it in with her delightful series about the great poet Katherine Philips. After all, that blog series inspired me to add a week of Katherine to my British Lit class. The least I could do was pay tribute.
And in a way, I already do pay tribute to the poet. After all, her great passion in writing and, presumably, life, was a topic dear to my heart. Female friendships. Most of my novels revolve around female friendships. Even when there’s a general love story, the framework of the book is built around those who bolster and support the main characters.
The ubiquitous they say to write what you know. Well, I know friendship with women. They have been some of the deepest, most rewarding relationships in my life. The woman in my life support each other. They offer encouragement, wisdom, empathy. They connect in a way that only a group of people who are joined by a common bond can connect.
My relationships with women have been physical in a way I’ve never been with male friends. My friends and I cuddled up for movies, held hands while walking, took naps together, laid on blankets in fields, a pile of us, watching the stars during outdoor concerts. We have, with consent, given each other massages, haircuts, and facials.
Last year, my wife and I moved to a small rural town in British Columbia, Canada. I’ve met a couple people here, but no one I would consider a friend yet. And friendships, warm, loving friendships, take time to build. I haven’t met anyone with whom I can even imagine the kind of deep relationships I’ve had in the past.
I’ve been taking the time without local friends to develop my writing. I’ve taken several craft of writing classes. I’m in a doctoral program. I teach online. I’ve been putting in a lot of time with my own self-work. And I have my wife and our pets and the love and joy that comes from living together and exploring our new world together. I love this family and I couldn’t imagine being without them.
But there’s something missing—A body memory and the creative spark that ignites in an instant after sinking down onto an airbed with three or four of my closest friends. I miss the ease of writing effective banter between my characters after a weekend spent bantering with my friends. I miss the non-sexual intimacy that I experienced with other women for what, from the other side of it, seems like the briefest of times.
I think that’s what Katherine Philips was writing about. I don’t know if she had affairs with her female friends. I don’t know that any of us can say for sure that someone who lived so long ago can decidedly be labeled as one thing or another. I can say this—I have experienced love beyond measure from women in my life and my heart despairs at the possibility that I will never experience that kind of female friendship again. I think Katherine Philips would understand.
Beth and I met on staff at the Library of Michigan. She is writer, teacher, lifelong student, and friend. You can find her blogging at BethsNewLife.com.