girl talk

The Great Digital BFF Renaissance

Photo: Genevieve Naylor/Corbis

At noon on Sunday, a female friend texted me three pictures of herself in lingerie. They were intended for a man she’d been sleeping with, and she wanted me to review them. “He sexted me a lot last week, but then when I initiated a couple days ago, no response,” she said. “These are Hail Mary tits.”

After issuing a reminder that she is definitely too good for this inattentive loser, I reviewed the pics. “GIRL THESE ARE GOOD. Your bod is TIGHT. Did you join a gym or something? Nice panties.” We discussed our favorite underwear brands, the best selfie poses for hiding beer-bloated tummies, and why her latest sex partner is a jerk. Then we tried to schedule a hangout, but finding ourselves without mutual availability, gave up. Nevertheless, she messaged again at 5 p.m.: “Okay I’m getting fucked tonight, good work team.”

The next morning I woke up to a postcoital update and we were off again, back to an ongoing conversation as intimate as those at slumber parties, but taking place over a few minutes here and there as we went about our adult lives. Lucky us: When my generation moved out of the dorms, technology developed to allow us to live in a perpetual virtual slumber party, gossiping with all our friends. The result may actually be more intimate than the face-to-face alternative — without camera phones, I wouldn’t have seen my friend’s lip-biting sexy face.

“I’m in the midst of a Friend Renaissance,” my friend Chrissy recently exclaimed. When Chrissy’s teenage clique, the Giggies, reunited briefly last year, a group text message thread began — and has continued ever since. Living now in three different states in two time zones, the Giggies text thread lights up when members have “celebrity gossip, high school gossip, basically the things we would talk about in person.” They’d had group emails and Facebook threads before, but the ability to update the group instantly by text message, at any time, has triggered a Giggie resurgence.

“I think my favorite moment was when we live-texted the VMAs, which felt like we were back in the Bonus Room,” Chrissy reflected, referring to the hideaway room above the garage in fellow Giggie Janelle’s childhood home.

The “rooms” we create in group email, text, and Facebook threads really do feel like bonuses. A friend in her late thirties noted that, a decade ago, she communicated with far-flung friends primarily through one-on-one phone calls, which required interpersonal commitment. As technology lowers the barrier for communication, she’s not just getting back in touch, but staying in touch, with friends who’d slipped through the cracks. “I can be in constant communication with lots of friends, as opposed to spending hours with each one. It’s like when we all lived in the dorms together.” Instead of trading hugs between classes, they’re swapping emoji.

These new conversations may be superficial, but that’s part of their joy. In a previous era, my sexting friend might have told me the story of her inattentive sex partner a week or two later; she probably wouldn’t have told me which panties she wore, and I certainly wouldn’t have a timestamped record of the exact moment she finished boning him. To some, this information may be TMI. It certainly feels more immature than, say, the more serious IRL conversations we’ve had about our love lives. But there’s a comfort in the superficiality, too, and the immediacy creates a livelier relationship. When we text, we’re free to indulge moment-to-moment specifics: waiting for a phone call, obsessing over he-said she-said texts, trying on outfits together before going to different parties in different cities or on other sides of the city. This perpetual availability feels like an adolescent luxury —  a reminder of the days when your best friends were people you saw every 45 minutes, during class changes, and talked to on open phone calls all night.

The sheer quantity of time we have for each other has, of course, diminished significantly. (“There are some days when a Giggie will send a text, but no one will respond for days because we’re too busy,” Janelle notes.) But the mere fact that we can — and sometimes do — indulge the glib and momentary revives the feeling that our best friends are by our sides at all times. Even an ad hoc assemblage of strangers can sometimes turn into a tight-knit group with a private code of inside jokes — witness the “twitter canoe,” the social media equivalent of a group of kids sitting down in a sandbox together and becoming automatic friends by virtue of proximity.

“I feel like I hear studies about how texting is ruining communication and relationships, but I honestly feel like the texts have brought us closer together,” Janelle says. “I can send a quick text in passing while I’m walking to work, a reminder that ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you,’ or ‘Hey, remember when?’ We can know a little about what’s going on each other’s lives, even when we won’t have time to talk for weeks or sometimes months.” Some may find the constant chatter and creep toward co-dependence childish — but the art of friendship has always been one that children perform more naturally than adults. (Other things children do better than adults: imagination, texting, wonderment, recovering from the shame of shitting in your pants.) I, for one, am relishing the return of the Bonus Room.

“Those were literally the best photos I have ever taken,” my sexting friend later confessed. “Like I was so proud of them. I just wanted to show someone, so someone would witness it other than him.” She recalled another woman’s theory that boudoir photos are not for a woman’s partner so much as for posterity — so she can look back years later and marvel at the days when she was young and hot.  “So as a witness to your selfies, I am now witness to the living history of your hotness,” I replied. “Yes. BFFAE,” she agreed.

The Great Digital BFF Renaissance