In the classic 1984 film “Sixteen Candles,” Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) is obsessed with one person, and one person only: the majestic Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). He’s perfect in every way. Popular, gorgeous, wealthy, and sensitive (he’s looking for more than just a party girl, after all), Jake is a dream, and he steals the show. In theory, “Sixteen Candles” is about a girl whose family forgets her birthday, but in reality, it’s about Jake Ryan, who at the conclusion of the movie stands outside Sam’s sister’s wedding to pick Samantha up in his sports car—a regular ’80s fantasy.
“Me?” Sam mouths, still clutching her bouquet.
“Yeah, you!” Jake says, and it’s so adorable and perfect.
Samantha clambers into the passenger seat, and the final scene features the two devouring Sam’s birthday cake to a groovy Thompson Twins song.
“Make a wish,” Jake says.
Sam smiles. “It already came true,” she answers, and then they kiss over the cake and its 16 candles. The music swells. It’s fantastic. And it’s the ultimate resolution: everything is okay, because Jake is there.
I am not making an argument about heteronormativity or patriarchy or anything like that. To be frank, those conversations are boring to me. This is an argument about love and friendship. In watching the film, I found myself wondering not about Jake Ryan, in all his birthday cake-eating splendor, but about Caroline. Caroline is Samantha’s friend who’s been with her throughout this whole journey, listening to her complain about her bad luck and lack of male suitors. What happens to Caroline? The scene with Jake is adorable, and I’m a full supporter of their love. But Caroline, the steadfast friend and confidant, has disappeared. The love is self-explanatory. The friendship, on the other hand, vanishes without a trace.
I’m troubled by the fact that a movie or book is simply not viable if it doesn’t have one major romantic relationship, and the depiction of romance often comes at the expense of developed friendships. The apparent message is that romance is part of our full becoming of ourselves while friendships play supporting roles. Friends of the main character are always focused on helping the hero get the guy, and once that objective is achieved, they, like Caroline, step out of the way to let the real story unfold.
Look again at “Sixteen Candles”: Sam’s friend Caroline—I couldn’t even remember her name without looking it up—is a voice on the phone, a figure that stands beside Molly in leg warmers and an unfortunate shade of eye shadow. She’s a prop. She has a couple of good lines, but let’s be honest: we don’t know who Caroline is, and you can’t blame us for not really caring all that much to find out.
Look at another popular movie, “Juno”: Juno’s friend Leah is hilarious and seems complex, but Juno’s relationship with her is painfully flat. There’s no conflict, no real resolution: that’s all left for Paulie Bleeker. Juno and Leah’s conversations are funny and tender, but there’s no real depth or emotional strife, which, again, is channeled into Juno’s relationship with the Tic Tac-eating, yellow sweatband-wearing Paulie, who strums a guitar and runs cross-country.
Look at your own life. Think about your own friends, if you have them, and think about your friends’ beaus, if they have them. From what I can tell, friendship is the first thing to go when someone becomes attached romantically to another person: “before anyone else” is a literal term, and suddenly that “anyone else” becomes you.
Maybe it’s that romance is inherently more interesting than friendship. Is that it? But from what I’ve seen of both, friendships are infinitely more interesting than romances. There are really only a few types of possible romances—the type where the two people like each other and then the type where they don’t anymore—but an infinite variety of friendships.
Friendships have shaped me, but they have also made me realize who I don’t want to be. Friendships have saved my life, but they’ve also ruined me and made me swear to get myself to a nunnery. Friends have been present for all of the major highs and lows of my life. Some friends have also been notably absent for some of those highs and lows. My friends knew me when I was a sobbing mess in fifth grade. They knew me when I got into college. They’ll know me when I’m old. I have laughed so hard with my friends that I’ve peed. I have been so angry at my friends that I’ve cried.
Isn’t friendship more interesting than romance? It’s a relief not to have to worry about the state of the relationship, or to worry about whether one of us loves the other a little bit more. Friendship doesn’t cloud our brains with chemicals that make us do crazy things. People say that their significant others make them better people, but so do friends. It’s not that I care about impressing them; I don’t. But they teach me in countless ways to be better. Friendships can begin and end in any countless number of creative ways, from meet-cutes to mutual hatred to mutual admiration. And the way they develop over the course of a lifetime is as multilayered and multifaceted as 10 romances.
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and the same phrases echo all across campus: if I don’t have a Valentine, I’ll die alone. If I can’t find the apple of my eye on Valentine’s Day, I’ll shut myself up in my room and weep. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sweetheart-less-ness does not have to mean loneliness. Our choice doesn’t have to be between solitude and happy coupledom. This is not an ultimatum. Friends count as company, and our relationships with them are incredibly complex. Sure, romance is cool. But it’s kind of getting old.
On “The Bachelor,” contestants are known for their self-righteous refrain about why they’re on the show: “I didn’t come here to make friends. I came here to find love.” What if our collective priorities are messed up? What if the “right reasons” (to adopt another “Bachelor” catchphrase) are sometimes friendship, not love? Friends are precious. Show your friends some love. They probably aren’t expecting it, and they probably don’t need it, because that’s the greatest thing about friendship, but they deserve it anyway.
Jenny Davis is a member of the Class of 2017.