Chasing Rayanne Graff: A Love Letter To Teen Girl Best Friends

I can say with some certainty that I was bananas in love with every best girlfriend I had from the ages of 6 to 17.  The only reason the to-the-ends-of-the-earth love stops there is because that type of girlfriendship can get harder to come by as you get older. And even when you do find that person, being friends with your very own Rayanne Graff is not always yin yang symbols and Egyptian eyeliner application.

Very often it’s more along the lines of near-death experiences and Jordan-Catalano-sleeping-with betrayal.

For those of you who either did not come of age in the mid-’90s or have yet to experience the awkward teenage magic found within virtually any episode of My So-Called Life, Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) was the enigmatic, Janis Joplinesque best friend of straight-laced-until-she-dyed-her-hair-red Angela Chase (Claire Danes), and Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) was a boy who would fit snugly into any bad-boy-the-teen-girl-has-a-crush-on category in which you’d like to place him. Especially if that category includes qualities like “in a band” and “secretly illiterate.”

There are a myriad of reasons as to why teen girl friendships dissolve, and I don’t think the blame ever rests solely on one girl’s Rayanne-like shoulders, nor do I think that teen girl friendships are all bad. Quite the contrary.

The relationships between two teenage girls are often as staggeringly intense, intricate and complicated as friendships can get. Sure, there’s the Heavenly Creatures-style romanticism of the two of you against the world, sleeping next to each other while wearing next to nothing–and having that feel both daring and innocent all at once–requesting the Divinyls song “I Touch Myself” on the radio at midnight (look, it was 2002), spending every second between classes working on elaborate handwritten letters (again, 2002) and mastering folding techniques for said letters, immediately followed by the rush of excitement you feel when you’re finally able to give it to her or, better yet, see her again.

I was not a Rayanne in high school, but I don’t think I was an Angela either. No one is really a fictional character down to a T, but I definitely followed more than led, adored more than was adored.

In other words, my best girlfriend growing up was always some loud, endlessly hilarious, total knock-out girl in a cut-off top.

In junior high she was Sarah. Sarah had short hair and wore Z. Cavaricci jeans. She was also an amazing artist and indulged my love of creating filthy flipbooks and fake newspapers that were basically a rip-off of The Onion but based on people we knew.

If I wanted to spend the whole day speaking in regionally inaccurate accents, she would too. If I wanted to act out imagined scenes between Ginger and Baby Spice–whom I believed had a vaguely sexual relationship–she went there with me.

We were never not together. Until we were.

We went from spending every waking moment missing one another, every evening on the phone, and every weekend at each other’s house, to her completely ending all contact with me–a type of heartbreak from which I don’t know if you ever really recover.

We were getting “too close,” she needed to be friends with “other people besides you.” “Okay! That’s fine!” I said. But it didn’t do any good. She was gone.

I can’t pinpoint why she ended our friendship but I do have theories.

For one, I think our friendship blurred a lot of heteronormative lines, and from stories I’ve heard from other women this happens a lot. It doesn’t even necessarily mean either one of you is queer, but when you’re a teenager there is an overall pressure to be “normal,” and spending that much time with someone of the same sex can quickly call “normal” into question. This type of intimacy and closeness is not often socially sanctioned, as we’re told it’s reserved for your romantic partner, who–in teen years especially–is “supposed” to be someone of the opposite sex.

We did joke about it: “What if” we were gay? And the more we played house and “joked” about these things I think it started to hit closer to the truth than either of us knew what to do with. So she did something about it.

She started hanging out with the seedy boys we hated, stopped going to classes and ultimately dropped of school. Years later, I found out she’d had a baby right after senior year.

I can’t say for certain whether or not the relationship between Sarah and I was romantic, and really, that’s not the point. Either way, I think she also had a very difficult time recovering from what happened between us. And I see the effects of this type of thing in women in their 20s and beyond–seemingly shell-shocked from finally finding the girl who’ll make collages of 1930s starlets for you and cry with you until 4 a.m. while you tell each other things you can’t tell anyone, and then something happened and it was ruined.

One of you suddenly became competitive with the other, one of you fell in love with the other–or both of you fell in love with each other–and you were terrified of what people would think about that.

Every so often I hear adult women say things like, “I just get along better with men,” or “I can’t stand girls” or some variation on the two. I want to believe with all my heart that those women still long for the close female friendship they had and then lost, or never had at all. I want to believe that some part of every woman remains a teenage girl who just wants to find an unstoppably kind and inspiring girl to laugh with; someone to be in total awe of.

I believe that women genuinely want to be amazed by each other. And if we can accept this instead of fearing that if we find another girl to be incredible, it will somehow overshadow ourselves–or somehow allow her to get something we want–it’s quite possible we could heal the sensitivity left behind from losing that kinship when we were younger.

And if you are one of those girls and you’re not afraid to try again, I’m around Friday night. I have a pair of pajama pants you can borrow and a plan to order Chinese food like real adults. And I’d really like to get to know you.

Photo from Flickr user wickenden under license from Creative Commons 2.0





  1. Girl in Awe says:

    This is one of the few articles I’ve ever read that hits home 100% and is very truthfully written. Thank you for finally writing about something most teenage girls go through but NEVER talk about! I recently went through all those kept “letters” from 2002… I still remember those secret folding methods…

    I hope you find someone close to you to eat chinese with on friday night! I’d be there in a heartbeat if I could. <3

  2. What a great article! I had a best friend like that in high school and we are still best friends 25+ years later (though not without many ups and downs).

    But I also experienced the other side. I had a close friend at summer camp and the intensity just went off track and it ended badly with a lot of emotional scars on both sides. We didn’t have any contact in 20 years and then finally got back in touch. We are friends (tentatively at times) and resolved some of the old stuff but there is no going back to what the friendship was when we were young. I’m not sure I have it in me to be that intense anymore. But I never threw out the box of old letters either. I think the lessons about friendship I learned the hard way really stayed with me. But it helped me negotiate later friendships more effectively rather than scaring me away from having female friends. I am very lucky to have many wonderful close female friends from various times in my life.

  3. I remember the secret folding methods too! I had about three of these girlfriends. All at different times. I feel like the intensity of those relationships is very similar to a long term romantic relationship. I think it would be very draining to have both at once.

    I’d love to eat chinese food with you!

  4. I’ve never published a comment on this site before, even though I read it every day. But after reading your article, I just had to say I know EXACTLY what you mean. I’ve had two very intense female friendships in my life, and ‘breaking up’ with both of those girls was far more painful than splitting with any boyfriend I’ve had!

    With the first girl, we were friends from the very first day of secondary school until we were fifteen. We relied on each other completely, I was her confidante and she stuck up for me when other girls called me weird. Eventually I think she felt I knew too much about her, like I’d become a repository for all of her bad memories as well as good. I think it can be hard to grow up around someone who knows you so well, and eventually we were just stifling each other.

    The second girl sounds a lot like your Sarah; funny, gorgeous and loyal up until the end. She was the one I got seriously drunk with for the first time, and she was the one who pulled me out of the river afterwards! We would go out together on a Saturday night and see how many ‘dumb blokes’ we could get to buy us drinks. It really did feel like us against the world. I don’t think I went a day without seeing her for a year and a half, and we used to sleep side by side every weekend, talking all night and sleeping all day. There was always a kind of weird emotional connection between us, which I think her jealous boyfriend really started picking up on. As we got older he grew more and more abusive, and after he beat a guy unconscious after he saw him chatting her up, I gave her an ultimatum; leave her psycho boyfriend or lose me forever. She chose him, and I have no idea where she is now, and I haven’t found a female friend I love as much since.

    If you ever feel like coming so South Wales, I’d also love to eat Chinese food with you! 😀 x

    • Hi!
      I loved your comment so much. Please keep in touch and if I’m ever going to be in South Wales I promise to announce it to the Twitter world, if nothing else. And if/when I do, please do give a shout! Or give a shout either way.


  5. I think you’re right that intense teen girl friendships are something we don’t often talk about. And while the issue of crossing the heteronormativity line is certainly at play, I think plenty of these friendships end for reasons completely unrelated to sexuality or closeness.

    For me, it was drugs – my best friend started smoking pot and my concern was interpreted as disapproval and in all honesty was disapproval, long story short, it collapsed our friendship.

    I have a feeling that part of the reason we don’t have friendships like this as we get older is that we just don’t have the same sorts of intense feelings we used to when we were teenagers – everything burned brighter then. Everything felt like life or death. I’m not sure it’s possible to have the same intense closeness as an adult, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have adult closeness, which can still include borrowed pj pants, shared secrets and Chinese food, but also includes a lot more self-confidence, self-awareness, and independence. Huzzah!

  6. Thank you so much for writing so honestly and openly. My best friend and I had a similar split in middle school, but I was in Sarah’s position instead of yours. Part of me doesn’t understand why it happened, and I’ve spent many nights trying to figure that out, and regretting the decisions and circumstances that led us to that point… Although I have a successful and happy life now, I’ve always wished there was a way to go back and reclaim that closeness, because part of my heart still belongs to that friend. It’s therapeutic to hear that I may not be the only one who somehow lost something so precious… and that there’s hope that I can find it again. And of course, I would also love to join you for Chinese food, anytime. 🙂

  7. It’s not often I disagree with anything on Ms, but I take issue with this one. I’m one of those women who gets along better with men. Yes, I had a best female friend when I was a kid – we went to sleep away camp together and played at fairies. She decided I was too weird when we were 11. It hurt like hell, sure.

    But I can’t say I’ve ever ‘longed’ to have that back. When the women you know say they get along with men better than they get along with women, they’re not saying it because they’re afraid female friends will “overshadow” them. They’re saying it because, well, they get along better with men. And for me at least, it’s exactly this kind of attitude which strengthens my preference for male friends: that “Why don’t you want to be friends with girls? Are you THREATENED by us? Is this the results of some deep-seated vulnerability? What’s wrong with you? I bet you secretly long to hang out with us but are just too THREATENED.” Ungh. No. Enough drama, enough ego. Why am I not allowed to find an unstoppably kind and inspiring BOY to laugh with and be in awe of?

  8. I can completely relate…

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