In Farrah Rochon’s new contemporary romance, The Boyfriend Project, three women find out via social media that they’ve all been dating the same man. And while Rochon’s book primarily follows one of them, Samiah, as her pact with the other women to not date for six months is challenged by her incredibly appealing co-worker, Daniel, it also celebrates the friendship between the three women as it blossoms into a powerful and positive bond. In this essay, Rochon explores fictional friendships between women and asks why they don’t play a more central role in romance novels today.
The Joy Luck Club. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The Outsiders.
Our collective bookshelves are filled with enduring stories that explore the beauty, refuge and even the heartbreak found in deep, meaningful friendships. These treasured tales remind us that sometimes our strongest ties go beyond blood relatives, and that these bonds can be for life. I can remember as a preteen envying the friendship between Kristy, Claudia, Stacey and the rest of the gang in The Babysitters Club. However, when my reading tastes eventually graduated to more mature books, it became harder to find stories that celebrated close friendships.
I didn’t realize just how much I craved such relationships in my fiction until I read Terry McMillan’s groundbreaking novel Waiting to Exhale. The breadth and richness of the close sisterhood in that book spoke to me on so many levels. Four black women sharing their successes, failures and everything in between was such a beautiful representation of the female relationships I’d witnessed in my own life and the lives of the women in my family. After nearly 30 years, McMillan’s remarkable story of black female friendships continues to reign as the ultimate “girlfriend” book, but thankfully, newcomer Sharina Harris is bringing that flavor to a new generation. Harris’ (Im)Perfectly Happy tells the story of four college friends navigating the joys and pitfalls of relationships, careers and family 10 years after their graduation.
The one genre where that bond between girlfriends seems to be lacking is the one that is closest to my heart: romance. Maybe because the genre relies so heavily on the romance between the lead protagonists, authors feel there isn’t enough space on the page to highlight anything more than the spunky best friend who lends sage advice. Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of romances that portray close female friendships. Ledi and Portia in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series and Kristen and Sloan from Abby Jimenez’s connected stories The Friend Zone and The Happy Ever After Playlist showcase the type of friendships many of us seek in real life. Interestingly, when it comes to the romance genre, it seems more common to find stories based on male-centered friendships. Suzanne Brockmann’s trailblazing Navy SEALs, Kwana Jackson’s upcoming Men Who Knit series, and Lyssa Kay Adams’ Bromance Book Club series, which features an all-male romance reading book club, all rely on male friendships as their foundation.
When I first came up with the idea for The Boyfriend Project, I knew that I very much wanted it to remain a romance, but the instant friendship that develops between the three women readers meet in the novel’s opening scene was just as central to the story and, in my opinion, deserved equal time. Samiah, Taylor and London each find something that none of them realized they needed: strong friends they could lean on.
Basically, I took a page from my own life.
Back when the internet was still shiny and new, I happened upon a message board for fans of the legendary Judith McNaught. Brought together by a shared love of our favorite author, the friendships born in that little corner of the web have lasted 20 years. Those women changed the course of my life. I would not be a romance writer today without them championing my early writing attempts.
That’s what friendships can do—they can be life-changing. Those who have been blessed with lasting friendships understand the valuable role our they play in our lives. Our friends are the sounding boards, the cheerleaders, the shoulders we cry on. Friendships enrich our world. They deserve a place in our fiction, especially in the romances we read.
Author photo by Tamara Roybiskie.