Movies written about a gap year often focus on a romantic relationship.
Therefore, I was sure I was bound to finish this year having had a boyfriend. Isn’t that what gap years are for? I imagined a curly-haired surfer carrying my board as we would kiss in front of the sunset – H20 style. Or an intellectual activist meeting me after a human rights convention, like Will Hayes in Definitely Maybe. These flashes of romantic perfection are the scenes I predicted in the storyboard production of my fun-loving gap year film.
These scripts in which I’d idealised romance were based on romantic gap year tales that I’d had heard from friends and family and family of friends and friends of family. While I began this year with the mind-set of developing an intense, passionate, year-long romantic relationship, I instead ended up developing something far more intense. Something far more passionate. Something far more strong and life-long: the power of female friendship.
It’s not that I didn’t try to date this year. There was Tinder use; there were Tinder dates. There was Bumble; there were Bumble dates. There were people in my programme. There were people outside my programme. There were boys. There were girls. There were attempts and successes and flings and beach kisses and near-misses.
But these experiences were never the narrative to my gap year movie. They were the sub-plot. These significant others were the lower-paid actors in the background; some were merely extras. The main plotline was whatever my friends and I were doing. The beach we’d go to. The protest we’d attend. The late-night gossip session we’d have. The free club we’d dance at. The mountains we’d hike. The restaurant that took our liking.
The time we spent together was always our priority.
I had imagined that year would be about self-discovery but I didn’t only discover myself; I discovered this unique, collective female bond.
Think The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. The protagonists of my movie were a group of five mismatched girls. One, an unsatisfied but fearless artist who isn’t unafraid to champion injustices but secretly has a sensitive soul. One, an outgoing, talented double threat of both singing and dancing who freely expresses her emotions even if it risks vulnerability. One, a language fiend with a passion for socialising, working out, dancing and forever falling hopelessly in love. One, an ideologically motivated soldier who won’t let anything or anyone stand in the way of her carefully planned-out ambitions. And one, me.
We walk through our lives in different styles and patterns but we combine to produce a beautiful piece of art; at times we’re messy but we never stop being colourful.
While this year may have been a break from reality, it wasn’t a break from the challenges that life far away from home can instigate. As we missed our hometowns and our families, we quietly moulded and fit each others’ needs, replacing emptiness with love and homesick tears with laughter. Where once our homes were the foundations of our lives, our friendship became the foundation of our year. Where once we only had the foundational unconditional love of parents, now we had that from each other too. There were nights filled with tears from dirty plates, fears from a global pandemic but happy cheers from laughing hysterically at each others’ stories. We went through this year side by side and grew together.
The Lily Sheldon Gap Year Movie script writer from a year ago may have imagined my longing on the plane home being for a relationship to the tune of ‘Tears for Fear’ by Mad World softly playing in the background; instead, I sit on this plane smiling as I think about the experiences, tears and fears we all shared together with the distant sounds of our collective laughter ringing in my ears.
On the other hand, I am sure the tears will come when my body understands that it’s now real. It’s now real that these girls are no longer beside me and are now only my everyday texts and phone calls. Their advice now comes through social media. While I could once write novels about every moment we spent together, I now have to wait for the headlines on their separate faraway lives.
No film can do justice to the separation anxiety from the physical breakup of a female friendship. They were the hands supporting me as I was starting to fall and the stabilisers as I learnt to ride the bike of adulthood. My consolation is that our plotline will resume soon enough; we won’t leave it too late to have a sequel. We may change and mould and grow but, with every new development, we’ll have our collective experiences from which to stem our new storylines to come.
While I didn’t get my rom-com storyline, falling in love with a curly-haired Israeli or a surfer or an activist, I fell in love with something better, stronger and more sustainable.
The most powerful bond in the world: the love and support of a beautifully complex female friendship.
Photo courtesy of Antonino Visalli