The Five Stages of Every Female Friendship Fling

We spoke to women about the ups and downs of female friend crushes, flings, and breakups.

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Sep 17 2015, 5:55pm

Screengrab from "Clueless"

Texting all the time, getting close at record speed, meeting up several nights a week. Things are going great; you're excited, you tell your mom. But then it all goes south: You're not connecting like you used to, little things about them bug you, and you realize it's been mere months, if not weeks, but you're already over it. In the words of Usher, "U Got It Bad." But what happens when your heady feelings and constant contact lead to a burnout with a friend, not a lover?

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Female friendships can be extremely intense, fulfilling, and sustaining, but not all initial connections blossom into Broad City–style best friendships. Aborted attempts at friendship often aren't discussed—perhaps they feel like failed grasps at intimacy, or are simply too painful or embarrassing to dwell on—but they seem to be fairly common, particularly among women in their mid-to-late twenties. We spoke to women about their experiences with the Female Friendship Fling to identify its five stages.

1) The hot-and-heavy intro

You meet at a party, or in class, or at work. Often, you have an ex-boyfriend in common, or were bonded by shared trauma. "For me personally, it's also been people who have shared some kind of weird, unusual experience—people I met in a psychiatric hospital, or people I've talked to about sexual assault," said Lisa, a 24-year-old who has between three and five friendship flings per year. "When you meet under those slightly-removed-from-reality circumstances, it empowers you to share all this intense, serious personal stuff in a way that normally happens much slower or in a more contextualized way. It can be a really intoxicating thing to share that with someone who's essentially a stranger." Generally, the connection is instant, regardless of context. "It did feel a little like having a crush," said Tamara, a 26-year-old bank manager said of her recent fast friendship with a co-worker. "I was kind of swept away by how cool I thought she was, how much I wanted her to like me."

I was kind of swept away by how cool I thought she was, how much I wanted her to like me.

2) Grossing everyone out

The next step to any good fling is, of course, to make everyone around you feel horrible about their own relationships—or in this case, friendships. "Usually at the start of a fling, I'll be texting my new friend nonstop, going everywhere with them," said Michelle, a 27-year-old from London. "We develop a kind of friendship shorthand; it can be quite hard for outsiders to understand what we're saying." Many women's romantic partners and pre-existing friends reported finding themselves either jokingly or legitimately jealous of the new friend. "My oldest friend says she thinks it's funny now," said Michelle, "but she used to be quite pissed off when I'd cozy up to another woman I barely knew and disappear for a few weeks." Generally, Lisa said the start of her flings resembles the early stages of infatuation with a lover. "There's that obsessive closeness, the desire to share all your secrets with someone, wanting to be in touch constantly, or to be the first person you tell good news to. Leaning on each other, feeling jealous." A good test to see if you've started a fling is this: How many flame and heart-eye emojis are saved with their name in your contact info? If you're under six, you might be safe.

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3) Crossing some lines

This is where it gets complicated. While technically a friendship fling is platonic, a number of women in fast-moving female friendships suggested a crucial step in the development of a fling was when things got uniquely intimate, if not totally sexual (see: cuddling, bed-sharing, dressing and undressing, straight up sexting or sending nudes). "We used to get really drunk in the middle of the day and get in bed and cuddle," said Sara, a 23-year-old from Vancouver, who added that she would never have let a male friend share her bed.

Stated or presumed heterosexuality between female friends seems to provide a comfortable buffer zone for experimentation: It's much less risky (and much less codified as flirting) to send your female friends nude pictures of yourself. "I tend to take my relationships with men less seriously because I expect them to disappoint me usually," said Kathryn, a 24-year-old from Texas. "Really, the only thing missing in my friendship flings is physical intimacy, which doesn't necessarily make them non-romantic." Of the tendency for things to get weird in that department she said, "I have wondered if it's because I'm queer, but not fully out. But then I wonder, what's the appeal for the other person when they are straight? It has just made me so self-conscious, like I am misinterpreting everything."

4) The end

All good flings come to an end (thank you, thank you), and most of the women I spoke to said their friendship flings lasted a few months at most. When it comes to breaking it off with your female friend, you have two options, both painful: You can fade away, or burn out. Anyone who's attempted dating heterosexual men in 2015 has experienced a fade away: After a period of intense communication, one or both parties just...stops. "I really knew there was a problem when she stopped fav-ing my tweets," said Stephanie, a 25-year-old grad student from California. "It sounds ridiculous, but she started ignoring my texts soon after. Eventually I think she went invisible on Gchat, which felt pretty harsh." The alternative is more immediate, though also more dramatic. "My most recent fling literally ended on Friday in a huge, histrionic, firework-laden argument with screaming on the street and everything," said Lisa. "We got so close in such a short time, I think we thought we knew each other better than we did. When you get to know someone so quickly, you also find out pretty quickly if you're not long-term compatible."

I've tried to remind myself that not everyone can stay in your life forever, and to appreciate the time we did have together.

A less recommended third option is slow but steady passive aggression; after a period of intense friendship followed by a cool down, Katrina, 29, said her fling "started posting all this stuff on Facebook about integrity and being truthful and having high standards." The general consensus seems to be that breaking up with a friend is just as hard, if not harder, than finding the words to leave a lover or romantic partner.

5) Recovery

The aftermath of a dead friendship fling can feel like a breakup. "I was legitimately very hurt," said Stephanie. "At first I was just bitter and mad, but one night I caught myself hate-lurking her Instagram and was like, 'You need to check yourself.' Since then I've tried to remind myself that not everyone can stay in your life forever, and to appreciate the time we did have together. It's hard because I feel so rejected."

While betrayal and rejection were commonly reported feelings at the end of a friendship fling, the women I spoke to said they didn't have an outlet for these post-friendship emotions. "I feel like people expect you to just get on with it after falling out with friends," said Lisa. "Nobody wants to sit and listen to you whine about missing a friend in the same way [you'd miss an ex]. I guess because a partner is seen to fulfill one set role, but you can have a bunch of friendships and no one of them is seen to be totally integral to your being. But a friendship, especially such an intense one, does actually fulfill a very specific role, and when it ends I think it can be just as crushing." Many women reported moving on to equally doomed rebound flings within a few weeks. "I'm noticing that it's a pattern in my life and I don't feel good about that," said Stephanie. "It just feels so good to connect."