Shine Theory: How My Best Girlfriends Help Me Shine


In light of the recent National Best Friends Day, I thought about how grateful I am for the women friends in my life.  Though I dislike the notion that women and men cannot be great friends, and I have had several great male friends, I share something special with the women in my life.  Not only are we chipping away at the same glass ceiling, we share common experiences. There is something intangibly special about our common journey.

In Mindy Kaling’s second memoir, Why Not Me?, she tells the story of a friend that loved and left her.  Comparing it with romantic love, she notes, “There are not many relationships more powerful than that of two women who fall fast and deep into a friendship.”

I know someone is my best friend when saying “my friend from high school,” “my friend from running club,” etc. no longer even resembles an adequate description.  She’s not “my friend from” anything— she’s one of my best friends, a title and relationship that transcends time and space.

When I hear ‘best friend,’ certain people and memories always come to mind— playdates and sleepovers that never lasted long enough, hysterical laughter over dissecting the sexism of rom-coms, running side by side and talking even as we gasp for air.  Locking eyes, making a face, and knowing exactly what the other is thinking. Not seeing each other for a while, and then picking up right where we left off. Once you become best friends with someone, I feel that bond is always there, even if you don't stay in close touch.

I was talking with one of these best friends recently, and we were talking about how incredible it was that we had met, and how lucky we felt to know each other.  I thought back to how I found all of my best friends, and could not believe my good fortune.

I met my first and oldest best friend in preschool, when we were two years old.  I remember being absolutely thrilled when I found her in my kindergarten classroom— I shrieked her name and sprinted over to her.  Even now, as we attend schools hundreds of miles apart, the love first formed over stuffed animals and shared snacks is unbreakable.

Another best friend I met later in life, and ours was a story that strongly resembles a rom-com.  We did not exactly hit it off at first— but then we discovered a mutual love for feminism, and making fun of rom-coms.  More importantly, we eventually found out we loved each other and have been best friends ever since.

Coming to college was one of the scariest experiences ever- one of the symptoms of having amazing best friends, I think, is feeling like things can only go downhill from there.  How could anyone come even close?

Lucky for me, I serendipitously found the best roommate— and one of my future best friends— during accepted students weekend.  After some time slowly getting to know each other over tea and running and exploring DC, we realized we were forever roommates, not freshmen roommates.  Because of her unexpected but always hilarious commentary, I now have a running list of all of her quotes.

Other than her, however, my freshmen friends were mostly guys for the first semester.  At some point, I definitely felt began to feel panic over no longer having a circle of tight female friends.

But just as soon as those worries began to set in, I met more and more best friends that I came to love.  One knows just how to make me see the world more positively, and is endlessly supportive. Another is such a wonderful advice-giver and her laugh makes everyone smile.  And one even shares my name— and more importantly, spells it the right way. She always knows how to make me feel better and has what I call “best-friend intuition.”

My best friends not only have things in common with me, they teach me about things they love.  I’ve become much more environmentally, politically, medically, comedically, financially, and artistically aware because of my best friends, for which I am forever grateful.

Another thing I’m grateful for when it comes to my female friends is the effusive empathy with which we treat one another, and the constant stream of affirmations and emotional check-ins.

“You’re amazing,” we say to one another.

“You’re gorgeous.”

“You’re so smart.”

“I’m so lucky to have you.”

“You inspire me.”

“Love you!”

Even as we say these things easily, meaning every word, they mean so much to the friend on the receiving end.  Even as we bump up against obstacles, we must be grateful for those who understand and are there to catch us when we need it.

After going to an all-girls high school, I seek out woman-centric environments because I am acutely aware of how important a support system is. While interning in a mostly female work environment, I was always struck by the closeness between coworkers, who often paid visits in a free moment to talk.  I’ve bonded with my fellow interns, our common experiences serving as a leap over hurdles to laughter-filled friendship.

Ultimately, my friends form the solid ground in my life, and the wind at my back; I hope I do the same for them.  It is from my women friends that I learn to celebrate my wins myself, rather than wait for someone else to, and that women do  not need to be in competition with one another. The more academic term for this, which I discovered later, is “shine theory”: the notion that when one woman shines, we all shine.

In her new book, Text Me When You Get Home— a common refrain between women— Kayleen Schaefer explores the history and significance of women’s friendships.  Her work details the ways women understand and support one another, and how significant friendship is in a world that uses terms like ‘just friends.’

“There just isn't only one love story in our lives,” she comments.

My female friendships and the emotional connections I have with the women in my life remind me of how fortunate I am as a woman. We can never forget to fight against the ways society shortchanges us, but we must look to our friendships as a source of joy and empowerment.  Our best friends inspire us to do things we never thought possible, and to chase our dreams with them by our side. Let’s take a moment this week, look at our best friends, and simply say, “Thank you.”

Author: Caitlin Panarella

Caitlin Panarella is a writer, reader and grammar enthusiast, and is currently studying English and Women and Gender Studies at Georgetown University. After watching Miss Representation in high school, she developed a passion for analyzing media and literature portrayals of gender. When she’s not planning out trips around the world, you can find her running her favorite routes all over D.C., sipping tea while reading a book, or (re)watching Stranger Things. She’s thrilled to be a part of the Make Muse team and support women telling their own stories!