“Text Me When You Get Home” celebrates female friendship

by Jordan McDonald | 4/26/18 2:25am

In Kayleen Schaefer’s “Text Me When You Get Home,” released Feb. 6, the infamous words of parting friends are made into the foundation for a broader dialogue about the nature of women’s friendships, on screen and off. Taking the American media and patriarchy to task, Schaefer challenges the ways in which the history of considering women physically, emotionally and mentally inferior to men undermines their relationships to themselves and each other.

“Text Me When You Get Home” merges personal narrative with critical cultural analysis, offering a take on American women’s friendship that is informed by research and experience. Maintaining a casual tone and accessible language, Schaefer writes with the comfort of a friend and the tact of a seasoned journalist, drawing from her own childhood hardships as well as the work of academics, artists and critics.

Much of the book fights against the argument that women can’t sustain supportive, trustworthy relationships with one another. Schaefer says society just needs a shift in priorities — women must come to regard their relationships with each other with more care. If not, women run the risk of losing friendships entirely. “Text Me When You Get Home” is an exercise in the kind of work and dedication that friendship requires. What Schaefer calls “the evolution and triumph of modern female friendship” entails a shift from seeing friendship as an indulgence to viewing it as a necessity for women across various backgrounds.

Schaefer attributes the attitude that friendship is frivolous to her own upbringing as a middle-class white woman. Reflecting on her childhood, Schaefer recalls her mother’s commitment to her identity as a wife and mother surpassing her dedication to friendship. Why could this be? Pointing to the work of Judith Smith, a professor of American studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston who studies the white middle class, Schaefer finds answers in the cultural focus on heterosexual relationships. Marriage and motherhood are often thought to be the middle-class woman’s priorities — but this doesn’t have to be the case. As a result of poverty and racism, Schaefer says, women on the margins of societies — especially women of color — have always been more likely to rely on one another for support. We can learn from these survival networks, Schaefer says.

In one of my favorite memoirs, “Negroland,” longtime theatre critic and professor Margo Jefferson speaks to the systemic, historical and personal relationships that shaped her life as a black woman. “The intensities of friendship” suited her more than monogamous romance, she writes, because “friendship’s choreography is for multiple partners: for varied groups and surprisingly sustained duets.” Like Jefferson, I too have been infatuated with friendship. I’ve always loved the idea of friends but often struggled to negotiate the realities of establishing trust, support, accountability and care between myself and others. Ultimately though, the short-lived and long-lasting friendships of my life have made me a better a person and friend. So when I saw “Text Me When You Get Home” at the bookstore, I was immediately drawn to its premise. I have typed out and received “Text me when you get home” more times than I can count. Honoring the compassion embedded in this ritual message, Schaefer suggests that “Text me when you get home” is another way to say “Let’s keep talking.” It’s a wish for one’s safety and a call for the future. The words are emblematic of the relationships women foster with one another.

Looking to books, television and film for representations of these possibilities, Schaefer names authors like Judy Blume and Megan Abbot for their literary investments in teenage girls and their friendships. She also looks to television shows and movies like “Mean Girls,” “Golden Girls” and “Broad City” for their depictions of female friendship that are shaping our culture. My favorite of Schaefer’s references was to “Broad City.” Watching the show, which follows best friends Abbi and Ilana, often reminds me of the times I have spent with friends who have shaped me and made me laugh so hard that I cried.

Tracking her own life and friendships throughout her analysis, Schaefer offers her personal stake in the future of women’s friendships. These parts of the book root her cultural criticism in something intimately familiar. “Text Me When You Get Home” is an ode to this sustained familiarity, a book that gives thanks for the friendships that have supported Schaefer and so many other women like her.