It seems like friendship comes easily to some people. They appear confident, they understand social rules, and they have people to confide in and hang with. Meanwhile, many of us feel lost—especially in the teen years. I couldn’t help but reflect on that as I watched the first several episodes of A Place Further Than the Universe (Sora Yori Mo Tooi Basho).
I should note that I initially thought this wouldn’t be a fun show for me—it looked more drama than action or comedy. But folks on Twitter told me it was worth my time, so I gave it a try. Sure enough, as of episode 5, it’s good. I’m particularly interested in how these girls navigate friendship—fight for it, find it, give up on it. Two girls in particular caught my eye: Shiraishi Yuzuki, the child actress, and Takahashi Megumi, the main character’s best friend. As I watch them, I reflect on what I have learned about friendship since I was their age. I reflect, too, on what I continue to learn.
Shiraishi Yuzuki and Unplanned Friendship
Shiraishi Yuzuki has been a star from a young age, and that has made friendship difficult—both because she misses a lot of school and because her classmates view her differently. Finally, she puts the foot down: She refuses to go to Antartica. Her mother (and manager) has booked her to be the teenage celebrity voice on a three-month expedition to Antartica. That does not fit with her plans to make school friends. I note two things in particular about her stance: First, she is passionate and stubborn about protecting potential friendships. Second, she has a picture of friendship in mind, and it’s the only type she knows how to pursue.
Yuzuki is completely right to prioritize friendship. Mothers and coworkers (particularly temporary coworkers who are often far older than you, as in her line of work) can be sources of valuable wisdom and company, but they aren’t the same. Even the most independent and introverted of us are built for community, and it’s right for Shiraishi to pursue and protect that.
Yet Yuzuki is short-sighted. When she thinks “teenage friendship,” she thinks of school. After all, that’s where all the other kids make and maintain friendship, right? I’m sure that’s the kind of friendship she sees most often on TV. Yet the girls she connects with during her short stints at school seem more interested in taking pictures with her than anything else. And when another opportunity to make friends crops up—this time surrounding a trip to Antartica—she doesn’t immediately recognize it. She doesn’t think to insist that these adventurous girls—or any other girls, for that matter—accompany her on the journey until after the option is presented.
Only now, finally, is Yuzuki able to learn that there are other ways to make friends. Working toward a goal, like traveling to Antartica, is one such way. You don’t have to be best friends forever—you just have to share that one thing, and connections are likely to form.
Takahashi Megumi and Changing, Un-exclusive Friendship
This is the one I really relate to.
Takahashi Megumi and the main character, Tamaki Mari, have been best friends for years. Mari has relied on Megumi’s mothering and companionship, a fact that Megumi relishes. But suddenly, Mari’s world has expanded. She’s making new friends, and she has a big, adventurous goal: travel to Antartica. She no longer needs Megumi the way she once did.
In episode 5, titled “Dear My Friend,” we learn that Megumi has been trying to discourage Mari’s new venture by spreading rumors. It doesn’t work. Mari and her new friends don’t even pick up on the fact that Megumi is the source of these rumors, as she half-hopes they will. She finally confesses in this episode and tries to end the friendship. She explains to Mari that while she relishes Mari depending on her, the truth is, in fact, that Megumi depends on Mari. She enjoys feeling needed. That’s what their friendship has always been based on. And, by all appearances, this is the only friendship Megumi is invested in. Without Mari, she feels she had nothing. And so she confesses: “Because I wasn’t anything, I didn’t want you to have anything.”
Goodness, I can relate to Megumi. See, growing up, I was always content to only have one or two very close friends. I would have other friends at school, but by the time I was fourteen or so, I only really invited one or two over consistently. That was my vision of friendship: you have one close friend, you hang out a few times a month, you stick with them at group events, and you spend the rest of your time happily reading alone. And, of course, you’re best friends forever.
Then two dear friends moved away—my best friend at the time, and also the childhood best friend whom I was growing apart from anyway, although I struggled to admit it at the time. Both of them made wonderful new friends in their new city (yes, “city” singular—they moved to the same place). I won’t lie: I was jealous, especially when it came to the girl I was closest to during our early teen years. She made wonderful new friends and apparently did things with them outside of school on a regular basis—while I, back home, battled loneliness. Since I only knew how to be “best friends,” I couldn’t imagine being close friends with someone who didn’t need me—that is, someone who already had a best friend to confide in. I had friends throughout high school, but I rarely did much with them outside of school, and I always felt lonely. Because of that, deep in my heart, beneath my denial, I harbored jealousy. I wished my best friend needed me as much as I felt I needed her—even though I didn’t really want her to feel lonely in her new city. It took years before I fully came to terms with how my friendship with my childhood friends had changed. I had to grieve a little. Today, they’re still dear to me, but I’m able to rejoice over their friendships and adventures without any jealousy.
Replacing False Ideas about Friendship
Yuzuki and Megumi both have to confront their rigid, idealistic views on friendship. In Yuzuki’s case, she has to be open to making friends in a different way than she always expected—and to let go of her school friendship dream. Megumi has to redefine herself and her friendship with Mari in a way that makes room for growth—and for new friends.
I, too, have slowly confronted and replaced the ideas I had about friendship as a teen. Some of the lessons are similar to Yuzuki and Megumi’s; some are different:
- I’ve learned that friendship is not an all-or-nothing thing. You can confide in multiple people, and you can trust people who will never become your BFF. You can also be close with one friend and still enjoy things separately, with other friend groups.
- I’ve learned that friendship doesn’t have to be based off need. Someone can have three good friends and still have room for a fourth one. Their social needs might be met, but that doesn’t mean they’ve run out of love to share.
- I’ve learned that friendship changes, and that’s alright. There often comes a point where you grow apart, you move away, you graduate from whatever school you bonded at. Your friendship may continue in a different manner, in which case you must choose to hold fast while encouraging each other’s growth. Or it may come time to let it go and grieve while continuing to treasure the memories you had together.
- I’ve learned that, while it’s good to have a few things in common, you can’t wait to become friends with someone until you’re on the same wavelength. Instead, build a relationship patiently, learn about each other, and you might find you create a new wavelength together. I found that to be true with my college roommate, and I’m finding that to be true with my friends from Bible study—one of whom is mentioned in lesson #6.
- I’ve learned that I need friends. Everyone does. It’s doesn’t matter if you are extremely introverted, if you have a good relationship with your mom, or even if you have a relationship with Jesus. At some point, you need friends outside of your immediate family and your computer, within relatively easy driving distance, whom you confide in. Denying that gets you nowhere good. (Oh, if only I could go back and tell 15-year-old me this!)
- I’ve learned that I can be vulnerable in front of someone who hasn’t yet been that vulnerable in front of me (and, indeed, might go to one of their other friends for support before they come to me). And that’s how I ended up on a friend’s couch a couple weeks ago, talking, crying, eating cookies, leaning into her hug, and trusting her when she said my feelings were okay to express. Could I have gotten through that week’s trial without her? Yes. But goodness, her kindness made it easier.
- I’ve learned that loneliness is temporary, teenage awkwardness is temporary, and with effort, patience, and discernment, good friendships will develop. There may be dry spells—months or years without deep friendship. But even then, keep the next lesson in mind.
- I’ve learned that, sometimes, thinking can be warped enough that you don’t recognize a solid (or potentially solid) friendship even if you see that person regularly.
- Most of all, I’ve learned that the idealized kinds of “best friends” you see in books, TV shows, and Facebook memes aren’t the only (or even the best!) source of rich, beautiful, life-giving fellowship.
I’m still learning about friendship and love. I still have insecurities. But my college friends and classmates taught me a lot, and my Bible study group is now teaching me more. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned, to use one of my friends’ words, is that I am “not an island.” And, in practice, that means I don’t have to face things alone, even if I probably could, being the introvert I am. It means being vulnerable enough to invite my friends to support me as I struggle.
I’m sure that Takahashi Megumi and Shiraishi Yuzuki, along with the other girls in A Place Further Than the Universe, will continue to learn about themselves and friendship as this series progresses. For now, I’d love to hear from you: What have you learned about friendship? What do you wish you’d understood earlier? What do you think is holding you back from friendship right now?
Want to stream A Place Further than the Universe? It’s available at Crunchyroll for all viewers outside of Asia.