Every summer during high school, my club swim team would hold early morning practices, five days a week. I would get up early, spend two hours doing laps in a freezing cold pool while my coach yelled at me to move my arms faster. When it was all over, I would slump home, sore and tired, flop on the couch, and turn on TNT to watch another rerun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
One of my favorite things about Buffy, right from the beginning, was the friendship between Buffy and Willow. Even now, 18 years after it first aired, their relationship stands out to me as one of the best and most realistically portrayed on television. So often in the media female friendships are portrayed as having a main player, while the other is regulated to being a sidekick, and that is sort of where Buffy and Willow start off, with typical character tropes—the pretty, obviously more popular girl being nice to the nerdy, shy, less-confident girl.
It doesn’t stay that way for long, however. Willow almost immediately voices resentment at being referred to as a sidekick and pushes against the label. She doesn’t stay on the sidelines, and Buffy doesn’t discourage her from stepping up and out. When Willow starts dabbling in magic, Buffy doesn’t tell her to stop (until season 6 when it becomes an obvious problem that eventually leads to Willow turning into the Big Bad that season), but encourages her. Buffy uses Willow’s skills in computer hacking often and relies on her to help with research throughout the series. Willow does the same for Buffy. She helps and encourages Buffy to do her homework and helps Buffy balance her Slayer duties and school as best she can. They never hold each other down or belittle each other.
The show passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Buffy and Willow talk about school, parents, homework, slaying vampires and other evil creatures. Yes, they do talk about men, but these conversations never belittle Buffy or Willow as characters. They are never shortchanged in their discussion of their love lives. I love it at times, especially the Cordelia-Xander-Willow-Oz love square made for some interesting dialogue and interactions between the characters.
Season 4, Willow and Buffy’s freshman year at UC Sunnydale, was my favorite because we saw them grow and change as individuals. Willow thrives in the college environment where her intellect is valued, and although she is heartbroken about Oz leaving, she picks herself back up and ends up learning more about herself, finding Tara as a result. Buffy struggles academically, has some mishaps with guys, finds Riley, and discovers that there is romance and love after Angel, all while fighting evil and learning more about herself as the Slayer. They don’t have as much overlap in this season. They do their own thing, and while the added distance brings on a brief falling out, they reconcile and have a stronger friendship for it.
That’s why Buffy and Willow are my friendship goal. They don’t undermine or demean each other. They love and care for each other as individuals. Who doesn’t want a girlfriend like that?
Header image via Fanpop. Other images via Newsatesman.com and perezhilton.com.