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Grace and Frankie: Bashert

When you hear the word bashert, or soulmate, what do you think of? Does the term conjure mental images of roses and chocolate? Of two people gazing deeply into each other’s eyes? Perhaps you think of famous couples: Romeo and Juliet, Cory and Topanga, Gomez and Morticia, Ellen and Portia. Whatever your immediate association, these images all suggest a universal understanding of the context of the word—romantic love.

In English, the Yiddish word bashert simply means “destiny.” Although that larger definition has been narrowed by the term’s contemporary usage as a synonym for soulmate, it can also be used to describe the fated nature of an event or a friendship. Interestingly, the term is often mentioned in the context of Genesis 2:18, which describes the intention behind the creation of Eve. In English, the text of the passage is often translated to: “I will make a helper suitable for him [Adam]” or “I will make a helper fitting for him.” However, the Hebrew ezer kenegdo literally translates to “helper against him,” suggesting a relationship between two equals who simultaneously challenge and complement each other. The language is gendered, but significantly, as with bashert, it’s not romantic.

The popular Netflix show Grace and Frankie gives unique narrative space to a friendship between two women who I would venture to classify as soulmates, bashert. Their relationship, like many of the real-life female friendships I see around me, calls into question the necessity of romance in a meaningful companionship. Grace and Frankie not only gives much-needed space to an infrequently represented demographic—older women—but also illustrates that a platonic partnership can be as vital and significant as a romantic one.

In the show’s pilot, Grace and Frankie, played by real-life friends Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, learn that their husbands, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterson), have secretly been lovers for twenty years. Heartbreak and hilarity ensue as the women navigate divorce, vacate their old homes, and move in together. At first, they don’t particularly like each other, clashing because of their differences: Grace is collected, organized, uptight. Frankie is scattered, whimsical, freewheeling. In time, however, the women become “helpers against each other.” They grow to value and depend on one another, not just because of their shared experience of heartbreak, but also because of their unique individual strengths. In the tradition of Golden Girls, Grace and Frankie allows its main characters to simultaneously struggle with each other and support each other.

Even as both women pursue romantic relationships, the majority of their emotional labor and time are spent on each other. In the most recent season, Frankie returns to Southern California to visit Grace and her family after moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico with her boyfriend, Jacob (Ernie Hudson). She quickly reveals to Grace that she is miserable in Santa Fe, jealous of Grace’s new houseguest, Sheree (Lisa Kudrow), and lonely without her best friend. Ultimately, Frankie decides to move back to California, prioritizing a platonic relationship over her romantic one. The women’s partnership continually withstands difficulties that their romantic relationships do not, and provides a companionate satisfaction that has not yet been matched. To that point, Rebecca Traister notes in her 2016 article about female friendship in The New York Times, “Among the largely unacknowledged truths of contemporary female life is that women’s foundational relationships are as likely to be with one another as they are with the romantic partners who, we’re told, are supposed to complete us.”

Later in the fourth season, after experiencing marital troubles with his husband, Sol mislabels Frankie “his soulmate,” much to Robert’s chagrin. Sol feels connected to his ex-wife because of their shared history and similar interests (eg: a love of folk music and loud prints) and turns to her when he feels distanced from Robert. This speaks to a superficial interpretation of the word; likeness alone does not a soulmate make. Grace and Frankie, although unalike, actively work to achieve a healthy, lasting partnership built on open communication and compassion. As they demonstrate, and as Sol misunderstands, a relationship isn’t something you have, but rather something you do continuously, with intention. A “soulmate” is someone you strive to be, trusting that your partner, romantic or platonic, is matching that effort.

As a society, we understand that love does not always involve romance; it can also be friendly or familial. However, because romantic relationships are so strongly emphasized and prioritized in our culture, we struggle to value platonic partnerships as equally meaningful. In truth, female friendships like the one between Grace and Frankie are often more complex, more reciprocal, more challenging, and more enduring than romances. Fonda and Tomlin’s decades-long offscreen friendship, which led to the creation of Grace and Frankie, is a testament to this fact.

In Tomlin and Fonda’s 2016 TED Talk about the power of female friendship, Fonda states, “I have my friends, therefore I am…they make me stronger, they make me smarter, they make me braver, they tap me on the shoulder when I might be in need of course correcting.” Perhaps, as Traister and Fonda suggest, through sisterhood, women can complete each other.

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as Grace and Frankie
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Image from Netflix's Grace and Frankie, season three finale. Image originally appeared on mediageek.com

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How to cite this page

Long, Rebecca. "Grace and Frankie: Bashert." 13 March 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 25, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/grace-and-frankie-bashert>.

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