Somewhere between the romantic and the platonic: why Jo and Laurie were destined for tragedy


"You should marry your best friend" is a popular idiom that has stuck culturally and twisted the conversation on male and female friendship. "Everyone expects it," a minute and a half into Laurie's failed proposal to Jo, Theodore unknowingly falls victim to this expectation which leads to the eventual breakdown of a friendship that offered so much solace to each party.


With girls writing to Alcott upon publication, desperate to know the pair ended up together, the author decided to subvert expectation. To appease both her audience and her (male) publisher, she sends Jo to the shackles of marriage in her way with the "not particularly handsome" Friedrich Bhaer, diverting Laurie in the direction of Jo's sister and closing the door on questions for good, or so she thought. Fan-fiction, a precarious tweet, conversations between young people in the playground, all are home to the ever-persistent "should they/shouldn't they" dialogue on decidedly platonic soulmates Jo and Laurie. 

The latest film in the LWCU (Little Women Cinematic Universe) is Greta Gerwig's 2019 rendition with stars such as Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Florence Pugh that subverts expectation and rightfully gives Jo the ending she always wanted. Outside of the much-discussed glory of Jo falling in love with her work over the expected man, there is something worth considering, and that is: even if the love between the two soulmates were mutual, would it work? 

If we look to the proposal scene alone, as devastating as it is on screen, Gerwig's page holds different sobriety. She opens the exchange with: Laurie and Jo walk through the woods together, as they've done for years. As innocent as it seems, the added tag at the end expresses that years of innocent strolling have led to this moment before the change in an entire fabric of a friendship. A routine, familiarity has been found in one another's company, and though this is a walk "they've done for years", they are living within seconds of the final good day they'll have together. That is to define good as innocent, uncomplicated, and as it has always been: a time before Jo had confirmation of Laurie's feelings for her. While she expresses her knowledge of this fact ("I wanted to save you from this"), it is so much easier to ignore when words remain unspoken. As a note, Ronan plays this moment so well, her eyes dropping all joviality in a heartbeat the second she turns to see Teddy's face. Without a word passing his lips, Jo knows they're living in their final shared moment of blissful ignorance. I say shared because Laurie will get a chance to live in this reality again, but for Jo, it will be the last time she looks at her best friend with uncomplicated eyes.


"It's no use Jo, we've got to have it out..." for Theodore, this conversation was an inevitability, whereas, for Jo, there was a lifetime in her head where this conversation could never happen, quite to her contentment. This moment adds a layer of complexity because the cultural expectation is: "how could they be happy apart?". The author thirsts for you to be drawn in by the complexity of their relationship because if you look somewhere between the romantic and the platonic, you'll find a whole host of issues the duo have spent a lifetime evading. 

A valid argument is that Laurie never loved Jo, just the representation he had in her life. It is perhaps cynical to ask how can anyone fall in love with anything but the carefully curated image we present when among the world, but Laurie and Jo had a rare intimacy that surpassed expectation. They both had something the other wanted, Laurie's for Jo was an endless spate of spontaneity that kept palpable and tangible energy at the centre of his days, and Jo's desire is where the heartbreak comes in. Jo loved Laurie for the way they could be the way they were without the expectation that there was a romantic ending for them, and therefore that moment in the woods where she watches the illusion she built crumble before her is so devastating. Suddenly the moments she shared with him take on a new meaning, as he says he: "worked hard to please [her], and... gave up billiards and everything [she] didn't like", all those moments she lived through with him were building to a future he found inevitable and one she found impossible. Laurie spent a friendship building up an image of an exciting marriage in the comfort of the March household, and he wanted it so bad he turned to Amy. Even after his proposal to Jo's sister, he quietly confides that "I have always loved you". It's selfish because, at this moment, Jo is processing the confusion Laurie has placed before her in his proclamation while simultaneously processing his marriage to Amy. Although she ultimately admits to loving the way he loved her instead of loving him, his declaration of inevitability is enough to plant the seed of doubt.

It isn't the fault of either person as much as it's the fault of both of them. Culture says that we cannot fall for anyone beyond romance, and therefore we place limits on the relationships we build throughout our time here. Our most fruitful conversations come from vulnerability, guards down and no pretences and yet, it is labelled inappropriate to know anyone but your life partner with that intimacy. Suddenly Jo is left to quarrel with this in her mind. Teddy leaves the scene still believing that the friend he is supposed to know inside and out "will care for somebody, and... love him tremendously" despite her explicit and consistent proclamations of a desire for the life of a spinster. 

Ultimately, the "inevitable" became tragic. Though it may have loomed over the entire friendship, the status quo rejects any desire this pair may have had beyond romance. The intricate space between the two expectations of platonic and romantic are a complex place to be, and history tells us nothing good will ever come of it.

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