An Ode to Female Friendships
On International Women’s Day I want to pay homage to that great and glorious entity, the female friendship.
We learn early on that we are stronger together. We have fun, we can get up to mischief, egged on by our group of firm friends that we create from an early age. I distinctly remember how much more enjoyable it was to be in line for the spelling jar (a story for another time) when Dawn M was there too and we could chat without fear of getting told off as we ripped our spelling card into the spelling jar.
Our friendships grow and change with us, serving vital purpose and morphing into what we need them to be. Sometimes fading altogether. Different friendships serve different purposes, and that’s okay too. I bet you can think right now who would be your 3am friend (the one who you know will pick up when you call with a “what’s wrong? What do you need? I’ll be right there.”), who’s the friend who knows everything about you, the one who remembers who you were when you were young and unencumbered with baggage, the one who will come with you to that play you’re dying to see or the pub you’re gagging to try, the one who’ll sit and listen and dry your tears and pour you wine without judgement, the one who ‘gets it’ when you say how desperate you are to get in the water, in February, and know they’ll come too… And I bet they are not all the same friend.
You’ll often hear me talk about tribe (and my love for them) through Quiet the Hive. In fact, it’s one of the ideas I base my work on. I strongly believe that having a group of women in your corner will help you accomplish ANYTHING. As women, we are brilliant at cheerleading for each other, at reminding each other not only what’s possible, but that you’re the person to achieve it. We lovingly give each other a boot up the backside when we need it, and we have unfailing confidence in each other. On the flip side, we are not so very good at doing this for ourselves, which is why having a tribe around you is so important.
Our female friends are our first loves, and will most likely be our last. They are the ones we return to time after time. They may not be our romantic loves, but they are often the loves of our life. We trust them with everything, and they reciprocate. But, like romantic relationships, they need working at. While we all have friendships where we don’t speak for months (years?) and then can pick up effortlessly from where we left off, chances are that these are the friendships forged in bonds of iron already. They are the people who know us best, have known us for years, or perhaps they are the surface friendships that don’t need investment between times and serve the purpose they do at the time we need it.
We change. Our girlfriends change. Our friendships change. Sometimes it is a painful drifting apart, sometimes more effortless. I’m deeply curious about the fact that we need to fall in love with the same person many times over the course of a relationship (be it platonic or not); that the object of our affection morphs into a new person every few years. We are moulded by our experiences, our understanding of the world, what matters to us. This won’t stay the same, and neither will we. When we are lucky, our friendships also mould to suit, growing and changing by shared experience and supporting others through events that change them. Sometimes, this lack of shared understanding or empathy can end a friendship. An awakening to misaligned values or beliefs can bring a heartbreaking necessary end to a companionship. This happened to me when a deeply important relationship came to an end due to drugs. She did, I didn’t and I didn’t like who she was when she did. It broke my heart for years afterwards, but we have found our peace now and moved on.
Friendships can span the course of lifetimes. I have friends in my life who I’ve known longer than I’ve not known them. One close on 35 years – I know, I know, neither of us look old enough! Others snapping at the coattails (34 and 28 years respectively). Others I have made since turning 40. One, someone I’ve known for longer, but only on the peripheries, as we started spending time together, we fell more into friendship and now she is someone who champions for me the hardest. I’m so glad that I ‘got’ her in the divorce when she was originally a friend through my ex-husband.
Making friends when we are older can feel fresh and exciting, becoming as close as long standing friendships often build on shared experiences through children, the work place, perimenopause or new hobbies. These new friendships can be forged on the cusp of us changing again. There is still the same nerve-wracking sense of wanting to ask ‘will you be my friend?’ and the fear that they won’t like you. Still the excitement of getting to know someone better, getting to know more about them and them about you. Age difference matters less. Differing experience and stage of life only enhanced through mutual like and respect. The friend from my divorce? She’s nine years younger than me. I forget it all the time until I see her birth year written down! She’s wiser than me in so many ways, and I have so much to learn from her.
Our friendships give us so much, and it’s safe to assume that we contribute deeply too. A lasting friendship is not built one way. There is give and take, ebb and flow, a cyclical nature to being the carer and the recipient at times of challenge. And there will always be, for me at least, putting the world to rights over a glass of something lovely.
So, how can we nurture our friendships? Here are some ideas you could try, I’ll be picking a few to do myself this week to celebrate and nurture the women in my life. Most are free or inexpensive. Save up for the more costly ones, or combine them with a birthday.
- Text them to say you’re thinking of them. No expectation of a reply, just popping in to make them smile (you could also do this with a voice note)
- Write a letter – not an email, an actual physical letter that they have to open, stop what they’re doing, and read
- Order them a book that you’ve loved, perhaps highlight a passage that really moved you.
- Invite them for dinner at your house, or offer to cook at theirs. Dress the table, cook them something you both love (I know that for a certain couple of friends, one – or sometimes all three of – us will turn up with taramasalata, a throw back to uni days
- Phone them. It may not be the right time, but if you don’t call them you’ll never know. Remember when you used to spend all day at school together and then come home and spend another hour on the phone? I know we don’t like to use phones now, but try it
- Print out some of the photos of you both together and send them to them. Framed, in a collage, or just as they are. Write why you love this picture and what it reminds you of on the back
- Make them a mix tape – songs of your friendship, things that make you laugh – share it on Spotify with them
- Live far apart? Meet halfway. Go for a walk. A wild swim. A wander around a stately home. Bring a picnic
- Live closer? Sign up for a local class together – learn a new skill that neither of you know
- Listen. Ask them how they are. Really. And don’t try and jump in with “oh I know, that happened to me..” or “just dump him…” or “gosh kids are a pain…”. Meet them with open questions and active listening and don’t go automatically into ‘solving’ mode. Given them the underrated gift of time and space to talk about and think about them
- Go out for dinner. Dress up. Go somewhere you both love, or really want to try. Feel fabulous. Have fun
- Send them some flowers, those chocolates they love, a piece of jewellery you know they will suit. After all, they are the love of your life
This is for Anna, Carrie-Ann, Gemma, Hannah, Jenni, Jo, Lorna, Nicky and Tess. (Alphabetical order.)
You’ll have to decide for yourself which unfailingly fills which roles for me!
They are all 3am friends and the loves of my life.