We speak almost every day, sometimes more than once. She lives twenty minutes away but I haven’t seen her since January because, even though she’s one of my closest friends, well, who has time for those?
We celebrated her significant birthday two months later on a Tuesday in school hours, the first window we could find between a bunch of women pulled in different directions.
With another good friend it’s come to this: a snatched walk beside a four lane expressway between my chiropractor appointment and her work meeting. We took what we could get.
This is the subpar friendship arrangement we too often settle for. Women we love, whose company we thrive on but who we barely see because in the pecking order of a mounting schedule of precedences – kids, careers, extended family, husbands, lovers and house renovations – it’s friendships which invariably get demoted.
Attempts to meet up up with a group of friends for dinner usually plays out something like this: one brave soul kicks it off. Group emails fly around scouring for a mutually agreeable date betwixt everyone’s increasing demands and higher priorities. Finally a night is diarised three months down the track but, when the day arrives, they drop like flies. A sick child, a cancelled baby-sitter, husband working late, just too damn exhausted. The initiator of the ambitious plan gives up never to go there again. So no one does.
We assume friendships can wait. That they’ll always be there. But this is to our great detriment. They are, in fact, up there with the most vital relationships of our life.
“Female friendships can be great love stories”, says author of The Friendship Cure, Kate Leaver. “We underestimate how like romantic love friendship can feel: you want to see them all the time, you’d do anything for them. We rely on each other for fierce loyalty, moral support, emotional confidence and compassion. Friendship love is real and I wish it upon everyone”.
Leaver spent a year researching the nature of friendship for her book and believes women’s friendships are wired by a unique pull, intrinsic to our existence.
“There’s something undeniably different in female and male friendships. It’s said that while men stand shoulder to shoulder against the world, women stand face to face. The language of female friendship is vulnerability, candour and communication. We reveal something of ourselves to our friends that we hold back from the rest of the world”.
This isn’t just in our heads. Mounting scientific evidence backs up the life affirming nature of the girl gang. One UCLA study found connections with other women release oxytocin (the love hormone) into our bloodstream. We reach out to friends and actively seek out new ones to help regulate our stress levels. Women are ‘genetically hard-wired’ to gather together which is not just uplifting but is also markedly beneficial for our wellbeing and longevity. Sustained and stable friendships the strongest predictor for a long and healthy life.
A calm descends upon me when I connect with my friends. We may not see each other as often as is prescribed but the phone chats sustain me and, hopefully, them. From mothering advice to career debriefs, bolstering wisdom and Netflix recommendations.
It matters even more to me as a single mother with no one to share the load. These women are my lifeline, the ones who ring to debrief about the day, to reassure me I’m on track, to hear out my frustrations and brainstorm big decisions. They see me, they get me. They ignite joy. They are the witnesses to my life.
Yet we drop the ball.
I’ve been left bereft when friendships have frayed, which happens to us all over time, grieving harder than over the loss of certain lovers. I mention this to a therapist once, shaken up about a friend who’d inexplicably stopped talking to me. “That makes perfect sense”, she’d said. “These are the relationships we assume will last forever”.
My mum is still thick with a group of women who met as nurses in the 1960s. ‘The M squad’ they called themselves for their joint first initials. Through divorce, widowhood and other losses, they’re constants. My 85 year old neighbour shares an opera subscription with a friend from pre-school.
This is true love.
There are prime friendship windows. Mothering young children is not one of them. We’ve just got to ensure that these tenuous connections will still have life in them when the kids are long gone.
This article was originally published in Sunday Life and on dailylife.com.au and is reprinted here with permission