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Female friendships are hard

Is it just me or is life just so much more complicated and so full of stuff?

The main thing for me, apart from being a mum, being a freelancer, wife and homeowner, is that I often feel so overwhelmed with trying to keep up with responding to friends and family that text, WhatsApp, Facebook message, email and calls.

I now treat my messages like 2nd class post – unless someone is fortunate enough to catch me at a good time. And sometimes I do this really helpful thing, I read the message and then think I’ve replied, but it was actually in my head, when, in fact, I’ve not responded at all.

Do you feel like you’re offending people if you don’t respond quickly? Yup, I did, especially during lockdown when I couldn’t see friends or family. There was so much going on but nothing really happening. I felt lonely but was never alone. And it’s really lovely when my friends apologise for being crap because they don’t reply straight away, or even several days later. I always tell them not to be sorry because I get it.

But aren’t female friendships difficult, amazing, fun and sometimes hurtful?

The unique alchemy women have is undeniably powerful but can be so hard.

Humans are wired for connection but women seek meaningful, intellectual connections that bring us a different kind of joy and value that our partners don’t. Women tend to listen better and with heart. Chemically, women activate different parts of our brains than romantic partners do. We feel a deeper sense of validation and satisfaction.

Why female friendships are the best

You probably hear a lot about how good exercise is for us and how important a healthy diet is but you don’t often hear about the significance of friendship. Socialising with friends can improve your mental and physical health, especially as you get older. According to Bonnie Marcus, “It is that give-and-take in friendship that strengthens the bond. When you listen to others and make a gesture to help or add value, the bond is created. And it is gratifying. This mutual support and bonding make us feel needed and appreciated on a deep level.”.

This is why it hurts when you begin to feel like you’re the one doing all the work. Sometimes I get the feeling people are avoiding me because I’m the one making all the effort. I start to wonder ‘I am being ghosted?!’. But I do a huge amount of compassion for the women in my life, the majority are mums as well, juggling work and young children, so I don’t take it personally or hold it against them.

Sadly some friendships have fizzled out over the last couple of years but it’s made room for the ones that really matter. As a society, we don’t really talk about friendship breakups like we do when a romantic relationship ends. The ending of friendships can sometimes be just as sad and emotionally upsetting. And I find they can often be confusing, especially when there’s no cause, closure or goodbye.

This got me thinking about modern friendships and how we’re moving away from the competitive, catty and toxic narrative. And as far as communication goes lot has happened in our lifetime, contact with anyone at any time is just so available, maybe too available?

We’ve lived through the time of MSN, mobile phones without internet, MySpace, friends reunited (remember that?!) and pagers. Not forgetting dial-up around the late 90s, early 2000’s, when you couldn’t be on the phone and the internet at the same time. All of these things were game-changers in how we communicate, and you no longer had to call your friend or boyfriend sitting in the hallway by the front door, or if you were lucky enough your parents might have had a cordless phone – but god help you if you went over 59 minutes or called anyone before 6pm.

I remember actually writing letters to a few friends, especially my cousin, on a regular basis, we’d send things to each other like duplicate spice girls photos or stickers that we were collecting.

And I imagine that before all of that, our parents and their parents had a fairly close group of friends who they saw and actually spoke to face to face on a regular or daily basis, or called each other, and that’s how it was. They probably didn’t go out as much as we did, and they didn’t have the choice of places to go either. Now we can talk to anyone anywhere where in the world.

Having said that, all this communication is absolutely amazing but it can be seriously overwhelming and actually make you feel anxious, depressed and pretty crappy. We now collect friends, on our phones and social media, and keep the contact going long after the friendship has served its purpose, which feels really odd.

Friendship can be such a grey area, there’s a lot of pressure and expectations from ourselves and other people. It’s always been there but feels quite prominent now as it takes a few seconds to contact someone from a device in your pocket, so there is ‘no excuse’. Not only that, but when you’re continually making friends throughout your life from primary school, other children that lived down your road, secondary school, children of your parent’s friends, college, university, your first job, your second job, the job you’re in now, friends of friends, friends you met through your children, friends you met on holiday, neighbours, friends you met at a wedding or birthday party and everyone else in between…

Some come into our lives and stay, others come and go. We have friends for a good time and wine, friends and allies at work, friends for long conversations, friends with kids and the rest. Time will only tell if the friends we have now are people who we will be friends with in 5, 10 or 50 years’ time… Because when you experience very stressful times in your life, there’s nothing more powerful than female friendship and being able to reach out to other women, and as Gloria Steinem says “Women understand”.

So it’s worth recognising who the most important people in your life are and investing in them.


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