Research has shown that friendship is essential for physical and emotional well-being. A lack of a supportive social network has a mortality risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The last few months have given me lots of reasons to reflect on how wonderful it is to not only have great friends, but to have great female friends. That hasn’t always been the case.
As a young woman a lot of my friends were men. I liked being “one of the lads” and could hold my own in conversations about music and motorbikes and even football if it was absolutely necessary. I found men to be less complicated than the women I knew. They seemed to be more honest and straightforward.
My female friends at the time made me anxious. I worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, I was never really sure if they liked me. I imagined (rightly or wrongly) that they talked about me behind my back. I drifted away from them.
Then came marriage and children and I found I needed more women in my life. Better women. Mothers who understood what it was like to suddenly have an entirely different life. Around this time I had two, fabulous, female friends who would come round, hang out, offer some support and share their own insecurities as we raised our kids together. Of course we still indulged in a little, unhelpful, competitive parenting (whose child talked first, walked first etc.) We also nursed insecurities we never shared, growing them into reasons to berate ourselves. Never quite believing that we were enough.
Now that I am older I have my tribe. In fact I have tribes, plural.
I have a tribe of female friends who meet to play Mah Jongg or go on day trips together. They are all slightly older than me and it doesn’t matter. We talk about our grandchildren, gardens and television. We indulge in immense silliness and sing out loud at the drop of a hat.
I have a tribe of adventuring friends. We take each other out of our comfort zones and relish the challenges we face. They are all slightly younger than me and it doesn’t matter. We talk about the businesses we run, about politics, music, food & wine and festivals.
I have a tribe of cultural friends and we share trips to the theatre and the cinema.
Along the way I have collected other, fabulous female friends and the really important ones are still in my life. In some cases, I consider their daughters to be friends too, now that they are grown.
I have female friends who have my back and I have theirs; friends I trust implicitly. So what changed?
For the most part, I did. I became more confident. I learned to trust, to take risks, to speak out. I became more discerning about the women I choose to spend time with and I, in return, became a better friend. I strive to be honest and straightforward, uncomplicated in my communication. I accept that friendships have a certain ebb and flow. Value must be added over time but can be drawn on when the need arises.
Those tribes are made up of wonderful women, each of whom is a fantastic friend in her own right. I could call on any of them individually for solace or laughter and there would be no jealousy from the others. I know who to ask for a book recommendation, for a hug, for a glass of champagne or a much needed kick up the backside.
This is a slightly more self-indulgent piece than usual, an opportunity to thank those friends (you know who you are) who add to my life in more ways than they could possibly know. But as always, it is also a learning piece. Here are a few of the things I wish I had known when I was younger:
- You do not have to compromise your own values in order to fit in. If you have different values you are unlikely to ever become good friends.
- Be yourself. It’s ok if that is not exactly the same person with every friend you have so long as you are congruent.
- If your friends spend all their time bitching about other people they probably bitch about you too. Life is too short to spend time with people who make you feel insecure.
- Accept that some friendships won’t work out long term. Just as you wouldn’t necessarily expect to marry the first person you date, don’t expect every friendship to last a lifetime.
- Take quality over quantity. A cup of coffee with just one person who lights up your life is preferable to 500 friends on social media if you never have any real relationship with them.
- Model the kind of friendship you would like to have. If you want friends you can trust – be trustworthy. If you want friends who listen when you have problems, be the kind of friend who listens.
- Some women like to talk about music, motorbikes and football too!
If, like me, you have some great female friends be sure to tell them how much you appreciate them. Maybe you would like to share your top tips for friendship too.