How can women function without friendship?
Blindfolded in a room, I could smell her. I could seek her out, smack kisses on both cheeks as is her continental preference, feel the swing of thick red hair, then throw off the blindfold to laugh into eyes as dancingly brown as mine are blue.
My friend. My lovely long-distance friend with whom I’ve traversed nearly half my life in conversation as tangential as it is profound; hair, husbands, miscarriages, mothers, books, babies, crumb-wiping, bum-wiping – all tumbling out down the phone. A lifeline of succour and good sense.
I can’t imagine life without her, or the other half-dozen women who both anchor and buoy my world. Friendship, I’ve learnt, is a love story as sweeping and sustaining as anything you’ll find in a romance novel.
How sad, then, that some women forego friends, bolting onto their partner with parasitic ardour. “I don’t really have girlfriends,” Angelina Jolie said recently, revealing what I’ve long suspected – that loneliness underpins her chill, and that tattoos are words you wear because you can’t say them. “I’ll talk to my family, I talk to Brad. He’s really the only person I talk to.”
Oh, Ange. I’d love to whisk you away on a girls’ weekend, to drink wine and giggle about what a ball-breaker Zahara’s going to be. You could tell your secrets, because trusting them to others is like being enfolded in whipped eggwhites. Good friends love and lighten you.
Yet friendship is being sabotaged by ‘social’ media, with the number of friends you accumulate more important than the handful who truly care for your happiness.
“Facebook prioritises acquaintances,” says US psychologist Dr Leonard Sax. “Many girls now say they don’t have one or two best friends, they have 12, 15, 20. They’re losing the skills to nurture close friendships.”
And schools – where you learn what makes friendships flourish or flounder – are meddling. Some head teachers in the UK have instituted a ‘no best friends’ policy, so kids don’t suffer the trauma of falling out with a close pal.
What twaddle. As our lives are increasingly characterised by change, short-term contracts and even shorter attention spans, we need, like never before, to lash ourselves to our mates.
“When women don’t have friends,” Beyoncé remarked recently, “I’m afraid of them.”
I’m equally suspicious of those who shed friends like a tree dropping flawed fruit, such as a thrice-married author of my (thankfully) fleeting acquaintance, who writes, “When I fall out with a friend, part of me feels pleased because there’s a vacancy for a new one.”
“You are my sunshine,” I emailed my far-flung friend after she recently helped me through a problem. Sarah, who knows my mother’s name, who could point out my worst feature but only mentions the best, who called from the Afghani desert to shriek her delight after I fell pregnant.
When we met, mid-20s and battling it out at rival newspapers, I envied her chutzpah, her clothes, her relaxed attitude to parking tickets. Never have I subscribed to Gore Vidal’s theory, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Her victories are my victories; her heartaches cut as deeply as my own.
Recently, she mused we’d be lucky to see each other 15 more times in our lifetime. I could have killed her. Because sometimes I miss her so much, I nick into David Jones and spray myself with Chanel No 5 – not because it’s my perfume, but because it’s hers.
Angela is on a trek in Nepal, which is raising funds for the Australian Himalayan Foundation. To donate, visit www.gofundraise.com.au.
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