The subtleties of life are never lost on me; the small ironies, the observations, the life theories. A theory I described to my husband yesterday was why I made friends with other women more readily in my twenties than my forties. Why, when you have a newborn baby and/or very small children, you form lasting friendships with women whom you have never known before, but who you would not hesitate to discuss nipple health and the state of your undercarriage. Oh those heady and long ‘post-birth’ days still haunt me. Then fast forward to when said newborn is a teenager and I find that making friends with other women has become some sort of mystical quest – and not an easy one at that. I have come to the conclusion that a veneer forms over our lives when we are in our thirties where openness is replaced by a kind of insistent guardedness.
Some of my very best friends now (the category of friends I assign to ‘the school years’) know an awful lot about me (career trajectory, interior design choices, book club membership) and have sat next to me at dinner parties countless times. However do they really know me in the way that my old friends ‘the pre-children university years’ know me? Those friends have held back my hair when I was sick from too many daiquiris, met my husband before he was my husband and could tell you what I wrote my dissertation about. (Madness in the Female Gothic, if you’re interested). With those friends there is no pretence. It’s the real deal. There is no veneer; or if there is it gets rapidly deciphered when we meet or speak and we get back to the first version of ourselves. I also benefitted from ‘the work friend’; a discrete handful of kindred spirits who stood by me as I climbed the career ladder.
I feel I’ve entered new territory now with female friendships. With these women we are coming into the ‘young-adult years’. This denotes having teenage children and the veneer is getting pretty thick. We discuss matters like should parents provide alcohol at teenage parties (my view right now: no, but there are many who seem to disagree). Should academic success be defining? Should sport play a role? Why hasn’t my daughter or son been picked for the ‘A’ team?
To be fair this team selection theme ensues in all areas of female friendship once your children are involved. When it’s post-birth it’s about milk ounces and percentile growth. When it’s school years it’s about the Nativity play and who is Mary vs. a miscellaneous angel. Now I have a teenager it’s to do with tribes. Is your child in or out? Popular or geekish? Make-up or natural? Phone obsessed or still interested in life in the real world? These distinctions seem to get in the way of whether we, as women, can be friends with each other. And my overriding view is that when you have spent twenty adult years accumulating friendships, there is most definitely a point when people start to say ‘enough is enough’. Many a time I have heard women say (almost proudly) that their friendship cup runs full.
All in all I find this troubling. I say this in the knowledge that when I was working, I frankly didn’t care nor notice these nuances at the school gate or during the baby yoga coffee morning. I skipped past in my heels and outfits, thinking about the fact that I had to do a presentation to 100 people in an hour. Was there time for a latte with a colleague beforehand?
Now it’s different. It feels like an extra effort needs to be made to win the friendship of these women who could, if the veneer just came down, become my bosom friend, like Diana Berry in ‘Anne of Green Gables’. In life, eventually, doesn’t everything come down to a quote from ‘Anne of Green Gables’? Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.
And I realise that often with me, female friendship is based on whether I like the look of someone; in much the same way as when, aged 6, I befriended someone called Stephanie because she had red ribbons in her hair. I’m all about the details. This curious yard-stick of mine, when selecting people I want to know better, almost gets in the way. I should not notice the ribbons. I should notice a good heart and kindness and the prospect of interesting conversation. But in friendship don’t we notice the sameness; the possibility of a buddy who will be our alter-ego? I know I do. It’s the ‘me too’ mentality of conforming and being accepted. Is this a Louise-ism? Do you feel the veneer too?