Why do we love our girlfriends? Joanne Fedler explains the phenomenon that is female friendships.
Men are good for a great number of jobs, I’m thinking specifically of killing spiders and changing tyres, but they are useless when it comes to a second opinion when shopping for a new outfit and repeating the conversation they just had on the phone which you know contained important gossip. Which is where girlfriends come in. What women are looking for in friendship, seem to be the very things some men are doing their best to avoid: conversation, intimacy and emotion. Most men want out of their friendships what women want from their pets: quiet loyal company.
I cannot imagine life without the sisterhood, having grown up with sisters and worked in women’s issues all my life. I am a Thelma and Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes gal, a woman who runs with the wolves. While I repeatedly need convincing of why marriage is a good idea, along with monogamy and heterosexuality, the value of female friendships (connections with no social or economic value in our society) is absurdly obvious.
Girlfriends offer a love immune to the perils of romance, which is over-valued, hyped-up and fickle as fashion. When we gather, we giggle, eat each other’s home-made cooking and explore emotional truths. We share our stories, adoring the minutiae of each others lives, liberated from the fear of sharing ‘too much’ information: what did you wear? What exactly did he say when you confronted him? How much cumin did you use? In these spaces I’ve learned I’m not the only mother who has flunked motherhood and that my husband is getting a lot more sex than he appreciates.
On my daughter’s twelfth birthday, I organized a girls-only ritual, and asked everyone to bring a gift which cost no money. One friend who loves to bake, made her a rose out of icing, which broke that morning. She had thought to remake it, but then realised that broken, it more truly spoke of the nature of life and love – of their imperfection and fragility. Some gave plants from their gardens, others hand-wrote their wisdom and passed on recipes handed down in their families. More than one offered my daughter this: the greatest gift of being a woman is that you get to have girlfriends.
Girlfriends accompany you when you’re scared because men just make things worse. I’ve been with friends when they’ve gone for Brazilians, had girlfriends come with me to get the results of a bad pap smear, have a pelvic ultrasound and a mammogram (my friend was late and kept knocking on the door saying, ‘Let me in, I’m here, I’m here,’ even though the doctor refused). I have sat with friends waiting for children to come out of operating theatres and had girlfriends come over (always with food, usually chocolate) to sit on my bed or give me a foot rub when I’ve put my back out or had pneumonia. I stood beside a girlfriend during her Jewish divorce and silently blessed her and her ex-husband as they severed their bond and then took her out for sushi and to shop for a gift for her to give herself. I have counted down days with friends waiting for medical results, received flowers after operations, and made more lasagnes than I can remember when friends have moved house or lost a parent.
My girlfriends keep me silly, keep me places in line and take from my loneliness. They sing me alive beyond my role of wife and mother. They are the helium in the balloon of life. They laugh at my jokes, celebrate my triumphs and nod when I ask, ‘Tell me the truth, do I look fat in this?’
This was first published in O-magazine, South Africa.