There is only one relationship more complex than that of mother and daughter, more perplexing than marriage and more frustrating than siblings. It can be scarier than your first bikini wax and more exhilarating than a rollercoaster with just as many twists.
The Female Friendship.
If friendship was fashion it would be the elusive ‘perfect jeans’. The ones made of soft denim with the frays in all the right places. The fit of these jeans would never be affected by a FAT day and they would always make your bottom pert, your stomach flat and your legs appear longer. These jeans are so multi-functional that you can dance the night away in them, climb a mountain in them and if you fall over, there is enough support in them that you will never be left exposed to the elements.
Friendship should not be a Bodycon dress…
The one that highlights your lumps and bumps, makes your pant line visible and your boobs look like you are carrying a builder’s arse tucked down your front. This dress makes your legs appear shorter than a baguette because it falls at an awkward length, not to mention the fact that it slowly rides up as you are forced to walk with teeny steps. A full stride is futile due to the fact that there is no give whatsoever in this horrid material.
And under no circumstances EVER should friendship be Spanx…
that at first make everything lovely and smooth but slowly begin to smother you and make you appear sausage like in form. Before you know it, you have had to escape into the bathroom after the sorbet course to remove the offending girdle as you would rather walk about knickerless and exposed than take the restriction that they are causing. And even after you have removed them, they leave a red mark where your skin has been compressed that takes a while to fade.
Yes friendship should only be The Perfect Jeans.
I have had the same pair of jeans residing pride of place in my wardrobe for 27 years. I used to wear them every single day but lately they don’t get as much of an airing. But just as these jeans promised me, they have fitted me through every relationship, pregnancy, every bump in the road, every great time, every ‘I wish I could forget time’ and I will never ever throw them out.
Some jeans are for life, some jeans will last the test of time and some jeans are worth the investment.
I’ve also had a fair few bodycon dresses and unwisely invested in a few pairs of Spanx, all of which ended up the recycling bag. But I also have some newer investment pieces; a little black dress or two, a couple of statement blazers and a really fabulous bag that I am hoping will last just as long as those jeans.
But before I talk about that, let me tell you where I found my perfect jeans …
I have a confession to make.
I went to an all-girls, very well known, private Dublin Convent Secondary School. Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but it was one of those schools that has continually through my adult life caused people to say, ‘Oh right…’, (and not always in a good way) when I reveal my Alma Mater. They will often follow it with a snide comment or two. But to them my answer is always the same…
I LOVED EVERY DARN MINUTE.
It was during these six years that I met some of the more important people in my life. Those who have stood the test of time and who have remained a steady influence and inspiration in my life.
Apparently the school I was to attend had a reputation for producing young ladies of a certain calibre. Apparently we were all tutored to flick our hair the same way and speak with marbles in our mouth. We were all hockey warriors, had long model like limbs in our petrol blue uniform, would have a team of rugby players following our every move, would probably read English at University and marry well, thus spending the rest of our days attending charity luncheons and flicking our hair together.
What a huge disappointment…
it was when I sat my ordinary overweight bottom into the bench in the Science Lab beside another ordinary girl with a mono-brow and a huge smile. As we stared into the flame of the bunsen burner and I attempted to flick my hair (think Andrew Strong circa The Commitments), we watched those private school aspirations disappear into a puff of blue smoke.
But all was not lost…
Instead what really happened behind the granite walls of that Convent was far more entertaining than we could ever have anticipated. I did receive the rounded education that was promised and I can assure my parents that the fees were not at all wasted. In fact I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them for spending 30k (PUNTS, I can hear them shouting) in buying me the best friends that I could ever have asked for.
Most of us looked like blokes. The uniform was most unflattering in every way. I was crap at Hockey and every other sport, so the long limbs never came. At every sports day, a discus was thrust into my hand and someone would shout, ‘THROW’, as I launched it two feet into the air and swiftly sat back down under the tree to talk boys and how we could get them to notice us. (Eh, a comb would be a good place to start!)
The knee socks and hideous shoes gave us thick calves and the high round neck sweater gave us matronly boobs. There wasn’t a lick of tan on our mottled white legs, a highlight scattered through our dishwater coloured hair nor a scrap of lip gloss between us. The uniform smelled of wet dog if you got caught in the rain and not even the tartan lined Gabardine coat could protect you, the likes of which will never feature in Vogue, no matter how ugly fashion has become.
We relied solely on a slick of kiwi flavoured The Body Shop lip balm, a spritz of The Body Shop white musk (that would linger in the back of your throat for hours) and perhaps a spray of Impulse or a roll on deodorant to take us from drab to not quite fab.
It was the best kind of teenage freedom available. We didn’t give a shit what we looked like and in turn our personalities, our quirks and in some cases our intelligence blossomed. There was nothing to hide behind and nothing to make us individual but ourselves.
It was pure nun genius!
I’ve heard through folklore that our year were a particularity zealous bunch and while the year splintered off into smaller groups, as is natural with a group of 100 or so girls, as an entire year we were a united group…
But it was a group of eleven girls who stole my heart forever.
We were the perfect little society. There was the incredibly intelligent ones, the artistic, the dramatic, the sporty, the all rounder, the messers, the jokers, the mother figure, the go getter, the ones who had male friends (oh I wished it to be me but alas no)…and together we just worked.
We did everything en masse and documented it in the back of our homework journals. These girls took me through every stage in school, University and beyond and while the later years of marriage and children ultimately interfered, it is still to them I go when I have tidings of joy or tales of woe.
It may surprise you that me and mono-brow girl bonded so much in science class that we still speak every single day, without fail. As sure as the sun rises, I know the phone call always comes. We always have something to say and there is always a ‘wait ‘til I tell you’, a laugh and we often feel sorry for people who don’t get to listen to our conversations because they are pure comedy value.
Together we made so many plans in Science class. Between us we were going to lose over four stone and wear Levis jeans and tight white t-shirts to Stradbrook disco. Of course we never achieved our goal (thank god, social faux pas) but often laugh about it. She is still my person, and after she plucked that brow turns out she was and still is one of the hottest things to walk the planet, (except for the time that an unfortunate smudge across her UCD photo (yes we made it to University!) gave it the appearance that she had a full Don Quixote moustache for the four years we spent there.)
Between that group of people who first drank together behind bushes, smoked together, kissed boys, (and recorded it in the homework notebook) went to discos, experienced highs, suffered losses; we have produced 29 kids; an Architect, a Brand Manager, an Advertising Exec, a Psychologist (a proper Doctor one no less), a Teacher, a Theatre Director, a Solicitor, a few Bankers and whatever the hell I’m doing at any given time.
Apart from a medic (I’m pretty sure I could lead this bit with the help of Google) I think we’ve covered off pretty much every need we could have and could happily exist for a time on a Desert Island.
We have a lifetime of history of building each other up and very little of tearing each other down. We had siblings at home to fight with and while we were definitely guiding each other, (mostly without realising it), we didn’t preach and were largely accepting that some of us were crazy bonkers and some were more sensible but we each had our place.
It was wisdom beyond our years, it was the way friendship should be, the way it is before the insecurities, the prejudices and the judgment of adult life gets in the way and it has largely remained one the most important support systems in my life.
So why is female friendship so important?
I am now going to draw on my psychological resource to reveal the answer… over to you Dr. Sue..
‘It turns out that we are actually genetically hard wired for friendship in large part due to the oxytocin released into our bloodstream, combined with the female reproduction organs. When life becomes challenging, women seek out friendships with other women as a means of regulating stress levels.’
Ok… interesting (you big nerd) now break it down for us who didn’t fall into the ‘intelligent ones’ category please…
‘We process stress and emotion differently to men so women often find it easier to talk to their friends. Women typically do better than men when they are widowed because they have maintained and nurtured their social network better than men do.’
So there it is all the way from my Doctor of the Brain in Hong Kong.
And then my own take. Sit up!
Life can be a great big ball of shit and if we can’t talk about it and laugh about it and drink too much prosecco together and have amazingly long hilarious phone conversations that make tears roll down our faces, or dance together like crazed lunatics, or sit in silence together because there are sometimes no words, or sob crying when something utterly crap happens then what the hell is the point?
As women we will delve into the deeper issues that your husband is often pretending to listen to. I don’t really want to talk to my husband about my fluctuating hormones, this will just give him ammunition when we are having a disagreement. And all the other things that I over analyse and over think…
I want to tell my girls.
I’ve made many more friends throughout my Voyage into Middle Age. Some have been sent from heaven, some have been a wonderful moment in time and some have been a big drain. Often the newer friends we make in middle age are tagged onto other relationships that we may have, that with co-workers and parents of our kid’s friends. We are all struggling with time constraints so it is often easy and pleasant to spend time with those who are right there.
For me some of these are wonderful acquaintances and some have moved into the Friendship Zone.
I can place friendship into the flowing categories:
College / Work Friends – Hugely important at the time and vital to making the day go faster. They are often our first experience of new friendship after the stability of school. These friends can often seem exotic and new compared to the familiarity of old. Some will last the test of time but there are more ahead…
The School Gate Friends – More political than the office. You desperately try to figure out who is friends with who and how they have all become friends so fast. Have you missed another meeting? Was there a table quiz you didn’t know about? Then throw your offspring into the mix and the dynamic is insane. Personally I’ve met some wonderful friends during these years and a few I wish I hadn’t. These acquaintances and friends are vital to these years but just be careful that you realise who falls into which category. Treat the acquaintances as acquaintances and nurture the true friends. It will become obvious over time who is who!
The hobby or work out friends – I couldn’t go through friend categories without mentioning this. They are my two endorphin buddies. We have the common goal of bikini domination. Since we spend more time talking about the gym, they have unsurprisingly crossed over into the friends for life zone. Which should mean that we are hot as hell but in fact means that we started going out for dinner and drinks together as well as to the gym and since I know they can plank for a minute plus, box
and do press ups and are stronger than some men, I hope they’ll alway have my back. (Must find new gym buddies who don’t speak English.)
The Surprise Friends. The ones who started off as something else. I often say to one in particular that I am so glad we didn’t meet when we were younger as we would have wracked havoc on the Universe. She has more life in her little finger than most have in their entire being. She makes me do stuff like concerts and trips and for that I love her. The other surprise friend is the one that is my polar opposite but it just works even though it shouldn’t. She has friendship qualities that I hugely admire. (Like the fact that she has often offered to cook for me, seriously some people do that!)
The ones who didn’t make it. I’ve been lucky that I have mostly met wonderful people. But my openness and honesty has meant that at times I have magnetized the odd turkey. In the past I would have agonized over the loss of a friendship and lament the shared time together but alas I don’t have time anymore so just sling your hook!
The older I get the less patient I get, I am Victor Meldrew in a midi skirt and heels. So go ahead and mess with me, judge me, try and change me, insult me, my husband or my family and like the Godfather, you are dead to me. I’ve learnt how wonderful it is to have good friends so I just don’t need the other kind. I often have to remind myself that it is quality over quantity. The principles that I should be applying to my shopping habits are far easier to apply to people. Invest in those that invest in you.
I’m not many things but I am a loyal friend.
I’ll probably take a bullet for you, if anyone hurts you I will help you plot revenge. But I‘m just too old for bad behaviour, too tired for pettiness and too cynical for bullshit. I’ll always have your back as long as you have mine but as soon as you drop the support, so will I.
Remember that the one word that always works in friendship is ‘NON’.
The best friendships are non-pressure, non-judgemental, non-complacent, nonchalant, and nonconformist and sometimes it should be pure unadulterated nonsense.
There is no need for explanations, no need for excuses and sometimes a knowing glance is enough. Sometimes things can go wrong and sometimes we can’t reverse from things that have been said or done. Sometimes we must sadly move on for a time because life is strange. Accept it, don’t try to change it.
But know that great friendship can sometimes be the greatest love story of our lives.
I know that if I achieve what I set out to achieve, I will have a group of girls behind me who knew I could do it. They will give me the standing ovation but they will be the first to bring me back down to earth again. They will accept my ‘Fanny Pack’ wearing, white boot stomping, dungaree doin’, tattoo tryin’, purple hair swishing ways but they won’t let the opportunity pass without slagging the shite out of me, just as I would do to them. Without even knowing it I’ve been drinking the expensive wine my whole life and I’m not about to start drinking plonk now.
Sometimes the girl gets the prince and sometimes if she’s very lucky she gets a Hiace van load of princesses to catch her every time she stumbles off her heels. Sometimes she gets the type of friends that when she tells them she’s done something bad, they don’t even flinch, they look her straight in the eye and say…
‘I’ll help you hide the body.’
This blog is dedicated to the class of 1996 Mount Anville. School for young men.
To my friends, (you know who you are) I love you all, as long as you love me back!