Soul sisters, BFFs or kindred spirits. Call them what you will, strong female friendships are important to the health, wellbeing and happiness of most—if not all—women. However, time, priorities and circumstances test the bonds of even the tightest of friends, writes Nirmali Nuss.
Women have a tremendous capacity to make deep, lasting and emotional friendships from a very young age. These non-kinship social relationships are a pivotal part of any society. Friendship on a basic level depends on honesty, trust and loyalty. It enriches our lives and forges warmth, confidence and reassurance. ‘A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud,’ declared Ralph Waldo Emerson, an eminent nineteenth-century American poet.
Anecdotal evidence and peer surveys point to shifts, some minute and others seismic, in these personal relationships when friends take different paths in their lives. The closeness and intimacy of these ‘strong’ friendships are tested during transition stages such as when one party leaves for university, gets married, has children or gets a promotion.
The Roaring Twenties
The most difficult period of time to sustain female friendships is between the ages of twenty and forty. This period tends to see dramatic life changes, from tertiary education or moving away, to marriage, motherhood and career. Having a myriad of new responsibilities may cause one party to reprioritise friendships to a secondary level.
Some psychological experts argue that the intensity of female friendship begins to wane soon after a woman gets married and starts a family, as her spouse and children now fulfil her emotional needs. Mothers with babies and preschool-aged children barely have enough time to manage the little ones, juggle housework and run through a multitude of new and bewildering duties. This makes it tough to keep in regular contact with their besties.
Rita, 32, had a baby girl a year ago. She felt swamped keeping up with the constant feedings and nappy changes that she barely had time to chat with her girlfriends, let alone meet up with them for their bi-monthly movie and coffee dates. She felt that little by little her friends were growing colder towards her. While nothing was said directly to her, she got the message that they were unhappy with her when she was not invited to one of their birthday celebrations a year later.
Rapid globalisation in the past decade or so has seen more and more people relocate to other cities, often overseas, for reasons as varied as education, career, bringing up a family or retirement. The physical distance brought by the move can prove challenging for close friends who are used to regularly catching up in person.
Linda, a 40-something mother of two, had to move from Singapore to the United States when her husband was posted there for work. At her farewell party, her six good friends reaffirmed their commitment to stay close via emails, phone chats, Skype and visits. But after five years, she and her friends made fewer and fewer attempts to keep in touch. Linda admits that she is largely at fault because she was overwhelmed by the move and settling into a new country. During her latest visit back to Singapore, she did not catch up with any of her friends. She has since made new friends in the US. And while she misses her old friends, she is unsure whether she can ever be close to them again.
The Revival of the Forties to Sixties
In her book Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship, author Sandy Sheehy notes that from her mid-forties to sixties, a woman’s need for friendship resurges as she now has more time, perhaps since her children have grown up or she is more settled in her career and life. There are opportunities at this age to rekindle old, worn-out or even lost friendships as time may have healed the divisions that first fractured the relationship.
From her sixties onwards, a woman has even more time for her friendships as her children move out and she retires. In the golden age of retirement and rest, many people become more reflective and rediscover old hobbies. As the decades progress, people become more concerned with their health and may also have suffered the loss of loved ones, which makes many women turn to their female friends for comfort and companionship.
As time goes by, friendship tides ebb and flow for women. Although the intensity or value of friendships may dip during the prime years of twenties to fifties, the necessity of friends as a primary source of social bond is vital for a woman’s physical and mental wellbeing. Having someone to share your trials and triumphs, who is there for you and who understands you, is a very comforting feeling. The best thing about having good friends is that with them, you can be your true unadulterated self.
A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
SPRING-CLEAN YOUR FRIENDSHIPS
Invest in high-quality friendships rather than fair-weather ones. Friends that nurture and encourage you rather than secretly delight in any sign of your being humbled are the ones to keep. Quality of friends rather than quantity of friends should count. Feel free to trim your friend lists on social networking sites if you don’t feel any particularly deep or warm connection with these individuals. Seriously, can anyone have a few hundred true friends?
Having a long but increasingly troubled history together is not good enough to sustain a friendship. ‘Frenemies’ are too much work. Do you feel anxious around a friend because you struggle to conduct an amicable conversation without biting your tongue, for fear of saying the wrong thing? Perhaps it’s time to let that relationship fade away.
Having said that, Dr Jan Yager, sociologist and noted author of When Friendship Hurts and Friendshifts, reminds us that ‘how you end a friendship may be as important as your decision to end it’. There isn’t any point in burning bridges by being callous in the way you ‘unfriend’ someone you no longer trust, like or want to be with. There may come a time in the future when you want to reconnect with this person. So, the less hurtful memories there are, the better the chances of renewing the friendship.