Long Reads

What a major breakup in my 30s taught me about the power of female friendship

Welcome to Stylist’s first ever Love Week, where we’re celebrating the relationships that matter the most to us with a series of beautiful essays. Here, writer Natalie Cornish pens a tribute to the friends who helped her start over following a breakup.

A year ago, there were 10,000 miles between my best friends and I. Regular post-work catch ups in London became bleary-eyed weekend Facetimes on an 11-hour time difference. Voice memos recorded while I slept kept me updated on mortgage approvals, wedding plans and work promotions. I assumed I was on the same trajectory, albeit with a Sydney-shaped detour to live out my dream of working abroad, until one afternoon that was no longer the case.

My relationship ended, and with it my two-year love affair with a beautiful sun-drenched city on the other side of world. My incredible Australian friends rallied around me. They took it in turns to sleep in my bed, fill my spare time with distractions, and counsel me over coffee while I sobbed. For all of those things I’ll be forever grateful. Three weeks later I was on a plane back to London having left a flat, a job and a future in Australia that had felt so certain just a few months before.

I was 32, single and starting again. But the moment those doors opened at Heathrow arrivals, and I saw two of my best friends waiting there for me, I knew I wasn’t alone. And that’s how it’s been ever since.

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The next few months were all about finding work while I lived off my savings and rediscovered what it meant to be on my own again. But, most importantly, those precious weeks afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with my brilliantly supportive family and the wonderful women I’m lucky enough to call my friends.

female friendship

“I had to rediscover what it meant to be alone again”

We reminisced over old university stories of when we were young and naive and had been thrown together on the Mile End Road. We felt nostalgic about renting terrible shared houses with mouldy bathrooms and no heating, and working poorly paid jobs with zero responsibilities. We shared forgotten tales of drunken nights out and terrible men. We remembered trying to make £30 last two weeks until payday, which always ended in the same way: consoling, sympathising and subbing one another, knowing it would be okay in the end if we just stuck it out together.

We might be a little older now, and some of us might be a little less broke and living with a decent partner, and a toilet that flushes, in tow, but that unbreakable, unifying bond remains the same. 

My friends have all gone above and beyond to make me feel loved and like I belong here again. This means so much, especially on those particularly grey days when I crave the Sydney sunshine on my skin, or look back and wonder why things didn’t go as planned. Thanks to their insistence on accompanying me on weekend adventures to rediscover my favourite parts of this crazy city, those moments of sadness happen less often now. Sometimes it even feels like I never left.

When it comes to showing affection, these women are as individual as they are awesome. Rhi delivers me delicious home cooked lunches at work, Sarah, Jos and Jo call me ‘just because’, and Steph makes me soufflé on Sunday afternoons. Leah takes me on walks with a greyhound she’s befriended, Claire, Lucy and Emma helped set me up with freelance writing shifts, and Abbi’s the best housemate, making my old London flat feel like home again.

Caroline even ordered me a bridesmaid dress a week before her wedding so I could walk alongside her down the aisle, while Louise drove halfway across London to be by my side when I woke up from emergency surgery recently. Vik and Siobhan, who both recently got married, let me move into their spare rooms rent-free for a while. They bought furniture, stored my things and strung up fairy lights to make me feel at home. 

friends at a wedding

Natalie (second from right) with her friends at a wedding

All of these acts of kindness and compassion have made starting again that little bit less scary. They have collectively given me that fuzzy, warm feeling that I always thought was reserved for romantic relationships.

Of course, things have changed in the two years since I originally left London. There’s husbands and babies now. Catching up often means a protracted Whatsapp conversation over three days to find an evening when everyone is free, followed by booking babysitters, trying to find a restaurant that’s equidistant to all of our scattered homes and workplaces, and a promise to stick to just two glasses of wine instead of always ordering another bottle. But in those moments when we’re laughing until we cry, the number of life milestones we’ve individually ticked off is irrelevant. As is the two years we spent trying to get our heads around a crippling time difference just to have a 10 minute conversation.

They’ve also never once made me feel inferior, even though I’ve often struggled to come to terms with my life not going exactly to plan. Whenever I make comparisons, or feel envious of what they have, they tell me no-one’s life is perfect, regardless of owning a London home or getting engaged. And they’ve got a point.

Because whatever happens, female friendships are the relationships that really matter as you get older. They’re the bonds that nourish and sustain you. These are the people that celebrate your wins, commiserate with you on bad days, and say ‘you can do this’ when your anxiety tells you otherwise about that job interview, first nursery drop-off or date. Whatever you think of Valentine’s Day, I’d say that’s worth celebrating.

friends friendship

“I’m fortunate enough to know, and love, some of the very best women”

So this 14 February, I will be ordering that second bottle of wine with two fellow singletons and raising a glass to my best friends, and the power of female friendship.

As the old saying goes: ‘Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.’ I’m just fortunate enough to know, and love, some of the very best. Hopefully my friendship goes some way to returning the favour.

Images: Unsplash

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