The Stylist columnist explains why making new friendships later in life can be so important, especially for women
I thought all that kind of thing was behind me, at my age, working from home, never meeting anyone. But… I’ve met someone.
We were at a book event and walking down a corridor when she suddenly started doing a daft walk for absolutely no reason and I laughed so much I fell over. That was it. I knew I’d found a soulmate.
Three months later, we both feel we can say it – we are friends. I have made a new friend. I never thought it would happen again, but it has. I’d almost forgotten the thrill. It’s like having an affair but without all the bits that get you into trouble.
I want to see her all the time but I try to hold off emailing and WhatsApping 24/7 so as not to seem too eager. When we are together, the time flies past and we can hardly bear to part. Nothing is quite real until I’ve told her about it. The world looks a little brighter, I have a little more – which is to say some – zing and it’s all ridiculous, and brilliant.
We don’t give enough thought or credit to friendship, and that goes double for female friendship. Most of our attention, individually, collectively, culturally, goes to romantic bonds and to sex. Men have endless buddy movies recognising their existence, and endless war movies exalting the nobility of men so close – platonically! Careful now! – that they will fight and die for each other.
Growing up, male police officers, doctors and firefighters hung tight on TV constantly, but where were the groups of professional, supportive women? Women have… what? Thelma And Louise (both die), Beaches (one dies) and Bridesmaids (mostly about female jealousy).
We fare better in books, but the nature of that medium means the images of female friendships rarely penetrate cultural consciousness to form part of our internalised understanding of the world. And yet, who could do without their friends, male or female? Who could do without their, in Armistead Maupin’s beautiful phrase, logical family?
The Tales Of The City writer coined it to describe the relationships formed by those who are estranged from or who have had to remove themselves from unhappy biological families and for whom, naturally, friendship takes on an even greater intensity and importance.
But even for those of us lucky enough to come from happy backgrounds, meeting people who are under no obligation to like, let alone love, you and somehow still do, feels like a miracle. An honour, a privilege and a miracle. And then you get to like and love them back. What a thing.
Making a new friend makes me marvel at this all afresh. As with any enduring relationship, you can begin to take friends for granted after a while. Start cancelling nights out because you’re behind on Killing Eve. Not replying to, you know, every SINGLE message because, well, they won’t mind. Not listening to every word they say, because you’ve heard some of them before, just as they’ve heard yours. And that slides into not noticing red flags, or reading between the lines when they feel neglected or are having a hard time. And then they start drifting away, and your family can be gone.
We need to privilege our friends and our friendships. Not take them for granted, not feel embarrassed about taking the time or effort to actually nurture them. Because they’re extraordinary things and – if yours are anything like mine – extraordinary people and by some grace of God and fate, you found each other. It’s love of an underappreciated kind. Appreciate it.