This is a post that has swirled around my head for a day or so now. I am trying to be honest with it, trying to make sense of something. If you are hoping for an hilarious anecdote about me falling down the stairs, this probably isn’t the post for you, although I haven’t done that for a while so it’s bound to feature soon.
There is a truth I have known, somewhere in the depths of myself, for some time now but have only just really acknowledged and so fully realised. It is this: it is a really great thing to be friends with women.
Growing up, I was a tomboy. An only-child who grew up next to a family of four boys – what else was I going to be? No amount of cajoling was going to make me a girly girl. I used to swing my Barbie round by her hair and whack her into the wall and chuck her out of the window, and then tear up the road to fly kites and charge around those boys’ garden like a banshee with an occasional break to watch Fireman Sam.
We had a holiday home (CARAVAN YOU ARSE) in North Wales, and I was best-holiday-muckers with the boy who holidayed in the home (BIGGER CARAVAN) three up from ours. My childhood holidays were blissful days of rock climbing and tree climbing, body boarding and jumping off beach hut roofs, and crabbing at the end of the day while our parents got merrily sloshed. Even now I am an odd mix of tomboy and feminine – I love me a pretty dress, I like to keep my nails prettily painted, but actually I cannot be bothered to go the whole hog and manicure them and I am at my most comfortable with a bit of beauty balm smeared on my face, in my age-old jeans and battered hi-tops charging around the garden with my boy.
So for a long time, my good friends were boys. This didn’t really improve at school because I just didn’t really get how to be friends with girls. My oldest, dearest friend Liz A took pity *THANK GOD BECAUSE WHAT WOULD I BE WITHOUT YOU* on me at Ballet class (see – there’s that paradox again – can barely stand up most of the time but love a bit of pirouetting and twinkly toes) but other than her, friends who were girls really didn’t happen until I reached University where Karma dealt me a blinder and landed me on the same Halls of Residence corridor as a group of mad, brilliant girls who became the very core of my University existence and are the reason I class those three years in Sheffield as some of the greatest times of my life. We are still friends now, and have done that lovely gradual thing where we have really grown up and become women together.
Likewise Liz S, who I attached myself to like a limpet the weekend I arrived back home from University. There were several years of, frankly, chaos involving masses of alcohol and verging-on-indecent outfits and silliness. Then we both settled down and found husbands and the silliness contracted a little and we no longer found ourselves charging around Brindley Place but instead sitting on sofas in our homes or local pubs, chatting the working week through over a bottle of wine. And then came our children, and the wine was replaced with tea and cake, and occasionally fruit when we’re feeling extremely virtuous, and the chat continues.
And so I suppose I was almost desensitised, by virtue of it always being there with these two Lizs and the SW4 girls, and a few others, to what it means to have brilliant women friends. It started when we were girls and I am so used to them being in my life, so used to having their presence constantly on my phone and in person that I hadn’t really recognised the women we have gradually become and the way I depend on them and value them now more so than I did years ago when we were just twenty-somethings living for the moment.
Recently I reconnected (via Facebook OF COURSE) with three women who I went to sixth form with. I vaguely knew all three of them then but I wouldn’t have said we were friends at the time. However, we have all had our children at about the same time and this is the force that brought us back together. Likewise, I have grown close to several of the women I work with over the last few years. And because these are newer friendships they have made me realise what it means to have friends who are women, and to recognise afresh how wonderful my friends are regardless of when or how I met them (over Archers, over a nappy change, over the best way to explain the phrase ‘beyond economic repair’).
Maybe this is a thing that is just occurring and happening to me. Like sleep-facebooking. I don’t know. But when I was a girl, being friends tended to mean liking the same things, shopping at the same place, thinking you had lots of answers and drinking lots of cheap cheap awful white wine or Malibu.
With women, it’s different, at least in my experience. You grow together and realise how much of everything that was once important doesn’t matter. You learn about yourself and who you are and you also recognise that change in each other. You love each other for your differences, for the quirks that make you each unique. You rarely do things like shopping (except food shopping) and reckless drinking of nasty alcohol. As I’ve come to recognise this week, you realise you do not have the answers. You have hardly any answers, certainly not for the big important stuff, the heartbreaking stuff, the difficult stuff. But you do have each other. You have the offer of an audience at any time of the day or night. You have the offer of someone to sit alongside you and puzzle over something with. You have someone who can’t and doesn’t try to give you THE answer but can give you a suggestion or talk with you until you find AN answer. You always always have the offer of practical help, of the downing of tools and jumping in a car, or making you tea, or watching your child, or sending over a husband to rescue your Kitten stuck up a tree, or countless other things. And, if nothing else, you have someone who won’t give you the answer, won’t even try, just someone who will cry with you and help you know you are not alone.
And so I am grateful, beyond grateful in fact, for these women who are my friends. I count myself very lucky. I still love you boys who are my friends, but I think I really do understand now what it means to have women friends. I am privileged to have you, to talk late into the night with you, to ride out tough times with you.
dazedandmumfused is on Twitter @dazednmumfused and Instagram: dazedandmumfused