I recently spent a wonderful weekend with three good friends; women I don’t get to see nearly enough. All lawyers doing social justice work of one kind or another, we met through our work, and our friendships grew from there. We range in age from 48 to 64. We have much in common beyond our profession: we are all pretty privileged in terms of race and class. We’re all in long-term relationships with men and have children who are either fully fledged or well on their way. But we are different in many ways too, and that is part of what creates the spark in our connections with one another.
The weekend was glorious. We nestled into the warm comfort of the cottage — with occasional forays into the cold outdoors by some — where we cooked, ate, drank gin and wine and talked. And talked and talked and talked. We caught up on kids, partners and ageing parents; we hashed out challenges we are having in our work; we talked about where we wanted our lives to go over the next few years, and we weighed in on political issues local and global. We laughed a lot: at ourselves, largely.
“Women don’t have friends”
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I told my mother that I planned to be friends for the rest of my life with the girl who was my best friend at the time. My mother’s response was that adult women “don’t have friends.” This came as quite a shock to me and, although I lost touch with most of the girls I was friends with when I was a kid and teenager, my friendships with women, as Jane Fonda once said: “keep starch in my spine and, without them, I don’t know what I would do.”
It was the case that my mother did not have friends when my siblings and I were kids. She talked to neighbour women over the fence or when delivering one or the other of us to someone’s house to play but, by and large, her social life was limited to things like bridge parties at which the attendees were all work colleagues of my dad and their wives.
(My parents did not entertain often, so the preparations for these events were of the utmost excitement to us kids. “Art” was rented from the library to make our house look more sophisticated; sandwiches were made and the crusts cut off the bread; liquor was bought and ash trays and bridge mix set out on each card table.)
My dad did not have friends, either, but he went out to work every day, where he spent time with other adults, mostly men. My mother, like most of her generation, lived a life largely surrounded only by children. It would have driven me mad!
I am happy to say that as my mother got older; in particular, after she and my father split up, she developed some friendships with women. She joined the Canadian Federation of University Women, a women’s hiking group and, through Scottish country dancing, met a woman who became a long-term friend with whom she travelled extensively. But, when she married for a second time, those friendships were, sadly, put on a back burner.
The value of the friendship of women
When I was 18 and pregnant, the first person I told was not my boyfriend or a sister or my mother but my best friend. She was horrified but, nonetheless, immediately offered me the support and kindness I desperately needed.
From then on, I have relied on my women friends to celebrate with me when things are going well, to commiserate with me when they are not, and to offer me suggestions and guidance in difficult times. I don’t always want those suggestions and guidance in the moment they are offered, but they almost always make their way into whatever decisions I have to make.
In turn, I am at the ready to offer a shoulder to cry on or an arm to lean on in tough times, to pop the champagne cork when a celebration is in order or to offer my thoughts and opinions if they are wanted, and sometimes when they are not.
Like all of us, there are many facets to who I am, and the totality of my friends – each of them different from the other — reflects all of them.There is not one of them I can imagine my life without.
Roxane Gay has written:
“My mother’s favourite saying is ‘Qui se ressemble, s’assemble.’ . . . It means, essentially, you are whom you surround yourself with.”
I am a fortunate woman to be surrounded by so many outstanding women.