Female friendships are as tumultuous and intense as romantic relationships believes PENNY McCORMICK, who confesses to having a friend for every occasion …
I have a vivid memory of watching the 1949 version of Little Women when I was nine, in which Elizabeth Taylor played the capricious Amy to a T and June Allyson was the headstrong Jo. It’s one of my all-time favourite films-of-the-book. Louisa May Alcott presented us with four very different sisters – Meg the homemaker, Jo the career girl, Beth the saint and Amy the glamourpuss. Yes, it was a stereotypical microcosm of its time, but nonetheless, as a young girl I recognised in each of these characters elements of my school friends; dramatically different yet a cohesive whole. I always wanted to be a Jo.
Fast forward 25 years and I have spent many a session over caffeine, or chablis, discussing with my friends which of us is a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or Miranda. None of us wanted to be labelled a Miranda, though her pragmatic lean-in approach to balancing the precarious demands of life, love and family is perhaps the most realistic. Of course I’m talking about Sex and the City. The consensus has always been I’m on the cusp of a Charlotte/Carrie and ironically share a birthday with Kristin Scott Davis who plays the former.
That four women, latter-day soul sisters, were again presented, sartorially and socially so different, made me question if we have four core friends. Though from an earlier era, The Golden Girls were also four allegorical characters. Asked who my best friend is recently, I couldn’t give just one name – I gave several. Each different, these friendships have flourished in adversity and against all odds, when I moved around the globe, taking the road less travelled. That is not to say I meet up with all of them over brunch – I keep them separate and realise they may not necessarily gel. I have accrued them from school, various jobs, continents and decades. This A team of wing chicks is backed up by an extensive cast of others whose cameo roles are no less significant or important to me.
Contemporary psychology identifies the four types of friendship as “acquaintance, casual, agentic and true”, though I’m with Virginia Woolf who said “Some people go to priests. Others to poetry. I to my friends.” Life, of course, would be very dull if our friends were all carbon copies, and it has been proven friends are not just an essential component of wellbeing but may prolong longevity. In Ikaria (as profiled in The New York Times) the island where “people forget to die” – friendship ensures that the population thrives. Meanwhile Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, written 25 centuries ago, talked at length about friendships of utility and others of goodwill. How prescient that he would define faux friendships. We have all had utilitarian contacts – usually via business – whom we cultivate and nurture for mutual advantage.
I openly admit I’ve edited friends (generally letting them fade to grey) and been ghosted too. This friendsnip is a necessity – you outgrow certain alliances and realise they flourished in the hothouse that was university but then got lost in translation. A marriage breakup or a reversal of fortune often sorts out the troops; so too does motherhood. While not a mother myself, I have found myself on the outside of “yummy mummy” conversations, however hard I’ve tried to empathise. Yet I’ve come to believe it’s not necessary to have similar cultural backgrounds, ages or even share the same language. I’ve accrued friends on a value-led system; my squad for the most part share the same beliefs in kindness, hard work and integrity. I might not have a tribe similar to that of Taylor Swift or need a T-shirt to prove their allegiance, but I know they are available; not just on a WhatsApp thread. Having said that, I often daydream about where I would seat various friends at my wedding (I’m a hopeful rather than hopeless romantic). I’ve decided separate tables may be best … Herewith my friendship types:
Often the childhood friend, this is the one who has known you the longest, and though fiercely loyal, may not be at the forefront of your daily life. In my case it’s a relationship that dates from primary school and while I haven’t always been in constant contact, my cheerleader friend is an unwavering supporter, a good listener and the unbiased font of good advice. She is also inspiring; as a barrister she offers wise counsel and no judgement. Much like Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston; the Cheerleader has seen you through various hairstyles, fashion disasters, men, regrettable lifestyle choices and has been an unpaid counsellor through many a family crisis. In fashion terms, the cheerleader is your frow friend who turns up at a moment’s notice, regardless if the collection is a dud. HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM: Cherish them; this is arguably the most important relationship of your life, though we often take them for granted. Mutual respect is the glue and the Cheerleader “gets” you without need for explanation or affectation.
THE DRAMA QUEEN
I’ve worked for and with several drama queens and acknowledge that having them in your orbit makes life interesting. Demanding attention, the DQ often masquerades as a witty raconteur (who is economical with the truth), or the gregarious friend who is great at a party, but a little too crazy for you (beware when alcohol is involved). Over time she may become a drain on collective empathy and therefore DQs often attract each other. (See Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss). Often the DQ’s problems revolve around her choice of partner and as a side-effect, men and choice of husbands can divide friendships drastically. It’s universally acknowledged that sympathy given to the DQ is not always reciprocated. Often forgetful of birthdays and anniversaries, she always makes sure her own celebrations are meticulously organised. Not for her the 40th in a local restaurant – it’s an away weekend, with its own hashtag or website. HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM: Acknowledge DQs may make you feel boring by comparison, though an even keel is preferable to their mood swings. No amount of Evening Primrose oil or B6 will help her; she thrives on stress, though you may need some Berocca to augment your energy levels. She needs constant affirmation and acclamation; don’t expect a reciprocal arrangement.
THE GLAM FRIEND
My glamorous friend is a stylist from Melbourne who seems to live the life I read about. She travels extensively, hanging out in Château Marmont or Soho House while her home has been profiled in Vogue Living. Her wardrobe is a mix of Dries Van Noten and Isabel Marant. Inspiring awe as well as some jealousy, this friend with benefits makes you bring out your A game when in her company. You may become the best version of yourself, though this can sometimes be exhausting; the opposite of being entirely yourself – as with the Cheerleader. She will often take you to events or make you privy to juicy gossip. Hang in there long enough and you may morph into a glam friend yourself; see Charlotte Tilbury whose Instagram is a selffulfilling prophecy. (Deploying her Wonder Glow liberally is advised). HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM: Reflected glory is all very well and good but you often feel relieved you don’t have to live up to their blueprint. This is the equivalent of a flirtationship – you pop in and out of another universe but feel very glad to be back in your own shabby chic existence. Beware; the Glam Friend is often not able to sustain a friendship or deal with your life unravelling.
I have to admit I’ve had several friends whom I don’t like. The sort of faux friends who only get in touch to ask if you are seeing anyone (upon their return from honeymoon), who mention a pay rise (when you are living on beans on toast) or like to undermine any hard-won achievement or promotion, however small, by not acknowledging – much less sending a congratulatory text. For the frenemy likes to keep score and is passive-aggressive in her contact. More often than not you’ve met her through work, and in an ill-fated moment you have used her as a confidante and lived to regret it. She has the receipts so you maintain contact. Meanness of spirit plays out when she splits the bill to the last cent, re-gifts presents and generally makes you feel drained rather than energised when in her company. HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM: Clarity occurs in a crisis. When you need contacts to rally (at the death of a relative, job loss or serious illness), she will disappear, unable emotionally to deliver any sort of sympathy. Indeed it’s usually the most unexpected of acquaintances who show their mettle at such a time with ongoing support. De-friend immediately; this toxic relationship accounts for more inner monologues than it merits.
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