Relying on Friendship in a World Made for Couples

Oh heyyyy I remember you guys. Firstly, let me apologise. It’s been a big few months of travels and I have barely opened my laptop since November. I know, I’ve abandoned you all, but I’m back baby. 🙂

Now, I’ve been pondering this post since Christmas, and then all of a sudden it was Valentines Day (or Galentines Day, which I am a BIG fan of!) That would have been the perfect timing for this post, but I just couldn’t get the words out. But here we are, and now I have the words.

I am 31 and single. And happy. Yep, h a p p y. I always feel this pressure to announce my happiness when I state that I am single. Like I need to reassure the person I am talking to that it’s ok. I am ok. I can change my own lightglobes and pay for my own dinner. Please don’t worry. But WHY do I feel this pressure? Because for a long time, there was a someone. And then there was no one. And then there was a short something with a someone best forgotten, and then there was a longer something with the first someone again. And there were brief dalliances with other persons I remember fondly. But now, there is no one. And that is ok.

I have this wonderful supportive network of friends that spans over five continents, but in a world made for couples are those relationships enough? Or am I simply taking the easy way out, because long term monogamy is hard work?


I am not ashamed to admit that my friends are my fucking world. The love I have for them and the history we share will NEVER be replaced by some guy, because when friendships are your primary relationships, friendship isn’t just important: It’s existential.

The stakes are higher. For people in pairs, a certain amount of socialization is automatic especially if you live together, but single people have to schedule frequent friend time in order to prevent what I call “the slide from solitude into loneliness,” which I start to feel after 2-3 days of zero friend time. And I don’t mean swapping a few text messages, I mean face-to-face interaction.

As single women we deal with our intense dependence on friendship in different ways. Some of us rely on a best friendship that’s as complicated as a love affair, or a few close friendships that are as familiar as a family, which is my preferred method. I’ve tried both, with mixed results: My passionate friendships have proven to be as combustible and doomed as any other kind of passion, and the blissful chosen-family lifestyle I am currently enjoying, is a soft-focus montage of weekly gin nights and impromptu picnics in the park, is becoming impossible to sustain as I edge into my 30s. These days my oldest friends and I live farther apart and spend more of our time on work and children. We fit each other in between deadlines and other demands, and often make do with Facebook and phone tag. Any serious fun requires child care and/or coordinated leave from work and must be scheduled two to six months in advance.

Because individual friendships are subject to distance and decay, friendship in my 30s has meant learning to roll deep. I can count on one hand the number of people I could call in the middle of the night who would drop anything to be there for me, and it took losing my mother to cancer to learn who those people are. But it takes a mountain of effort and a long period of time to build and maintain such strong friendships, and to open yourself up to reciprocal middle-of-the-night calls. I should know: In the past few years I’ve taken a few late-night calls, and I’ve made a lot.

At times I’ve felt overwhelmed by the demands of balancing my close friendships. It can be callously easy to fail to respond to a faraway friend’s email about her sick partner when consumed by caring for another friend close by. At its best, having many close friendships can feel like having an army of guardian angels ready to mobilize within minutes. At its worst, it can feel like the world’s most invisible form of emotional labor.

Single women often put friendship at the centre of our lives; some of us rate those people as more important than family, so it can be hard for us to be friends with people who see friendship as peripheral, as many partnered people do. A close friend once told me that her priorities were her kid, her partner, her work, her friends, in that order, like suits in a deck of cards. In her life, a kid thing would always trump a partner thing; a work thing would always trump a friend thing. I was hurt to think that someone I valued so highly, didn’t hold me in the same regard. I now realise this was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships — plus, it was no fun to know that I would always be the lowest priority in her life. Our friendship didn’t last much longer, which is inevitable in the case of one personal doing all the giving.

Even when both people make the relationship a priority, friendship across the lines of marital status or the having of children takes work. One of my closest girlfriends steadily ticked off all the socially sanctioned boxes of “adulthood” — getting married, having kids, getting a “real job,” buying a house – with a few hiccups along the way (including a divorce). The having of a new partner means she has less time for me than she used to, and now with baby number two on the way, I can only assume it will get harder still. In addition, I’ve done none of those “adult” things; where her priorities are for a family and all that comes with it, my priorities are different. At times our differences have stretched us both to our limit, but our friendship has lasted because of our refusal to project the stereotypes of smug married motherhood or carefree/pathetic single childlessness onto each other. We’re both allowed to complain about our lives; we’re both allowed to revel in them. Ten years in, our friendship is as stable and precious as anything in my life, but we’re both aware of the ways it could become fraught. It’s important to be aware of those issues, and be grown ups and talk about them when they arise.

I think it’s this layering of love that motivates me to celebrate my friendships with such fervor: because I know they are fragile as well as durable; because I know they can survive love and loss and remain Thelma-and-Louise strong right up to the edge of death, but they can also be shattered by work stress or political disagreements or a single text that should never have been sent. It is also one of many ways that the patriarchy hurts men as well as women; society tells boys from a young age that they aren’t allowed to share their feelings in the same way that girls do – and in a sense it deprives them of the same depth of friendship that women share with each other. Novelist Hanya Yanagihara once said, “Friendship is the most underrated relationship in our lives … It remains the one relation not bound by law, blood, or money — but an unspoken agreement of love.” She makes friendship sound awfully romantic, and it is, but the fact remains that it’s hard and scary to go through life knowing that your most important relationships are chronically underrated and legally nonexistent.

Which is why I rewatch old episodes of Sex and the City, Friends, Girls, Golden Girls et al; and invite my friends over for Galentine’s cake; and why I try not to leave my love unspoken. In a world where friendship is often difficult or invisible, I am trying to bake and write and speak and pray my friendships into the future.

To all my beautiful ladies out there – I love you all.

2 thoughts on “Relying on Friendship in a World Made for Couples

  1. thegrownupgapyear says:

    Such a wonderful post Em and so true. Friendships definitely change over time and it often surprises me the ones I have lost and the ones which have endured over the years. Even though I’m married now my friends still mean the world to me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • vagabondfeminist says:

      Do you find that your friendships are sometimes harder to maintain, or more easily forgotten with life getting in the way of catch up times? I’m finding as we get older, and work, children, partners, families etc take up more of our time it’s sometimes easy to forget to let our friends know we love them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s