In this week's #TrueRomance column, husband and wife, Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson, talk about buddy systems
What’s the difference between a deep female friendship and a demanding one?
By Anna Whitehouse
When I was five my dad said, “I wouldn’t call anyone your ‘best’ friend because it might make someone else feel left out.”
He made it clear that you’ll naturally get on better with some people, but try not to articulate the hierarchy. No one wants to be seven down from a gold mate – not solid enough for a sleepover but kept in the loop in case you need an extra 20p for the vending machine. It’s a brutal world. Having been at the top and bottom of the friendship food chain, it’s a garen addled with pesticide and, occasionally, prize-winning fruit.
My first encounter of a female friendship outside the familial unit was when I was offered a Quaver in the playground by Gillian (her surname was ‘Cartwheel’ and it happened that she could do the full spin). I accepted the maize snack, we hung out by the water fountain and it was only when I cracked open a packet of Wotsits a week later that she made it clear that I owed her two – the equivalent of a single Quaver. This was a friendship bank where both parties were acutely aware of what’s been invested and the expected return.
‘I speak openly to my trusted few on everything from postnatal depression to whether to pierce my inner earlobe’
This is not the case with every friendship, but those I’ve radiated towards have tended to be of the adoring-silence variety. One of my closest friends asked me if my daughter wanted a light that spells out THREE. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she was out by two years. But she had been there in the darkest of depths, when I’d called her to say I’d miscarried for the fifth time and had decided to give up on both my reproductive system and, perhaps, life for a bit. She was there – regardless of the tumbleweed that had gone over previous weeks and months – in a way that I don’t feel my husband’s friends were there for him in that period.
I don’t think his friends even knew. And that, perhaps, is the difference. While I won’t ever go into Stormy Daniels-esque detail on his bits, I will speak openly to my trusted few about everything: from feeling postnatally depressed, occasionally disillusioned, or just unsure whether to get a piercing in my inner earlobe.
For these are the big questions. For all the nasty PR that female friendships garner – ‘mean girls’, ‘bitchiness’ and the ‘you can’t sit with us’ rhetoric – it’s ultimately about support, communication and the knowledge that you’ll be there to offer up 20p to someone looking for a Twix.
By Matt Farquharson
Every time Anna introduces me to a new pal, I get a little bit afraid. What confidences will they share, I wonder. What plots might be hatched? How many more hours of our evenings will be lost to her smirking and tapping, her face glowing Avatar-blue above her mobile phone? Because female friendships, it seems to me, are a commitment.
Not on the scale of an ultra-marathon or a PhD, but at least as much effort as a weekly yoga class, and if you have too many of those, you’ll soon find yourself over-stretched.
I spent most of my formative years in a flat with my mum and sister. Amid the huffing and eye-rolling that was our main means of communication, I would hear a lot about my younger sibling’s friends: ‘X isn’t talking to anyone’, ‘Y’s parents are getting divorced’, ‘Z “dealt with” a boy in the year above’. (‘Dealt with’ was the term of the moment to describe an adolescent fumble).
I knew more about the lives of her friends than I knew about the lives of my own, our conversations rarely moving beyond football, music or most effective ways of getting drunk for under £2.50. Despite this, many of those same people remain my friends today. I might have 10 to 15 proper male buddies – not chums-of-geographical-convenince or colleagues-who-aren’t-too-annoying, but actual would-be-upset-if-you-suddenly-died friends.
‘I couldn’t tell you very much about what any of them do for a living’
Occasionally, I even get to see some of them in person and drink beer. But I couldn’t tell you very much about what any of them do for a living. I’d know the industry, but not much about their day-to-day job. I couldn’t tell you if their relationships were going well or poorly – if the married ones were closer to divorce or a renewal of vows; if the singles were happy to be single. I could tell you quite a bit about the one ‘player’, but that’s because he’s quite keen to tell anyone within earshot.
I know who has kids, and am pretty clear on their approximate ages and genders. But in most cases, the names would stump me. For Anna’s core group – those who will be there until we start getting packed off to nursing homes – she will know, often in intimate detail, there emotional condition at any given time. From relationship woes to work tussles and ongoing updates about the condition of their reproductive systems. It seems to me a daunting amount of detail to take on and extra emotional weight to carry.
But these aren’t things that they casually throw at each other, unbidden. They understand that each of them has their own weight to deal with. But they have a remarkable willngness to take on the weight of others too. It seems a terrifyingly demanding and yet superior form of friendship and I’m not sure how it’s all made to fit.
It makes me wonder if I should do more. Like actually make a phone call instead of parping light mockery into our WhatsApp group. Come to think of it, George had twins recently. Maybe I’ll give him a call.