She spilled into the car like sunshine. Nine months had passed and I almost couldn’t take how good it was to have her next to me again.
“Do you know this is only the third time we’ve seen each other in real life?” she said the next day. I nearly spat out my wine because, honestly, it was all so ridiculous. Our friendship is a total fluke, mine and Caitlin’s, forged by a random sequence of events and grown by a decision to pack up my little family and visit her in New Zealand nine months ago. Now here she was, sitting in my little kitchen, chopping tomatoes and kneading pasta dough like it was no big thing. Like of course we’ve seen each other more than three times.
Because sitting beside her sipping pinot in the winter sun, I was the happiest, most honest, least afraid version of myself.
And that takes decades to establish, usually.
She’s not usual though, Caitlin.
She’s like a missing piece.
Society, as a whole, tends to genderize friendship. “Frenemy” and “Bromance” are common phrases we throw around to describe the nature of female friendship verses the nature of male friendship, highlighting the striking difference between them both. Where The Bromance celebrates the power of brotherhood and the way in which it mutually benefits each man, female friendships are portrayed as something to fear. Women are, ultimately, a threat to each other – players we compete with, players we are weary of. Women are not people other women should trust.
And yet, you only need to watch Disney’s Frozen to see how society is re-evaluating the importance of sisterhood. Prince Schmince. You want an act of true love? Sure, you can go kiss a prince. OR you can stand beside your sisters and offer them your unshakable backing. This movie is such a remarkable example of the message we so desperately want to give our little girls: You are powerful. But mostly, you are more powerful when you invest in strong female relationships. One where no secrets or competition or perfectionism or appearances get in the way. One where you are wholly yourself. THAT, sweet girls, is what to reach for. Go out and grab THAT, my darlings.
We are being shown that, yes, female bonds are essential. They are life-affirming. They are powerful.
But the thing is this:
We are being taught WHY we need to cultivate female friendships, but what we’re NOT being shown, however, is HOW TO CULTIVATE THEM.
Because if we don’t have female friendship modeled to us on a regular basis, how are we supposed to learn it? We aren’t taught any classes in school, and apart from Sex and the City, our media messages of girl power and sisterhood are certainly few and far between. In fact, shows like Sex and the City only romanticize the ins and outs of female friendship, making us feel worse that we don’t experience sisterhood in the way we clearly should be. We end up assuming we’re supposed to just naturally be good at female friendship — instinctively knowing the different types of friends, what healthy expectations look like, how to transition relationships through various life changes, and how to ask for what we need — while rarely having our teachers or mothers explain to us what’s normal, healthy and meaningful.
Friendship takes work, and like the women within them, are usually complicated. Even still. EVEN STILL. More than wanting our kids to have healthy friendships, we have to show them HOW to have healthy friendships, and that they are a priority in our lives.
We need to model the kind of sisterhood we want our daughters to experience, because children learn what we do and not what we say. And look, it’s hard. We’re busy. We’re sensitive and complicated. Insecure and afraid, perhaps. Our friendships are the first thing we let go of when we’re time poor.
But if we’re shown realistic expectations of how to grow them and nourish them and be a healthy part of them, I think we’d feel less alone in our experiences of them. I think we’d beat ourselves up less about how bad we are at them. Because you can’t just add friendship into your life. In our time-poor states, it has to come at the expense of something else. It has to be scheduled in. It has to be made a priority – one which doesn’t only mean saying “yes I want good friendships” but “friendship is more important than a clean house”. It means ranking it as higher than something else in your life. It means finding women you can be wholly yourself with. It means being as open and vulnerable as possible with them, overcoming differences you have and life transitions that pop up and make things terribly unstable.
Our daughters need to see us leave them once a week for a girls night out. They need to see us go on annual trips with our girlfriends. They need to see us laughing hysterically on the phone with our friends. Talking things out with them. Crying with them, even. They need to see female friendship as a regular and integral part of family life.
There are some people who walk directly into your heart and stay there forever. Caitlin, for me, is one.
We are powerful on our own, yes, but even more so when we have a sister to fall into. One that makes us more honest, more alive and more successful than we’d ever be on our own.
Besides, they might just have in their hot little hand the recipe for the most kick-ass homemade pasta you’ve ever eaten. Because Lord knows, the only thing better than good friendship is good friendship with a plate full of pasta and a glass of pinot to wash it down.
I’m planning my next trip to New Zealand. And praying, in the meantime, that our homes can be suddenly linked by secret underground tunnels. Magical ones. Surely that’s not too much to ask?
Here’s to Sisterhood, friends.