In an era of hyper-connectivity, meaningful friendships are becoming ever more important to retain some semblance of sanity. I have my own coterie of friends, male and female. We have stuck with each other through thick and thin. We have lost touch with each other for years and then reunited without missing a heartbeat, picking up exactly where we left off. There is something deeply satisfying about these friends of mine. I have had my share of arguments and shouting matches with most of them. I have fought bitter battles, but bloodied and scarred thus, I have returned, and so have they. There is a deep mental connection between us all, which is irrefutable and irreversible. We know each other too well to not ignore each other’s limitations. We have openly criticized. We have walked on tiptoe around eggshells. We have bottled things up till they had burst open with an unforeseeable violence. We have ignored emotional fault lines and stood by Life’s continental shifts. We have weathered all kinds of weather. We have held each other’s hands (virtually) through heartaches, marriages, child births, motherhood. We have fought like cocks and hens and given each other the silent treatment. We have accused each other of unimaginable things, called each other (sometimes unspeakable) names, and then repented and apologized with equal sincerity.
Never have we taken advantage of each other’s weaknesses. Never have we been intentionally mean. Never have we considered revenge. Never have we been visited by the green eyed monster for too long to cause irreparable damage. Wounds have healed. Never have we hurt the other intentionally. Never have we wished ill of the other. We might have been ‘mean girls’ from time to time, but it was never with ill intention. Never have we minced words. Always we have been open about our affection – with open arms and hearts. Always we have welcomed each other with compassion, empathy, and love. There has never been a dearth of love. I believe that friends should be few. Besides, being an ambivert, I have had difficulty making friends but not keeping them. So the handful that I have, I can trust them with my life, my deepest secrets, and my house keys. And yet, there are differences in the ways I interact with my male friends and my female friends.
Perhaps the best thing about my female friends is the level of comfort we share. Sometimes, I have called them because I needed a box in the ears. I have called them because I needed an opinion about something. Their voices are like my conscience has an external entity. When I need to hear it from someone else, I know whom to call. We are intuitive about each other and a slight inflection in the voice, the subtle sniff or intake of breath are enough to tell us what might be wrong. Sometimes, it has so happened that I have been able to understand something is wrong from the way they have responded in text.
With male friends, the relationship is more individualistic. I can talk about my life without including other people in it and the same is reciprocated. My male friends seldom talk about their girlfriends, wives, children, friends, or family. There have been instances when such minimal information was shared that for years I did not know that they had a sibling. Perhaps this is because men like to compartmentalise their lives while we women can see synergy in everything. Male and female friends show their concern and care in very different ways. While female friends might prefer to spend the evening talking about what was bothering their friend; a male friend would take her out drinking the night (and her sorrow) away. While female friends choose deeper introspection, male friends choose distraction as a way to get over heartbreaks. I see merit in both methods. It would depend on what that friend needs at the time.
We are all social animals and even though we may have our own unique problems, there is something that connects us to each other. No matter what the situation, I know that there will be a compassionate ear and a warm heart in a female friend. That is perhaps, the best thing about having close female friends. We do not talk about our careers and our jobs. We talk about the issues surrounding our jobs, our homes, our relationships, our lives, and our careers. We can openly vent about the tyrannical boss and the stress and the pressures of holding down a job and being a mother. We can talk about feeling guilty about leaving our children at home and not spending enough time with them. We can talk about intimate details and worries about issues such as our marital lives, ageing, and death because we know that our secrets are safe.
This is an area where male friends fall dismally short. They are unable to connect at the emotional level. Although they can also be excellent secret-keepers; but perhaps it is the years of social conditioning which does not allow them to express their emotions and feelings, as recent research suggests. It could also be that they are not equipped to handle emotional situations. They might be able to demonstrate their support by offering a hug but only men who are thoroughly secure in their masculinity are able to reach out to another friend in this way. More often than not, they are baffled by women’s ability to pour their hearts out.
I know for a fact that the husbands have a good laugh about how when every time we meet, we get into a tiff. It does not bother me because I do not believe that there is anything wrong in expressing oneself freely. I believe that we are all strong, opinionated women and we do not make any bones about it. Besides, for a third person it might seem like we are into a full-on cat fight while the truth of the matter is, we are only showing each other the mirror. Sometimes, Time can make relationships rusty, and especially so if the friends live in different cities and countries, living very diverse lives; but our strong suit is that strong female friendships can stand the test of time because of our innate capacity for honesty.
Male friends, on the other hand, can also express their honest opinions if asked directly. They will usually reserve their comments about your personal life, unless they are blind drunk. I have had friends telling me ages after the event about something they felt was not right sometime in prehistoric times. It has annoyed me in several occasions because I believe that friends are supposed to be honest with each other but I have come to believe in being polite than brutally honest.
Over the years we have grown to avoid talking about things that we know we are not comfortable talking about. I know that this goes directly against what I just said about being honest with each other. But I have grown to understand that honesty is neither talking about bitter truths nor talking about everything we feel. We can choose what we would like to share and to respect someone else’s right to choose. It is about knowing the truth and only talking about it if the person concerned chooses to. I believe that being polite and avoiding topics and incidents that can cause unnecessary pain are not worth fighting over (and especially when one knows the outcome) is a sign of wisdom and not cowardice or deception.
Friends forever or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is the here and now and the connections we create and sustain. I have been blessed with great friends, both male and female. I believe that friendship is about that connection that you forge in an instant. Something fits and you know that you have found the key to the lock. Hanging out and having fun become the mainsprings of the relationship but so does finding emotional support. Life is about balancing our needs and wants. I believe that friends need to ‘like’ each other first and foremost. Love will take care of itself. Love will be forever.