I have always been one of three; not just one of three people, but always, always, one of three girls.
At primary school, it was me, Laura and Heidi. Laura, like me was the youngest in a large, rowdy family. Heidi was a pampered only child. Still, we were inseparable from the first day of preschool. Eventually, our triad fell apart because Heidi felt that Laura and I didn’t like her as much as we liked each other. That wasn’t true, it was just that we had a sleep over at Heidi’s house one night and when we saw that she not only had her own en-suite bedroom but an entire toy room full of everything a little girl could ever want…well. The envy burned hot and true and we dealt with it the only way we knew how – we were snide. We would have gotten over it, of course, or matured a bit, but Heidi’s parents enrolled her in some posh private school about 3 days into our ‘fight’ which meant Heidi was whisked away before Laura and I could make amends. Personally, I think Heidi’s mum was just waiting to whisk her away in any case- with my black skin and Laura’s liberal parents, maybe we weren’t the kind of friends she wanted her princess to have. Anyway, Laura and I are still in contact, if only via Facebook these days, but I never saw or heard from Heidi again.
Moving on to secondary school- after spending a while trying to understand how the hell Nigerian schools worked and getting my ass handed to me by bullies, I eventually found my feet and fell into another triad with M and P. Adolescence and raging hormones reforged our already strong friendship with bonds of steel- we started dating boys who themselves were in a sort of triad. We spent all our time together, the six of us, and I remember my last year there as being one of those golden periods in your life in which you can’t remember anything ever being wrong.
After my time in Nigeria, I moved to England and met M and S. We did everything together at school- and because we were at an all girls boarding school in the middle of the country, I literally mean everything. We showered together, slept in the same room (sometimes all three of us on a single bed), studied frantically for A-Level exams together, almost got expelled for attending a party in London together. We even badgered our parents into letting us spend most summers together. We went from angsty teens to ‘young ladies’ together, learned how to deal with heartbreak (tears and icecream) together, how to manage these bodies that suddenly had all these new bits on them, together . I shared many ‘firsts’ with them, including my first taste of alcohol and my first naughty drag on a cigarette. I convinced them to sneak out to the local corner shop to buy a half packet of Marlboro Lights and they never got cross with me when we ended up coughing ourselves raw behind some bushes. If we don’t speak to each other at least once every 12 or so hours, we panic.
After school came university, where within a larger group of friends, I became joined at the hip with Liz* and Fizzy*. We were the only girls surrounded by our group of male friends but I like to think we would have become as close as we are now regardless. I became friends with Fizzy first, I remember meeting her in Fresher’s week; petite with perfect posture and masses of dark hair that made sense when you heard her mother was Italian. Then I met Fizzy through one of the boys- blond, sporty, utterly no nonsense and almost scarily unfazed by life. We are entirely different from each other, but we work. I consider them to be my sisters.
As to my actual sisters… well, there are three of us now. Once we were four, but an accident changed that. In my more morbid and self involved moments, I wonder if that was the universe trimming my life down to make for a better story. The two sisters I have left are these Amazons who’ve been on the same geographical roller coaster ride as me, who occasionally terrify me with how competent and capable they are at everything (especially baking), who I still expect to rescue me when I get into scrapes.
I haven’t the space here to wax lyrical about L and D from law school or AU and T, or my glamstar A, or the new girlfriends I’ve made at work or my wider circle of female friends from school and uni and general life.
With all these great women in my life, these women who I love, I’ve never understood it when girls say they don’t trust other girls. I hear this and it’s like someone has spoken to me in Ancient Greek.
What do you mean? What could you possibly mean? They try and explain themselves: You can’t trust girls, girls will betray you, they’ll steal your boyfriend, they’re only waiting for you to fail, two vaginas in a friendship causes death by bitchiness, my estrogen reacts explosively to other women’s estrogen, blah blah blah.
But then it emerges- there has been a fight. Words have been said, deeds have been done, between two people who sought to, and succeeded in, hurting each other. These two people just happen to be women. From this comes this sweeping condemnation of an entire sex’s ability to be friends with each other. What unmitigated nonsense.
I couldn’t function if I didn’t have my besties M&S, or Fizzy, or Liz or my sisters to call when something awful, or something fantastic happens. Of course I know women who I can’t stand, who I have nothing in common with, who I don’t trust, who truly will (and have) made inroads with my boyfriends. But I don’t see how these facts mean that I am not to trust all other women. The people I am not friends with, who I don’t trust? Are generally not nice people. Some of them just happen to be women, which, considering we make up about 50% of all the people in the world is entirely unsurprising.
If you’re the kind of girl who trusts people based on whether or not they have a vagina, you are looking at the world all wrong. If you are the kind of girl who thinks other women are untrustworthy, then allow me to be so bold as to suggest that the problem is not other women, the problem is you.
Assuming you are so afflicted, do you really think that men don’t commit the same sins to each other that always appear on your list of reasons why women are untrustworthy? Do you really think that men don’t bunk off with their friends’ girlfriends, gossip about each other, compete with each other? Of course they do. They have always done so. But men don’t go around saying: Hey, don’t trust other men. They’ll screw you over, steal your girlfriend, shag your wife, rape your dog. Save for a few glaring examples of course, bros before hos may as well hold the force of law.
Do you think men don’t undermine each other at work, don’t make digs and sarcastic comments, don’t mock each other and try and one-up each other, don’t root for each other to fail? Of course they do. They have always done so. But somehow men manage to accept that these actions are the actions of shitty people, and not specific to ‘men’. So, they either patch it up or bin the friendship and move on. They do not place their entire sex into the category of ‘frenemy for life’.
The inability of women to be friends with other women is a MYTH. It’s everywhere, in (almost) every culture, on television, in fiction…but it is still a myth. There’s another myth out there- that women can’t be friends, just platonic friends, with men. So. Women can’t be friends with women, women can’t be friends with men. Huh. Look at that- you buy into stupid myths and what do you get? A world in which women can’t have any friends at all, apparently.
Look, female friendships are not easy- I hope I haven’t implied that they are. These women I’ve waxed lyrical about above? Of course it’s not all like the perfect episodes of Gilmore Girls. Of course I fight with them. We have arguments about everything; from forgotten anniversaries, to being insensitive about someone’s feelings, from not calling enough, to what the rules are on being friends with each other’s exes. We have the singular ability to get under each other’s skin faster than a hyperactive mosquito. Of course I fight with them.
Female friendships are tricky. We expect more from each other than men do. We compete with each other, of course we do. If we didn’t compete with each other there would be no such thing as a fashion industry. Often, we fall into certain roles and patterns of behaviour we don’t exhibit elsewhere and sometimes these roles chafe.
But why is any of this surprising? Why should any of this be otherwise? Being a woman isn’t easy, being a woman is tricky. The world simultaneously demands more and expects less from us than it does from men; we have to work harder to gain support and earn loyalty. Woman are constantly competing- against stereotypes, cultural expectations and often our own biology. If being a woman alone is tricky, why should we expect being a woman with other women to be easy? And why should anyone expect any friendship to be exempt from the normal rules of relationships: the good ones are messy, long suffering and never without pain.
Why should any of this mean that female friendships are rare? That they cannot be trusted? That they are unrewarding, dishonest, more trouble than they are worth? No. Never. No.
The women in my life make me a better person. They show me examples of beauty and grace, of selflessness and devotion. They show me the sort of mother and wife I want to be, the sort of professional I want to be, how to navigate being young and ambitious, how to weather disappointment, how to be confident in my own body, how to accept my sexuality with no apologies, how to be a woman of faith and principles. They teach me lessons every day, lessons I would never have learned without them, lessons I’m sure they will have to teach me more than once before they stick, lessons I will probably never have the depth of character to put into practice.
And it’s not luck. Sure, I am lucky for having these women my life but keeping them as friends, as sisters was not luck. Sometimes, it was fucking hard work. True friendship, the kind that tells you when you’re being an idiot, the kind that lasts even when you move thousands of miles apart, the kind that withstands lies and words you can’t take back, and even the dreaded boyfriend stealing, well, that kind of friendship is like a marriage. And no one sensible says that marriage is easy.
There’s no hard and fast rule, I can’t say : “here’s how you stay friends with other women!” No one can say that because women aren’t clones, grown in homogenous pots of high heels and lipgloss. You work with the individual. You tailor yourself to what you’ve got and you make it work. And when you do, you find yourself looking at women who prance about bleating about ‘not trusting women’ and ‘not being friends with other women’ and thinking: What do you mean? What could you possibly mean?
“Female friendships that work are relationships in which women help each other belong to themselves.”- Louise Berkinow
So much of a woman’s life is taken up with belonging to other people- fathers, husbands, children- but my female friends? They help me be me, know me, understand me. I can only hope I do the same for them.