The women in my family take friendship seriously.
On a quiet afternoon sometime in the early 1950’s, my grandmother famously took a long bath in her house in England and came out of it deciding that she must take her dear friend Valerie to tea as soon as possible. At a time when she didn’t have much money, she got out of the tub and picked up the phone to arrange to fly to New Zealand to meet Valerie the following week. My grandmother had impeccable intuition. She knew something was going on. Valerie needed her.
My mother and her brothers never learned exactly what Valerie had needed. Maybe she’d had a miscarriage? A broken heart? A broken bone? Maybe my grandmother had needed her? My grandmother took her secrets to her grave, only saying when she arrived back in England almost a month later that Valerie had been relieved to see her.
My mother taught me to nourish my childhood friendships, the way that her mother taught her. Always gardeners, the women in my family cultivate their friendships with careful feeding, watering, and pruning, but without too much fuss. A little black spot on the leaves or a few aphids on the stalks are greatly preferable to spraying nasty chemicals everywhere. Basically, be there for each other and take it easy. Take friends the way they are, and maybe they’ll do the same for you.
Thanks to this great family gift passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me, I have friends that I’ve been lucky to keep from preschool, elementary and high school, as well as deep, important friendships made later in life.
In the community garden where I have the privilege to work with some incredible kids and youth, I watch friendships between young girls grow and mature over the years. I see how girls thrive on each other’s support.
I’ve noticed how, as there is no “best friends” button on facebook, many teenage girls are now “married” to each other. In it’s tongue-in-cheek way this speaks to the importance of close friendships in girls lives.
I’m interested in what these deep bonds that often form between girls and women mean. They are powerful. There seems to be a current of support for these friendships that is only just starting to materialize for men as well in the culture at large.
When these friendships are nurtured over the years, building trust through shared histories and experiences, working through blocks, learning to differentiate in adulthood, creating healthy boundaries, sharing skills, knowledge, wisdom, and resources as well as fears, women are much more likely to reach their potential.
Friendships this flexible and exuberant are invaluable, often under-appreciated in the larger culture, and they are potentially revolutionary and world-changing.
Bestselling author, psychologist, and women’s and environmental rights activist Jean Shinoda Bolen writes in her book Like a Tree: How Trees, Women and Tree People Can Save the Planet about the power of helping just three friends, who in turn help three friends, until the circle wideness to one million in only 36 cycles.
When women support each other’s true spirits instead of a culture that tells us to shop, to worry about our weight, to underestimate our worth, to fear differences in ourselves and others, we are strengthened. We are able create cultures of respect, nurturance, common sense, humor, and love of the imperfect. We are able to support men in their deep friendships with each other and with women, friendships that have not historically developed the same cultures of nurturance. We are also more able to open our hearts and lives to the wisdom of trans-gendered people and all forms of difference because we feel more comfortable in our own skin.
I am deeply grateful for my beloved friends, near and far. I know that step by step our friendships are making the world a more compassionate and saner place. Let’s celebrate these friendships and learn how to encourage them in each other.
Join the conversation!
Has friendship played an important part of your life? How do you cultivate and celebrate friendship? Was it encouraged in your family growing up? If so, how? If not, what have you learned about how to encourage or support friendship since then?