A glance at many TV shows and movies about women show that our core friendship groups should consist of archetypes such as the party gal, the intellectual and the fashionista, amongst others (think Sex & the City).
It’s also very rare to see women in pop culture with friends outside these core relationships.
Social media is not much better, with everyone putting their best selves—and their best friendships—forward, making those who don’t have romantic relationships that resemble the ones we see on silver, TV and smartphone screens feel like there’s something missing in their lives.
Recently, I took the plunge and temporarily relocated to New York, partly because many of my friends were also jetting off to other parts of the world or country: they certainly weren’t letting their friendships get in the way of chasing their dreams, understanding that if those bonds were strong enough, they’d be there when they returned. We still maintain contact even though I haven’t seen some of them in years.
As part of my plan to take on the Big Apple, I shifted back to my small hometown in Australia to save money. It was six years after I’d first left, so most of my friends had moved on. Of the two who opted to stay local, one is preparing to move to Melbourne after the conclusion of her studies, while the other was forced to relocate interstate to escape an abusive ex-partner. Though the circumstances differ, the fact is that friendships often change in real life. And then there’s close girlfriends who get married and have kids, who I often don’t see much anymore.
Sarah Blair, 34, a writer from Atlanta Georgia, told me via email that moving interstate when her husband received a job offer meant leaving the friends and colleagues she made in her previous career as a kindergarten teacher. “We still keep in touch through social media and texting, but it isn't the same anymore,” she tells SBS.
Since having kids and moving back three years later, she’s found it “very difficult to coordinate schedules and find time to see each other”. Blair also keeps in touch with international writer friends “through texting, phone calls and FaceTime”.
I also spoke to Sydney chef, Georgia Leaker, 27, who has learned through a constant nomadic lifestyle that “it’s impossible to tell which friends are… short term [and which are] forever... The skill of being able to make friends continually is essential, especially in a transient city like Sydney.”
“adults have great difficulty catching up with one friend, let alone synchronising the schedules of four adults”.
Perhaps we’re stuck on an outdated notion of best friends forever, exemplified in pop culture from YA fiction to Netflix. As Leaker suggests, our increasingly individualised and global lifestyles can often prevent the forming of friendships that take place over Saturday coffee or brunch and instead exist in Slack threads or on social media.
When I asked Dr Lauren Rosewarne, author and senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, how young women’s friendships differ from the Sex and the City ideal, she responds by saying it’s “a highly unrealistic version of friendship”.
“Here were four women who managed to coordinate their presumably busy schedules to constantly meet up,” she says.
As in Blair’s situation, Dr Rosewarne asserts that “adults have great difficulty catching up with one friend, let alone synchronising the schedules of four adults”.
“Equally, balancing four personalities with such levels of closeness tends to be something women find harder in adult life.”
This is not to mention older women, who are often erased from the pop cultural landscape or presumed to be focussed on family life to the detriment to external friendships. My 50-something mum recently had one friend move away and a falling out with another, suddenly finding herself with only one good friend – who often travels internationally for long periods of time – living close by. This emphasises the importance of not putting every friendship egg in ‘one basket’, maintaining long-distance friendships and stepping outside friendship comfort zones.
Instead of despairing that our friendships don’t live up to some lofty stereotype, why don’t we happily look for short-term female companionship? Why not go to meet-ups, take classes or reach out on social media to connect with people in a new town, accept invitations for coffee, strengthen previous friendships and have a few Skype dates? They’re all positive and simple ways to maintain and diversify our friendship pools.
This can be easier said that done a lot of the time. It means having Internet access and the computer savvy to connect to online groups, an oftentimes unrealistic expectation for some members of the community; the confidence to put ourselves out there in a world that doesn’t foster the formation of new connections between women; and the dismantling of toxic ideas of female friendship perpetuated by the media and its consumers.
And then there’s close girlfriends who get married and have kids, who I often don’t see much anymore.
The fact is, no matter where life takes us, friendships are important, regardless of their intensity or duration.
Once we move from our twenties into our thirties and beyond, they may sometimes take a backseat to work, family and travel. But having people we see however intermittently who can offer respite, outside perspectives and companionship, and just a good yarn over coffee is just as important – and more realistic – as the close-knit quartets that flit across our screens.