friendship

"The power of female friendship: it is equally likely to raise you up as tear you down."

August, 1995.

Girl’s week on the cape.

I’d spent months looking forward to this rarefied time when I could see my best girlfriends and spill my guts about an entire year of guy adventures, work disasters, and family drama. I couldn’t wait to cross the bridge over the canal, claim my bunk in our cozy rental overlooking the bay, take in a lungful of fresh salt air, stick my toes in the sand and uncork the chardonnay.

As usual I’d packed an insane number of outfits and arrived hours later than I said I would.

What wasn’t usual was that I had met a man just weeks before and fallen trulymadlydeeply in love with him. So on the Tuesday night of that week on the cape, he and I met at a nearby hotel to spend the night together.

The next morning he dropped me off back at the rental. He stopped in briefly to meet my friends, said his goodbyes, and left. I turned around smiling, looking forward to spending the day with my girlfriends, but was met with sullen, furious stares.

Break rules and feel the fury of female friends. (Image via iStock)

It slowly dawned on me that I had done a very, very bad thing.

I had broken one of the (unwritten but understood by all but me) rules of our yearly getaway: no men.

For over an hour they excoriated me, told me I had no respect for this sacred week, that I should have known this rule about no male visitors, and why couldn’t I have waited till after our week together to see this man again?

By the time they were done with me I was sitting on the floor of my room leaning against my bunk in a complete wasted mess of tears as they sat chatting quietly off in the living room, getting ready for their day without me, or so I imagined. I never felt so devastated in my life.

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In the end, they were sorry.

In the end, I married this man.

And in the end, we all realised their reaction was over the top, and maybe they were a bit jealous, and maybe I was in fact a bit of asshole to bring a guy into our girl week.

But my question is this: why is the pain of that hour of my life, more than twenty years later, still so vivid to me? Why can I traipse across it lightly with my mind and still open that scar right up?

All I can come up with is this: on that day so long ago I had evidently thrown a bomb into what I prized the most: access to the ability to connect on a deep level with the people I valued most in my life: my women friends.

That is the power of female friendship: it is equally likely to raise you up as tear you down. Something this volatile should not be wielded lightly.

Rachel and Monica has their ups and their downs. (Image via Friends)

For me, the stakes in female friendship – and I can only speak as a straight woman here – are just as high or higher than in romantic ones. We trust our women friends with so much intimate knowledge – why is that? Our hairdressers know for sure….isn’t that the truth...but why do we so often share intimacies with strangers, if they are of our gender? Why do I still share things with my women friends that I don’t with my husband of twenty-two years? Why is it – for me – that romantic relationships can end in flames, and yes, some very, very bad days – but ultimately the pain doesn’t linger like the loss of a dear female friend?

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Maybe it’s because women see ourselves in each other – forgive me, dear men in my life – in a more open and profound way than men see themselves in each other, and are able to articulate that connection. Women know about the artifice of being women; the clothes, makeup, hair, diets, longings, periods, pregnancies; they know how it feels to be dumped by a man, or to be in love with a man, how it feels to be a single woman in today’s society.

Face it: we know what it’s like to be second class citizens, to have to try harder than men for the good job, the decent paycheck, the taken-for-granted respect. Armed with all this knowledge we can size each other up in seconds, and we can do it with cruelty or compassion, but the truth is we already know each other’s pain without saying a word.

To know is to love, and so we are close this way.

In order to write The River at Night, I had to mine and therefore revisit a lot of my past, both the transcendent moments and sad ones. The fact is, readers think writers make things up. We don’t. We’ve seen it, read about it, felt it, tasted it, lived it, dreamed it, heard about it. Our job is to create entertainment from life and its attendant miseries, to try to make some sense of all the randomness, so that the painful parts of living are just slightly less so.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik (Bloomsbury, $24.99) is out now! You can find out more about her and her novels here

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