'I’m just so embarrassed.' We’re now living in the era of ‘friendship currency’.

It's rare that a person will begin to tear up during the soundcheck of a podcast record.

The timing of tears during a podcast should behave like that slightly estranged aunt who sometimes makes a surprise appearance on Christmas Day. Arriving in the middle of the emotional madness and then silently slipping away as the festivities begin to wind down.

But that's not how things played out on this particular day, as the audio producer yanked and twisted the microphone of the guest host sitting across from me and then raced behind the sound desk to investigate if the temperamental machine was actually coming close to recording a human voice.

As the failed soundcheck progressed, the producer was running out of the mundane questions usually thrown at hosts to test out the mics. With 'what did you have for breakfast?' and 'what TV show are you watching right now?' exhausted she threw out the seemingly harmless 'what are you doing this weekend?'.

The microphone chose this moment to miraculously resurrect itself, but its thunder was stolen by the tears that had begun to well very slightly in my co-host's eyes, as she struggled to answer a question that had been picked for its supposed ease of answering. 

"I'm not doing anything," she eventually said. "I don't really have any friends."

Over the past few months, this moment has regularly crept back into my thoughts and set up home there, much like an old-school radio jingle destined to outlive the item it was created to sell.

Not out of pity, sorrow or even concern but, because it was voiced by someone we've always been taught had found the ultimate escape hatch when it came to evading loneliness: Someone in a long-term relationship with a loving partner. Someone who happily shared a life, a home, meals, and pets with another person, who was willing to share an electricity bill with them as long as they both shall live. 


It's what the Disney movies promised us would chase away those feelings of loneliness, fleeing faster than a fairytale villain about to be slain by a magic sword.

This was also not an isolated incident, but just one example in an avalanche of moments and conversations that show just how much our social currency is changing. For the first time, our thirst for friendships, and showing the world that we have them, is overlapping our singular drive for romantic love.

Of course, battling a deep sense of loneliness, even when in a long-term relationship, is unfortunately not a new feeling.

"Our thirst for friendships, and showing the world that we have them, is overlapping our singular drive for romantic love.” Image: Getty. 


It's more so that so many people, women in particular, are only recently discovering they need to fill little pockets of loss they didn't even realise were lurking beneath the surface. Much like discovering the tiniest crack in your favourite coffee mug only after the stream of hot water began to flood in.

Since that day in the podcast studio, I've begun to notice just how often women pepper their conversations with explanations about their friendship status. Either offering up descriptions of their beautifully entwined friendship groups, their voices ringing with pride, or else dropping to a slightly embarrassed whisper as they explain why their circles have shrunk to the size of a raspberry.

I think of a former colleague whose greatest stress leading up to her wedding day was that people would think she didn't have enough friends to share it with. Fretting that while her fiancée's buck's night guest list wouldn't fit on a standard party bus, her hen's party invitation list was nowhere near double digits.


I think of reconnecting with an old friend earlier this year who confessed that she had deactivated her social media accounts, saying, "I'm just so embarrassed" – all because she didn't want anyone to realise just how many weekends she spends alone.

And I think of the women who don't celebrate birthdays, who long for a girl's long lunch, or stay silent in the work kitchen while others are throwing around funny stories about weekend adventures packed with a roster of close confidants. Many of whom can't quite remember when the text chains on their phones, once filled with in-jokes, advice and shared pain, somehow dwindled down to a copy-and-paste Christmas message that appears once a year.

When it comes to portraying real life, our social media feeds can sometimes be as inaccurate as a villain edit on a reality TV show, but they can also be a catalyst for letting our real insecurities and longings make themselves known.

We're now living in a time when we speak more openly about the need for and loss of friendship than ever before, and with that comes a growing obsession with how we portray our friendships to the outside world.

It's no longer enough for a romantic relationship to be the pinnacle of how you portray your life online and in social settings. There's now a strong currency around the power of your friendship circles, who those people are and how strong your bond is, that is driving what we wish our lives looked like in a different way.

A way to say, "I’m in a relationship but it's not all I am, look at my circle of friends and the other ways I am loved and important."


Or, "I’m single but loneliness never touches me, my life is full of friendships and love stories and enviable in a different way."

As they always do, popular culture and celebrity trends are also influencing us when it comes to this new wave of social currency. 

It's only in recent years that celebrity friendships have started to be covered in the same revered way as romantic entanglements, with think-pieces, online galleries and real estate on Instagram feeds all dedicated to celebrating the lives of famous women and their cliques – stirring up a new kind of envy that is not rooted in fame, fortune or body size.

Although these factors still very much come into play when you take into account that 'aesthetic friendships' will always have the most currency in an online world.

From Taylor Swift's infamous girl squad of recognisable faces embracing on red carpets and now walking the streets of New York as a pack, to the comedy powerhouses of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch monetising their decades-long closeness through their work, friendship is more solidified in the celebrity sphere than ever before.

Add into the mix the fascination we have with the friendship dynamics of the Hadid and Jenner sisters (with a bonus Hailey Bieber) the likes of Michelle Williams and Busy Phillips walking endless red carpets hand in hand and the newly anointed Hollywood friendship with the most enviable status in Dakota Johnson, Riley Keough and Zoe Kravitz, and it's safe to say the rise in friendship currency is at an all-time high. 


“Taylor Swift's infamous girl squad of recognisable faces made friendship more solidified in the celebrity sphere than ever before.” Image: Getty

Another cultural factor that has caused our examination and need for friendship to rise to the top, much like a dollop of cream in hot chocolate, is the success of female driven pop culture moments, with the Barbie movie world domination and the prevalence of Taylor Swift's generation defining world tour both acting as almost anti-Valentine's Day events.


Events that set themselves up to be attended by friendship groups, that push attendees to wear matching colours and then document their joint attendance for the world to see as an important extension of the experience. 

Experiences that, while rightly championing the bonds of women and celebrating their interests, can also shine a stark and uncomfortable light on those who do not have those friendship circles to drawn on. 

We might be celebrated for the friendships we show online but as with many things in life this is just a superficial surface layer sitting atop a much deeper problem. A problem that has arisen because we're living in an era of increased loneliness and detachment, with the true complexities of adult friendships a driving force in many of our lives but also something we've never given proper attention to. 

And while lacking friendship is often circumstantial and has little to do with personality and behaviour, the loss of it can be as profound as never finding romantic love. A feeling that more than justifies the occasional appearance of tears. 

Laura Brodnik is Mamamia's Head of Entertainment and host of The Spill podcast. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Feature image: Getty.

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