The soundtrack to the best and worst times in my life this year has been the steady ping of Whatsapp messages arriving on my phone. Early in the morning and late into the night. These sounds and the words they heralded, have cheered me on and cheered me up. These days, Whatsapp is where my friends and I gather together for better and worse.
When I was younger, my friendships took place mostly at school and on the phone. As I grew up and expanded my circle, I gathered with different groups of friends in different places. Sleepovers, the beach, the shops, parks (at night mostly, to furtively drink alcohol and kiss boys), then eventually when we had fake ID, bars and nightclubs. In my twenties, I’d often go on holidays or travel with friends. And there were always parties. More bars and clubs. Barbeques came next and as our twenties spilled into our thirties, we hung out at engagement parties and weddings and hens nights and baby showers. Restaurants. Cafes.
In my forties, with work and family demands cranked up and because my friends have spread out all over Australia and the world, geography and life are incompatible with in-person time. I don’t see them face-to-face nearly enough. This is a bit devastating but it happens slowly and you don’t notice it until you do. You adjust.
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Now, the centre of my friendships is my smartphone and more specifically, Whatsapp where I have many different small groups and combinations of friends as well as one-on-one chats. Always via text though, never with our voices because nobody wants that. In good times and bad though, my phone bursts brightly with friendship.
The women with whom I surround myself – and in whose own circles I gladly take my place – are the ones whose friendships have proven themselves again and again. Among them are friends from high school and my cherished days in magazines, friends I’ve made through working with them for various periods since Mamamia began a decade ago, friends I’ve made as an adult through my work and friends who have come into my life via my children, my relatives, other friends and even ex boyfriends who I thought had left me nothing of value until I realised I got to keep someone wonderful I’d met while we’d been together.
These are the women (and a few men) who have my back and around whose backs I am human razor wire.
Working in the media, particularly the digital media, is an exercise in learning that not all opinions are equal. Quickly, if you are to stay upright, you must learn to be discern whose voices you let into your head and your heart. True friends don't blow smoke up your arse. True friends will tell you things you may not want to hear but they will do it in a way that is gentle and thoughtful because, unlike trolls or arseholes, they have your best interests at heart. Elizabeth Gilbert taught me this invaluable truth when I interviewed her a couple of years ago. She explained she has learnt to be highly selective about whose opinion she listens to regarding herself and her work. [you can read some of her other wisdom from that interview here]
My friend Bec Sparrow has a particular knack for presenting me with accurate yet uncomfortable truths right when I needed to hear them and she has never once been wrong. Sometimes I bristle but the trust born of history, love and loyalty between us means I take what she says seriously and I always, always act on it. Eventually.
In fact this column is a result of her saying to me, "You need to start writing your Sunday column again. Hurry up."
More often than truth-telling though, she cheers me on and holds me up. Beware of friends who are only there for the bad times and equally, friends who are only there for the good. Some friends can feel threatened by your success and it's only your failure that will make them feel safe enough to come running to support you.
This year I've learned that your friendships ripen and deepen in your 40s. Like wine and mangoes.
It's a decade where you give less f**ks but strife can hit you harder in ways you didn't see coming. Divorce, physical illness, mental illness, financial trouble, issues with your kids, your career, with money, with ageing parents. You need to know who you are by the time you hit your 40s and you really need to know who your friends are. Who you can count on. Who you should count out.
Friendship is a hugely underrated and under discussed pilar of women's wellbeing and happiness. Our survival, really. Culturally, we put wholehearted emphasis on romantic love and women's roles as mothers and daughters and our role models and our bodies of work and our bodies.
Our friendships, though, they are the unsung heroines in our lives. The candles lighting our paths. The arms holding us up when we feel like we're collapsing under the weight of grief or expectation or anxiety or frustration or fear. The balm to our fractious sense of ourselves when we're overwhelmed and underslept.
The ones who will rally when things are bleak, send us silly photos of dogs wearing underpants to make us laugh, reassure us that they know who we are and that we'll get through whatever strife life has decided to hurl carelessly in our paths. The ones who won't judge us for our failures, our flaws or our mistakes but will remind us of all the things we've done right, remind us that we are not defined by any single relationship breakdown or mental health setback or career humiliation. The ones who send us small bunches of flowers and loveheart emojis because they understand that when things are tough, it can feel very lonely at the bottom of the well.
This year and the one before it has been very tough for many many people. Different people. Different types of tough. Some have required the sending of meals or flowers. Others have required a Rocky DVD popped in the post or a particularly cutting yet hilarious Trump meme as a form of distraction. I don't know if it's the planets or just getting older. Maybe it's the fact that as your friendships deepen, you find your friends more open to being vulnerable and honest about what they're going through. Maybe in the Internet age it's just harder to have secrets. I don't know.
What I do know is that my friendships underpin my life in a way that's almost impossible to overstate. The wit and wisdom and generosity and vulnerability shared willingly, selflessly among friends is among life's most affirming gifts.
To our friends, thank you for everything. I owe you a drink, a posy and this meme.
If you want to read more from Mia Freedman, you can find all her stories here......
Listen to Leigh Sales and Mia Freedman talk about female friendship.......
And more Mamamia stories about all kinds of friendship here.....