With half the world stuck in isolation with their families, seeing our friends has suddenly become the thing we miss the most. No amount of face time, zoom or quiz nights, make up for the fact that while our families sustain us, it’s our friendships that bolster our mental health, provide us with female bonding and above all, give us belly laughs when we most need them.
Here are 15 things you can only get from good friends…
The quick stop, cuppa
The power of a cup of tea is a well-known healing phenomenon; but add that to a gossip with a good friend and you’ve got yourself a tonic right there. After work, I often stop by a friend’s house for a cup of tea. Sometimes we can chew the fat for an hour, but mostly because of family life, it’s swigging tea down in three minutes while we download our daily woes.
Some days that cuppa magically turns into a glass of wine and she seems to know just when it’s needed. Either way, it gives us the boost we need. As Beyoncé says: “I love my husband, but it is nothing like a conversation with a woman that understands you. I grow so much from those conversations.”
Honestly, you look rubbish
Being honest with a friend is a tightrope walk of judging just how far you can go before you hurt their feelings. In fact, Oscar Wilde wrote that a true friend stabs you in the throat!
Being a good friend balances being honest with being brutal – we want to be told those jeans don’t suit us, but don’t want to hear a myriad of mistakes we’ve ever made. Friendships rely on this careful shrewdness; only you know your friend and vice versa, so only you can judge when she’s ready to hear the truth or when you need to protect her from it.
We all unconsciously judge, it’s in our nature to scrutinise others but one of the binds of friendship is our similarity to our friends. This means where judgement is concerned, you’ll usually have the same outlook, morals and attitude to those closest to you. With this comes the same emotional response to situations; friends will hopefully feel benevolent towards your decisions – leaving a well-paid job to follow your dreams, for example, rather than say, your parents, who wouldn’t understand walking away from stability to pursue the wild.
Unhealthy competitiveness can eat away at your self-esteem, making you resent someone for seemingly, ‘having it all,’ but the beauty of good friends is to take the positives from competitiveness, so you actually feel motivated by watching them succeed. Molly, 32, agrees: “I watched my best friend re-train as a teacher, which is something she’d always talked about, and it spurred me to quit my dead-end job and re-train as a midwife, something I’d thought about for years.”
You’re not always similar
Contrary to point three, (where being similar actually helps) being poles apart can make a refreshingly different relationship. It might be age differences (one of my best friends is fifteen years older than me), the stage you’re at, or outlook – it doesn’t matter, when it’s the real deal, friends see only what binds you together, not how different you are.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’ C.S Lewis.
You remember when she had that terrible haircut and you tried to fix it, she remembers that awful ex (who no-one else knows about), and you both remember trying to forget the night before.
There’s no doubt about it, memories of joint escapades, antenatal classes or science lessons, strengthens the bond and is where we use our transactive memory system. This is the system that allows you to text a single place name to one of your oldest friends, and she’ll know exactly what it refers to from your joint history.
In a study on the closeness of best friends by Andrew Ledbetter, from the University of Kansas, he noted that successful closeness between friends can be understood across time rather than only in the moment. This is why, when you see old friends you haven’t met in years you can pick up just where you left off – no explanation needed, no small talk, no pleasantries – you go straight in because you know each other so well.
She notices when you seem more stressed than normal, or there’s something distracting you on a girls’ night out. She remembers to ask how the job interview went, or the anniversary of when you lost your mum. She also notices the twinkle in your eyes and can see the changes in you when you’re in love/pregnant/menopausal. Mainly though, you don’t have to tell her. She just notices.
Friendships shouldn’t have an imbalance, that is, feeling only one of you does all the work – if it’s you that offers all the support, get together plans, favours or energy, your friendship might need closer inspection.
Bear in mind that friendships aren’t always perfect. We all know that friend who spends hours pouring her heart out to you and leaves without asking how you are. These friendships can be complicated, but you still love her company and the quirks, differences and even annoyances are unique to that friend.
Encouragement is essential in a friendship and relies on a friend getting the balance right between timing, (she knows when you need a bit of a push), and not telling you what to do, rather, lets you discover your own way. Advice can sometimes feel patronising, but encouragement should always feel like a friend is supporting your choices.
She knows your secrets, you know hers. The female bonds are held together with affection, trust and unwritten rules. Secrets can’t be shared with just anyone, and most women have one friend who knows all the skeletons in their closet. It might be the office crush; or divulging the person you cannot stand – whatever the secret, telling someone comes with three risks: they won’t agree, will tell the world, or they’ll judge you harshly. But keeping secrets is undeniably exhausting and telling the friend who is most like you in outlook and moral compass, is a pretty safe bet.
Women juggling careers, families, households and relationships are usually time poor, but that doesn’t mean they’re not dependable. Being able to count on friends (and vice versa) is an invaluable trait of friendship.
We’ve all lost patience with the friend who serially lets you down, doesn’t turn up for meals out, or takes ages to respond to texts. On the other hand, it’s easy to recognise the friends who have staying power: “I was feeling pretty shocking about turning 30, but organised a party anyway,” admits Fashion buyer, Miranda, “But the next morning as I forced myself out of bed to clear away the debris, a new(ish) friend (and her hangover) arrived to help me out. Dancing until 3am and turning up to help me clean the next morning was a seal on our blossoming friendship.”
For those who don’t live near their families or even live in different countries from them, close friends undoubtedly become your family. If they’ve seen the best and worst of you, you’ve survived heated discussions, can laugh at each other without reverberation and have endured a stressful holiday – you’ve got yourself a family right there.
Good friends listen, let you talk and don’t rush to dispense advice.
“One of my friends would always jump in with whatever I was telling her, to say she’d experienced that too,” says Bea, 28. “It didn’t bother me until I had a really bad break-up with a boyfriend and instead of just letting me vent, she told me a history of all her past break ups. I wanted to shout: ‘Can it never just be about me!”
The shared glance
There has been plenty of research into how oxytocin (the hormone linked to trust and bonding) can enhance people’s ability to mind read, by making us more aware of the subtle social cues people send out. This translates into making eye contact with a good friend at a party and ‘just knowing’ she wants to leave. Your friendship enables you to pick up on her silent cues through a glance, signalling to you exactly what her mood is.
There are some things in life that only you and your friends will find funny. It’s connected to every single point on this list; shared memories, trust, keeping secrets, your similarities and your honesty to name a few. Laughter can boost your immune system, lower anxiety and blood pressure, helps with stress and lifts your mood. We all need moments in a friendship, where you can’t stop giggling or crying with laughter and even twenty years later when you think back to that moment, it threatens to bring on a new laughing attack.