I’m a woman’s woman. There are some great men in my life, and I’m married to one of the best, but given a choice of being in a room full of men or women, I’ll opt for the latter.
I put this down to early conditioning. As a child, my mother and her sister took turns hosting a fortnightly afternoon tea with their elderly aunt. Affectionately known as “Caucus” I was sometimes allowed into the room, something of a backbencher, where I would sit quietly, eyeing up the ginger crunch and the lamingtons, marvelling at the twists and turns of the conversation. I’d try to trace how we got to the price of butter when we started at carless days (this was the 70s), via a multitude of subjects. I never really worked it out.
A few years on, my great-aunt no longer with us, my mother, sister and I commandeered a spare room in the house which we called “The Women’s Refuge”. We were only seeking refuge from the rugby on the telly, conversations about fishing and machinery and other such ‘masculine’ topics. And the kids. We’d slink away quietly while no-one was looking and stay there for as long as it took for someone to notice we weren’t there. But it felt very much like a refuge, a place of latent femininity, wry laughter, companionable silence and security. This time I was allowed to join the conversation, and this time, I didn’t bother tracing it.
It was a great training ground for female friendship and I have taken the lesson with me throughout my life. I’m lucky to count some extraordinary women amongst my friends and when, as it tends to do, life threw up a few hurdles over the last couple of years, those women proved their mettle in many ways.
Let me introduce you
There are the early adopters: the ones I drank and danced my twenties away with in dodgy Auckland and London flats, who I watched go through teachers college and who are now senior teachers and principals: they still drink and dance but much more discreetly than they used to. There’s the friend I’ve known since I was 14, who battled addiction and prejudice against her sexuality and who overcame both with humour, tenacity and grace. The one I met in the 80s when we were working at the same bar: I was serving drinks and she was dancing on it.
There are the ones who are facing life-changing physical conditions and refuse to lie down and feel sorry for themselves but choose to live, live, live. The ones who are much younger than me, who are much older than me, who arrange for a care package to be delivered to my home and refuse to claim responsibility (I eventually found her out but I had to dig. Clare.)
There’s my Malaysian friend with the vocabulary of a sailor and laughter that fills an entire room, who cooks extra rendang because she knows I love it. The ex-boss who is a force of nature and risk taker, taking on the corporate world wearing sky-high heels and a refusal to take herself too seriously. My ultra-fit friends, my lazy-ass friends, the one who wrote a cookbook and who brings me my favourite candles when I see her.
My German-based friend who travelled to France to meet me and then, when it was time to say goodbye, refused to do so and caught a flight to London so we got an extra few days together. The one from Northern England who just completed her MBA having been rendered horizontal from a back injury with a kid and a partner working shifts.
The one I’ve known since my teens who I see once a year when we hold our AGM, complete with minutes and stupid selfies. The one at work who takes me out for coffee and picks me up when I’m having a bad day.
My daughter’s friend’s mothers: ostensibly all we have in common is our freshly-minted teenagers but we share an unspoken agreement amongst us, treading the unpredictable water between letting them go and keeping them close, and we keep a careful eye on them all, for our own, and for each other.
There are the ones who are bringing up kids on their own, the ones who love my kid like their own, the ones who check in with me just because.
My mother-in-law, who was my friend before I met her son. Based in France, she and I are lucky enough to see each other more often than usual, considering the distance. This usually consists of large amounts of wine and a good dose of Scouse perspective; a winning combination. She also does my ironing, which doesn’t hurt.
The friend who is exactly half my age and has the head of someone much older: she is the answer to that saying “Youth is wasted on the young” and I seek her counsel more than she does mine. The one who lives around the corner and is always available for a cup of tea or a glass of wine, taught me how to play cards and provides a home away from home for my daughter.
The ones so far away in Europe who keep in touch via group chats, calling “what are you doing right now” photos so we can all share in the minutaue of each other’s lives.
The one who is batshit crazy, in a good way, another Northern lass (I have an affinity with them, I blame Coronation Street), who makes me laugh every time we meet, usually intentionally. She has embraced NZ and I’m proud to be one of the reasons she ended up here.
My mother and sister, who are no longer with me, knew and loved a lot of these women. And those they didn’t know, they heard about. Before she died, my sister told me that she took comfort from knowing that I had so many good women in my life. She knew this to be true; what she didn’t know perhaps was that my affinity with these women was a direct result of the lessons she and our mother taught me about the value of female friendship. To me, it is one of the most valuable things in the world.
I hope my girl is watching and learning; I think she is. Teenagers are extremely good at rivalry and comparison but she seems to be navigating it all with a kind heart. She surrounds herself with good, strong girls (I blame their mothers), and I think she will grow up to be a woman’s woman, too. I hope so.