Cutesy ideas around women and friendship need revisiting
Our TV and cinema screens are filled with cozy images of women and friendship. But how realistic are they today?
One of the myths around women and friendship is the notion that we all have a cabal of “girl” friends (whatever our age) who know our most intimate secrets and details of our lives. They will drop everything to rush to our aid with tubs of ice cream and bottles of wine, at the slightest hint of a problem in our drama filled existences. Immortalized by Sex and the City, the ideas around women and friendship became stereotyped and typecast into a Hollywood mold. In each group the range of cardboard cut outs is extended showing characteristics of kooky, ambitious, arty, promiscuous, OCD and so on. Recognizing them now? Think also Friends and Bridget Jones, the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Clueless, Steel Magnolias, Waiting to Exhale and Thelma and Louise. Here Thelma got to have sex with Brad Pitt and Louise didn’t and that still wasn’t a deal breaker. The point I’m making is the list is endless. You just have to Google it.
Increase in single women
But is the reality slightly different? Is it getting more challenging to maintain close relationships today? In the UK statistics show that more and more women are opting to live alone. “On the whole, people live alone in one in every 3.5 households, but women are still more likely to live alone. Of the 7.7 million one-person households recorded in the UK in 2014 figure that has itself increased 16 per cent since 1996 – over half (54 per cent) of them comprised one woman”
Single person households are growing at a rate of 166,000 a year, and look set to be the biggest type of household by 2031. As women are also stepping back from intimate relationships it makes sense that they would replace supportive relationships normally found in families in other friendship groups.
The TV model of women and friendship sees women living in wonderful apartments with busy careers and levels of disposable income sufficiently high to buy brunch regularly, not forgetting wine and ice cream. They go everywhere in cabs, their pedicured feet never stepping onto public transport. But how are things in the real world? Most women don’t have the extra cash to indulge in luxuries, even if they had a permanent group of readily available female friends who could possibly swoop in with Hagen Dazs and Kleenex. A study of 2,000 Brits found “the average adult has 40 friends, including two best mates, four close pals and five work buddies.”
Modern life makes friendships hard to maintain
We put this to the test. Allegra is in her early 30s and works in publishing in London and says:
the reality is probably nearer 4 real friends at a close level and these relationships are hard to maintain. Career and other commitments means that weekly socializing is mainly with work colleagues after office hours in bars near the office. That would be the work buddies mentioned in the research. In my case it’s probably two or three. Many want, or need to leave to get home to partners and their children.
Her four close friends either live in other parts of the country or in hard to access parts of London. With long commutes, the social get together’s in the evenings usually end relatively early. Budgets are tight and outings tend to fizzle out at the end of the month until payday. Nor does she get intimate support from her flat mates. She has a degree from a top British university and completed a Masters in France. Her income is well over the UK national average, but she could not afford to rent her own apartment without support from her comfortably off, retired Boomer parents. She shares with a group of women who would now desperately like to move on and out and be able afford their own place. She says
“we are housemates not necessarily friends. There is quite a high turnover, as people move on. To cut my reliance on my parents I am seriously thinking of looking for a partner. In London you need a combined household income of £76000 just to get a mortgage ”
In the US, discussions around Millennial loneliness are topical. New York-based journalist Julia Bainbridge’s The Lonely Hour podcast show how widespread the feeling is. Many of those calling in were grateful to hear a soothing voice empathizing with their feelings:
“It’s funny, or maybe it’s sad, that what brings us together is that we all feel lonely.”
The notion of women and friendships has shifted away from the idealized cookie cutter ideas on our screens in the 90s. Many women say they turn to social media to get the type of support we see on our TVs. Yet the pictures of perfect dates, dinners and vacations can only serve to make us feel more isolated than ever. Loneliness is even one of the most “popular” hashtags on Instagram. Perhaps the real questions are around current social trends which have shifted the way we form friendships starting as early as mid-teens, and what that means for the future.
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