IHM’s blog had a post on women and friendship that sparked a lot of thoughts. Wordsetmefree wrote about how her mother took only one strong friendship into her marriage, and that women of our mothers’ generation were essentially friendless after they got married. The comments were also a treat to read, as women shared about the lack or presence of friendships in their or their mothers’ lives.

It was suggested that after marriage, women are traditionally expected to seek friendships within the family. Given that Indian marriages are exogamous (whereby women are married young and expected to cut off ties with their own families) this sounds about right. Alienated and isolated, they turn to whoever’s available in their husband’s family, which obviously has its pitfalls, though sometimes strong friendships are wrought here. Also, even if a woman remains in contact with and uses her family as a support system, it has it’s limitations because the family would tend to share similar norms.

I agree and disagree. Yeah, if a woman comes from a conservative family, then she will never break out of that value system if all her friends are within it. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the unconditional support and bedrock of security that family friendships offer. I know some people whose best friend is their sister and why not?

Another thing that was said was that women who come from liberal families tend to have strong friendships (because they are allowed the freedom to cultivate them) and to maintain them (because they are already the kind of people for whom these friendships would be non-negotiable). I’ve always tended to have friends outside my family and I know this pisses my mother off. She is of the opinion that family comes first. I agree, but I think friends are a close second and my mum cannot entirely comprehend this, because like the mother in the IHM post, she has not been able to maintain many close friendships. Her friends moved away or got on with their lives and to some extent, my mum was left behind. Now that her nest is empty, she is slowly resuscitating some friendships, but she still has my grandmother as a dependent and it’s hard, not least because there are not that many people available. Once, I told a shrink I was seeing that I was anxious about not having enough close friends, and she told me this was not something I needed to worry about, that it is enough to have a network. Something about this didn’t sit right with me. My mother’s example makes me determined to preserve my friendships, though my mother doesn’t see it this way.

On the other hand, people noted that college friends are not ideal as one tends to outgrow them and that one needs to make new friends. As someone whose closest friends are from college and who finds it harder and harder to make new friends, I think this is a ‘depends’ situation. College and then work are the settings most conducive to making friends. Thinking back I’ve realised all my work friends have drifted off. What is it about college friends? Maybe it’s because you meet them at a point when you have the luxury of time? To sit and talk about nothing at all and therefore about everything? That these period is extended enough for it to last a lifetime, beyond physical presence?

Yes, one outgrows some college friends. And yet, when I reunited with my college group a couple of years ago it was shockingly peaceful and fun, even with the one’s who I was not really in touch with. And the ones who I have remained close to play an important role. They remind you of who you used to be. That shining happy person. And when you has totally lost one’s way and sense of self, the college friend will firmly reach out through the dark and gently turn you to the mirror of who you used to be.

Your family also knows who you used to be. But possibly because the self we are around our friends is the ideal self, the one we most want to be, that it is a self worth being reminded of. I think the family is the coccoon. They will love you no matter who you are. You friends may not, but that’s the point. Their presence is a reminder that, actually, you’re awesome.

Others pointed out how making friends among other mothers is not always the best because one hears the same things over and over. MinCat had once told me that I would probably make more friends in HK when I had kids. People are definitely more friendly in the playground where kids are a natural icebreaker. However, although we have a mommy group of three from Benji’s kindy class, I’m not entirely comfortable around these women. I don’t know if they can become my real friends. When I posted about this, one mum commented how she felt the opposite. I can totally see how mommy groups would work, in fact, it makes perfect sense.

But most of my closest friends don’t have kids, some aren’t even married. And this works for me because it allows me to be a person beyond a mom. Even as I sometimes get frustrated with how some of my non-parent friends seem allergic to any conversation that involves the kids, I notice the moms disproportionately about their kids. I guess it’s the safest talking point. Or the help, which always makes me feel like I’m living in a cliche.

However, the last time we did a playdate, we finally had what I would call a ‘real’ conversation. The other two mums opened up a little about their marriages. Their bodies. Their frustrations beyond their children. And I finally felt engaged. This is what I need, conversations that show a little bit of the soul, because talking about the kids can be the most superficial thing.

And it made me wonder about my self and my own insecurities. It’s a cliche that women are competitive with each other, and I wondered if my initial antipathy towards these women was my own insecurity. Certainly, some of it is/was. For one, they are wealther, and now I realise older. On the other hand, I am wary of one of them. But the fact that they let a bit of the desperate housewife in them show makes me like them more.

The other new situation I’m in where I have a chance to make friends is a uni. Here too I was wary of the other girl in our cohort. It surprised me, because I wanted to be friends with her because I know that I’m not going to be besties with any of the guys even if I get along with them. But I also found her slight air of superiority grating on my nerves (hmmm, that’s also my problem with the mum). Six months down the line, we’re friends. So I wonder, was it me being insecure around other women? Am I one of those women? I thought I wasn’t. I’m not sure. Maybe she was. Because I did notice her making a big effort around the guys, and maybe she finally came to her senses. I think a turn in our relationship was when she told me about her boyfriend issues, and I was halfway on my way home, but took the train back to have a drink with her. I don’t know if this friendship will last, but hey, it is a college friendship so you never know.

My closest friend in Hong Kong used to say that she was one of the guys, that she never had close women friends. I found this strange because she had at least two close girlfriends. Then she encountered some seriously problems in her life that were like an awakening for her. And one day, she told me, you know women live longer and the ones that live the longest are those that have girlfriends. I smiled. I’m not big on living long, but I’m big on girlfriends.

This friend and I meet once a month without anyone else for a heart-to-heart.