Letter From The Editor: Friendship

Dear APW,

Last week, I was down in San Diego, tagging along on David’s business trip, and hanging out with friends that I don’t get to see enough. The baby and I had margaritas with Jamie, a friend I made through wedding planning on the internet, and her family (well, I had margaritas and he ate his toy). And I got time by the pool with one of my ladies who I’ve been friends with for the last twenty (!) years. We’ve been through three weddings together (hers, mine, hers but way better), and three pregnancies (hers, mine, hers again). This made me think (margarita in hand) about the way friendships helped me make it through my wedding planning, and how friendships are one of my patented marriage secrets.

Let’s be for real. If you’re female, and you tell me that you have an uncomplicated relationship with friendship, I’ll think you’re lying. Friendship stretches its tangled roots back as long as we can remember. There was the friend I made because we had the same bus stop. The friend I made by inviting her to my Halloween party in kindergarten. Matching BFF first day of school outfits from JCPenney’s the first day of 4th grade (but not knowing if my friend was as into them as I was). Friendship bracelets and pen pals at Girl Scout camp. Friends you passed fancy folded notes with. Friends who broke up with you by letter. Friends you thought you’d be close to forever that you lost touch with. Friends you never thought you’d talk to again, who have been there for every life marker.

This shit is complicated, ladies.

Wedding blogs present a blissful image of friendship—lifetime friends in artfully mismatched hip dresses, grinning at the camera. Once we get past the fact that it’s insanely hard to find artfully mismatched dresses without employing a design professional, who the hell has a wedding party made up of only lifelong best friends these days? Most of us are mashing together our high school friends, with college friends, a sibling or two, and newer friends that we’re not sure how to honor. We’re hoping that our high school friends don’t say something to offend our college friends, and that our college friends won’t be too insulted by the antics we get up to with our hometown crowd. We’re wondering if so-and-so will be insulted if we don’t include them, and if so-and-so will be weirded out if we DO include them. We’re trying to make our wedding fun for our friends, not impose, and ask for help, all at the same time.

This shit is complicated, ladies.

For me, the rubber meets the road when it comes to friendship and marriage. We’ve talked a lot on APW about the validity (or not) of the phrase, “Marrying my best friend.” Personally, I did marry my former platonic best friend, and as such, I no longer consider him my best friend. He’s my husband. It’s a totally different role. For me, this is a reminder that the role of friend has to be filled by others. All of my relationships can’t be handily balled into one person.

And it turns out, friendships matter.  I mean, scientifically speaking, not just friendship-bracelet speaking. They matter to our health, they matter to our marriages, and sadly, we’re getting worse and worse at friendship. We may be friending more people on Facebook, but we’re losing real life in-depth relationships. This year, according to The State Of Friendship In America Report (yes, that’s a thing), 75% of Americans said they were unsatisfied with their friendships and 63% said they were not confident in their friendships (amazing info-graphics here). Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no relationship between number of Facebook friends and satisfaction with actual friendships. Plus, we now have fewer close friends. Studies show that in 2004 people had an average of only two people to confide in (down from three people in 1985), and 25% had no one to confide in at all. More pressingly, according to USA Today, “The percentage of people who confide only in family increased from 57% to 80%, and the number who depend totally on a spouse is up from 5% to 9%.” Why does this matter? Well, besides the fact that it’s dangerous to make one person your entire safety net, The New York Times reports that, “Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships,” according to Rebecca Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Tara Parker-Pope’s article further explains, “Exactly why friendship has such a big effect isn’t entirely clear. While friends can run errands and pick up medicine for a sick person, the benefits go well beyond physical assistance; indeed, proximity does not seem to be a factor.” And according to For Better, also by Tara Parker-Pope, involvement in a wider community strengthens marriage too.

It turns out, at least for me, the science is right. My marriage is strong when my outside relationships are strong. Luckily for me, this particular scientific solution means more margaritas, not vitamins, so everyone wins. It does, however, mean I have to do the hard work of maintaining those friendships, because I deeply need them. I need my pack of girlfriends to listen to me bitch about family and relationship issues, and to give me advice after I lay it all on the line. I need my local friends to come over to barbecue, to house-sit when I’m out of town, and to gossip with me. I need to go out to dinner with the friends I made online through wedding planning, and giggle over the kids interacting, and talk about motherhood and tequila. I need to get excited about new babies with my lifelong friend, and laugh at inside jokes we’ve had for twenty years. Each of those relationships strengthens a different part of my personality. They allow me to come to my partnership with stories to tell and perspective gained. They give me a chance to be my true self in a very different way than I am in partnership.

Getting married made all those years of broken-heart friendship necklaces worth it. They gave me a primary relationship to come home to, which in turn made my friendships so much more important.

And by the way. I’m pretty sure friendship bracelets are back. Luckily, I still mostly remember how to make them. I’m gonna get on that this month. Happy July, kids. Happy Friendship Month.

xo

Meg

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