The pressure on women to fit a certain stereotype in this society is heavy. Starting from childhood when we are dressed in pink and presented with dolls, our role is thrust upon us in no uncertain terms. Our heads are quickly filled with fairy tales; casting us into the role of princess, waiting only for true love’s kiss to really start our life. A life, which, once the goal is attained; quickly fizzles to “and they lived happily ever after.” I suppose it is natural to end the story there, because not much happiness can be sold to a young girl when she realises happily ever after means basically serving her prince (assuming she is heterosexually inclined) and her children…(assuming she wants them and can easily and naturally concieve and birth offspring) ... ever after. Yay! Lol
I read a really interesting article by Gina M Florio, published in Bustle.com on the 14th September entitled "6 problematic lessons fairy tales taught us about female friendships" which you can access here. In the article Gina addresses the fact that fairy tale characters do not seem to have any real female friends! The ones she does have are usually male and generally she abandons said friends after she meets the guy of her dreams, with no thoughts as to what happens to them afterwards. Not only this, but also all other female characters in said stories are usually depicted as jealous rivals and enemies over allies! The implication being that all women are jealous and conniving, including but not limited to mother figures and sisters; motivated by vanity, insecurity and the love of men but not ever of other women.
As someone who enjoys fairy tales, I was shocked to find that I had never actually noticed nor questioned this. Ok, yes, fairy tales are also moving with the times; in Frozen it is the true love of a sister which rings true and in Moana, more recently, the story focused on empowering your partner (of either gender) and not rescuing them. These are important concepts moving away from the damsel in distress being rescued by her prince for sure…. But it still stands to question, why is the damsel in distress in the first place? Where are her friends?
Moving away from children’s media, we are fed examples of friendships in shows like the 90’s ‘Sex and the City” and the millennium’s “Winners and Losers.” I am the first to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed these shows. If you are unfamiliar with the shows; they each feature a group of 4 to 5 female friends supporting, empowering, and protecting each other through life, while also working, brunching, partying and navigating sexuality and romantic relationships. Although at any point during these shows one or more character was dating someone, essentially the characters were young and unsettled, on the quest for settling down. These women were empowered, forward thinking and modern, yet in a disappointingly predictable format; when the shows came to a close it was because all the characters settled and lived “happily ever after” just like the fairy tales depicted. Conveniently; those who didn’t, moved away! Lol
The sad reason the shows conclude this way is because as a society we value romantic love and the white picket fence above all else. We all chase the dream of happily ever after, without questioning what that actually entails? It would be hard to continue the shows as the characters settle, have children, move away and have far less time for their friends because the concept of the show was the friendship and its importance. Is the sad moral of the story that friendship only seems important until you find something better?
I have certainly noticed a pattern in my real life that friendships are less valued by my married or partnered friends than they are by the single ones. I have noticed that as a society in general this shift in priorities; away from friends and onto family life - is considered normal, acceptable and even desired. However; fast forward to people of my parent’s generation or older and you will find them yearning for the connections they once held close, as retirement sets in, and they once again have more free time for their friends... If they still have any. Those that did not make time for the friends they once had when they were "busy" for all those working and child rearing years, may now be finding the proverbial shoe is sitting on the other foot rather uncomfortably.
That said, it’s not just the older generations that suffer. Speaking to a range of people from my peers and onwards, almost all of them identify the happiest times of their lives as times when they were studying, either in school, college or university, or other technical studies. Why is this? Is this a yearning for our youth and carefree times? Possibly yes, but what was so good about these times in particular? I believe the answer is friendships. These are the times we are most socially active, feel liked, included, supported, connected and loved by the very people we begin to neglect in search of “something better.”
I do agree that the world seems better if you have someone to share it with, and I am not suggesting that the dream of the white picket fence is wrong. It isn’t. What does seem wrong with this picture is that it no longer includes the very people who supported us to get there. Maybe it will be the same friends, maybe it will be new ones you have acquired over the years along the way, or an eclectic mix of both, but if you want a happy in your ever after, you’ll need your friends to be part of the equation. There are many shows that do depict couples having successful social and married lives (although less of them have young children featured) and this essentially proves my point too; there isn’t much of a story to be told without friends in our lives to share them with.
So what is the answer when you start to find yourself settling down and suddenly unable to attend carefree brunches and late night parties like the characters on the shows? The answer is to make time the same way you make time for schooling and education meetings, working, employer deadlines and family events. As a woman in the busy child rearing years herself, I often hear other women in similar situations say that they do miss their friends and feel guilty by their lack of time and energy for friendships during this busy period of their lives. So, we often acknowledge the gap, however, do nothing to actually bridge it. This lack of response to a clear social need only adds to our own sense of isolation and personal dissonance. If you don’t put conscious energy into your friendships the way you do with the other things in your life, you will regret it later on. Friends are usually the people who are still there if and when a marriage dissolves, the children grow and move out, we retire, and as our parents and older family members pass on, but we can’t expect them to be there if we weren’t there for them too. Being there doesn't just mean in bad times, it means being active and present in the friendship - always. Simply put; prioritising making time for friendships just like all the other things you actively make time for. The bad news is that instead of doing this we usually make excuses and friends fall from our priority list... and our lives. Make time or make excuses! The choice is yours and so are the consequences.
The good news is that it is never too late to start intentionally prioritising your friends. Recognise that friendships are not stop gaps for relationships, they are valid and necessary relationships of their own accord and they deserve and require the same time and attention as the other people and things in your life. Intentionally make your friendships a priority and you’ll find your happiness increasing. Humans are social creatures, the dream of happily ever after doesn't give enough credit to the fact that if you had friends, you were probably pretty happy already! Most of us were… in hindsight. So perhaps we should learn from that and invest in ourselves and each other for the long haul?
“A healthy relationship will never require you to sacrifice your friends, your dreams or your dignity” – Mandy Hale.
We really can have it all, if we consciously want it. Actions indicate priorities, so where do yours lie? Are they accurately represented by where you are spending your time and energy? If not, what could you do to close the gap? Do it.
Your Best Friend ForNever