Friendships have always been the bedrock of my life. I love the closeness with people I feel in sync with. The conspiratorial chats huddled in a corner at a friend's party. The four-hour girlie lunches, part gossip, part psychoanalysis, part crying with laughter over the untangling of yet another knotty romantic problem. They validate who I am, and are a tonic to my soul.
In my twenties at university, I was part of a tight?knit female group who talked philosophy, dated wildly inappropriate men and held each other's hair back after too much cheap alcohol.
Before marriage and kids, friendships get plenty of love. If you are the one single and childless later, they can, confrontingly, melt away.
I remember at our graduation ceremony feeling that warm glow of camaraderie as we all stood in a line, making funny faces as we posed for the obligatory photographs. Little did I know that these intimate friendships I relied on so heavily would slip away as family lives started to take precedence.
The sisterly landscape started to shift in my thirties – weddings became a bimonthly feature on my social calendar, and by my forties most of my friends were married with 2.4 children. Was I the only one left?
This became abundantly clear at a friend's birthday. A medley of middle-aged couples, settled around the kitchen table, relaxed and content as they swapped in-jokes about "the sleep deprivation years" and the struggles with truculent tweens.
Amid the fun and mayhem, I felt invisible, ignored. I joked that I might spend the money they were moaning about saving for school fees on multiple Mulberry handbags, but no one laughed. I felt a gaping sense of loss. It wasn't that they didn't want me around, it was just that they barely noticed I even was.
They had disappeared into the marriage and baby-rearing system, a hermetically sealed world of bustling domesticity and responsibility: taking the children to childminders, working, shopping, feeding and all flopping in front of the television; a piggedly heap of togetherness.
As a childless, unmarried woman of 56, it is difficult to admit that I need them more than they need me. When I ring my best friend to meet for a catch-up, I get the "let me see what John is doing first" reply. And the "haven't got time/bogged down by childcare" texts from other buddies are a painful reminder that I'm far lower on their priority list than they are on mine.
We all want love. We all want to matter. Indeed, according to a nationwide friendship survey released last week, spending time with friends is the key to positive mental health. A staggering 95 per cent of respondents said seeing friends helps to ease the stresses of life and provides support to cope with the struggles.
I couldn't agree more. A laugh with those who've known you forever can put everything back into perspective. Those worries and anxieties that would otherwise feel jagged and dark, melt away amid the laughter and the tears.
Yet, when I am bothered about something, I get the feeling I am imposing on their time. "Kate," one friend groaned, when I remonstrated with her for not returning my call, "I have to spread my love around a lot of people."
It felt pointed; where else does my love have to go?
The truth is, I am out of alignment with everyone else. Friendship needs shared experience to flourish. When our lives take different paths, it can be hard to find a common ground.
Take last month. I was talking to a married friend on the phone, when a creeping silence slowly filled the line.
She wanted to drone on about her husband's snoring situation and only getting two hours' sleep a night, I wanted to tell her about my risqué texts with a man I had met at the library. I could almost hear the mental click as we both registered what was previously unthinkable: we had nothing left in common, and nothing left to say. I can't remember the exact moment the phone stopped ringing, and the invitations dried up. It has been a gradual fading out, and I find myself left behind in the friendship wilderness.
Nearly two thirds of us admit to spending more time looking at each other's lives online than talking to friends in person.
The silence in the flat hangs heavily in the air. Weekends? Forget it. That's family time. If it weren't for Netflix, I'd go out of my mind.
I try not to be resentful, but on one level, I can't help but feel let down. A friend who recently separated from her husband and suddenly always wanted to meet for afternoon tea (code for: can I dump all my problems on you?) stopped calling the minute her husband came back with an "I'm sorry" ring. They recently had a large dinner party – it was couples only.
I was always led to believe that female friendships were forever – those intense, profound unions that transcend men and marriage. Perhaps TV and popular culture have set the bar unrealistically high. These great friendships we had in our twenties (see Friends) and our thirties (see Sex and the City) are set in the romanticised fuzzy world of the sisterhood, but fail to examine what happens after the credits roll.
Well, I can tell you. In today's hectic world, where midlife women are pulled in so many directions at once on the home and work front, it is difficult to carve out time for a pee, let alone a glass of red with an old pal.
The main time I see my friends now is on social media, when I scroll through the photos of them playing happy families. According to the friendship survey, nearly two thirds of us admit to spending more time looking at each other's lives online than talking to friends in person.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but isn't it time to step away from the Instagram account, pick up the phone and reconnect with old friends who don't have a ready-made social life on their sofa?
You never know when you might need us as much as we need you. My diary's wide open.
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