Tomorrow, I’m off for Christmas lunch with the girls. When I say “the girls”, what I actually mean is a group of women, all of them very grown up, who get together on a quarterly basis to get blind drunk, moan about government and the difficulty in finding frocks with sleeves, then hatch upwards of four plans to change the world, all of which are forgotten by the time we fall through our respective front doors. Last month, another group of women travelled to my house from South Wales, Manchester, Leeds and London to laugh, dance, eat and drink to excess for three days, during which time, literally no subject was off limits – the filthier the better. Between Christmas and New Year I’ll be brunching with yet another girl gang who meet every three months for fried eggs, bloody Marys and a giggling debrief of life since the last.
It’s only in the last ten years or so that I’ve come to realise I need regular women-only company like I need food and lodging. There was a time when just the sound of a girls’ night out in the street genuinely made me feel a bit frightened and anxious. A childhood of being bullied by a gang of mean girls almost certainly contributed to my tomboyishness, as did an upbringing surrounded entirely by brothers and a single dad. But also, I was less considered and considerate, consumed by pretty crap romantic relationships with men, and generally sought female friendships only with women who’d also run a mile from a hen night. But somewhere around my late twenties, something shifted. Big changes were happening in my life – marriage, children, an acceleration of my career – and I needed the shared experience, insight, empathy and counsel of other women to make sense of the madness.
Nowadays, I can’t imagine life without the scaffolding of female friendship groups. If someone’s toddler won’t sleep, someone in our gang can provide personal assurances that everything will become dramatically better in precisely 18 months. If another is having husband trouble, we’ve about 110 years’ of combined relationship lessons on which to draw. When one of our own is enduring job trauma, we rally to remind her how completely ace she is. But crucially, there’s much more than unanimous encouragement.
There’s something about a female-only gathering that reminds us of who we are when briefly not someone’s wife, mother, boss or employee
A highly important function of female friendship groups is to step in when someone is either in the process of, or about to make, a really bad decision. It’s a firm but kind and caring intervention, in which women who want only the best for one another sit you down and say “Delete the tweet”, “Write that book or you will cry”, or “Babe, buying eyelashes for your car headlights suggests a dark pre-menstrual episode – here, lie under this soft blanket with a Babybel”. It’s a sisterly talk down from the ledge, a protective measure to stop one of your own making a hash of things, or an absolute tool of herself. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions on which I’ve read about some mortifying or tragic incident involving a female celebrity and immediately thought, “Where the hell are her girls!?”
There’s a unique and almost magical dynamic between women who love and respect one another that I’m not sure can ever exist between a mixed gendered group, much as I adore my male friends in a different way. Certainly, none of my exes has ever had an equivalent of his own (and they’ve all been reliably stunned by the level of detail and depth of emotion shared between my girls). I wonder how men navigate life without that same spiritual crash mat, because for me, seeing no upcoming girl-only engagements in my diary is like opening the fridge and finding no milk. I rectify as a priority because I know that without women time, the world begins to look the wrong way around. I need a reason to get out of my writing pyjamas and put on some heels and a good bag, or to laugh until I’m barely able to breathe, or to feel the release of bellowing out the lyrics to Like a Prayer in a drunken chorus of bawdy, like-minded broads. It’s not just fun, it’s positively necessary for my continued mental health. It resets the dials on my life.
Yesterday, when I asked some girlfriends why they felt the same, we reached unanimous agreement that our friendships with other women allowed us to better connect with ourselves. We all love our partners deeply, but there’s something about a female-only gathering that reminds us of who we are when briefly not someone’s wife, mother, boss or employee. With my women, I’m just me, and that’s intoxicating. I can swear as much as I want, say how I really feel about things, sneak a cigarette, sing badly and dance like an idiot, remember that I’m good at telling jokes and okay at dispensing advice. I’m loved, accepted and under no pressure to impress. I feel free, equal, positive about myself and my life outside of the group. I invariably return home to my house full of beloved boys and men with deeper appreciation and renewed vigour. Until six weeks later, when my soul starts clucking for a top-up.