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THE IMPORTANCE OF FRIENDSHIP
By Lorna O’Hara
The spotlight bounced off the glistening bald head of the father of the bride, who stood up, fumbled with some cards and awkwardly began his speech. Since the drink had been flowing for quite a few hours already now, I’ll be the first one to admit that my attention may have lapsed during his lecture on love and life. I do, however, remember the end of his speech, because I could hardly believe my ears as he uttered the words: “finding that special someone is the most important thing you’ll ever do in your life”. I looked at my friend across the table, another single woman in the final year of her twenties, and both of us rolled our eyes.
Society puts a huge amount of pressure on people to pair off. The world is not created for single people; rather it’s catered towards (mostly heterosexual) monogamous couples. That is the message that is continuously reinforced not only through music, film, and the media, but also through more mundane things, like tax benefits for married couples. In fact, a whole other layer has been added to the narrative of the happy couple with the advent of social media. People perform not only their identities, but also their relationships on social media. Constantly sharing pictures and posts of themselves together or of their significant other on Facebook, weaving together the seamless illusion of blissful relationships, which glosses over the challenges and difficulties that are a common feature of any romance. And of course, there’s also the old stigma around being a single woman that still clings to us to this very day. Even the term for a single woman, a “spinster”, is a word that is brimming with negative connotations. When we hear that word it makes you think of a wizened old crone with crumbs in her hair, feeding her ten cats whilst waiting for her one-person microwave dinner to cook. Men, on the other hand, are deemed “bachelors”, a word that conjures up the image of a successful business man on a yacht, throwing his head back in laughter while he holds a martini, surrounded by beautiful women.
Indeed, if you’re a woman of a certain age and you’re still not married or in a committed relationship, it’s still seen as some sort of personal failure. You could achieve extraordinary things and be at the top of your field, and still someone will turn around to you in faux-concern and say something to you like “oh, but you poor thing, you never found yourself a nice man”. Apparently, if you’re a woman, none of those things really matter. Sure didn’t you know the purpose of all that book-learnin’ was to land yourself a good husband? Didn’t you know that university was just an elaborate way of meeting eligible young men? Well I certainly must have missed the memo, especially as I reach my 8th year of full-time education. If all goes as planned, next year I should be getting my PhD, and yet deep down I know that my mother would probably be more excited if I told her the news that I was engaged rather than the news that I’ve successfully defended my thesis.
From a very young age, we are taught that the most important relationships we’ll ever have are the romantic ones, despite the fact that they’re probably the most insecure, fragile and unstable of all human relationships. Friendship, which for me is one of the most important things in my life, is often pushed to the side-lines and seen as peripheral in the society that we live in. Despite being one of the few human relationships that isn’t bound by money, law or blood, it is still often seen as secondary to all others. I can put my hand over my heart and say that I would not be alive right now if it wasn’t for my close friends pulling me through some of the darkest episodes in my life.
Female friendships in particular and how women relate to each other is something that has been ignored in the media for such a long time. Until fairly recently, the role of women in film and TV has primarily centred on their relationship to the male protagonist i.e. as love interest. And even in those rare films where the women present weren’t just there to function as the object of desire, friendship and relationships between women weren’t considered worthy of representation. I mean after all, we’re supposed to all be in competition with each other for the attention of men, am I right?
It’s only really in the past few years that we’ve seen more and more portrayals of female friendships in TV and film, from the sweet beautiful friendship of Ann and Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, to the crazy love between Abbi and Ilana of Broad City. Finally we’re getting an accurate portrayal of the nuanced, funny, intense and truly life-affirming nature of friendship between women. As a feminist, I feel it’s incredibly important that we see the vital role that women play in each other’s lives by loving, supporting and appreciating each, other reflected back to us in film and TV. Indeed, it’s the show Parks and Recreation that invented the concept of Galentine’s Day, a celebration of female friendship where “ladies celebrate ladies” which takes place on the 13th of February. I am delighted to see more and more women celebrating this day every year, even ones who’ve probably never even seen the show.
Instead of Valentine’s Day, which I was never a huge fan of anyway, I try reflect on the importance of the friends in my life, because friendship is something that has gone overlooked and underappreciated not only by society, but even by ourselves sometimes. It’s important to take time to appreciate those wonderful and powerful bonds we have and to remember that no matter how alone, how odd and how out of place society can make a single person feel on Valentine’s Day (or any other day of the year for that fact), you’re not alone. You don’t need to spend your life finding “that special someone”, because you probably already have more than a few special someones in your life.
Lorna O’Hara is a doctoral student and feminist activist currently living between Berlin and Dublin. Her writing and research focuses on feminist activism and art, in particular similarities/differences between international feminist groups and artistic projects that have a focus on increasing awareness about/changing violence against women and the control of women’s bodies.
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