‘Friend­ship? It’s the most vi­tal ro­mance of your life’

Dolly Alder­ton’s mem­oir Ev­ery­thing I Know About Love is be­ing her­alded as ‘the great­est Mil­len­nial love story ever’. But it’s not a con­ven­tional ro­mance, it’s the love af­fairs we should be hav­ing with our friends

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Afriend re­cently im­parted some wis­dom to me that, in a 12- word sen­tence, sum­marises ev­ery­thing I’ve learned about love in the last decade: ‘Put more ro­mance into your friend­ships, and more friend­ship into your ro­mance.’ In other words: find the same sense of con­nec­tion, hu­mour and fun in your re­la­tion­ship that you do in your friend­ships and shower your friends with the at­ten­tion, spon­tane­ity and time you would only oth­er­wise show your part­ner.

When I started writ­ing a mem­oir a few years ago, I had no idea how it would end. I as­sumed I might meet some­one – that my tales of dis­as­trous dates and bad de­ci­sions and chaotic nights would come to an end around the same time my twen­ties did and in their place would come a six-foot some­thing pil­lar of hunk with green eyes and dark hair who would blow an air of seren­ity over the mess. But while the bad and good dates cer­tainly formed part of the story, what sur­faced very quickly as the most in­ter­est­ing, for­ma­tive and trans­for­ma­tive re­la­tion­ship of my life was not with any man. The great­est love story of my twen­ties has been the one with my fe­male friends.

My friend­ships have taught me more about love than any re­la­tion­ship; they’ve taught me about pa­tience, about how to build a home to­gether. They’ve taught me how the dy­namic of very long-term love is al­ways in flux, and that’s not some­thing to fear. They’ve taught me about com­pro­mise, com­mit­ment and col­lab­o­ra­tion. And only in the last few years have I re­alised that we only get out of our friend­ships what we put in.

We spend so much time wor­ry­ing about how to keep a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship alive. We know the 

im­por­tance of al­ways try­ing to learn new things about your part­ner; lis­ten­ing to them and tak­ing an in­ter­est in their day-to-day life. We know how cru­cial it is to make each other laugh, to travel to new places to­gether and have new ex­pe­ri­ences. Date night – oh how we fuss over the im­por­tance of a weekly date night away from work or kids or the sofa. But – here’s the crazy part: nearly half of all mar­riages end. I don’t have the stats on longterm friend­ship, but I re­ally don’t be­lieve half of close friend­ships end in per­ma­nent sep­a­ra­tion. Friend­ship, sta­tis­ti­cally, is more likely to see you through to your dy­ing day than a mar­riage.

As a fe­male friend, ro­mance is the one duty we leave to a friend’s part­ner to or­gan­ise. Ro­man­tic ges­tures are clearly out­lined as ‘ boyfriend duty’, whereas we’re in charge of send­ing funny videos of news­read­ers read­ing the au­tocue wrong on What­sapp. But what is ro­mance? The dictionary def­i­ni­tion is: ‘a feel­ing of ex­cite­ment and mys­tery as­so­ci­ated with love’. I think we could all do with a lit­tle more ex­cite­ment in all of our per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, not just with the per­son we share a bed with.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the end of my last re­la­tion­ship. Heart­bro­ken, I packed a bag of leg­gings, knick­ers, a tooth­brush and a hoodie and went straight to my par­ents’ house for a week, where I could cry, sleep, slurp soup and feel co­cooned and re­mote from my im­me­di­ate world. With­out my knowl­edge, my friend Sarah mes­saged my mum and asked for the ad­dress. The next morn­ing, a Space NK box tied with a rib­bon landed on my doorstep with my favourite can­dle and a note say­ing: ‘I’ll love you more than a boyfriend ever will.’ It had all the mak­ings of a grand ro­man­tic ges­ture: a sur­prise, a treat, some­thing that was so per­fect for the ex­act time she sent it. I look back at that mo­ment as one of many that healed me in the wake of my heartache.

Ro­mance is feel­ing cher­ished. When I de­cided to be­come free­lance and was run­down, skint and ill, a huge bunch of per­fect pur­ple irises landed on my doorstep from my friend He­len and filled my flat with their hon­eyed smell and a new sense of op­ti­mism at the chal­lenges ahead. It’s be­ing re­minded that you are loved, un­der­stood and trea­sured – and wear­ing that feel­ing like ar­mour as you bat­tle through life’s most dif­fi­cult mo­ments. It’s mark­ing land­mark mo­ments in your friend­ship with the same cel­e­bra­tion as you would a re­la­tion­ship – see­ing years and years of love to­gether as the same achieve­ment as a mar­riage.

I think per­haps some women fear that if they make their friend­ships as im­por­tant as their re­la­tion­ship, the lat­ter will suf­fer, lose its ro­man­tic in­ten­sity or make the other party feel subor­di­nate. I have al­ways found the op­po­site to be true – in re­la­tion­ships where both part­ners have en­rich­ing, trea­sured pla­tonic bonds out­side of each other, it nearly al­ways helps keep their lives (and in turn, them) en­er­gised. Any time when I’ve taken the foot off the pedal with my friend­ships and in­stead in­vested ev­ery­thing in a boyfriend and he’s re­cip­ro­cated the sac­ri­fice, while ini­tially we may have felt the rush of be­ing a pair of soul­mate fugi­tives, we even­tu­ally be­came re­sent­ful or bored at the sense of to­tal­ity that comes with a shrunken world of just two peo­ple.

I re­cently lis­tened to an in­ter­view with Jo Brand in which she was asked what one thing she would go back and say to her baby self. Her an­swer? ‘ Work very hard on your friend­ships be­cause, in the long run, they are what re­ally count. They an­chor you all through the stages of your life. A good friend for life – there’s noth­ing like it. So work very hard on it.’

So, I urge you to re­mem­ber to pre­serve and cel­e­brate your friend­ships as you would a re­la­tion­ship. Send them flow­ers. Send the text. Or­gan­ise the din­ner. Write them a post­card. Put more ro­mance in your friend­ships. They may not be your end­ing – but, with just a lit­tle ef­fort, they can be your hap­pily ever af­ter.

FRIEND­SHIP IS MORE LIKELY TO SEE YOU THROUGH TO YOUR DY­ING DAY THAN A MAR­RIAGE

‘ Ev­ery­thing I Know About Love’ by Dolly Alder­ton (£12.99, Pen­guin Books) is out now

Dolly says her friend­ships have taught her more about love than any re­la­tion­ship

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