‘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
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