Friendship is one of a series of articles I wrote for various newspapers around the time of the publication of my novel, A Woman’s Life, which is about the friendship between three women over forty years. In the article I was trying to make the point that romantic love, sex and even marriage, dominates our understanding of loving relationships whereas friendship can be at least as important and sometimes, in a lasting sense, more so.
It can start in all sorts of strange places: in a pram, up a climbing frame, over a desk, in hospital, under water, up a mountain, at a baby party, on a roof. It positively eschews low lights and seductive music and doesn’t expect roses on Saint Valentine’s Day. It’s not so much the love that dare not speak its name but the love that no-one bothers to mention.
This is friendship, that long-lasting love affair between two consenting adults that has no ring, no anniversaries and usually outlives every other tie. Despite its importance, no magazines are sold on its name, few books, no operas, few plays and the one television programme which might give it a boost, actually called Friends, reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s cheerful adage: A true friend stabs you in the front.
When I started writing A Woman’s Life, I didn’t plan it to be about friendship. I knew it was about three women, American, English and Irishwoman who were all born in 1940 and whose lives would become intertwined. They might have hated each other. They might have crossed continents to avoid each other. But it didn’t turn out that way. They had too much to offer each other and couldn’t resist the pull of friendship. To my surprise, that was what the book became about, a kind of holding theme against the love affairs, wars, marriages and deaths.