When I recently interviewed Mary Trunk regarding her delightful film about women who are both mothers and artists, I began thinking about the role of female friends in women’s lives. Especially in my own life.
Here’s a piece of that longer interview with Mary Trunk:
Q: Mary, I was almost envious (okay, I was envious) of the close lifelong friendship between two of the women in your film, Caren and Kristina. I’ve never had anything like that (not counting my husband). And yet, even though they were so much a part of one another’s lives, it seems that during the trials of early motherhood, even they felt they couldn’t completely “get” one another anymore. . . . Is this, then, a demonstration of the essential loneliness most of us experience?
Here is Mary Trunk’s response:
It seems to me that friendships between women (and maybe men as well) can be disrupted so much when one or the other marries and then has kids. Heck, remember when your best girlfriend got a boyfriend in high school? You never saw her after that. I think in Caren and Kristina’s case they found it so difficult because they were so in sync about everything. They still live only a few blocks from each other. Being pregnant together and planning to have home births put them on a road of expectation that is bound to fail.
And in their case it didn’t fail completely. Who they are as parents is very different than either of them expected. The family unit also becomes top priority, and friendships can’t help but be put on the back burner. Add in the intensity and high energy of babies, toddlers and children, and you can’t help but feel estranged from your friends. When a friend chooses a partner and has children we see a side of them that we may have overlooked or that may not have been as visible.
Kristina said that she couldn’t think when she was around her children but she was more than willing to take a break from them when she needed it. Caren couldn’t leave Olive at all for the first few years of her life. When Kristina needed escape, Caren wasn’t able or willing to go there with her. And when Caren wanted to bitch about being a mother or anything else, Kristina didn’t want to hear it. At least not while she had two little kids around. All of that is to say that they are not alone.
I too have had issues with friendships. Being friends with people who have no children also has its challenges. So yes, there is this loneliness we just have to get used to. It does get better as the children grow. What is wonderful about the women I filmed is that they have such an amazing and trusting foundation in their friendship that they were able to ride through this and believe that they could. I think it taught them both that their friendship is strong and they can get through these bumpy and lonely roads. And that is something to envy, for sure.
Only a handful of the females with whom I’ve ever been good friends are still in my life, and I wouldn’t claim those relationships are as deeply intimate as I would like. I never see myself reflected in all those heartwarming novels that center on a group of close women friends over time. And I know it’s my own fault.
I remember a distinct thought I had when I was a very young teen: I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to hide my real self in order to have more friends. Unfortunately, I now realize, my real self was kind of snotty. My peers believed I thought I was superior to them. Mostly I was shy and really didn’t know how to “play well with others.” But, indeed, I had also learned from my father a habit of being critical of others (as well as of myself).
I tend to think, even today as I write this, that I’m only being realistic and rational in my evaluations. Yet I have also learned that friendships don’t need, nor can they bear, too much realism.