The closest I ever come to being part a girl-gang is when I host a small “gathering” at my house (are we still calling it that so boys from school won’t turn up unsolicited?), and I manage to collect nearly every woman of significance in my life in one space. Usually we’re bundled into the kitchen, limbs strewn across countertops as cackles burst out from heads thrown back, and glasses of gin or wine are passed through any available gap to the tipsy and eager recipient. Two are probably propped up on the ancient bench by the back door, the familiar rip of the lighter releasing a flame as one leans in with patient palms to block out the wind. Another comes thudding downstairs from the bathroom, using their outside voice to ask if anybody has seen their phone (it’s right by the toilet where they left it, as always).
This is a familiar scenario, but not a frequent one. I love to host parties and any opportunity is a good one (enter “the last BBQ of summer” which is never the last BBQ of summer), but outside of the boozy parameters, my girl-gang is more a collection of scattered girl-clutches. Solo friends or groups of 2 or 3, bound together by time or shared circumstance . There is little crossover - branching out like a spider diagram, they all come from different sides of my life - but when we’re together and lubricated by alcohol, a girl-gang it becomes. To me, at least.
I’ve never really been part of a big group of girls. There are times when I’ve felt my early adult years have suffered for this, especially when seeing mass trips to far-flung beaches or hen parties bursting at the seams with bouncing boppers. I wondered what it would be like to be part of a group chat which is constantly popping off; where the morning-after review is just as enjoyable as the night out itself. I wanted nicknames and inside jokes and the unspoken loyalty that comes with having ‘the girls’, but as time has gone on, I’ve realised that friendship for me doesn’t operate in that way. I’m not good at that kind of friendship. I can’t offer quick replies, attendance at all spontaneous events and long afternoons spent spread across each other’s legs on the sofa. What I can offer, however, is intermittent texting, sudden and erratic bursts of attention, and a reliable heart. I’m flaky but I’ll love you forever.
Coming to terms with this feels like a gentle graduation into ‘the next chapter’ (however vague that passage of time may be). No longer worshipping Saturday night as the apex of our weekly existence, our once linear lives have softened and unfurled in different directions. We’re steadily building careers whilst fumbling through love, resisting the temptation to order too many UberEats in the meantime. We have homes, bills, traumas and triumphs, questions about ourselves that we’re still trying to decode and anxieties about the wider world which sit on our doorstep when we arrive home. Some of us have children, some of us have dogs, and some of us still piss ourselves when we’re throwing up drunk and are worried that the other orifice will start giving way too.
In short: we have our own lives.
Friendship in your mid-twenties is a different beast. We have moved - both figuratively and literally - beyond what initially bound us, whether that be education, a shared postcode, or a long-distance MSN love affair. Even those newer friendships which have sprouted more recently are different in their shape and the way that they move. We don’t expect blind devotion in the same way that we did (our enemies are not automatically their enemies (apart from that bitch)), and we respect the limitations of time and tiredness. Do we have dinner plans tonight but you simply can’t be arsed to hold a conversation? No problem babe - we’ll cancel and tell each other what we’re eating from the microwave instead. Stressed about work and not texting with the usual gif-enriched enthusiasm? Deep breath sister. Take some time for you and let me know if you need anything. It’s a quieter love with less urgency, but it’s fiercely faithful and always present. If friendship was once a whippet, it has now become a golden retriever.
Our friends start to bloom differently too, adopting different possibilities and embodying the various avenues they’ve chosen to walk.
There is the concrete friend: your oldest bond, the person who has known you since you were little, who your family always asks after as an extension of your young household. The friend who - no matter the distance or time between you - will always feel like home, and who will always get you blind drunk and turn you into the most nightmarish version of yourself. The concrete friend is named so because that is precisely how their position is placed: in concrete. This is it, forever. You will be bound to each other for the breadth of your personal eternity, and you will love each other, knowingly, even when from afar.
There is your sister friend: the one you greet every day with a kiss-encapsulated good morning, who you text more affectionately than you ever have with a significant other, and from whom you experience withdrawal symptoms if distance keeps you apart for too long. They are your first port of call in an emergency, even before Mum. They know the behaviour of your bowel movements. They know what porn you watch. They know your most secretest of secret crushes - the ones who you would never dare breath a word about to anybody else because they’re too salacious to reliably admit to yourself. You declare your love for each other every single day, because you know that what was once a friendship has now bloomed into something more (evidenced not least by the fact that you seem to be merging into the same person). They’re your sister.
Then there is your power friend: the businessperson bundle of energy who has grabbed at life with ambitious fists, demanding more for themselves and more for their family. Whereas motherhood once loomed like a freedom-stealing fiend at the tail-end of your twenties, through them you have witnessed something so beautiful and powerful that you realise you simply weren’t equipped with the proper language to understand it. They came into your life later than the others, but somehow, accidentally, you’ve become intertwined, and now you not only respect them for their strength and innate, emanating power, but you love them for it.
In this friendship Pick ’n Mix their flavours are all slightly different, but each connection bears its own significance. And each connection has come to operate under the new rules of being ever so slightly older.
Friendship in your mid-twenties is pacified in its appearance, but much like an iceberg spreads wide, wide, wider below the surface, what is beneath sticks so much deeper. We begin to understand the core of each other - our foibles and faux pas, our mannerisms and the way we navigate life - and from there we make a commitment. A commitment to be patient with one another, to understand that life gets in the way, to always be there, no matter the time or distance. To appreciate the other person for more than they can do, and to pick them up if they do those things badly. To dedicate a lifetime to getting to know whoever they’ve become as you both cycle through various stages but always, eventually, grow back together.
And we make this commitment, why?
It’s simple. It’s because through every heartbreak and family trauma and accidental pregnancy and illness and strife, who has been there, always? Who is loved and loves in return, with absolute security and unquestioning strength?
Our friends, of course.
Here's to a lifetime more of knowing the worst and loving each other anyway.