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An ode to friendships
Q: Which friendships are you investing in?
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This September, I was at the receiving end of the kindness and generosity of many friends after baby L arrived. It has inspired me to reflect and write about how nurturing female friendships can be.
I had a scheduled c-section in August and my husband had planned to be in the hospital with me and baby L while little A spent time at Mitali’s house. Instead, Mitali offered to swap a couple nights with him saying - "He needs to spend time with little A so she doesn't feel lonely. And you are really going to need him once you are back home." While at the hospital, Mitali often knew what I needed before I did which triggered a conversation about what made women such good caretakers. My husband, who happens to be a nurturer at heart but also a problem solver, was focused on the logistical and tactical problems that needed to be solved with a newborn. In my post-operative, hormonal state, what I craved more was a heart-centered, feelings discussion. Something that was easier for Mitali to grasp and provide given she had been in that same hospital bed, post c-section, twice in her life. One can have empathy and compassion and be a good caretaker but in order to understand another person’s mental state and know what they need, it helps to have experienced it yourself.
Earlier this year I started to worry about whether we had a strong community in San Francisco given how many of our close friends had moved away. But distance hasn't mattered that much. Friends near and far have shown up for our family, especially in this last month. Upon returning from the hospital, a friend in Park City, Utah that is also nursing her baby pumped extra milk and Fedex-ed me a bottle of her breast milk and lactation cookies. Any new mother will appreciate just how generous and valuable this is.
Another friend, a mom from Little A's preschool, invited her on a playdate the day after we got back from the hospital. She picked her up and dropped her back without taxing us with logistical questions. It was comforting to know that my firstborn was being taken care of while when we were consumed with the needs of a newborn. Other close friends brought over delicious home cooked food being thoughtful about the nourishment needed for new moms.
While it helps to be a mom to know what another one needs, this kind of "showing up" hasn't been limited to just friends with kids. When my husband and I caught Covid in December 2021, one of my closest friends from LA lived in our house, taking care of little A all week and cooking for us while we isolated. We aren't related by blood but she is a "masi" to my girls.
Over the past four years, since the birth of my first child, I have experienced how some of my female friendships morphed into something more. Each one of these women have become a “masi '' to little A even though we are not related by blood. “Masi” in Hindi/Gujarati means mother's sister - the aunt that is typically closer to your mother and cares a lot about you. Years ago after the first kid amongst my college housemates was born, the women started to refer to the group as the “Masi Posse”. Back then I questioned why these American women with no ties to India were so taken by the word "masi". But boy did I really get it after my daughter was born!
To have a group of friends that you know you can count on to validate your feelings and offer wisdom makes this sometimes difficult parenting journey so much easier. Last week, my friend Margi checked in with me over chat about how I was feeling. I told her how tired the sleepless nights were making me and how weak my body felt. She responded with poignant and insightful message -
In less than a year, my first will leave for college.
I remember walking with her in the stroller and coming upon a mom and teenage daughter.
I couldn’t even imagine! It seemed light years in the future.
Yet, here I am. There is this very thin veil between that young mom and the mom I am now. Almost like I can reach through and take her hand.
Tell her, you’re going to survive the sleepless nights.
The torture of exhaustion.
New sleeplessness awaits. New fear.
But also birth and rebirth, over and over, year after year.
You will become a woman you don’t recognize.
You will become the woman you always were.
Motherhood will shred you down to almost nothing.
And from that hollow place you will emerge more.
I love you, Kin.
You were made for your daughters.
As you teach them to fly, you will recognize your own wings.
And you’ll learn to fly alongside them.
I spent so many years searching for love, for that one partner that I wanted to spend my life with. I didn't really spend time looking for friends. These female friendships that I speak of were sparked by chance, by luck - either we lived together, went to school together, or met somewhere through someone and something clicked. Thankfully, I ended up spending more time, both consciously and subconsciously, on these friendships while looking for the “one”. And it is these women friends that I have turned to in my moments of loneliness, self-doubt, pain and also celebration.
Our friendships sustain us - they give us the life blood we need as we navigate the ups and downs of parenting, aging and what not. The wisdom I'd offer to my younger self, or to any of our readers is this — Be intentional about friendships - invest in them, be generous and caring, and continue to show up - even when when it's inconvenient. I promise it will be worth it.
“If love is sudden, friendship is steady. At the moment of meeting a friend for the first time, we might be aware of an immediate “click” or a sudden mutual interest. But we don’t “fall in friendship.” And where love is often at its most intense in the period before the lover is possessed, in the exquisite suspense of the chase, and the stomach-fluttering nervousness of the capture, friendship can only really be experienced when both friends are fully used to each other. For friendship is based on knowledge, and love can be based on mere hope… You can love someone more than you know him, and he can be perfectly loved without being perfectly known. But the more you know a friend, the more a friend he is.”
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During my childhood, my family moved to a new country every six years. As an only child of two working parents, I was often lonely in these new surroundings and yearned for a sibling. Moving around gave me the opportunity to make new friends everywhere I landed. I forged deep relationships with friends who became a stand-in for the siblings I never had. Some friendships were sparked in our first meeting and others took time to blossom. But in all of them I found true companionship - friends in whose presence I could be my true self and friends who appreciated me for who I was.
I continued to make new friends in my twenties that ended up spread across different continents. Friends that I connected with during business school in the US chose to go back to their home countries or take jobs overseas. Even though these friends were important to me, there were years where I did not get a chance to talk to them. In my thirties I was consumed by my other responsibilities - a new marriage, young kids and a demanding job made it hard to carve out time for friends that were not in my immediate vicinity. Our society doesn't encourage us to invest in our friendships - a relationship that often falls below priority to partner, parents, children, siblings and career connections.
“...Love affairs need immense energy, they demand a total commitment and a capacity for pain. Friendship, in contrast, merely needs tending. Although it is alive, a living, breathing thing, and can suffer from neglect, friendship can be left for a while without terrible consequences. Because it is built on the accumulation of past experiences, and not the fickle and vulnerable promise of future ones, it has a sturdiness that love may often lack, and an undemonstrative beauty that love would walk heedlessly past.”
- Andrew Sullivan, Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival [Book]
In my forties I started to make a much more concerted effort to reach back out to my old friends. I had more time on my hands after leaving my corporate job and through the pandemic. Over Whatsapp and Zoom, I was able to revive connections with friends that live far away. Forty years ago I became friends with two girls when I moved from the UK to the small town of Jamshedpur, India. We haven’t seen much of each other over the past thirty years after I left Jamshedpur in 1989. During the lockdown, with time on our hands, we were able to pick right back up where we left. We reminisced about the lunches we shared in our school corridors - eating each other’s meals with such relish that even today we can remember the yellow custard and red candied cherries on top of one of our favorite dishes.
Social connection is a critical element of my well-being and mental health. My friends are the ones who reflect my true self back to me. They remind me of who I was in my youth before I took on the roles of wife, mother, manager. And while I will never be the person I was in my twenties, it has been fun to bring back some of the passions and quirks of my personality that had been buried during my thirties.
“...Aristotle’s opinion was that friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this (reciprocal) mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons. Friends, then, share a similar concept of eudaimonia [Greek for “having a good demon,” often translated as “happiness”] and help each other achieve it. ”
- Massimo Pigliucci, Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life [Book]
Over the years I have made a concerted effort to talk to my kids about the importance of friendships and encourage them to have fun getting to know their peers. As parents, we try our best to give our kids the opportunity to hang out with other kids with good character. I know that who they surround themselves with, will have a higher impact on their happiness and motivation than what we as parents say to them. I was delighted to see my son’s high school also emphasizing the importance of choosing the right friends (ref: handout above).
"...They say you are “known by the company you keep” but it’s more like you become the company you keep. We’re going to be influenced by others, so what if we deliberately choose who and how? I call it “Strategic Peer Pressure.”...Don’t just join a good group, be a good contributor in that group to foster its power, for yourself and others….As Abraham Kaplan wrote, “We need each other to become ourselves.”"
- Eric Barker, The Lazy Way To An Awesome Life
The friends I have made through the various phases of my life have been my anchors through life. In our busy lives with our many time-consuming responsibilities, it is often our friendships that fall on the wayside. Life is short so don't have regrets about losing touch with the people that matter. I hope this post can serve as a reminder for you to reach out and connect to someone you haven't talked to in a while.
Links from our post
[Book] Andrew Sullivan, Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival
[Book] Massimo Pigliucci, Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life
[Article] Eric Barker, The Lazy Way To An Awesome Life