Love beyond sex, money and property: a case for friendship

Love beyond sex, money and property: a case for friendshipJuly 4, 2020

Reading novels about groups of friends can be an emotional lifeline in times of isolation – from pandemic lockdown to the aftermath of divorce

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What claims do friendships retain, as family life takes over? How much do we live in our friends’ shadows, comparing our relationships, jobs and versions of motherhood? These were questions I asked myself, getting divorced in my late 30s just before having my second child. I was used to turning to my husband for practical help; seeking help from friends feels awkwardly regressive when you’re not used to it, and burdensome when they’re caught up in childrearing. As I emerged out of the turbulence of my 30s, I asked myself what remained of earlier friendships, and chided myself for allowing so many to take on sparse outlines, structured by occasional catch-ups rather than continuing shared experience. It was hard to know who to ask to come round when I was ill, to look after the baby when I was desperate for sleep, or just to leave their family for an evening when I hadn’t spoken to another adult for days.

Anxiously grateful for the friends who were there, sad about the ones who weren’t, I sought out fictional friends. I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, glad when Lila and Lenu’s bond reignites during Lenu’s single motherhood, curious about how much more alive their friendship seems than their marriages. There’s always been an element of friend-making for me in reading, though the writers I love are as maddening, as disquietingly alien as actual friends.

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