Female friendship has been getting a bad press of late. What’s that all about, wonders Esther Walker

We don’t often feel sorry for Angelina Jolie here but something she said recently made us stop short. “I don’t have a lot of friends,” she told a US magazine. “I talk to Brad…but he is really the only person I talk to.” And it seems Angelina’s not alone. In a recent Easy Living poll, most readers confessed that they could count their close friends on one hand. It’s not surprising: in our thirties, with careers, men and the business of having babies demanding most of our time, long-treasured friendships can develop a worrying habit of slipping away.

At school and university, friendship is easy. But after that life comes more precarious and filled with transformation. For me, marriage and motherhood have seen the dramatic and permanent departure of two of my oldest friends: Amy, whom I’d known since school, and Beth, whom I met at university. It started gradually. Conversation got harder, but I couldn’t work out why; we had less in common, there were fewer laughs. It felt like we were moving on with our lives, but our friendship was stuck in a rut. I found myself letting calls go to answerphone and leaving texts and emails unanswered for 24 hours or more, when once I’d have pounced on them.

Then almost evitably, my eye started to wander and I found myself cheating on Amy and Beth. When I was about 25, I met a girl called Sarah. She was terrific: funny, energetic and naughty but also sympathetic and thoughtful. I’ll admit that I fell head over heels in friendship with her. At the beginning, it was almost as intense a feeling as falling for a man. Everything she said was hilarious, and I was thrilled to be seen with her. Yes, that tall brunette with the big Disney eyes? She’s with me.

For a while, Amy and Beth coexisted perfectly well with Sarah. But the crush came, as it does with so many people, when I met my husband, Giles. I spent a lot of my twenties being either tragically single or half-going out with some flaky boy who didn’t really like me. So when a real, proper relationship came along I threw myself at it and for a long time simply vanished.

Amy took it very badly. I got pointed emails saying things like: “Do you want to come for a bike ride, or will you be with Giles like always?” I couldn’t believe it. Hadn’t I always been understanding when she’d changed her plans because of some bloke? Was she not happy for me? I started to actively avoid Amy. I didn’t call, didn’t text and didn’t give her a role at our wedding. We exchanged increasingly shrill emails, then we simply agreed the friendship was over.

The collapse of my friendship with Beth was more dramatic and came with the birth of my daughter, Kitty, 14 months ago. There is nothing like a baby to change your relationships with everyone – from your husband to your hairdresser. And Beth was simply freaked out by Kitty. She didn’t call to say congratulations when Kitty was born. She kept making plans to visit us and cancelled every time. Vulnerable and hormonal, I was floored by what I saw as a terrible unkindness. I know babies are boring and gross, but I didn’t want any suggestion that my baby was boring or gross, I made things easy and didn’t reply to her last text, and I haven’t spoken to her since. The result: I saw in my thirties with hardly any close friends. I haven’t given up hope though: everyone says that when you have a baby you make loads of new friends, so there’s everything to play for.

In your twenties you’re not really aware how much you share with your friends because you live in each other’s pockets for years without really noticing. It’s only when you are bumped out of your rut and forced to make new friends through a change of circumstance that you realise how time-consuming it is. That’s why I’m hanging on to Sarah for dear life – because there are just no shortcuts to good friends.

My best friends bring to my life things my husband and child never could. I would be bereft without them. The reason we are all suspicious of women who seem to choose to have no girlfriends is because they appear so emotionless; so hardened to life that they don’t crave a soft shoulder to cry on, an impartial opinion on a big decision, or company with whom to laugh off life’s trials. Which is why I will continue to nurture my old friendships, and seek out new ones: because friends matter. And they always will.

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