When the New Year arrives, my heart lightens, and it's not just because the shortest day is over and spring is just around the corner. Well, round the corner and down the cul-de-sac, maybe...but it's there somewhere.
No, I am happy because with the dawn of the New Year, I can safely take down the Christmas cards without looking like early-to-mid-period Scrooge. Up there, along with the cheery cards from the friends I remembered to send similar greetings to, there will be the usual proportion of rebuking robins, snubbed snowmen and disillusioned donkeys. Even holly wreaths can look like they have the hump! These are the cards from friends past, and (with a bit of luck) they will never come again. How many years does it take to prove to someone that you are a fickle piece of work who isn't worth the price of a stamp? Longer than you'd think!
Let me make my case plain. I am not a bad friend. I enjoy my mates, and I am generous, showering them with all the fun, money and sympathy that I have at my disposable. BUT - and apparently it's a big one, which identifies me as something less than human - I am not 'passionate' about my friends. I do not crave their company when I am without it, for whatever length of time, and should we lose touch, I do not miss them. My absolute ideal friendship is when I introduce two people and it transpires than they get along so well, I hardly ever have to see either of them ever again because they're having so much fun together!
John Galsworthy's heroine Irene, of The Forsyte Saga, says something that I heard as a child and which stuck with me all my life. When she is caught out by her young protégé June having an affair with June's fiancé, the younger girl has a right hissy fit and yells something like "But I thought you were my friend!" Irene replies along the lines over "A woman of the world doesn't have friends - she has lovers, and acquaintances." I wouldn't go this far, but neither do I consider the current craze for prizing platonic female friendship above all other forms of affection to be any way for an adult to live their life if they wish to extract the maximum gain from it.
Maybe my circumstances led me to feel this way. I was an only child who, at an early age, became extremely fond of - rapturous about, even - my own company. Some of my earliest memories are of lurking in my bedroom and begging my mother to get rid of young schoolmates who had come calling for me to play. I was first married as a teenager, re-married in my mid-twenties straight after divorce and then took up with my third husband who I have now been with for fifteen years. I never grew up sharing habitats or confidences with friends the way others do; I either told my husbands my dreams and fears, or I kept them to myself. Over time, this has had the effect of making people who take female friendship over-seriously look rather silly.
A new book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Break Up With Your Best Friend by Irene S. Levine, claims that many women's friendships can be so intense that when they are asunder, it can be as upsetting as losing a lover. Surely this is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong - isn't friendship meant to be fun? Isn't there an old saying that friends are the Lord's apology for relatives? What place is there for jealousy, resentment and heartbreak in the arena of female friendship when the holy estate of matrimony provides such an adequate breeding ground for them?
Basically, if you feel these things about a friend, then you are simply IN LOVE with them and should stop lying to yourself about the situation. If they're up for it, try having sex with them - you might like it! Of course, a romantic relationship brings with it a whole raft of other problems. But at least you won't look like an over-hormonal, under-sexed sad-sack any longer - the way women do who take their friendships too seriously.
Julie Burchill is a renowned journalist who has contributed to The Times, The Guardian and The Sun among other publications - she currently writes a weekly column for The Independent. She is also the author of several successful books including Not In My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy and Sugar Rush.
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