SARA and I met as office drones in 1999. We became friends in a period of our lives when the demands of our jobs were just heating up, when the roots we were putting down in the city were just getting deep. In each other, we found respite, recognition, a shared eagerness to relax, take stock and talk about it all.
Many other women were doing the same things. Female friendship has been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women. In earlier eras, when there was less chance that a marriage, entered often for economic reasons, would provide emotional or intellectual succor, female friends offered intimate ballast.
These days, marriages ideally offer far more in the way of soulful satisfaction. But they tend to begin later in life — today 20 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 are married, compared with nearly 60 percent in 1960; the median age of first marriage for women has risen to 27 — if they marry at all. The marriage rate hit a record low in 2015, and a 2014 Pew Research Center study showed a significant number of adults had never been married and predicted that a quarter of millennials might never marry.
As women live more of our adult lives unmarried, we become ourselves not necessarily in tandem with a man or within a traditional family structure, but instead alongside other women: our friends.
Among the largely unacknowledged truths of contemporary female life is that women’s foundational relationships are as likely to be with one another as they are with the romantic partners who, we’re told, are supposed to complete us.
My relationship with Sara had a low-slung thrum of beer, cigarettes and the kind of quotidian familiarity we think of as exclusive to long-term mates, or possibly siblings. We played cards and watched award shows and baseball and presidential debates together; we shared doctors and advised each other on office politics; we gossiped and kept each other company when the exterminator came to behead the mice. (Seriously: This was the exterminator we both used, and he beheaded mice.)