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Lynette Fay: Why friendships matter

I have always valued my female friends very highly but until recently, I have never had reason to wonder whether men and women work at and navigate friendships differently...

The Banshees Of Inisherin, starring Colin Farrell, pictured left, as Padraic Suilleabhain and Brendan Gleeson as Colm Doherty, is a study in male friendship. Picture by PA Photo/20th Century Studios
Lynette Fay

AMERICAN Country singer Chris Stapleton sings about friendship: "We've got friendship, the kind that lasts a lifetime, through all the hardship, you know you're a friend of mine."

The kind of friendship that lasts a lifetime is very rare, and when you have it in your life, it's something to cherish as you get older.

I have always valued my female friends very highly. I don't have a biological sister, and they feel like my sisters – the people I laugh and cry with. I know that I can tell my closest friends anything at all and they will never judge me in return.

They are also my reality check buddies and will tell me exactly what I don't want to hear when required. I count my blessings every day that I have these relationships in my life.

Until recently, I have never had reason to wonder whether men and women work at and navigate friendships differently – then I watched The Banshees of Inisherin. The latest Martin McDonagh film focuses on island life and the epic fall out between good friends Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell).

The end of their friendship happened suddenly one day when Colm decides that he would much prefer to spend the time he has left on this earth creating something, instead of talking aimlessly into the bottom of a pint glass each day.

The unravelling of this friendship was quite extreme, but the overriding message was that Pádraic grieved the loss of Colm from his life, and he was lonely because of it.

The storyline of the film has sparked discussion about friendships, particularly male friendships. Many men have friends and make friends through clubs or activities, by belonging to something.

Their conversations are 'side by side', not face to face, and a lot of research suggests that there is an avoidance of 'deep talk' between men and that conversations are kept at a very emotionless level. A shocker, I hear women remark to this revelation...

 

Men tend to make friends 'side by side' rather than 'face to face', as women do

 

Men also tend to co-opt their partner's social circle. I spoke to Professor Robin Dunbar, an expert in experimental psychology, on my radio show this week and he remarked that this happens because men tend to be socially lazy, particularly when their female partners are extremely pro-active when it comes to the upkeep of existing friendships and the nurturing of new ones.

I found this quite sad. What happens if the relationship breaks up? Depending on the nature of the breakup , usually the friends side with their original friend - the woman - and would discourage their male partners to have anything further to do with the man. Surely that would only lead to loneliness, and possibly isolation, which couldn't be good for anyone's mental health, could it?

Prof Dunbar continued to tell me evidence from recent scientific studies and surveys all over the world state that the single best predictor of your mental and physical health and wellbeing is the number and quality of friendships that you have.

It's not always easy to make friends though, especially if you have gotten out of the way of connecting with people on this level.

Apparently five good friends, and close family are the key to this. My mother always said that I should be able to count my close friends on one hand. I see the logic to this as I get older.

It took me quite a while to find my tribe as they say. Looking back, if I'm really honest, I spent far too much time running after or trying to be a friend to people who were never going to return the investment.

Instead, they made me feel worse about myself, but I was blinded by insecurity. That's the kind of wisdom that only ever comes about after having lived through something and having made the mistakes.

When we are young, particularly in the case of girls, the more friends, the better. Now, again with the benefit of hindsight, I honestly think that having too many friends is not a good thing either – that was something else Mummy has always said, repeatedly: "You will have many acquaintances in life, but very few friends."

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