In Honor of Female Friendship This Galentine’s Day

Layer upon layer of ancient ash,” reads the article about a hearth found in Qesem Cave, a site where archaeologists trace the origins of humanity’s first shared meals.

Ran Barkai, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist, suggests that what seems natural to us today may not have always been the case for our ancestors. The intrinsic rhythm of our mealtime conversations is actually 200,000 years worth of history in the making. 

Now, I am sitting with my sister at the dinner table. 

She is twelve, and I am twenty-two. Here, a decade apart, we are bound by the familiar turmoils of the adolescent years—years made bright by their intensity, confusion, and, inevitably, their nostalgia.

How long have you been friends with your friends?” she asks. 

I count the numbers on my fingers: five, ten, fifteen. 

“Frēond emerged from the present participle of frēon and originally meant ‘one who loves.’ The Anglo-Saxon verb frēon signifies ‘to love, like, honor.”

The friendships that have spanned an entire lifetime and those who are only starting to bloom—even the ones that have taken a slow exit from our lives and those who, in their place, left a wake of absence—have shaped us in one way or another, pieces discovered and made new alongside our companions.

The Modern English word “friend” has roots reaching back a millennium of linguistic history. Frēond emerged from the present participle of frēon and originally meant ‘one who loves.’ The Anglo-Saxon verb frēon signifies ‘to love, like, honor.’

To set free.

In Dolly Alderton’s 2018 memoir, she writes, “When you’re looking for love and it seems like you might not ever find it, remember you probably have access to an abundance of it already.”

My best friends and I like to joke that we might be each other’s soulmates.

I believe we are closer to the truth of it than we dare admit. It is present in the huge laughter as well as the comfortable silence.

It is there even when none of us are.

Girls Friendship by Irene Kovaleva

As you grow older and it becomes a matter-of-fact that a casual hangout with your friends becomes an exchange of calendar appointments, you realize that there is no purer proof of friendship than the intimacy built not through nearness or the length of the years but in the ability to leave and come back like you’d never left at all.

We’ve all heard how great love stories consist of dapper-looking, loafer-strutting men with dark hair and crooked smiles.

But for some of us, our greatest love stories will be afternoons spent running errands side by side each other, sharing a multitude of firsts—heartbreaks and adventures alike, or the small (not-so-small) act of This Made Me Think of You.

Mine happens to be of an eight-year-old girl who simply couldn’t resist the urge to show a stranger regurgitated bacon from her half-chewed sandwich.

Our friendships set us free in so many ways—through laughter, through shared lows and sweet triumphs, and through the soft urging of kind eyes, there to remind us this is a good life, and we are meant to be here.

Friendship isn’t always easy. Far from it.

Often, I have wondered how long-lasting relationships are built, whether there is a secret formula for humanity’s inherent desire to fasten their existence with that of another.

In an epoch celebrated for its technological abilities, which allow for constant (and instant) connection, it almost seems like the work of cruel irony that many are plagued by a loneliness epidemic.

“Like that cave in Tel Aviv, friendship is the bright, burning hearth that saves us from the world and, sometimes, from ourselves. ”

The longer I live,” wrote the beloved author and civil rights activist James Baldwin, “the more deeply I learn that love—whether we call it friendship or family or romance—is the work of mirroring and magnifying each other’s light.”

Like all our relationships, our friendships take work—diligent, life-saving work.

The love that emerges will be a quiet, enduring affection that demands nothing for itself except to bear witness.

Like that cave in Tel Aviv, friendship is the bright, burning hearth that saves us from the world and, sometimes, from ourselves.

Recently, I came across a word for the greatest gift our true friends give us: Desahógate, which roughly translates to ‘un-drown yourself.’

In Benjamin Gucciardi’s poem, he describes it as willingly accepting that everyone has drowned and that we can “reverse that gasping, expel the fluids from our lungs.”

True friends allow us to show up as our whole selves, uglies and all.

They teach us what it means to give grace. That strength need not be loud, only firm. I have a friend who reminds me every now and then what it’s like to live a life warmed by the kindness of another. And to laugh simply because it is medicine.

They do this without asking for anything in return.

They do this so that, for however brief a time, we may sit together under the sun before diving head-first again into the relentless tides of our lives.