‘We increasingly seek more complex and subtle imaginative explorations of identity than societal expectations of gender.' Alex Clark.
I truly discovered the importance of female friendship in my 50s. Post-splitting up with the father of my son at 43 – I’m 64 now – I tipped myself in a giddy stream of unsuitable men. I had female friends but my main focus was men.
In my tender little heart, I distrusted women friends to truly be at my side. Yes, yes, there were reasons that go back to my mother but I’m not going to dwell in that arena. The turning point was a workshop that I went to in 2006 over New Year run by that marvel of a Tantra teacher, Jan Day.
Actually, I went with the intention of being bold with men. I had become inhibited by hurt. It was time to step into the chasm of chance and chaos again. To literally get naked in the pursuit of sensual practice. To launch myself into dangerous but potentially rich experiential waters. And I did do all of that. There was flirting wildly – why can’t we have more flirting in this country, the playfulness of it makes everyone feel so alive – I remember sitting in the Jacuzzi exchanging fruity sexual fantasies with a couple of men. The view out over the frosted Somerset fairyland enhanced this rare pleasure. In the workshop itself, there was explorative touch – to discover what we liked or didn’t – and even kissing. And heart-open sharing. I was in mid-love addiction with an old neighbour who was less likely to share his love with me than a stone in the road. And yet I had been persisting. A fatal sign of co-dependency.
Funnily enough, the outcome of this workshop was a deep friendship with a woman. Not that this seemed on the cards at the time. I was 16 years older than her. She worked as an HR executive for a massive pharmaceutical company. We really had nothing in common. And yet, we found ourselves going off to another week’s workshop with Jan Day that Easter. It was called Living Tantra 1, was 7 days long and a deep immersion into sexual healing. And goodness knows, I needed that. With or without Marvin.
Jayne and I shared a dormitory with four other women. We were a gang of the heart. It wasn’t about gossiping. Well, there was some banter. It was about tears, exploring, risk-taking and laughing. While the workshop was about learning where our touch boundaries were, then being able to speak them and practice non-sexual loving touch. Jayne and I were transported into a new land, one where we both felt we were able to be our best selves. Oh, that is such an exquisite pleasure. And is often the case when in service to others. In this instance, sexual and spiritual service at the same time.
I felt expanded, expansive, on the high of a community that flowed with open love and touch in a safe but exciting way. Afterwards, I didn’t want to live within the confines of my shame and silence ever again. I was deluded about this man, and significantly, I hadn’t been talking about it. The thick carapace of this delusion was heavy. Never again. During the workshop, I confessed. No more dark dreams for me. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as that, but that was a good start.
It was an incredible week. And what came out of it was a mini Women’s Group.
Three of us – Jayne, me and another Jane – met up and spoke about our lives in a way that was more vulnerable and emotionally expressive than I’d ever felt safe enough to be. It felt rich, if a little forced at times. Having to cry can feel as restrictive as having to keep a stiff upper lip. Orthodoxies spring up everywhere.
Next came the Wild Women, which of course, was experimental, explorative and fun. There were six of us – Louise, two Carolines, one Jayne, Helen and me. We drank champagne, listened to each other in a sharing circle, ate gorgeous food, spent weekends entwined in an ever-growing closeness that we liked to call into-me-see. Sometimes we did all of these activities at the same time. Formal structure and boundaries were not our strong point. So it wasn’t surprising that our Wild Women group combusted in a firestorm of sensuality and conflict after a dramatic eighteen months. It was not constructed to last. There was heaven and hell while it lasted.
Finally, there was the Women’s Group, which I was in for six years. There were about ten of us, we met once a month for the afternoon, we had a strong structure at first, which contained us and enabled the trust to grow. After a year or so, we became a little looser. We didn’t just share in silence, we could ask for feedback and we learnt to give it sensitively. With a few huge gaffes along the way.
We rotated being hostess and therefore our location.
The hostess decided on the ‘colour’ of the proceedings, whether we danced to get into our bodies and out of our heads, or sat silently at the beginning. Also any extra structures like nurturing touch. The hostess also made some soup. Everyone else brought fruit, chocolate, nuts etc. Most importantly, we shared the depths of our lives here, we could say anything, be it angry or sad or joyful. We were free to speak what was really going on with us. No holds barred and very safely held by the rest of the group. It was a place to be as real as we were capable of being. There was challenge and there was sweetness
Jayne and I went through all of this together and it has lent a profound connection to our friendship. For me, it was incredibly important - after I first got to know her in that second Jan Day workshop – that I could admit everything to her. I knew she wasn’t going to judge me but rather witness my sorrow, pain or shame with love and affection.
I truly felt her compassion and understanding in a sensitive place that had never been properly mothered. It felt peaceful and quiet and gentle. And oh so new. It led to me trusting other women with more of me. The less bouncy sides. The nooks and crannies that I never normally exposed to that sort of sisterly light.
This experience of womanly love has changed me. Because now I know I will never be without this support. And I will never have to lie to myself again. And feel so ashamed. Only today, I went to a new dentist and discovered that my mouth was full of gum disease. I was horrified. My former dentist hadn’t told me.
I felt ashamed of myself for not being better at dental hygiene. How could this have happened? But instead of hiding away, I told three women friends. And none of them judged me for it. I didn’t feel criticized. I felt supported. Which helped me move smoothly into a place of acceptance and action. Yes, I have to face this and get into daily dental action and have some expensive periodontal work. And I am doing it.
I have a partner now – I was single when I went to those workshops – but I know my close women friends will always be there for me. As I will be for them. These relationships hold the longevity that a relationship with a beloved may not. This foundation, this knowledge of each other keeps on growing. It means that I will never be afraid to break a relationship that I think is unhealthy, and that feels mighty powerful.
Women friends – you are a boon and a blessing. Thank you.