The Sunday Magazine

The 'great divide' in women's friendships

Emelia Symington Fedy and her feminist friends used to call each other “Wives for Life." Then having children got in the way.
Emelia Symington Fedy and her feminist friends used to call each other 'Wives for Life.' Then having children got in the way. (CanStockPhoto)

This segment originally aired on April 1, 2018.

By Emelia Symington Fedy

I've surrounded myself with women since I was a young girl. I suppose you could say it was instinctual, an unspoken need. In high school I moved in a pack of women who did everything together and the time we spent together was effortless.

Sleepovers, camping trips, puppy piling, perfume sample smelling, lake swimming, railroad meandering, french fry eating days — years actually — of girls being girls together, with little awareness of the male gaze or the passage of time. We were just together and it felt good.

When I graduated and moved to the big city, I fastidiously built up a new world of women around me. This time, in my 20s, the connection was more intentional and the gang became a group — an intentional women's group.

We sat together in a circle. We went to women's marches. We read books called The Ethical Slut and Women Who Run With the Wolves.

When one of us was heartbroken, the rest of us slept over and held her tight while she cried. When one of us was sick, we dropped everything and delivered a fridge full of food. When another was packing for a difficult move, we put notes in every single box reminding her that she was doing the right thing.

We were epic in our love and the sisters always came before the misters.

And then it happened…

We entered the breeding years. Some of us started having babies and others did not. Some of us got married and others did not.

At the beginning I was in the 'not married, no kids' camp. I didn't understand how my powerful and freedom-fighting friends got so unavailable all of a sudden. So many rules. No spontaneity. Always tired. And bedraggled and their houses smelled like sour milk.

So what if I'm an hour late for dinner? Why would that be a problem? Can you focus on this conversation for ten minutes without talking about your kid's development? We're talking about my life here! And she cancelled on me again. Can't this woman figure her schedule out?

Emelia Symington Fedy (

How could they knowingly release their strongest support system? Didn't it make sense to keep your sisters close? I mean we were the ones they'd want to turn to when heavy stuff went down in the marriages? And it would. We should be able to rely on each other, more than our partners in some ways. We should offer an active loyalty to each other because in the end when we are old and dying … who else will be there? Am I right sisters?!

It was so painful. And so infuriating.

I wanted everything to stay the same.

And then I got married and I had kids and I understood.

They'll judge my messy house. I don't have time to shower, let alone prep food. She was late again. I'm on a sleep schedule. And why I couldn't just get a babysitter and how could I be that tired?

I became the one not returning calls … and weeks started going by. And strain was put on the sisterhood.

We tried. But there were constant last-minute cancellations. We tried again. And then, inevitably, someone's toddler got sick.

Our monthly meetings turned bi-monthly … and then … these women, who taught me about feminism and sexuality and anger and how to make hummus — my sisters — how long had it been now … years?

I'll call her. I'll call her back. She'll call me. She'll call me back. It just never happened.

It blew my mind. I thought female friendships were unbreakable. Wives for Life, we called each other. I tried to accept that this time was over, but it broke my heart. Slowly, though, I got used to it. It was sad. But it was life.

And then one day, when I was really sick and my husband was away and the kids were being kids, I was lying in bed, too sick to even get up … and I had the thought.

I have no friends left.

Not a single person to call and ask for help. How did this happen? The exit was so quiet. And I, so fierce in my proclamations, didn't really put up that much of a fight.

I started thinking about my friends. The women I'd turned into a woman with.

I missed them. So much. And I needed them. Like to help me get up.

My thoughts were broken by a fit of coughing. I realized I was actually too sick to parent. I was scared. I crawled into the other room and I dialled a number. I hadn't called this friend for … I had no idea.

"Hey," I said, "I'm really sick. And my husband's not home and…"

"What do you need?" she said immediately. "Soup. What kind of sick are you? The flu? I'll bring popsicles! And some Tylenol. You've got a fever, oh you poor woman. I'll be there after work."

My friend. Who didn't have kids. Who I'd let slip away. Who I thought didn't care. Who I assumed didn't want to be around my messy life. Here she was again. A decade later. Immediately. And she brought soup and popsicles and movies for the boys and ice cream and medicine and flowers … a bounty.

I started to cry, from relief. But because the love was there. It had never left. 

After she went home, I lay in my clean sheets and fresh nightie and I made a promise.

As soon as I was better, I would call her. It might take a month to organize — but I was going to hire a babysitter and take her out for dinner.  And I would only ask her questions.

Then, I'd invite her into the chaos, and she could leave early when she got overwhelmed by it all. And I wouldn't take it personally.

Friendships take effort. They change. And life is long.

The next time she's sick, I'll bring her a care package. No more "too busy," no more "she doesn't care." I want this.

I crawled out of bed. I ate that soup. I took the Tylenol. I picked up my phone and I got to work.

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay.

Check out Emelia's newly released, ruthless audio memoir: 'Trying to be good: The healing powers of lying, cheating, stealing and drugs.'