The veneer...

posted on: Sunday, 7 December 2014

The subtleties of life are never lost on me; the small ironies, the observations, the life theories. A theory I described to my husband yesterday was why I made friends with other women more readily in my twenties than my forties. Why, when you have a newborn baby and/or very small children, you form lasting friendships with women whom you have never known before, but who you would not hesitate to discuss nipple health and the state of your undercarriage. Oh those heady and long 'post-birth' days still haunt me. Then fast forward to when said newborn is a teenager and I find that making friends with other women has become some sort of mystical quest - and not an easy one at that. I have come to the conclusion that a veneer forms over our lives when we are in our thirties where openness is replaced by a kind of insistent guardedness.

Some of my very best friends now (the category of friends I assign to 'the school years') know an awful lot about me (career trajectory, interior design choices, book club membership) and have sat next to me at dinner parties countless times. However do they really know me in the way that my old friends 'the pre-children university years' know me? Those friends have held back my hair when I was sick from too many daiquiris, met my husband before he was my husband and could tell you what I wrote my dissertation about. (Madness in the Female Gothic, if you're interested). With those friends there is no pretence. It's the real deal. There is no veneer; or if there is it gets rapidly deciphered when we meet or speak and we get back to the first version of ourselves. I also benefitted from 'the work friend'; a discrete handful of kindred spirits who stood by me as I climbed the career ladder.

I feel I've entered new territory now with female friendships. With these women we are coming into the 'young-adult years'. This denotes having teenage children and the veneer is getting pretty thick. We discuss matters like should parents provide alcohol at teenage parties (my view right now: no, but there are many who seem to disagree). Should academic success be defining? Should sport play a role? Why hasn't my daughter or son been picked for the 'A' team?

To be fair this team selection theme ensues in all areas of female friendship once your children are involved. When it's post-birth it's about milk ounces and percentile growth. When it's school years it's about the Nativity play and who is Mary vs. a miscellaneous angel. Now I have a teenager it's to do with tribes. Is your child in or out? Popular or geekish? Make-up or natural? Phone obsessed or still interested in life in the real world? These distinctions seem to get in the way of whether we, as women, can be friends with each other. And my overriding view is that when you have spent twenty adult years accumulating friendships, there is most definitely a point when people start to say 'enough is enough'. Many a time I have heard women say (almost proudly) that their friendship cup runs full.

All in all I find this troubling. I say this in the knowledge that when I was working, I frankly didn't care nor notice these nuances at the school gate or during the baby yoga coffee morning. I skipped past in my heels and outfits, thinking about the fact that I had to do a presentation to 100 people in an hour. Was there time for a latte with a colleague beforehand?

Now it's different. It feels like an extra effort needs to be made to win the friendship of these women who could, if the veneer just came down, become my bosom friend, like Diana Berry in 'Anne of Green Gables'. In life, eventually, doesn't everything come down to a quote from 'Anne of Green Gables'? Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.

And I realise that often with me, female friendship is based on whether I like the look of someone; in much the same way as when, aged 6, I befriended someone called Stephanie because she had red ribbons in her hair. I'm all about the details. This curious yard-stick of mine, when selecting people I want to know better, almost gets in the way. I should not notice the ribbons. I should notice a good heart and kindness and the prospect of interesting conversation. But in friendship don't we notice the sameness; the possibility of a buddy who will be our alter-ego? I know I do. It's the 'me too' mentality of conforming and being accepted. Is this a Louise-ism? Do you feel the veneer too?


  1. I moved a lot and don't really keep in touch with school friends. I had the friends that were around through baby groups and mummy meet ups but those are not gone...people move a lot. I have friendships with neighbors, but not the best friend kind. It's odd for me because I love having people around. I come home from parties disappointed that no one asked me questions about myself or took a real interest. I find people fascinating and always ask them questions and find out who they are. I guess I am still looking for that friend who walk in the house without knocking and who seems to be around all the time.

    1. montanacabin7@sbcglobal.net9 December 2014 at 17:01

      Good morning,

      I just had to reply to your message. I have been feeling just how you described so many times, that I often wondered if I was the only person feeling this way? I also have moved many times as a child. I always remembered looking out the back rear window of my parents car wondering if I would make new friends in our new place? I did make new friends, but I always wanted a friend for life just as you mentioned. You read my heart.

  2. I too have a veneer ~ maybe it does come with age ~ knowing more ~ being wiser. We learn from our mistakes ~ I love getting together with old friends ~ they are the best ones. What is it they say ~ girlfriends that have seen me at my best and worst and still like me anyway! There is a group of ladies I love getting together with ~ we can talk about anything ~ I could wear anything ~ not have my nails perfect ~ hell even have my legs shaved and we will still have a good time ~ these are the best friends. Is it knowing that as soon as I turn my back they are not going to gossip about me? Being completely comfortable and not having to guard what you say ~ that is what real friendship is. xoxo

  3. Thank you for writing such a beautiful, thoughtful piece. I am in my mid-40's, living a thousand miles from "home," and feeling very alone. My friends are scattered across the U.S. and are predominantly a part of my life through Facebook posts. After 7 years of living in Florida, my husband and I have been unable to establish any meaningful friendships. They feel transactional, and seem to fade quickly. I do think most of us wear a thick veneer as we age. I miss having friends that know me fully - as a young girl, a student, a career woman, a wife and mom. Having moved so much, unfortunately there is no one who has actually been a part of all of those chapters in my life. Your post gave me something to think about. Thank you and big hugs!

  4. No more veneer these days. Takes too much time and effort and it's the most liberating way to go through life. It might come with age, not sure but definitely with internal growth. I spent my career working with eating disordered women and believe me...physical beauty and thinness and fashionable clothing is a mask for so much unhappiness and insecurity. I also sent my boys through the private school system and was so put off by the women who clung to' image'...those mothers with a bragging style and who truly acted like their child was incapable of bad behavior. Please. My girlfriends all had sons and there were times--still are--where we clung to each other hoping for the best. It's real life when it comes to raising boys believe me. One fascinating experience I had that taught me about my own bias was when I was on the Board that helped raise money for our exclusive high school. The room was filled with high profile career women and I was in charge of beginning each meeting with some kind of "inspiration"--it was a Catholic environment and the President of the School was a Jesuit priest who was always present. I never knew why I was asked to fill this position and I was totally insecure thinking what can I say to these women? I can't relate they look so put together. Gulp.They embodied the career woman to me.( Even when I was a therapist, I tried to change clothes before I picked up my kids from school, something about not wanting to make people wary about being 'analyzed' which seems funny now) But then I went back to being just 'me' and not caring what anyone sitting at this long conference table thought about me. And each meeting I went in and talked about things that mattered to me as a Mom. Letting go, worry about our sons...the topics were all personal and do you know what? I was shocked by the response. Women dressed in their expensive business suits began passing around tissues at the table. They came up and hugged me afterwards. Whispered about their son in rehab, shared their struggles to let go of their kids.. Even though I knew this down deep it was another reminder that you can't judge a woman by her impeccable style or her exterior and expect to know her. In the private school system I always stayed away from those mothers who thought their kids were so perfect. It's just not real and realness is everything when it comes to my friends. I don't have time to waste with women who don't have access to those deeper feelings and thoughts even though I can have empathy and kindness toward them. I gravitate toward certain women and I notice they gravitate towards me. So my advice is be yourself and you'll find the kind of friends you feel connected to--regardless of the environment.

  5. My dear … I am ever so happy to have found you. This is beautifully written … and being further down the parenting path … I so recognize the stage you speak of … I knew it well … and lived the veneered life for years... but it was the heartache of my middle son who is now 20, decision, after many agitating years, decision to estrange himself from our family. After so many, many years of having so much of my personal identity wrapped up in "having the perfect family", I was brought to my knees, broken open, humbled … and eventually set free of any veneer. I now have empathy for everyone … and have finally found … once again … that my friendships with other women … to be what saves me. There is no more competition … only appreciation for others on this road that is life. Now I know we are all fragile … and some of us must learn to navigate our sensitive souls … with loving intent. I for one … thinks friendships are easier once again … once our children are truly on their own.

    Thank you so much for leaving a comment on my blog … because it let me find yours!

  6. I remember feeling exactly as you describe when my daughter was around your daughter's age. She's now 18 and since she left school its like I've a renewed confidence in myself. If anything, it's been a case of taking an honest look at some old friendships and how they make me feel and, in a sense, letting them go. Not in any confrontational way but just stepping back and refusing to behave a certain way because it's expected of me. It's freeing, let me tell you!

    Just be yourself, you're lovely and new friends will see that too. :)

    PS. You must be lovely, I'm sure I found Tania's blog through you. :)

  7. If you think it is difficult to make friends when your children are in secondary school. When they go to university you have no chance and yet the contact of school has finished . It is difficult to continue these friendships unless they live close . I definitely has less friends as I grow older due to death, rows, location and also moving apart. But the onesi have are very genuine kind caring people who are there for me in times of happiness and crisis.