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friends or frenemies?

They broke up because one stole the other's partner, and naturally, their friendship took a nosedive, but it looks like TOWIE's Chloe Sims and Lauren Pope have buried the hatchet. They were seen out and about last week as if nothing - or Mario Falcone - had ever happened.

Very few of us enact our friendships on the pages of newspapers and magazines, but broken friendships and all the attendant drama seems to be a fixture in the lives of women. By turns viewed as being a battleground of back-biting, or as a haven from those male-type people, female friendships are a vital part of women's lives and their absence can be as gutting as their presence is fulfilling.

Television and film have created the sort of all-or-nothing scenaria - think Mean Girls versus Sex In The City - that make it hard to separate myth from reality. Are you a failure if you don't have a million BFFs? Are you overreacting if you and your pal fall out? After all, it's only friendship, it's not the end of the world...

COMMON VALUES

In My Other Ex: Women's True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends, edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger, essays about the pain and the myths surrounding the platonic bonds between women span from early heartbreaks, primarily during adolescence, to the more complicated situations that occur as women grow up. Upon losing a friend, Smock writes, "you often feel heartbroken, as if you've lost a great love. And you have. Not a romantic partner but a trusted holder of your secrets and truths".

From a psychological point-of-view, friendship by definition is fairly straightforward. "It is a trusting bond, built from shared interests," says Tony Moore, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland. "It is a relationship of common values, respect and equality." Put like that, it seems easy enough to navigate. However, on a physiological level, things get more complicated.

"Oxytocin helps with the bonding process after birth, and the same high level of oxytocin is found in women who have a deep friendship with other women," Moore reports. "This hormone also relieves stress. This may also go some way to explain why women feel better and calmer after talking through problems. Strange at it may seem, most men would say talking through problems only increases stress!"

AND YET: DRAMA

Oxytocin doesn't always win the day, however. "Friendships are often thought of as the family we would have if given the choice," says Linda McGuire, clinical director of Kildare Counselling Service. "However, like with most families friendships may also experience difficulties. Common themes such as jealousy, betrayal, resentment and ongoing childhood issues can often be the shaky foundation that leads to the friendship house falling down."

Smock takes this notion further. "Females learn to use relationships themselves as weapons - rather than fists, direct demands, and screaming. Their tools are the ability to undermine, manipulate, betray and ignore. The devastation wrought can appear unintentional and difficult to describe or identify, sometimes masked by the careful image of the polite good girl."

Yikes. You'd think we women would be running miles from each other. And yet, there is something extremely special, above and beyond the blast of Oxycotin, that comes from having a good natter with a pal, from laughing yourself sick about something, from having someone to call on in times of trouble.

Somehow, some way, female friendships prevail, and it's worth knocking back some of the received wisdom that seems to diminish the role of our friends in our lives.

LET'S BUST SOME MYTHS

Our friendly neighbourhood psychologists had some things to say about four of the biggest myths around female friendships. Alas, there is some truth to a couple of these, but like anything else, you can live by them or bust them in your own life.

MYTH: We spend so much time on our friends because our families are rubbish

"Having a good friendship does not necessarily mean that one is having poor relationships with family, often family will embrace the long-term friend as another member of the family so to speak," McGuire assures us. She goes on to say, however, "this can also be a problem if the friendship then ceases to exist with many members of the same family grieving the loss".

MYTH: Women's friendships are a constant source of drama

This myth probably results due to poor boundary-making, as well as issues around people-pleasing. While "people pleasing is not solely the preserve of females," says Moore, "in some ways women can tend to share more of their inner selves, earlier in any relationship, than men, thereby giving an opening to be emotionally exploited." So, this myth may have something behind it. Are you feeling needy? Are you feeling the need for distance? Check your boundaries!

MYTH: If you don't have a tonne of BFFs, or run with gang of gals, then you're doing something wrong.

You may think that all your friends should be friends too, but it's not always the case. "Some people are more social animals, some are less," says Moore. Introverts aren't necessarily unfriendly people: we all go through periods of needing alone time and needing party time - don't be so hard on yourself if you're not falling about town every Saturday night.

MYTH: Women actually secretly hate each other

Women are depicted as being deeply competitive with each other, from the creche up to adulthood. This one, according to Moore, has some truth to it. "This is extremely destructive," says Moore."On the whole, this doesn't happen to any extent with male friendship." The worst of it has come out in internet bullying, and Moore thinks that it is primarily girls who are doing this, and he finds it heartbreaking. It's all about attacking the weakest in the pack - so if you find yourself in this situation, get some professional help and hopefully find yourself new pals.

MYTH: If you still aren't friends with everyone you've ever known, you're an awful person.

One of things that one learns when one grows up - okay, I'm the 'one' I'm talking about - is that people come and go. I myself have come and gone from people's lives. "This induces massive anxiety in so many people," say Moore. "People who have to relocate, for example, will lose touch with friends for a variety of reasons. You don't have to live in your friends' pockets - as long as you both get something out your friendship, then it's certainly okay for you!" Luckily, I've had the opportunity to reconnect with some people - thanks, internet, you're not so terrible sometimes - and it's as if no time has gone by at all.

BE A BETTER FRIEND

"Having a healthy friendship is a lot like having a healthy romantic relationship," says McGuire. "Key components such as trust, honesty, communication, fun, commitment and freedom can be the ingredients to keeping and maintaining friendships. It is important to feel that you can trust, talk honestly, have clear and effective communication, even about the tough stuff that can pop up in our lives from time to time."

It seems obvious that one doesn't poach one's pal's boyfriend, but it happens every day. Whether Chloe and Lauren's friendship will go the distance is up to them, of course, just as the course our friendships takes is up to us. they are important though - worth keeping, worth tending and if it sadly comes to such a point, they are worth grieving, too.


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