Musings + Essays

Female Friendships and the Things That Matter.

By: Jen Shoop

I wrote not long ago about the dissolution of a friendship. There were no dramatic fights or terse stand-offs or regrettable words. There was no central “conflict” — no climax. I sometimes feel the gradual ebbing and decline of what had once been a deeply meaningful relationship in my life was more excruciating than a lashing-out might have been. But maybe this is the way of adult friendships. To pocket a phrase from T.S. Eliot: “This is the way the world [or the friendships that make it go round] ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.”

I spent stretches of days unpacking what had changed and whether I was to blame. I once missed my subway stop, too deeply engrossed in thinking through why I found myself recoiling and withdrawing from our conversations more often than not. I spent a string of several afternoons verbalizing my angst to my sister, who would sit, perched in the blue armchair of my living room, and nod with empathy.

At some point, she articulated a permutation of a lesson I’d pocketed from Lee Radziwill not long ago, but since forgotten:

“Do you feel like she adds to your life or subtracts from it?”

I saw, in the end, against my best wishes, a minus sign. I felt guilty thinking that–but there it was. Net-net, I felt less than, depleted in our interactions.

I am equally to blame in the ending of this relationship. I have changed in the last two years, substantively. I can see it in my own writing, the tenor and sweep of it so different from a few years back. Writing is a bizarre litmus to be sure, but this blog has held up a mirror to my transformation into — into what? It’s too reductive to say a mother, too facile to say a middle-aged woman. (Am I middle-aged?) But I find myself more serious, more measured, more drawn to the things that matter. I am more guarded, more jaded, more conscientious. And though I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, motherhood and aging and the failures and frustrations I carry with me and oh! the weight of things has left me increasingly tender at the bone. Just last night, Mr. Magpie missed mini’s bedtime by ten minutes, caught up in a board meeting. As I marched through our nightly routine solo, I felt his absence as though it were a thing corporeal. I helped mini onto her stool to brush her teeth: “No, daddy do it.” Midway through story time, the noise of a neighbor unlocking her door arrested mini’s attention, and she went flying out of the room: “That daddy?” As I picked mini up to place her on our bed, pathetically parroting Mr. Magpie’s nightly “rocket ship” routine where he counts down from five and then flings her into the bed, she looked at me quizzically, with disappointment: “No, that’s Daddy.”

When he came home, I felt my eyes well up with tears as I recounted her longing for him, how integral he is to her daily routine. Beneath a borderline mawkish appreciation for my daughter’s love for her father, I felt a thick, heart-swelling layer of gratitude: how fortunate I am to have such an involved partner in parenting. How lonely it might be otherwise.

I find myself dashing off meaty observational “field notes” along these lines to my dearest friends. I wonder what they think when they see a text from this silly heart — “oh, what maudlin or saccharine thought does she have for me today?” I’m only half-joking, as I find that my innermost circle of girlfriends seek and treasure similar moments of poignancy and meaning in their own lives, and echo them back in my direction, unafraid of their emotional ballast. I value these exchanges, and the strength of their collective gaze as these women of substance negotiate, unblinkingly, with the hefty heart of life–with the things that matter.

And so I may have a trimmer circlet of close friends these days. And I may find myself increasingly drawn to women who are willing to go there with me — to talk about the scary and hard and almost-don’t-want-to-say-it-out-loud things, like aging parents and the ailments of our children and the fears we carry about ourselves and our relationships and our abilities. And so I may be more inclined to bare my soul and have a cry than a 20-something Jen would have appreciated, back when I spent more time lingering over aspirations and distractions simply because I was not as deeply aware of the extent of my blessings, or the fragility of their presence.

This is me, on the eve of turning thirty-five: embracing the things and people that matter, letting the rest fall away.


+Testing a new Molton Brown scent for body wash — the fiery pink pepper. Love it. They are so good at formulating the most incredible scents and I love the way it lingers on your skin for hours and hours.

+A love note to a friend.

+Finally ordered this Sleeper linen dress after lusting after it for the last many months (although I got it in this blue hydrangea print — so very into blue these days). So elegant for summer with my Hermes oran sandals — and nursing friendly, too!

+This balloon-print pinafore is so adorable for a birthday girl. I’ve been very into pinafores with little peter pan collar blouses for mini lately.

+Been seeing this pearl-encrusted bag all over the Internet lately. So fun.

+Gifts for girlfriends.

+This chic maternity jumpsuit was restocked. I was eyeing it for most of the last two months of my pregnancy in the hopes it’d be available in my size! Love it. (Note: Hatch runs really big.)

+This Staud bag was THE bag last summer and I still find it incredibly chic — now 50% off!

+OK, I promise I’ll cease with the deluge of headbands (are you sick of this trend?), but this $18 gingham style is super cute in the beige colorway in particular — and such a good hack for a tired mom with limited time to shower/blow-dry/make herself feel pulled together.

+Love this embroidered tunic top.

+An easy, affordable gingham wrap dress.

+These pacifier clips I featured in a recent post were very popular — also check out their chic monogrammed burp cloths (also love this print).

+I love the simple styling and puff sleeves of this decently-priced everyday top. Cute under white overalls or with white skinnies.

+I’ve mentioned this in the past, but we have these gingham blackout shades in mini’s nursery (in pink) and I can’t believe how long I waited to install them. They instantly extended mini’s nightly sleeptime — she used to wake up at 5:30 and, ever since these have been in place, she nearly always sleeps until 7 or 7:30.

+Another dreamy caftan on my lust-list. I love the rich blue color and easy shape — and the buttons mean it belongs in my nursing-friendly roundup, too.

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16 thoughts on “Female Friendships and the Things That Matter.

  1. When you said “I have changed in the last two years, substantively…but this blog has held up a mirror to my transformation into — into what?” it reminded me of this quote a friend just shared with me, from the poet Rumi:

    “Everybody is so beautifully/becoming themselves.”

    I’d like to think that the process of maturing is the process of becoming oneself, confidently and assuredly. That we are ever evolving beings, always changing, and yet, still ourselves. Of course with this comes the dissolution of some friendships and I think that in the beauty of becoming ourselves, of growing up, of maturing, those endings are painful. But I think that in the process in “becoming [our]selves” it is those people that we go are able to go “there” with, that help us mature, that help us become more of ourselves, meeting vulnerability with empathy and compassion.

    PS: You are not middle aged! Ha.

    1. I love that Rumi quote! So well-put. I think you are spot on (and much more cogent than I was) in the way you capture personal evolution and the waxing and waning of relationships here. Thank you for sharing this…


  2. Maturity and purpose, defined. It’s funny how life’s lessons prepare you for the next season, and it sounds like you are settling in to simplicity and richness just at the right time before your routines become a bit more complex with a new baby.

    I often reflect on the concept of how people or commitments add or subtract in the larger scheme of things, and lately I’ve been struggling with applying this concept to extended family. It may seem cold, but as I turn 30 this year I’ve come to realize that I am responsible for and in control of my choices when it comes to family relationships; they are not just a given, and sometimes require even more energy and tending. Some add tremendous value to my life, but how do I navigate those that are clear subtractions? Finding a neutral equation is tricky, like emotional Minecraft.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful lesson.

    1. I agree — family relationships are even more complex, because you’re committed on a different level. But I also think it’s OK to be selfish at times when you need to be, even in those relationships, and then to go out of your way to give in other seasons of life. But, very tricky.


  3. This was EXACTLY what I needed to read this morning- I feel like this topic has been buzzing in my head as I live out the last year of my twenties in NYC. As someone with a number of ‘life’ friends, I’m learning to appreciate my friendships more as we travel through new seasons of life together.

    Happiest of birthdays to you tomorrow! Wishing you joy and health in the days to come as your maternity “expecting” days wind down and an abundance of good energy in the days that follow into your 35th year!

    1. So glad this resonated!! And glad this made you think about the blessing of friendships that have lasted…xo

      And – I actually turn 35 on June 26th (poor choice of words on my part in this post) but thanks for the early birthday wishes 🙂 You are so sweet!

  4. This was EXACTLY what I needed to read this morning- I feel like this topic has been buzzing in my head as I live out the last year of my twenties in NYC. As someone with a number of ‘life’ friends, I’m learning to appreciate my friendships more as we travel through new seasons of life together.

    Happiest of birthdays to you tomorrow! Wishing you health in the days to come as your “excepting” days wind down and an abundance of good energy in the days that follow into your 35th year!

  5. I think I may have told you before, but I love that Lee Radziwill lesson — SO applicable and helpful. I agree with Diana that the nature of some friendships means those friends are only in our lives for a season, rather than for most of our lives. I consider myself so lucky to have a couple of true-blue best friends that I’ve known since infancy or early childhood. And I love that you mention siblings as well — my brothers and sister have grown to be some of my best friends as well. It’s so wonderful to think about that!

    I definitely tend to dwell on one friendship from college that dissolved rather quickly several years ago, after a cutting betrayal that opened my eyes to what a crappy friend this person had been to me over the years. I think about her less with each passing year, though, and it’s true for me, too, that the older I get, the more I “let the rest fall away” in terms of friendships and people that aren’t life-enhancing, to use the term that Lee popularized.

    That Sleeper dress is so gorgeous! I have my eye on that label… so chic.


  6. So true! I text my friends about the moments that melt my heart in motherhood (like last week when I found the girls sitting side by side, heads tilted towards each other, sitting in silence with little smiles on their faces on the glider together) or when I look down at my clothes when I get to work and realize there’s peanut butter on my dress or the time I actually full on forgot to put on any make-up (that’s never happened before!!!) Sharing the minutiae makes me feel like they’re part of my everyday life (most of them don’t live in New York). Also, I had a friend for a very long time and we drifted apart in our twenties and I still think about it. However, I believe that there are people only in your life for a season and even though it may be hard to let go, there’s nothing wrong with that. Very few things last forever, making the relationships that do even more special.

    1. So true about having friends for a season vs. life. I should consider myself lucky to have more than a few friends who have been around for decades! And, of course, sisters, who have been there from the start…


  7. This post hits at just the right time for me and resonates deeply. I have spent the weekend mulling over the slow dissolution of a friendship, initiated more from the other side than mine as best as I can tell, and have come to the conclusion that maybe it’s for the best. I too “find myself more serious, more measured, more drawn to the things that matter” and am grateful for a small circle of friends who sit with me and see me for who I am as I age. Thank you for this post and your writing.

    1. Hi Anna! So glad this hit you at the right time and resonated with you. I so feel for you — these dissolutions are so painful and vexing/confusing. But I think we have landed in the right spot.


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