Galentine’s Day: Celebrate the love of female friendships

Article by Wendy Tuohy /
Herald-Sun /
February 09, 2019  /
Click here to view original /

The newish festival of Galentine’s Day is fast taking root, giving girlfriends a special day to mark all that is fabulous about female friendship

IT’S the idea that took way too long to happen, but now it’s here, gal groups everywhere are running with it. Galentine’s Day, the day before Valentine’s Day, is the TV trend that became reality and gives girlfriends the chance to celebrate the pure joy — and substance — of female friendship.

It started when Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the lead in cult TV hit Parks and Recreation, declared February 13 the day to get your close lady friends together and take time out, whether you’re partnered or not, to mark the value of great friends.

Her description says it all: “Oh, it’s only the best day of the year. Every February 13th, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come out and kick it, breakfast-style. Ladies celebrating ladies.” Though only a few years old, Galentine’s Day is taking off here, too, with a big Victorian winemaker running an inaugural weekend of events, and a Parks and Rec-inspired trivia night in Sydney with all the trimmings — including the breakfast waffles beloved by Leslie and her TV squad — just two of the events on offer.

In essence, though, Galentine’s is not about attending structured events, but just getting together to cherish friendships that add real meaning to life. That Leslie and her gang chose breakfast as the format reflects its simple intention: no fuss, all fun.

Girls’ wellbeing educator and author Dannielle Miller goes so far as to issue a formal invitation to her “Galentine’s” high tea with the girlfriends she describes as soulmates.

“My spirit animal, Leslie Knope, declared that before Valentine’s Day, all the fabulous ladies should gather and bask in lady-love,” Miller says.

“It’s like Valentine’s Day, only instead of celebrating the love you have for your significant other, you spend it with your best girlfriends, who are, after all, your soulmates and therefore deserve a holiday all to themselves.” She has 10 girlfriends at her get-together — “that’s how many I can fit at the table”.

“I love the occasion and think particularly because I am single there is a cultural assumption that you don’t have a lot of love in your life when the reality is quite different,” she says. “There are always ways you can feel loved and connect with other people.

“The loneliest I’ve ever been in life has been when I was in the wrong relationships. For me, you have to make the effort to make strong connections and nurture your relationships, particularly with women, as those will be a way for you to feel known, understood and supported.” Miller goes out of her way to foster valuable friendships, “and Galentine’s is a lovely way to acknowledge that sisterhood, the connection; as a single girl that means an extraordinary amount to me, my girlfriends play an enormous role in my life”.

Melbourne friends, publicists Jodi Croker and Susie Robinson and content creator Sonia Rendigs, are celebrating their first Galentine’s Day this year. They see it as a symbol of the power of female friendship to support, enrich and augment their lives.

Like so many other women, they often make a point of stopping the clock and stepping out of routine just to celebrate what their friendship means and how it enhances their quality of life.

“It’s important to interrupt life from time to time, to put the handbrake on and just have a moment to have a bit of a laugh, just talk about nothing and everything,” Rendigs says.

“Your girlfriends are the family you get to pick really, they will not let you fall, no matter what goes on.” While romantic love and commitment are celebrated on February 14, Robinson says the “trust, candour and honesty” of deep female friendships are worth marking on a day of their own.

“What do our friendships add to life? Such great security, knowing someone’s there as a sounding board and knowing they’re going to give you good, honest feedback and explore and unpack things deeply with you if you call them with an issue, personal or professional,” Robinson says.

“It’s not just all about the good times and drinking champagne and having fun, it’s also those times when you call them and say, ‘This has happened, what do you think, how would you approach it?’ ” Crocker sums up the protectiveness that is also a hallmark of fantastic female friendships, and worth toasting.

“I’m surprised at the ferocity with which I will defend them, I’m like a mother bear and her cubs,” Crocker says. “I’ve walked from dinner tables, I’ve completely ceased speaking to people after they’ve said certain things about friends. I just don’t tolerate people I care about being mistreated.” She says celebrating female friendships that mean the world is part of going the extra mile to ensure they stay strong.

“My mother always said, ‘It’s less crowded along the extra mile’, and this has been such a guiding force for me in business and in my friendships,” Crocker says. “We would, without question, always go that extra mile for each other and that can be expressed in a multitude of ways and even if time passes between us, we know when we need to step in or step up.

“We trust each other, and have the courage to tell each other if we are disappointed or struggling and take comfort it will be heard in confidence. In some cases, we don’t have to say anything at all.” Rendigs describes what friendships like hers with Crocker and Robinson bring to her life in a way many women would recognise.

“It’s that feeling of a safety net; of always knowing somebody’s got my back in a very non-judgmental, very supportive and honest fashion. It’s an unspoken, unwritten bond that no matter what happens, they’re there.” Psychologist Heather Gridley says Galentine’s is a great idea, and the female equivalent of celebrating “bromances”, which have also become popular.

“I think anything that celebrates that there’s more than one way to have relationships is a good thing,” Gridley says.

“Because certainly Valentine’s Day can be very miserable for people who would like to be in a relationship but are not, and even if you are in a relationship, it can be difficult.” She says having “a diversity of relationships is often good”, but the number of those friendships is not as important as their quality.

Gridley attests that while not all women are fortunate to enjoy a group of deep and rich friendships, those who are in high-functioning female friendships benefit greatly from the mutual support through the most difficult life stages, including losses of a parent, partner, child or another friend.

She says the “Galentine’s” concept is positive, as, like “friendsmas” (the Christmas alternative where people spend time with dear friends, rather than family) it gives people “different ways to celebrate with the people who mean the most to you, and to give yourself time to reflect (with them)”.

“As long as it doesn’t get too commercialised and ‘compulsory’, which puts pressure on the notion, it’s a great idea,” Gridley says.

For Melbourne University academic and pop culture commentator Dr Lauren Rosewarne, the place of female friendships in the culture is “the glue that keeps us sane, and which reminds us that the endless stream of problems caused by men aren’t just in our heads”.

She cites research substantiating that people who have strong bonds and quality relationships with others live longer and are happier.

“Friendships with women remind us that we’re not alone; that often very gendered experiences we have in relationships, within families, in the workplace and in public life are not endured alone,” Rosewarne says.

“Knowing there are people out there who know you, love you, who can bring you chicken soup when you’re ill and hold your hair back when you’re ill are reassurances — and quality-of-life enhancers — that money can’t buy.” As for what goes on at the average Galentine’s event, Dannielle Miller says at the one she held last year, a high tea at a lovely city hotel, friends enjoyed “a very ladylike” cuppa where everything from work-life balance, the value of having a sisterhood of friends, feminism and some personal issues that could do with the input of trusted friends were on the table.

“We all left feeling we’d been really affirmed but also had a great opportunity to be really authentic and express some of the things we find challenging and really battle with — but in a safe space,” she says.

About half the girlfriends who attended had partners.

Perhaps as a sign that Galentine’s is starting to take root, some marketers have begun creating campaigns around giving female friends experiences to share together.

Winemaker Brown Brothers is holding a series of events designed to be enjoyed by girlfriends next weekend.

“It’s the first year we’ve celebrated Galentine’s Day,” the company’s public relations manager Caroline Brown says.

The company chose Galentine’s over Valentine’s this year.

“We have called out Valentine’s Day in the past through social media, but we’ve never made it a big deal. So many people ditch Valentine’s Day, or shut it out if they don’t have a special someone, but it’s a great time to get together with your friends and celebrate.” The Milawa vineyards will host picnics so Galentines can grab a hamper and lunch in the grounds, hold flower crown workshops run by a florist from nearby Rutherglen, have “yoga in the vines” sessions and a “pedal-to-produce” bike ride around local producers and gourmet foodmakers, with Galentines grabbing snacks along the way.

As a down-home, and fun-based way to celebrate the love, wisdom, fun and steadfastness of the women in your life, no doubt even Leslie Knope would approve