I Enjoy Being A Girl — Getting Along with Women and Female Friendships
‘Let kindness win,’ a friend of mine wrote recently on facebook when posting pictures of the start of school for our middle school age daughters. I hear, see and feel both the anxiety of moms who have ‘been there’ and know what it’s like to navigate female friendships at this age, as well as witnessing the awkward identity exploration that my own kid is living. I guess I’ve been thinking about female friendships lately.
But it’s not just kid friendships I’ve been thinking about. Adults too. Another woman I know — a leader in my community in the area of racial equity, who really puts herself out there in vulnerable ways, lamented in the past week about the way competition, conformity, and conditional connection impact women’s (white progressive women in particular) relationships.
A part of me recognizes that this dysfunction in women’s friendships is founded in some reality. Yet, I also find myself irritated that women have a reputation (even among ourselves) for being fickle, critical, backbiting or petty, because the larger part of me doesn’t find this to be true, or that it is an oversimplification. It’s not that I haven’t had negative or stereotypical experiences with women’s friendships — for me, these were in the teen/early 20s years, and I am sure I was at the time, also trying to find my way to myself and my own sense of identity.
Since being an ‘adult’, I’ve found that my friendships and even acquaintance relationships with women have been full of generosity and kindness, moments of deep honesty, and also deeply hilarious moments. But I hear from other women that this is not always the case. If you are concerned about your female friendships or the way women relate to one another in the workplace, as volunteers, friends, etc., I share a few pieces of my personal experience as food for thought.
1. I don’t like being part of a group or clique. I love my friends and some of them are part of a group or clique, but I prefer being on the periphery of that. I think I am just that amount introverted. I also really appreciate having friends in a variety of areas — friends from growing up, friends from the neighborhood, friends from work, friends who are writers. I think this has added to my positive experiences of women friends and I’ve found that I have not been required to conform.
2. As an adult, I have let go of whether I am liked, and I am much more interested in liking other people. I’ve written about that before — as a human being, regardless of gender, I find it transformative to look for what is loveable and likeable in others and appreciate that. Even people who, on the surface, seem to annoy me. I know that people who annoy me might be entirely loveable to someone else and if I need to get along with that person on a team or in a friend group, I will be more at peace if I look for what is likeable/loveable in them. I also recognize that on rare occasions, someone might be really toxic. In that case, I don’t try to change them or talk bad about them. I simply minimize my contact with that person.
3. I am genuinely happy for the achievements of my women friends. I believe there is enough of everything to go around — there’s enough love to go around. There are enough achievements and accolades to go around. I am PROUD — beyond proud — and energized by what the women I know are out in the world doing. Being moms, running businesses, living overseas, going back to work, leading community organizations, changing faith organizations. Go Friends! Go Women!
4. I try to practice being a good listener. And I try to practice having hard, awkward conversation in a gentle way. Being able to communicate about tough stuff makes relationships better. My sister told me, when she was about 19 and I was about 23, “You have to quit treating me like a child.” It was a pivotal moment and not easy, because it was true. She said it and I could hear it.
I also remember one of my hospice patients asked, “How will I die? Will you sit down and tell me what will happen to my body and what it will feel like for me?” I sat on the side of her bed, while she patted my leg in a grandmotherly gesture, and I said to her, “I don’t know exactly, but if you want me to tell you the best I can guess, I will tell you.” “Yes,” she said. And I did. And she said, “You are good at your job.”
Practicing talking about hard things in a truthful, but kind way makes all our relationships better.
5. I am not finished growing, and I hope I never will be, but I try to be clear about what I’m about and who I am. I know that some people think I’m wishy washy or that my blog might be a place for me to take a more strident stand, but I guess that the spiritual part of me strongly believes that to combat hate, we need warriors and healers. We need translators. We need teachers.
What does this have to do with being female? Or getting along with other women? Maybe this addresses the conformity issue again and maybe competition — I believe we need all kinds of women and men who are good at different things. I don’t need you to be like me.
6. I see other people’s husband’s and boyfriend’s as 100% off limits. When I was in my 20s I cheated on a boyfriend. I felt so crappy and awful about my actions. And that was me cheating. I also deeply know what it is like to be betrayed. The whole thing is a mess. I’ve found that the thrill of sexual attraction is an unpredictable power. It is most often a short term thrill that can have long term consequences. Maybe because of working in hospice, I have a strong long-term perspective. I hope that makes sense.
7. I try to be understanding of the ebbs and flows of friendship and closeness. It’s not that I haven’t felt the sting of friendships that were once close and then seem not to be. That is an awful sting. But I try to remember that people have their own stuff going on that probably has nothing to do with me. And if it has to do with me, a really good friend will find a way to tell me in a kind way. And I will try to give that respect to my friends too. One of my dearest friends found herself talking negatively about another friend more frequently than she was comfortable with. She told me, “I believe I am a better friend to that woman by NOT being her friend.” I thought that was so wise.
So those are some aspects of my adult experience with women’s friendships and relationships and what guides or influences me that I think have opened very enriching personal and professional relationships for me.
When I graduated from college, I spent one week at home and then drove with my mother across the country to Washington, D.C. for a job. I was moving into a Georgetown townhouse with three guys. Mom, I’m sure, had some concerns about moving me into a house with three guys, but if she did, she kept it to herself. One was my friend from college who was a year older and the other two were friends of his. I lived with those guys about 8 months before my best girl friend from St. Louis moved to DC and I moved in with her at that point. But I loved living with those guys. We ate Dominoes pizza every Sunday and watched football, they took me everywhere and knew about all things ‘DC.’ I was the youngest and least responsible. I don’t think I did chores without cajoling. You know the disco song, “It’s ladies’ night and the feelings right?” They used to sing it to me once a week on trash night, “You know it’s ladies’ night and the feeling’s right. It’s ladies’ night — TAKE OUT THE TRASH!” This was their nudge (which I found so funny), that I should do a little work.
I’ve always had guy friends who are very important to me. But, I am not a guys’ girl. I am a girls’ girl. What I mean is, if I had to pick a team — I really think I’m lucky to be a woman.
I hope this isn’t oversimplifying, but I think that the things that go wrong with women’s friendships, that seem stereotypical — things like competition, or psychological punishment are often part of a greater human struggle. The struggle to be loved, to feel powerful or important, to be seen. I think men grapple with these things too, but their tools may be different. Perhaps less subtle (take out the trash!).
As I was telling my son that I was writing a blog about female friendships in response to some of my recent observations, my Young Naysayer/ENTP said, “Are you going to blame toxic masculinity and the Patriarchy?”
I said, “No, I’m going to blame Capitalism.”
“You’re a gross person, Mom” he said.
And you know what my daughter said? “I love it, Mom. This will be the best one you’ve ever written.”