I’ve had good friends, bad friends, absent friends, constant friends, careless friends and friends that are actually enemies in friend-clothing. UCLA published a study that suggests that girls are better at friendships, learning early how to bond and support one another. The study proposes that in times of intense stress, most women “tend and befriend”. In my experience, this bears true. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this makes girls the warm and fuzzy sex. I’ve seen girls generate more cruelty in the name of friendship than Steven King could pen in the scariest novel of human horror. Watch a 13-year-old “girl clique” in action and you will understand completely. And friendship abuse isn’t limited to adolescents, either. I’ve seen grown women that make these girls look like kittens with baby teeth. What makes the fairer sex so ruthless when it comes to dismantling the very relationships she built? And what makes the friendships go so terribly wrong?
Maybe one reason that women shred their friendships like quilt scraps is because of unfulfilled expectation. One thing I’ve learned from being married for what feels like seven hundred years is that in most cases the person I love can be guaranteed NOT to respond like me, act like me or even think like me. And from my extended stay in marriage-land, I’ve learned that even though this is a bit frustrating, it’s also pretty cool. Besides he’s a guy and I don’t even expect him to “get it”. Yet, girls often don’t extend the same generosity into friendships. FRIENDS are SUPPOSED to always be on your side, see things your way and generally agree with you all the time – even if you’re dead wrong. Right? Realistically, though, is that even possible? Sure, I back my friends and support them, but it’s not likely that I will agree with them all the time. Nor is it realistic to expect the same from them. Friends disagree. It’s a fact of life. And that can lead to hurt feelings, spiral into disappointment and end up in a place where claws are extended in a hissing contest.
I’ve also learned that in the grown-up land of kids, husbands, jobs and hair maintenance, our girlfriends often end up on the backburner of priorities and that can lead to some pretty frustrated expectations as well. For some, it only takes a week of “friendship neglect” to make the other feel completely abandoned, especially when communication breaks down. Of course the level of time that it takes to jump from being “besties” to feeling “kicked to the curb” is complicated. It depends a lot on the level of friendship involved, the maturity of the relationship and the insecurity of the one left waiting. For example, I have a best girlfriend and we talk almost every day – except when we don’t. This is a long, long friendship that has been around since dirt was created, so there’s not a lot of insecurity involved. If we lapse into a few weeks without contact, neither one of us resorts into ripping up each other’s photos and vowing retribution on the house of the other. However, I have other, newer friendships that don’t possess the same maturity. If they “disappear” for too long, I become a jelly-fish of anxiety wondering… “Does she still like me?” “Did I offend her?” “Does she think I’m too fat/stubborn/ugly to be my friend?” (OK, maybe that last one is another issue completely, but you get the idea.) After these question bubbles start forming, it’s just a short leap off the emotional diving board into downright infantile cattiness which at the least resorts into sticking out my tongue as her perky, little car drives past.
Another thing that is toxic to friendship is catty competition. This one is exceptionally destructive because it plays against our baser nature to try to “best” the rest of the gals in the room. “Besting” leads to jealousy which deteriorates relationship faster than salt on the undercarriage of a sedan. It’s insidious and mean-spirited at best, and at its worst brings out the very nastiest in human behavior. Instead of fostering a connection that feeds each other, it simply creates an environment of one-upmanship. I’ve seen this derail many a relationship.
Female friendships are complicated. At their best, they feed the soul and nurture the potential for greatness in each other. At their worst, they are… the worst. As we look at how friendships can go wrong, it’s easy to pick out preventions. Some of them are simple, such as a quick call or text to an absent friend to say, “I know I’ve been busy, but I miss you and promise we’ll get together soon”. Sometimes, it requires simply agreeing to disagree. And sometimes it’s taking the advice from our mother when she used to warn us to “play nice”. After all, unless your girlfriend just gave birth to a litter of puppies, you should never use the word “bitch” to her.