Aristotle said that "friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies."And while that certainly seems nice, a soul to go thrifting with would be nice too. But sometimes, it seems like even a shopping buddy is hard to find when you're an adult woman.
Many woman talk about why they find it so hard to make friends. They consider themselves loyal, approachable, sincere and genuine. But for some reason, they struggle with developing the kind of intimacy with other women that we all think should come naturally.
In kindergarten, I was best friends with a girl named Melissa. Or Danielle...I can't remember which. We climbed trees and had play dates and shared our sandwiches. Then one day we stopped being friends. I have no idea why. Clearly, we're not in touch. In middle school there was Melanie, who was my best friend on and off for a year until she graduated into the cool girls clique, leaving me behind. In high school there was Jennifer, an art major who was my best friend until I decided to date one of her classmates. Then she proceeded to ignore me for the rest of my life.
It has never been easy for me to make and keep female friends. As I progressed through school I learned that girls who were friends told and kept secrets. To be a friend, you had to know something private and hidden. And too often, your secrets were betrayed. There was boyfriend-stealing, public humiliations, and the horrible gut feeling of finding out on Monday morning that you hadn't been invited to what happened on Saturday night.
For a long time I saw women as mistrustful, gossipy harpies whose only intention was to undermine me and steal whatever success I'd accomplished. It didn't helped that I was teased mercilessly in my early years of school, and spent my adolescence competing with peers in music conservatory. As far as I was concerned, I was better off being alone. Whether the trouble was with boyfriends, academic or work achievements, or power struggles within our social strata, the most logical choice seemed to be for self-preservation, even if that meant I'd be lonely.
As I've gotten older, I've allowed myself to trust other women more. And thank goodness for that. The supportive, intimate qualities of female friendships are what makes them so valuable. And there are a slew of health and psychological benefits for having friends. A consistent and loyal social support system lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity and promotes healing. The very nurturing power of female friendship may help explain one of medical science's most enduring mysteries: why women, on average, have lower rates of heart disease and longer life expectancies than men.
"Women are much more social in the way they cope with stress," says Shelley E. Taylor, author of "The Tending Instinct" (Owl Books) and a social neuroscientist at UCLA. "Men are more likely to deal with stress with a 'fight or flight' reaction--with aggression or withdrawal." But aggression and withdrawal take a physiological toll, and friendship brings comfort that mitigates the ill effects of stress, Taylor says. That difference alone, she adds, "contributes to the gender difference in longevity."
I might always struggle with navigating female friendships, despite the benefits the relationships contain. I have a low threshold with feeling left out. I don't forgive easily. I become a tad bit competitive when I suspect that one of my closest friends is becoming equally close with someone else. I often wonder if I'm the only woman who wrestles with this. It seems like such a natural thing for some people. I am 37 years old, a mother of three, have had hundreds of different friends over my lifetime, and yet I am still not sure what female friendship looks like.
Is it talking to someone every day about work and what went on sale at Anthropologie?
Is it waiting a year to call someone but when you do it's as if no time has passed?
Is it feeling sorry about what you've said and wishing things could be taken back?
Is it feeling left out because you wasn't invited?
Is it sitting on the couch with a girlfriend watching Project Runway and eating popcorn and not having to carry a conversation?
Is it feeling jealous that your friend is friends with someone else?
I suppose the answer to all of these is yes. And as a black-and-white thinker, wrapping my head around such a complex picture of female friendship isn't so easy. In addition, as a friend, I have a tendency to be loud. I talk over people in my quest to show empathy and understanding. I overshare. I interrupt. I overEVERYTHING. I don't call enough. And I've heard from more than one person that the tattoo on my neck can be off putting.
But I can be a good friend, I think. I'm going to try harder. Being lonely stinks.
Do you have a lot of friends? Do you have just one or two that you confide in? Have you every struggled to navigate the somewhat complicated web of female friendships? Does making friends come naturally to you?
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