sup girl?: my issue with female friendships.

by Erica

I hate to even admit this, but I was once one of those girls. You know the kind. The girls who sit in the corner at parties, maliciously snickering about every other woman in attendance, criticizing them from head-to-toe. The only comments they can manage to muster are along the lines of, That girl should not be in those jeans and Does she really think that streaky mess on her head looks cute? all in a vain attempt to make themselves feel superior.

For years, I didn’t see a problem with acting this way. I thought it was normal. In fact, I thought every other female in the room was thinking the same awful, judgmental thoughts about moi.

Don’t ask how, but I still had female friends in those days–and quite a few, actually. But a lot of those friendships were based on mutual shit-talkin’ and hatin’. We would sit around & gossip & talk smack about other women, going as far as saying horrible things about our “friends” who weren’t around. We constantly called each other “bitches” and “whores” and “sluts.” At the time I felt sort of empowered using those words. I thought it was very feminist of me & I believed I was just “reclaiming” the words that many a man had nonchalantly thrown at me for years. They were just words, right?

I didn’t make the connection that true feminists probably wouldn’t even think those words about other women.

Miraculously, I forged a few special bonds despite my cattiness (and severe case of social anxiety, which I’ve mentioned). What was funny and unusual about my social anxiety was that I wasn’t particularly nervous around the opposite sex. In fact, I found them extremely easy to get along with. I knew how to flirt. I knew how to bat my eyelashes, tease and bend over when asking for things (yeah, I know). That stuff came easily, naturally. But put another woman in the mix and I immediately shut down. Even if there was only one other girl in attendance, I felt like I couldn’t relax and be myself. If the girl-in-question wasn’t a part of my tight little clique, I instantly felt we were “different” from each other. I became automatically defensive and stand offish, assuming she was scrutinizing my every move (when really, I was the one who was doing that to her!). I felt like other women could see right through me. I just felt very exposed, like my deepest insecurities were on display. It was all very unnerving, and not very conducive to having a healthy self esteem, let alone healthy relationships with others.

I eventually realized there were four main reasons I was unable to connect with other women:
1) I was extremely insecure. The prettier the woman in question, the higher my anxiety.
2) I felt ten million times more vulnerable around women than men. I understood men (or so I believed, anyway). I “knew” that they didn’t much pay attention to details and that a lot of things could slip under the radar around them. But I was convinced that women were remarkably more perceptive. Plus, I had quite a guilty conscience. I thought they were all judging me the same way I judged them. In my own defense, though, I only had my own experiences to draw from, so how could I have known better?
3) I had been hurt by a lot of women in my past, in far deeper ways than I had been hurt by men. Yes, ex-boyfriends had left me heartbroken, but only temporarily. When close friends stole boyfriends or dropped off the planet with no goodbye–that stuff hurt worse. I unconsciously developed a sort of “wall” around my emotions and sharing them in a friendship situation.
4. I lacked a stable, loving, female figure in my life. I never had women in my home or family who treated me nicely or respected me, let alone complimented me or gave me their approval. I think that took its toll on my mind as well. In a way, I yearned for approval from a woman, but as we all know, when we want something that bad it becomes elusive to us.

My issues with women definitely got worse before they got better. Toward the end of college, after almost 10 years of wall-building, I wasn’t able to engage in any type of “girl talk” at all. Whenever the conversation shifted to anything emotional, from sex to relationships or even shopping (!), I felt panicky. God forbid a friend want to drunkenly confess her love of me, to me. My heart would pound and a lump would grow in my throat. Consequently, the prospect of making new girl friends was out of the question and I shied away from the few I had held on to.

I just couldn’t engage with females on that level anymore.

What about now? Well, I’m out of college, which helped diminished the last lingering feelings of cattiness. I’m in a sort of recovery phase at this point. Now that I have recovered significantly from my GAD and depersonalization, I am trying very hard to resurrect the friendships that were lost or damaged during my temporary emotional-freeze. I’m re-examining my habits and sketching out a plan for reconnecting with other women. I think the first step is opening myself up to women who I once felt safe around, again.First and foremost, I need to be reminded what it feels like to have a close, female friend.

I also think that developing my own self esteem is key. The jealousy I used to feel around other women (hence the bitchy snickering) has subsided, but I’m definitely still quite intimidated by any woman I believe is more attractive, successful or skinnier than me. It seems childish, but it is almost second nature to size myself up against every woman I come in contact with.

I also want to quit avoiding places I think I’ll meet more women. We take up a lot of space on this planet, I’ve realized.

But I’ve learned an important lesson about friendship through all of this. There is an almost magical quality to female friendships. The feeling I get when I connect with a new friend is similar to the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of falling for a man. Plus, I like knowing that when women befriend you, you can count on the fact that they genuinely like your personality–something that can’t always be said for guys who want to hang out with (read: eventually bang) you. Bonus!

I’m not alone in feeling this specialness. The following article was originally published in Psychology Review in 2000 & discusses a UCLA study about the relevance of female friendships:

“A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. They
shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are.

…Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women. It’s a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research – most of it on men – upside down. “

Don’t get me wrong–I love hanging out with guys & still find it easier, but guys just don’t get stuff like tampons and cat-calling and dealing with jealous ex-boyfriends. When I make a good female friend, I treasure her immensely because it takes so much for me to open up to women and the bond I feel with girl friends is just so real and honest. I’ve never been 100 percentmyself around a man (guys really don’t like talking about Sex & the City or gyno visits, I’ve found), but my good girl friends have seen all the good, bad and the ugly. Talking to my best friend on the phone for a half hour every day beats just about everything (though cookie dough ice cream comes in a close second and she accepts it).

Call me a romantic (cause I am) but I truly believe that relationships are what make life so perfect. Not only do they make us feel safe, protected, accepted and loved, they’re good for our health. Win-win.

It’s probably going to be a long road for me. I haven’t had many positive female relationships in my life, but I can say with confidence–and conviction–that they are what I want more than anything in my life right now. I’m willing to do work if that’s what it takes to have the up-all-night-laughing-and-drinking-red-wine-and-talking-about-everything friendships back, because that closeness? That’s what all of this is all about.

And, like Chris McHandless (Into the Wild) supposedly wrote: “Happiness is only real when shared.”

True that, woman.

erica lee

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