It's Sunday morning, and I'm up early before the natives have awoken. Typically, I would be running, but with my husband out of town, I instead find myself drinking my coffee, enjoying the quiet, and becoming lost in my thoughts. And once again, I thought that it might help me process these thoughts by writing...
I've been thinking a lot about friendships lately. I've written before, and have had many conversations with other woman, about the difficulty of forming real and lasting friendships with other females. I of course wrote that whole essay years ago about feminist theory, and panopticon prisons, and the mommy 'wars' that kind of outlined my thoughts on it, but the bottom line is that patriarchy has not only made many men in society mysoginists, it has also created us to be mysoginistic ourselves. We tend to overvalue qualities that we as a culture have labeled as 'masculine,' (aggressiveness, stoicism, competetivness) and undervalue those qualities that we've labeled 'feminine' (compassion, nurturing, patience). And so not only does it feel like we're all competing to be accepted by men, and by society, as something more than just 'a girl,' but we're also all competing with each other for those 'spots.' (As if they're is only a limited amount).
A lot of this of course then involves low self-esteem, insecurity and jealousy... something that our culture seems to cultivate all too well in women and girls. Most of the standards that are set, by media sources (TV, magazines, advertising) and by ourselves, are completely unattainable and unrealistic. And yet, so many of us continue to strive for those standards, thinking we're going to impress others by getting there. But as I've seen in myself, and in others, this ends up ultimately just breeding anxiety, and self-doubt, and worst of all... contempt in other women. This contempt brews its ugly head in a variety of ways, not the least of which is in passive-aggressive forms through female friendships.
I think we've all probably been there. No woman has gone her entire life without having at least one 'frenemy,' if not more, in their past. These are the friends that generally do a better job of putting you down, rather than building you up. They secretly like to watch you fail. They become competitive with you, over small and ridiculous things. You find them constantly trying to 'one-up' you, or passive-aggressively pay you a compliment, that is really a put-down. For whatever reason, they are jealous and insecure, and have made you the target of their own self-loathing. It's difficult to hold a conversation with them, without it become all.about.them. They don't celebrate victories or accomplishments with you, but instead try to either belittle by using sarcasm or, again, compete by making it about themselves. Friendships for them are solely about feeding their own ego, and nothing else. There is a lot of taking, and little to no giving.
When I was younger, I think these friendships were more predominant because of our age. We were teenagers, and so it was kind of a hallmark to be selfish, and manipulative, and insecure. I mean I'm not saying that its okay, and I certainly hope that my own daughters become confident enough teenagers that this isn't just a given, but... I think some of it is to be expected in high school. There is still some emotional immaturity there that has to work itself out. (This is not to say that I didn't have some really great friendships in high school; friendships that were so good that they've followed me into adulthood, and that I value immensely). As I got into college and early adulthood, female friendships got better, but I was surprised how much the 'frenemies' continued to remain. Cultivating very real and genuine friendships with other women was a lot harder than I had imagined it could be. There so many times seemed to be that underlying element of insecurity and jealousy that didn't allow for any true emotional connection.
As a mother, it became less difficult to meet other women for friendships, and more difficult to maintain them. It seemed that the insecurity and jealousy didn't begin to falter over time, but was only heightened by this new role of becoming a mother. Again, I can (and have!) written an entire essay on the 'mommy wars.' (There have been entire books, and television shows, and magazine articles devoted to the mommy wars!). My general feel for it is that motherhood, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is THE most important job we will ever have. And I don't think anyone can argue that the pressures and expectations put on us by our culture as mothers are insurmountable. There is a reason the 'supermom' complex exists. Our 'performance' as such, then becomes pretty valuable to us. Not only because of these expectations, but also because we're held responsible for the outcomes! It only makes sense then that if I can point to other women who I don't believe are parenting well, then it will make me feel better as a parent to point that out and degrade them for it (either internally or externally). Same premise as before, just amplified. And so, in motherhood, the 'frenemies' seemed to abound.
As I got older, I got more adept at picking out the 'frenemies' early on, and weeding them out right away. I was lucky enough to find many women who weren't going to be catty, and malicious, and competitive, and found a wonderful nurturing little community with them. I made the mistake unfortunately then of trying to befriend someone who was clearly a 'frenemy' in every way shape and form. I guess I saw a small window that I could potentially help influence this person, and have her see what it was like to be in a supportive and empowering friendship. This was of course, not only incredibly presumptious of me, but also incredibly naive. I totally should've known better. I was never going to be able to give more than this person could take, and I was taking a beating in the process. Some people can hold toxic people like that in their lives, and not be affected. I am not one of those people. I don't like the energy. I am a social worker that deals with dysfunction and personality disorders all day long. On some level though, I felt I should be able to maintain a friendship that involved me not expecting anything from the other person. But it's draining, and unhealthy. And in the end, I couldn't forego my own mental health to try to be 'friends' with someone who just couldn't overcome being jealous and insecure about me. I made a decision when I was dating that a relationship wasn't worth it if I was continually feeling I needed to change the other person to make it work. I need to heed that wisdom in my friendships as well.
As I've mentioned, since I've began running again, my community of friendships has grown and I have been pleasantly surprised and incredibly thankful for all the women currently in my life who are genuinely invested in my happiness, and who are happy to share in my victories, and support me during my failures. But most important, they are also willing to kick me in the ass when I need it, and tell me when they think I'm wrong. Not all of these friendships are created equal, and I won't even begin to pretend they are. Of course I'm closer to some of these friends than I am others, and I get different needs met by each one. There are about 2-3 women in my life who I share everything with, but I truly value all of the other friendships that I have, all for different reasons. It's not about padding egos, or implicit support, nor is it about bringing each other down or being competitive. It's that great middle area of being supportive when needed, but also pushing and challenging each other to grow. In other words, its how I would define genuine friendship.