A good friend of mine once told me a story about an ex best friend and her who’d had a bitter and upsetting fall out. I don’t know why the story always stuck in my mind – maybe I resonated with it a bit. Either way, we were walking through the train station, when she told me that she had recently read an article comparing the turmoil of falling out with a best friend, to grief. The article discussed the importance of recognising that a major relationship in your life has effectively died. “As with any death”, she told me, “you need to mourn it.” I always dress in black anyway.
But I wondered, is there an element of truth in the matter? Female relationships vary vastly to the male counterparts. For example – guys tend to have the same friends for pretty much their entire life (of course – I’m speaking generally and there will always be exceptions to this). Their bond is cemented in early childhood and before you know it, thirty years has passed and they are still hanging out watching football; talking about cars or whatever it is they’re into. Yes – girls often too have friends that they met in early childhood and the friendship continues through adulthood, but I can’t help but feel that female friendships are much more tumultuous and complicated. Why though? What is the underlying factor?
In popular book, ‘Men Are From Mars’, author John Gray compares women’s emotional stability to waves, and says that periodically women sink into a depression in which they prepare to go through some sort of emotional cleansing. During this time, women – who, effectively bond through talking and sharing advice – rely on support from their female friends. A certain vulnerability comes from exposing your rawest emotions and truest thoughts or feelings to a best friend, but in doing so, the bond between the two women is strengthened. But what happens then, when the relationship breaks down and the trust is broken? That girl, the one who knows your biggest fear snd regrets, the one who saw you at your most vulnerable times, the girl who know’s exactly what pushes your emotional buttons (because she knows you so well), is now now no longer speaking to you. She’s practically a loaded gun: the ammunition being everything you ever confided in her, and you wait anxiously to see if it could be used against you.
Maybe it’s one of those monumental fights, where all connection is cut off instantaneously. Or maybe it’s a long drawn out affair, where the two are drifting apart the way a log drifts out to sea. Eitherway, both can hurt equally, and I challenge you to find one girl in the world who hasn’t endured this at at least one stage of their life. All of a sudden, there is no-one to message, “remember the time we…?” or anyone to send a screenshot of that hilarious thing you just saw on the internet. Maybe your social life is on the back burner because, not only do you not have her to socialise with, but the fall out has sent shockwaves across the rest of the friend circle, leaving you feeling even more isolated. So, why shouldn’t we compare it to grief? It is a loss after all. If this sounds like I am writing a post about breakups, then it’s because it might as well be, such is the pain and hurt that it’s practically on a par. Maybe even worse, since it’s not uncommon for girls to bitch and put one another down, particularly when in male company; girls will often do anything to make themselves look more attractive in the company of men.
The brutality of girls is that they seldom fight with fists and are more likely to fight with their words. While physical wounds heal, emotional wounds are more likely to invisible scars. Girls tend to be more finely attuned to sensing other’s emotions due to some kind of evolutional trait – and coupled with female hormones, you get the gist…
Another friend mentioned a similar dilemma. She had recently changed career direction by resigning from a successful job in law to pursue a degree in fashion, against the advice of her friends and family. An old long term friend, jumped on the bandwagon and applied to the same course. “This was MY thing. For once in my life, I wanted to do something that was important to me – these were my dreams and ideas, not hers, and then she comes along to steal the thunder. It was like she imagined how successful I could be, or all of the potential fun that I might have, and she couldn’t bear to miss out.” My friend should have been at her most confident and proud of her bravery to pursue academic success in a field that she had only dreamt of before, but instead she was overshadowed by her naturally creative friend who seemingly sailed through life. Worse than that is they are now even more integrated in one another’s lives due to the fact that they take daily lectures and modules together, liaising frequently on group projects. My friend cannot take vital time out to assess her feelings as their social circles are even more entwined than they were before. As she told me, I felt incredulous on her behalf.
“It’s by no means a competition.” she assures me, it’s nothing like that. But I can’t help but recall my own personal experiences, and my feelings of inadequacy in certain situations. I recalled the opinions of Nigerian author and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who says,
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”
You’ll probably recognise this quote – it was featured on Beyonce’s Flawless, track, and I’ll preach that quote ’til I am blue in the face. An old colleague of mine once offered me a pearl of wisdom. “It’s only a competition if you make it one.” And she is right. However, even that friendship began to turn competitive in the end. Unfortunately, we no longer speak to one another because things turned a bit sour in the workplace after I was offered the role that she wanted. I was sad about that for a time, because prior to my promotion, I had considered us friends.
A friendship ultimately is still a relationship, and just like a relationship, it takes work from both parties involved. Every friendship has it’s own share of ups & downs. I think it’s important to take a step back from time to time, (and why not – it’s not uncommon to do so in romantic relationships! Why should a friendship be any different when they share so many similarities?). It’s important to do things on your own because the things you enjoy doing give you an identity and it’s these interests that differentiate you from your inseparable best friend. It’s these aspects of your personality that make you, you – not your best friend. In the worst case scenario, if you and a friend always do everything together, what else is there for you if that friendship diminishes? There is such a thing as being too intertwined. I believe that it’s THIS which is the true catalyst for competitiveness and bitchyness when a friendship turns sour. People do not like to feel threatened or inadequate and by doing everything the same, we can tell ourselves it’s just because we do not want FOMO (fear of missing out). We do not always admit to ourselves that we could be doing it, not because we are overly interested in it, but because we are scared that our friends will be better than us at it, and as a result our bestie will make new friends or change their direction of their life, with no space left for us.
To wrap it up, I think that as girls, we need to close the door on all those ex-files and call it a learning curve. Focus on what we enjoy by ourselves, so that we can root for our girlfriends and be proud of their achievements. The only person I want to compete with, is myself so, if we love our best friends for the reasons that they are different from us without being intimidated by them, then surely harmony will ensue. It’s often said that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself. Fix that first, and everything else will fall into place.
And before I hit my thirties, I am going to be a little bit more selective about what I divulge about myself in my friendships. Never mind “Protect ‘yo neck”, I’m all about “Protect ‘yo heart.”