Monday, June 4, 2012

Female Friendships

Dear Amber

Being long term friends with other women has always been tough for me.  I tend to place high expectations on those I surround myself with and am quick to drop people from my life when they don't meet those expectations.  As a human, I have failed to find the joy in having friends who have differing opinions than myself.  'Tis a shame considering I am a Social Worker and regularly encourage diversity amongst organizations and in various social circles.  I'm just not sure how it all works and am concerned I will upset people with my opinions, then I feel's a vicious cycle--I can just go along with you but then it's not really a friendship is it?  I also tend to be a jealous person, don't like when one of my friends likes someone else better than me (very 12 year old/middle school 'esque, I know) but I just can't get past it.  I prefer esclusivity, but it isn't healthy.  I know that I should have all types of friends who fill different roles in my life, but that's just too many people for me to stay connected.  I also know that at different times in our lives we need different types of friends and I hope that I have been that friend to those who've needed it.  I've never been a bridesmaid and that bothers me so...I've been a bride (twice to be exact) but never a bridesmaid.  Is this the "proof is in the pudding" that I suck at friendship? 

I've generally had better friendships with women who are at least 20 years older than me.  Younger women tend to get on my nerves, their lack of self sacrifice is often bothersome.  What's really annoying is that I was probably like that in my early 20's as well, I likely would've annoyed myself terribly!  So, I'm struggling.

1.  How do you make "friends?"  and how do you know they have your best interests at heart?  I always assume that people have my best interest, only to be bamboozled later that they were phoney.  :(

2.  How do you maintain these friendships so that both women are getting what they need from each other?

3.  How can you be friends with someone who has distinctly differing opinions on important issues as well as not so important issues?

4.  What is it about my friendship "style" that seems repulsive? 

Dear Sarah,

First, let me say that I can completely understand your issue.

As I'm sure you remember from when we were kids, I was quite the tomboy.  By the time I got to high school, I usually had one best girlfriend and the rest of my close friends were boys.  My best girlfriend and I would typically be inseparable.  So much so in fact that at one point my parents apparently even had suspicions that I was a lesbian!

Want to know what broke me of this cycle and helped me learn how to be friends with lots of other women:  sororities.

Yes, people make fun of sororities and sorority girls.  Sorority girls (or the degrading nickname...sorostitutes) are described as slutty, stuck up, snobby, spoiled, stupid, mean, catty....  But the truth was, yes, there were some slutty girls in my sorority, some snobby ones, some ditzy ones, some bitchy ones, and some spoiled rich girls (I'll leave it to your imagination which one I might have been. ;)  But there were also virgins (waiting for marriage), super sweet ones, friendly ones, hard working ones (who managed to work two jobs, go to school full time, and be active in the sorority), sporty ones, married ones, ones who were there on scholarship...we had it all!

I was one of those people who swore I'd never join a sorority because I didn't "need to buy my friends."  But once I got sucked in (in all began because I was recruited to play on their intramural softball team), my only regret is not joining sooner!  I can't explain exactly how being a Chi Omega taught me to have girlfriendships, except to say that you didn't have much choice.  You spent most of your non working, non class time with your "sisters" at events (social, educational, and charitable), so you had to learn to get a long with them.  And while I wasn't best friends with all of them, I genuinely liked 90% of them.  And ten years after graduation, two of my three best friends today are my sorority sisters.  They stood by my side when I got married and have been with me through the ups and downs of life, as I like to think they'd say I've been there for them.

My other best friend I've known since high school.  And we actually didn't speak for many years while I was in college.  In fact, you could say we "broke up" because we went from being inseparable to getting in a fight and not talking anymore (just like you would a boyfriend).  But years later, we thankfully put aside the past and rekindled our friendship, and I do feel I owe much of our relationship now to again, learning to have healthy female relationships in college.

But to answer your specific questions:

1. I feel like it is very difficult to make friends as an adult.  Firstly, many people already have their good/best friends from highschool/college, etc, so often they aren't really looking to add new friends to their busy lives.  Oh, and they usually have pretty busy lives between work, kids, etc.

As far as being bamboozled, I would give this advice: most people can't put up appearances long.  People who don't have your best interests at heart, generally show their true colors sooner rather than later.  I'd advice you to not open up too quickly or get too emotionally invest too soon.  I know this is a hard one, because I know I tend to do the same thing.  I'm constantly having to remind myself to slow it down.  (So like dating, isn't it!)

2. I really don't know this one.  With my good friends, I kind of depend on them to let me know if they aren't getting what they need from me.  And I try to kindly let them know what I need from them.  I'd say this just takes time and patience.  But first and foremost I try to lead by example.  I can't expect them to be the kind of friend I want unless I am first that friend to them.  But if they don't reciprocate or take advantage, I'm quick to reassess if the friendship is worth pursuing.

3. This is really hard.  As you know, I'm a pretty die-hard liberal (minus a few controversial issues, which we've discussed ;) and two of my best friends are firmly conservative.  My best way to deal with it: we really just don't discuss politics.  This has been mostly successful.

My big issue: I have trouble being friends with someone if I don't like their parenting skills.  I think my three best friends are wonderful moms!!  I would trust any single one of them to raise my kids if something should ever happen to me.  But I have literally stopped pursuing friendships with women whose parenting methods I severely objected to.  I

4. I think you are being too hard on yourself.  There is nothing wrong with your style, you just haven't found the right friend yet.  I KNOW.  I've been there!!  I've been living in back in Bloomington for three years now, and I have just within the last few months developed what I would call a close friendship with a woman.  Every other woman I've met and liked has not worked out for some reason or another (usually plain and simple lack of time, since they usually work and have kids!).  And I was taking it REALLY personally that the other women didn't like me, but I've decided that it's not that (and I'm sticking to it), but that it's that they don't have any energy or time left in their schedule to fit me in.

My good friend I've finally made after 3 my next door neighbor.  She literally lives right next door.  So neither one of us has to make much effort to see one another.  Our friendship started very easily be just bumping in to one another outside while our kids were playing together.  Before we knew it, we ended up talking for two hours.  Every time we'd both be outside, we'd talk a little more, slowly getting to know one another.  Then she found out I played softball as a teenager, and joined Superman and I to join the co-ed team she and her husband play on.  The next thing I knew our families were going out to dinner together, taking trips to the lake together, and spending our evening sitting in the front yard together gossiping about the neighborhood.  But would we have becomes such good friends if she didn't live right next door?  If I had to drive across town to her house to chat.  Probably not.

And that is the problem with making friends as adults.  In school we had plenty of time to get to know lots of other people, but as we get older, we meet less people.  And the people we do meet and like, we can go days or weeks or months in between seeing them again.  And they have lives and responsibilities that take precedence over being our friend...which makes it take even longer to get to know them, even if both people are really trying to put in effort.

My advice: join a co-ed softball team, join a church, join a book club...something where you will meet some new people with similar interests and you know you will see them on a regular basis.

Just be patient my dear Sarah, you will meet someone!  You are AWESOME!  And if I were back in Virginia Beach, I'd definitely want you as my friend! :)

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