May 15, 2020

Female Friendships: It’s Complicated.

Relationships are always difficult in some respects, but female friendships seem to be especially complicated.

We are such complex beings with our own preconceived notions of what and who we are, or who we should be in the world.

Over the course of our lifetimes, we are daughters, sisters, colleagues, girlfriends, wives, mothers, and grandmothers—but friends is something different. Our friends—our tribe of women—is an integral part of our lives no matter our age.

Friendships between women are not the same as men’s relationships; women do more than just socialize. We go deeper, we give full disclosure of our lives to our closest friends. We provide emotional support in good times and bad times. We give advice when solicited, and many times when it is not.

Time spent with our tribe can fill us with renewed energy and calm us in times of stress, but ultimately they provide a safe place for us to be vulnerable. There is even a biological connection. Oxytocin, an important hormone in our bodies, plays a role in why we need to develop and maintain female relationships. Women have a level of understanding that men seem unable to provide; it is an entirely different kind of emotional support.

Friendship is a state of mutual trust and support. Aristotle wrote about friendships (mostly men’s, as women were not seen as equals, and were therefore, seemingly unworthy of friendship). He proposed that a good and deep friendship could not exist without a sense of good will. Wanting the best for each other through shared values. But if there is an imbalance of the desire for goodness for each other, then the friendship is likely unsustainable. This seems to be true of female friendships, and the number of truly balanced relationships for some people, is a small number.

I feel this imbalance in some of my own friendships. I seem to want or need more from some of my friendships than they are willing or able to give. I know everyone is busy and has obligations in their lives, but friendships need attention too if they are to survive. I always want to be there for whatever my friends need from me, but I have, from time to time, felt like I am not as important to them.

One of my closest friends has a busy life and is not always the quickest to communicate. I try to be understanding of this, but sometimes it makes me feel like an afterthought.

There have been a few occasions where I’ve wanted to visit her, but when it takes her a week or more to get back to me, the opportunity to visit has passed.

Time spent together is so important and when we struggle to manage a once-a-year visit, I hate to miss an opportunity. This past winter while I was away, I sent this friend an email with some writing I wanted her to read and critique because I respect her opinion. I also called and texted her. It took 17 days for her to get back to me. I finally sent her a message saying if we were going to be friends, I was going to need her to participate. I was partly joking and trying to be funny, but at the same time I was honestly worried about her. I live far away and if something did happen to her, nobody would think to let me know. I love and cherish her friendship so it was never my intent to hurt her feelings, but that is certainly an example of me feeling unimportant.

We talked about our feelings as women are want to do, and now I make an effort to be more understanding when she doesn’t get back to me right away, and she makes an effort to communicate more often. Perhaps I do expect too much from my friends, but it is because I love them and want to spend time with them at every opportunity.

It’s okay to have lofty expectations of people, but not more than what we ourselves are willing to do for them. Friendship should be a two way street. We should be able to expect from our closest friends what we would do or have already done for them.

If you find yourself consistently feeling unsupported, maybe the friendship is not what you thought it was. If you feel like it is creating more stress than stress relief, it may be time to let this relationship go and focus on those people who bring you something positive.

When we are clear about our feelings, and they are denied or brushed aside, it makes us feel insignificant. Even if we are disagreeing with each other, we can still acknowledge the other person’s feelings about the situation and hopefully soften the disappointment. Most people are well aware of their indiscretions, and if they are truly our friend, I would hope they would own up to it and make amends.

Not everyone is capable of this though, so never apologize for how you feel. But remember that we may have to be more forgiving, at times, of other’s shortcomings, as well as our own.

As women, we share the ups and downs of our lives with each other. We are free to vent about our jobs, and our partners, and our kids without judgement or recrimination. We want our friends to be our champions and cheerleaders in all that we do and hopefully, our voice of reason in times when we can not see the “forrest for the trees.” We should have at least one friend in our lives who can tell us, for our own good, the unvarnished truth. This can be difficult to hear and accept, but we have to remember that it is coming from a place of love, so we should not hold it against them.

I myself am not immune to the complicated female friendship, and have experienced a “falling out” of sorts with my dearest friend.

Our refusal to see each other’s point of view continued over the next few years with both of us, unfortunately, being petty and hurtful from time to time. We also had a few failed attempts at reconciliation, but I feared on several occasions that maybe there were  too many hurt feelings for us to ever be the same.

After a long period of little to no communication, I came to realize that I had not really understood her need to be alone and had taken it as her rebuffing me. I am a people person and always wanted to spend as much time together as possible, but it wasn’t about me. I decided I wanted to make one last effort to extend an olive branch and see if there was anything left to salvage. I sent her a heartfelt apology for the part I played in our disagreement, and we have slowly been trying to pick up the pieces. At times I feel I am guarded, as I am still afraid of being hurt further, but I truly want this to work out.

Sometimes we have to accept the apology we were never given and move forward toward a brighter future.

Why would I put aside my hurt feelings and extend an olive branch? Women are the fastest growing demographic in the world, especially older women, and we need each other. Whether we want to admit it or not, these female friendships are profound and essential to our well-being. Studies have found that people who have close friendships have less health issues, and live longer, more joyful lives. Not having these relationships may be as detrimental to our health as being overweight or smoking.

I am lucky enough to have an amazing tribe of beautiful women in my life. A college professor with a strong, bright mind making the world a better place. A city clerk always hardworking and showing her daughters what a smart, single woman can accomplish. A correctional officer with the softest, sweetest soul. My favourite neighbour who embodies all that is good in the world. A teacher who has taught me so much about myself and is the best listener. My favourite hugger who dedicated her life to her family, who now surround her in love. A cancer survivor with the most beautiful heart. My sister, the warrior woman, trailblazer, yogi. A talented artist who doesn’t believe she is, and hides her sensitive heart behind an acerbic wit. A tiny little powerhouse of a woman who has helped paved the way for young women in the business world.

What a treasure these incredible women have become, and I am grateful for their contributions to my life.

If you have a tribe of women who are always there to catch you when you fall, consider yourself blessed, and do everything in your power to nurture and protect these relationships. You will need them at every stage of your life, but even more so as you age. Invest in your future for there is always more to look forward to.

Sisterhood is a powerful force.


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