This month, we celebrate both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Both of these events have gotten me thinking an awful lot about the power of female friendship. Historically, amazing things have happened when women banded together in friendship to make change. Just think of the suffragette movement or the powerful groups of women trying to make equality for the sexes a real thing.
On TV, I deeply love the friendships of Monica and Rachel on Friends and Leslie and Ann on Parks and Recreation. While they’re all very different, the four characters have one thing in common – their friendships remain despite the ups and downs of the story line. In my own life, I’ve come to appreciate my female friendships deeply, but it took me a long time to get here.
When I was younger, I struggled a lot in the female friendship department. I had all brothers growing up and had a hard time connecting with girls who seemed more emotional than I was. I always had a few close female friends, but always felt I got along better with boys. Eventually I just labeled myself as “one of those girls that get’s along better with guys.”
When high school came around, I met my best friend Amanda because one of my guy friends liked her and kept asking me to invite her when our group of friends hung out. We clicked almost instantly and realized we had a ton in common. We were both best friends with our brothers, we both loved sports, but also loved makeup and nature. We hung out almost every day in high school and had so much fun! Thankfully as we’ve gotten older we remained friends and even with me moving across the country now, we make an effort to keep in touch.
But it was in college that I truly learned how valuable female friendships were to my life. Moving into an all girls dorm was really hard for me at first, but eventually I grew to love it and had friendships that even through differences and the ups and downs of college lasted and helped me grow as a person. Amanda and I are easy friends because we’re so similar, but becoming friends with lots of girls who were different than me was what truly pushed me and made me grow to appreciate female friendships in a way I hadn’t before.
In a culture that largely pits women against each other, building female friendships that allow both participants to be their authentic selves without fear of being judged is a radical act. On social media, there’s the #hashtagwars like #realwomenhavecurves or #fitgirlproblems… In magazines, there’s the favoritism of one female body type over another. In female friendship circles, we still allow one another to call another girl a slut or a whore behind her back, which is neither loving nor acceptable.
And indeed, on the journey to finding the friendships we all crave, there are bound to be some mismatches. Just like how we all must learn to authentically love ourselves in order to enjoy romantic love, we must also be able to recognize the signs that a friendship is bringing us down more than it’s lifting us up. Oftentimes, these chains are hard to break, but they’re essential to make the space for the friendships that are truly going to fill you up in life.
Unfortunately, it seems harder than ever to make those kinds of friendships in everyday adult life. The majority of friendships in American society are situational – predicated on an activity that you do together on a regular basis – and are likely to end when that situation passes. Think of your work friend from a past job – you thought you were so close but then, when one of you got a new job, that friend disappeared from your life. Or what about your best friends from school? You talked about being friends always only to find that three months after graduation you never talked any more.
Facebook feeds can be littered with these types of friends: people you knew at one point in your life, whom you merely follow peripherally, liking photos of weddings you weren’t invited to and babies you’ll never see in person. While I do believe you can have authentic friendships on social media, it is too easy to pretend at friendship online, and it’s not so easy in real life. However, it’s worth every bit of effort, because real friendships, with friends you actually see, who have babies you actually play with, are so much more fulfilling.
The thing about friendship is that it’s more similar to dating than we first think. Movies and TV make it seem so easy, but there’s a certain combination of compatibility, hard work (re: the placement of value), and luck in the friendships that seem to sustain over time. However hopeless it may seem if you’re feeling rather friendless, when these friendships work, they are some of the most fulfilling relationships out there. Several medical studies have come out linking friendship to things like longer life expectancy, better brain health, and many other benefits.
But how do you go about finding good friends? Besides being open to various opportunities to meet potential friends, knowing yourself is a pretty good start. When you start off being your own best friend, you’re in a better place to be able to objectively seek out the types of friendships you want to nurture.
- Quality vs. Quantity: Think about how much time you have to offer to a friendship. You don’t need to be best friends with everyone (and you probably won’t want to be), but everyone has time to fully work on at least one or two good friendships (you honestly don’t need many more than that).
- Your Friends’ Friends:You already know and like this person, so there’s a good chance that you might like some of the other people this person knows.
- The Long-Lost Acquaintance:One of my closest friends now is a girl that I went to high school with, though back then we weren’t very close. In the last couple years, we reconnected and found a brimming friendship waiting to happen.
- Situational Friends:Don’t discount your work friends, gym friends, or friends from your book club. Just because they only exist in that group now doesn’t mean you have to keep them relegated to only that part of your life.
- Make the First Move: Yeah, it sucks, but someone has to do it. But, if you make it fun and casual, then you at least have a shot. See what happens!
- Try Something New:You just never know who you might meet if you venture out of your usual haunts.
When women reach out to one another in friendship, amazing things happen. Recently I watched two iconic female friends, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, on a TED Talk about female friendship and it reminded me how grateful I am for all the ways my close female relationships (both in my family and otherwise) have touched my life (and still do). We gain a lotmore by banding together than by remaining apart.