The Problem With Girlfriends

I don’t know what I’d do without my girlfriends.  Every so often I stop and reflect on how incredibly fortunate I feel, not only to have the amazing girlfriends I have, but also that I’m part of the sisterhood of female friendships in the first place.  Nothing against the guys, whose friendships frequently revolve around playing poker, watching sports, or eating chicken wings together, but there seems to be a different kind of depth and connection that we girlfriends have in our friendships, for which I’m truly grateful.

The Problem With Girlfriends (123RF Stock Photos)This depth and connection might have something to do with the fact that we can talk for hours on end about ‘life issues’, examining each poignant moment, challenge and triumph from a dozen different angles.  Actually, we have an uncanny ability to do that with non-poignant life moments too, and – ok I admit it – we sometimes over-think things to a fault, but that’s beside the point.  The point is that we girlfriends are really there for one another, emotionally, when it counts (and even when it doesn’t).

There’s an unspoken expectation that a true girlfriend shall assume the hallowed role of standing behind you, supporting you and taking your side, no matter what.  Being this type of friend is admired and revered, honoured and appreciated.  Heck, who doesn’t want a friend like that?  

Yet sometimes, those kinds of friendships keep you stuck.  It’s true: having that kind of unconditional support and reinforcement can unwittingly keep you stuck and feeling justified in your behaviour, even when your behaviour is not necessarily the highest, most evolved expression of yourself; when you’re not being the ‘you’ that you’d be if you were being your best self.  And isn’t that who you want to be?

Case in point:  recently, I was talking with an acquaintance who – back on the dating scene about a year after getting divorced – was bemoaning the fact that she’d ‘tried to break up three times‘ with a man she’d been seeing for a few months, who apparently just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  

So I asked her, ‘What do you mean, you tried to break up with him?”

To which she replied, “Well, I tell him that between work and the kids and him living out of town and everything, that I really don’t have time for a relationship right now.  And then, you know, a few days later he’ll call and catch me when I’m feeling lonely, and he says ‘I’ll just take whatever I can get’, and then…you know….I mean, I think I’m just not really that into him, but if he’s gonna keep calling, what am I supposed to do?  So then I’ll go out with him, and he’ll say ‘so when am I going to see you again?‘, and I’m like <rolling her eyes> ‘oh my gawd, like, I told you I don’t have time for a relationship right now!'”  

She tells this tale as though the entire schpiel was totally justifiable and reasonable, coming from a ‘mature’ forty-something year-old professional woman with two children.

I do know how busy life can feel, which happens whether you’re a single parent or not.  And as a (currently) single mom myself, I also do know how it feels to be lonely sometimes, like when you’re the only adult in the house and you could really go for some adult conversation or adult humour for a change, or a ‘lil adult sumthin’-sumthin’, if you know what ah’m sayin’.  (Ah’ mean, ah’m just sayin’…)

But in response to my acquaintance’s tale, I stood at the point where a ‘true girlfriend‘, as defined earlier, would respond with something assuring and reaffirming, like “Oh my gawd, I know…life is so busy, right?  I mean, you do have so much to do, looking after the kids and the house all by yourself, and your job on top of it?  And hey, if he’s willing to just see you only when you want to, so be it.  I mean, it’s his choice, right?”

However, because I’m just a friendly acquaintance and not a ‘true girlfriend’, instead I found myself saying, “So when you try to break up with him, you mean he rings your doorbell to pick you up, and there’s this invisible force that shoves you out the door against your will?”  For effect, I say this to her while physically acting out the part of a woman clutching her imaginary doorposts as she’s extricated from her home, feigning to struggle against said invisible force.  My dramatic interpretation has the desired effect of forcing my friend-acquaintance to laugh at the realization of the ridiculousness of what she’d just said.

“I mean really,” I propose, “if you actually did like this guy, you’d make time for him no matter how ‘busy’ you are, wouldn’t you?  And it’s not really fair to him, to keep stringing him along if you know you’re not really into him, is it?”  

She’s been called out.  Yes, she would make time if she really wanted to, she admits; and no, it’s not really fair to him.  It’s actually not fair to any of them: to him, to her or their respective children.  I remind her that spending more time with him means having less time to go out there and keep looking for a guy she actually does want to spend time with.  Not to mention having the integrity to treat a person with basic human decency, whether or not he’s capable of treating himself with basic human decency and choosing not to grasp at a woman’s fleeting wisps of attention.  

She knows all this, and she knew it all along.  She just needed someone to stand up as a witness to what her best, highest self would do in this situation, rather than a ‘true friend’ who would unconditionally support and affirm her, no matter what.

Friends are dear treasures, and life is infinitely richer and more rewarding because of our friendships.  But next time your girlfriend is in a quandry, consider asking her whether what she really needs in that moment is a ‘girlfriend’, or an evolutionary supporter who’ll invite her highest self to come out and play.

PS – yesterday’s free Find Your Calling tele-jam was so popular, the lines got jammed!  In response, Martha Beck, Lissa Rankin & Amy Ahlers will be holding a live replay this Sat. Oct. 13th at 1pm ET/10am PT.  To access the replay and get a copy of the recording, register here today.

4 thoughts on “The Problem With Girlfriends

  1. Thanks for another great article, Kelly! This is so true. It is the sign of a true friend if we speak to inappropriate or unwise behaviour; after all, who wants to hear the lamenting that can continue for many years. Be advised though that your friend may not consider the concerns until it’s too late. Recently a friend of a few decades who constantly laments her choice of husband #2 asked me why I hadn’t pointed out the folly of her ways when she considered marrying him. I replied that I had mentioned some of his traits that she didn’t like “way back then”, and reminded her that she’d stopped talking with me for several months. Our friendship has survived despite a couple of these “moments of truth”, and I feel that I’m sharing an honest and loving relationship with her instead of one based on false assumptions. Take care!

    • Great point Arlene; there is that risk in certain friendships of the person not being receptive to your honest opinions, even if they are delivered with compassion and/or humour. And even though (as in this particular instance) the friend hadn’t specifically ASKED for advice, we always do have the choice to either respond honestly, or to blindly and automatically nod in agreement. It’s that balancing point between being sensitive to a person’s situation yet remaining in integrity with your own words & actions. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kelly, you actually made me blush a bit… “‘lil adult sumthin’-sumthin’” … it caught me off guard, thanks for the smile. 🙂

    And.. for the record. The same rules apply to the guys. We can still get pissy when another dude calls us out. Sometimes it ends the friendships, sometimes it neutralizes it, sometimes it makes it stronger. I used to be R-E-A-L-L-Y opinionated and enjoyed a good debate, now I just shrug my shoulders and say “if that’s what you want, knock yourself out?” I know it’s a bit of a cop-out but recently that voice in my head that insists the person in front of me needs to figure it out for themselves. Maybe it’s just my age and I’m getting lazy 🙂

    Thanks for the wisdom.

    • I do aim for smiles via this blog!

      It’s true, Paul, that we generally have to figure things out for ourselves – even if that means learning things the hard way – but I still think that ideally, at least our closest friends should call on us to be our highest selves. Sometimes a temporary rift in the relationship might happen when we’re called out on poor behaviour or choices by a friend, but I think in the long run, a real friend who shares similar values will ultimately appreciate the reality check (as long as the feedback is given in a supportive and genuinely compassionate way, that is).

      Thanks again for your contributions to the conversation.

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