Female friendship problems
Your Female Friendships Might Be Ruining Your Life
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This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
I am lying in bed with my friend Leah*, who is crying. A small bit of me feels bad for Leah—who is crying because she has depression—but a bigger, more honest bit feels happy. Leah and I have been friends since we were 11, but in the last year or so, something has shifted. She got a new job, and then she got a boyfriend, and then they bought two fish together and called them "2018" and "Lana Del Rey." I was living in the room above Leah at the time, and sometimes I could hear her feeding them. I would lie really still and listen to the low hum of the fish tank and think dark thoughts about how full and happy her life was without me in it. Around the same time her boyfriend bought them a bigger tank, I moved back in with my parents.
So when Leah called me and asked me to come over, i did so in a rush. I held her while she cried and asked in a sensitive voice whether she had confided in anyone else yet, and when she said "no" I felt needed, and kind, even pure.
This weird, possessive behavior is a relatively new thing for me, but I have always enjoyed the claustrophobic intimacy of female friendship. All of my relationships are over a decade old, and they're founded on the shared mythology that you love each other more than all new friends, and definitely more than you could ever love a partner. Watching these friends get engaged/become employed/talk at length about how much they want to move to Margate has made me realize this mythology might be a bit flawed. It's not just that I'm bored: I'm actively unhappy that they’re happy. I feel these women are most themselves, most mine when they are calling me crying. So I've started to look forward to them calling me crying.
Most of us feel fiercely proud if we've managed to sustain very close, old friendships. But the very intensity of those friendships might actually be making us mentally ill. As women, we have been socialized to trade confidences: To really know and be known by another human, we have to offer up our most private thoughts and experiences. That ability to share pain is part of what makes female friendship so precious—you feel your friend is tangled into your guts in some anguished, formative way because your closeness is predicated on making yourselves vulnerable to one another. Dubbed "co-rumination" by psychologist Amanda Rose, this sharing and revisiting of problems together is proven to trigger depression. Rose found that while girls who co-ruminated enjoyed closer relationships with their friends, they were also more susceptible to emotional disorders.
If the closeness of your friendship is dependent on shared pain, there's also the danger that you might start manufacturing that pain to keep the relationship going. Leah and I probably both enjoyed that day of crying together a bit because it was a shortcut to an intimacy between us that had lately been dying; it was a kind of cheap hit. Speaking to me over email, Amanda Rose explains that in your mid-20s, as friends start to find happiness outside of each other, "one or both friends may try [to] generate or exaggerate problems to talk about in order to maintain the friendship, and doing so certainly could elevate their risk of depression and anxiety."
People Told Us Why They Ghosted Their Friends in Six Words
Rose calls this a "worst case scenario," but I think it's pretty common. Mila*, a photographer in her late 50s, tells me that when her best friend put her down as her emergency contact number before she had an operation, she started fantasizing about getting the 3 AM call: "I was quite excited and actually wanted something bad to happen to her so that she would need me. More than her family, more than her husband, she thought the person she needed in a crisis was me. It was hugely flattering. "
The idea that you and your friend can be everything to one another is so seductive it tends to become a part of your identity. The role you play in that friendship might mean suppressing significant aspects of yourself, but you don’t know who you would be without the friendship, so you stick to that role. Morgan*, 31, tells me that the intensity of her relationship with her friends made it difficult to express her sexuality.
"I sort of see my early friendships back home in Australia as romantic. Not in the sense that they were sexual, but that they were so intense. I get very defensive, and find it difficult to acknowledge any problems with my teenage friendships because they were so formative—but I guess there was homophobia. I remember hoping I wasn’t a lesbian. And when I had a sexual experience with a girl, I couldn’t tell anyone. It makes me sad that I’ve carried that into my 30s, and I think it’s got something to do with the hold that those friendships have over me. ”
Psychologist and author Carol Topolski tells me that holding onto this kind of friendship might also be a way of avoiding growing up. "The safety of the familiar is very compelling," she says. "Losing a friend requires a kind of mourning. You’re losing someone who represents a significant part of your history." Morgan explains that level of closeness as a kind of prolonged adolescence: "I was obsessed with them. I still am. I had this one friend who could just absolutely make me lose my shit. I can't laugh like I laughed then. She completely got under my skin—I don’t think anyone else could ever make me feel that way. I suppose it wasn't sustainable. That's partly why I moved to the UK."
Photo via Alamy Stock Photo user HEX LLC
There's a kind of shame attached to being the friend who can't let go. It's as if the lights have gone up and all the intricate, unspoken threads that bind you together are revealed for what they've always been: suffocating and objectively crazy. Suddenly, you’re confronted by how much, and how desperately, you want.
But when I ask Morgan whether we need to change our expectations of female friendship—expect less—she says no: "I hate that. We shouldn’t have to shun those human qualities—like loneliness and wanting to be needed—that's how human relationships work. If you have deep friendships, they should be raw. You should depend on each other."
In the interests of resolution, I give Leah a call. This time I cry, and then we do a bit of co-ruminating about our friendship. "Yeah, I did know that some part of you didn’t want me to be happy"—the phone line keeps cutting out because she’s speaking to me from a ferry, where I’ve interrupted her vacation with her boyfriend—"But I got to this stage where I was afraid that being the "sweet," "nice" friend was all I would ever be. It was a conscious decision to try and be more."
It’s a nice conversation. In the end, we lose connection, but she texted me a few hours later to tell me one of the fish is dead.
*Some names have been changed. Follow Kitty Drake on Twitter.
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The dirty little secret most women don't talk about
Despite the romanticized myth of BFF, the hard truth is that most friendships don't last forever. In fact, research suggests that when it comes to friendships, a phenomenon occurs that is somewhat akin to the seven-year itch: Half of our close friendships turn over every seven years.
Women are reluctant to talk about their friendship problems which turn out to be quite common: losing friends, having unfulfilling friendships, or having no friends at all. Just like other life-affirming relationships that we treasure--relationships with lovers, husbands, siblings, children, and pets--our closest friendships tend to be imperfect. Friendships are fraught with disappointments and misunderstandings---resulting in some of the highest highs and the lowest lows of our emotional lives.
Remember Anne of Green Gables, the lonely orphan who never had a bosom buddy until she met her neighbor, Diana? Anne instantly realized she had found a soulmate in Diana. But as Anne grew up and her world expanded, the foundation of her once perfect friendship with Diana collapsed, paving the way for the next phase in her life. Given all the transitions that that take place in the lives of women (moving, mating, mothering and managing careers, just to name a few), it's not surprising that friendships fray. Anne's story is universal; as people grow and change, their paths diverge. Friends drift apart and even kindred spirits may find themselves circling in different orbits.
The sense of trust, energy and connection we feel with a best friend is absolutely exhilarating, but when that friendship begins to erode or drift away, the sense of unease, discomfort, or loss is palpable. So what can you do to mend a broken friendship? Here are some tips for getting over the inevitable bumps:
There's a wall of silence between you. She isn't answering your text messages or voicemails, and is ignoring your Facebook comments. You haven't seen each other for a week and you used to talk every day. What do you do? Summon up the courage to start a dialogue. If there's any hope of mending the friendship, you need to find out what's wrong and resolve it. Sending an email or snail mail (note or card) to your friend, telling her you miss her and want to talk, gives her a chance to respond without being caught off-guard.
If you know it was you who said or did something wrong--or who didn't do or say something you should have, own up to the mistake. Apologize sooner rather than later because time has a way of making little problems fester. Of course, if you have a recurrent case of foot-in-the-mouth syndrome, this isn't going to work.
Conversely, if you were the one who was wronged and the friendship is important to you, consciously decide to forgive your friend in order to save the friendship. Try to think about what happened from her perspective and accept her apology. If her behavior is consistently ambivalent and unpredictable, forgiveness may not be the right fix.
4) Take a break
You've approached your friend to sort out the problem and you've been ignored or rebuffed. Perhaps your friend needs more time to get over her anger and disappointment. Propose that you NOT see each other for two weeks or a month. Maybe you need time apart (what I call a friendship sabbatical) to realize how much you mean to each other. On the other hand, you both may breathe a sigh of relief during the trial separation.
Maybe your expectations of each other are a mismatch at this time. Perhaps, you need to establish boundaries: Tell her you need more space for yourself and more time with others. Maybe your relationship is based primarily on shared history and your lives have grown too disparate to remain besties. Gradually downgrade to a casual, once-in-a-while friendship. Make the change with grace and respect, leaving the door open for reconnecting in a different way at a different time.
Admittedly, fixing a broken friendship is never easy or simple because the rules of friendships aren't clear. Compounding the problem, women are often embarrassed or ashamed to talk about friendship problems. If they speak to men, they're likely to be accused of catfighting. If they speak to other women, opening up about another friend may be seen as a betrayal. As a result, friendship problems often remain the dirty little secret that nobody talks about.
Created by psychologist, author, and professor of psychiatry Dr. Irene S. Levine, TheFriendshipBlog.com is the only authoritative place on the internet for women to anonymously ask and receive advice about their friendship problems and dilemmas. Her most recent book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend is based on an online survey of more than 1500 women (anonymous, of course).
Follow The Friendship Doctor on Twitter.
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The other day Fyodor Bondarchuk in his program “Cinema in Details” shared his surprise at the long-term friendship of his wife Paulina Andreeva with the guest of the program Anna Chipovskaya. The fact that the actresses, who in essence should be rivals, have been friends for so many years, caused sincere bewilderment in the presenter. In response, Anna Chipovskaya stated that they had nothing to share, which means that there were no reasons for quarrels.
What actually underlies female friendship? And in what cases do the representatives of the weaker sex turn into rivals?
Young ladies who are the exact opposite of each other often turn out to be friends. And it's not just about couples in which one of the girlfriends has a model appearance, and the other looks like Cinderella before the ball. Differences may relate to character, temperament, success, etc.
In such relationships, as a rule, one of the friends is the undisputed leader. And a relationship with a friend who is inferior in appearance or success is a great reason to assert yourself.
In such a relationship, both friends usually have problems with self-esteem. One solves them due to superiority over a less successful friend - advises, instructs, patronizes.
Another, due to the same inferiority complex and disbelief in one's own strength, feels the need for support and guardianship. In fact, a more successful friend is a crutch for her, on which she relies.
What is fraught with
On the one hand, she listens to her friend's complaints about life, regrets and consoles. But the advice that she gives at the same time is primarily designed to help her feel her own superiority. And therefore, sometimes they can run counter to the interests of the one to whom she gives them.
Such women like to read morals and gladly add fuel to the fire if a friend complains about problems in relations with her husband or child. Instead of trying to support and figure out how serious these problems are, they, on the contrary, try to exacerbate them in every possible way: “well, this, of course, is an outrage, I would not tolerate such a thing”, “yes, if my friend allowed himself such a thing!”, “if they treated me like that at work, I would quit,” etc.
As a result, a friend following such advice only exacerbates emerging problems and sometimes even makes them irreversible. What only strengthens his status as a loser and an inferiority complex.
In the opinion of psychotherapist Andrei Mashtakov, the point is not that women or men cannot make friends, but that true friendship, like love, is a very complex thing, and not everyone is capable of it. “Friendship, unlike other feelings, for example, falling in love, arises with prolonged contact: people got to know each other well, experienced joint emotions, and mutual trust arose,” Andrey Mashtakov believes. Not everyone is capable of such a relationship. That is why true friendship is much rarer than we think. And often for her we take the usual friendly relations. Sometimes we make friends or friends just because we often see each other or work together. That is, outwardly, they seem to be close people, but in reality they are strangers. And it is not surprising that the very first shake-up in life brings these relationships to naught. And in this regard, female friendship is the same phenomenon as friendship in general.
Girlfriends initially perceive each other as rivals, being in a state of eternal competition.
In the first place, girls are inclined to such relationships, whom their mothers constantly compared with others in childhood. We have already written more than once that this is the right path to childhood neurosis and an inferiority complex. Or its reverse side - the superiority complex, if the parents in this comparison, on the contrary, always praised the daughter. In adulthood, such women strive to constantly prove (and to themselves first of all) that they are the best.
A friend's successes are perceived as painful. However, such a woman cannot part with her without gaining the upper hand. She definitely needs to be better.
It is these friends that are usually called cursed.
What is fraught with
Such friends in the struggle for the prince or success often dare to outright meanness and betrayal.
It is in the heat of such rivalry that women often set their eyes on the man of their friend. Because when a man chooses one of his girlfriends, in the minds of the other, this is often perceived as evidence of the inferiority of the other. This explains that most of the fairer sex perceive the man of a friend as an enemy and a desirable prey at the same time.
Sometimes women lure husbands or fiances of their girlfriends into bed without even having far-reaching plans. So, for the sake of striving to assert itself.
It's like when we saw a friend's wonderful toy in childhood, we began to dream of exactly the same one. Because we really wanted everything to be like hers.
Sometimes, even with age, this desire of girlfriends to be like each other does not go away. They continue to live by the same thoughts, feelings, deeds, sometimes they try to resemble each other even outwardly, buying similar things, adopting a style of behavior, etc. As a result, they voluntarily or involuntarily begin to mentally identify with each other. There is a merging of two "I" into one.
What is fraught with
To begin with, such friends very often fall in love with the same man. Which, of course, leads to conflicts and the collapse of long-term relationships.
But even if the boyfriend of one friend is not of interest to another, his appearance is still perceived with hostility. It is understandable - a woman sees a rival friend in a man, who will now get the lion's share of her friend's attention and mental strength. And this is true, because very often a woman really plunges headlong into building relationships, and there is much less time left to maintain relationships with her girlfriend. She, of course, feels abandoned, even if her own personal life is in perfect order. And if she has serious problems on this front, then the alienation of her friend will be perceived even more painfully.
Offenses, reproaches, manipulations begin, the purpose of which is to cause a feeling of guilt.
An unmarried friend may even subconsciously try to bring discord into her friend's family in order to secure attention and not feel lonely.
Such women are sometimes even ready to lure a friend's man into bed. But only in order to open her friend's eyes to what kind of cattle her chosen one is, and to get her to leave him.
On an equal footing
A real friend will never trample on your mistakes. On the contrary, it will help to find positive aspects in committed actions or ways out of the situation.
Any friendship, whether female or male, is based on mutual trust, respect and tolerance, the ability to accept each other as he is, and the willingness to spend one's spiritual warmth on another.
In a relationship on an equal footing, a friend will always listen, but will not interfere with unsolicited advice, she will never read moralizing, point out what to do and how, and even more so call for a conflict with her beloved man. And all because, first of all, he is guided by the interests of his girlfriend, and not by his complexes.
What is fraught with
Women who are capable of such relationships most often find themselves with the same reliable friends. They are not afraid, and they cannot be better or worse, because they understand that each of them is unique and valuable in itself.
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Historically, in our society, such an opinion has formed that the only shoulder that is reliable is male, therefore, in a stressful situation, you need to focus on finding a firm male hand. And female friendship is a shaky and short-lived concept, up to the first man, whom friends must certainly begin to share. Is this really so and is there a real strong female friendship that can withstand any test? We asked psychologists and psychotherapists about this.
How women's friendship differs from men's
“It's sad that the topic of women's friendship is mostly viewed through the prism of “betrayal” or “setup,” says psychologist Irina Pilkevich. - Where do such ideas come from, grow stronger and accompany us throughout life? I am afraid that I will not be original in this, but this is experience, experience and experience again. In early childhood, people make friends regardless of gender. The main activity is the game itself and the relationship does not have a leading role. As you grow older, everything changes and now you can clearly see the flocks of separately boys and separately girls. They communicate and learn to build close friendships. Including consciously learn to compete.
Both boys and girls learn to make friends and compete. Why is female friendship often called into question? Psychologists believe that "male" and "female" friendships are based on different things. Men are friends when they have something in common (business, hobby, or they have learned to interact well in something else). And female friendship, as a rule, lives in the sphere of feelings and emotions. And most often it is built according to the formula "we have a common problem." Here is what psychologist Evgenia Burzunova said : “It is very important for any woman, regardless of age, to discuss the complexities and twists and turns of her life, even if she knows how to solve them. The main task of such interaction is to share emotional experiences, and not to seek a solution or receive advice (this is also important, but secondary).”
According to the psychologist, the female psyche is arranged in such a way that it produces a large number of emotions, and a woman can “live” these emotions to the fullest only by sharing them with someone: with a neighbor, sister, husband, psychologist, priest, and so on . If a woman is deprived of this opportunity, for example, due to the idea of "controlling herself", then she risks not only her mental health, but also her own relationship with a man. First, unlived, repressed emotions - like a time bomb - can gradually lead to a depressive disorder. Secondly, there is a great risk that a woman deprived of emotional communication with her friends will try to “unload” as much as possible in communication with her man. Not knowing that the male psyche works on a completely different principle, and you need to be able to “correctly” express emotions in the presence of a man, a woman can jeopardize her relationship with him. Irritation of the husband is the most frequent consequence of such ignorance.
“That's why it's so important to have girlfriends, because it's often a girlfriend who can bring to life what she lacks: the opportunity to communicate openly, 'complain', support at the right time,” says Evgenia Burzunova. - This is the correct, normal mental hygiene for any woman, a kind of friendly symbiosis. By the way, let me remind you that "symbiosis" is a mutually beneficial coexistence, so friendship does not survive where one of the parties simply uses the other.
frame from the series "Women in Love"
What are relationships like in women's tandems
However, psychologists believe that there can be a great many variants of female friendship in which mutual emotional support is successfully realized. At the same time, the closeness in a couple can be completely different. Here are just some options ( gestalt therapist Kristina Lavrentyeva shares her observations ):
- Lovebirds: we don’t remember how and when we met, it was in kindergarten, but we will be friends until death separates us.
- Friendship based on mutual support, which, for example, does not exist or was not in the family due to the workload or emotional insufficiency of the parents.
- It happens that relationships are built on mutual complementation, one is cheerful and courageous, and the other is quiet, but really wants to take part in the celebration of life that the first one is starting.
- The best friend is “mommy” (of course, in a figurative sense: a friend is older and, as it were, takes the position of patroness in relation to her younger friend).
- Business friendship, when only mutually beneficial partnerships and nothing personal (they can attend social events, travel together, provide each other with useful contacts, but, for example, not know if a friend has children and how old she is, because this is a personal matter of each or just not interested).
- "Queen" and "maid of honor". The first is most often a beautiful girl who is wildly popular with men. And the second is ready to remain on the sidelines, just to be gifted with the love of a bright girlfriend and the attention of men who could not interest the "queen".
- Fighting girlfriends: we met in high school or at the institute, went on hikes together, lived and mourned an unsuccessful love, and so on.
frame from the TV series "Women in Love"
Constructive and destructive relationships
Regardless of the scenario in which friendship develops, relationships in couples can be constructive and destructive. It is from destructive relationships that the myth grows that female friendship does not exist at all.
“If you try not to allow into your life those types that violate your personal boundaries, secretly or openly, then female friendship, like male friendship, obeys the same patterns: we communicate with those who are close to us in terms of worldview, who accept us as fully as possible and loves us for who we are. And we reciprocate them,” says clinical psychologist Natalia Branitskaya .
What distinguishes a faithful life partner from a pseudo-friend who destroys your life? According to psychologist Tatyana Pavlenko , you really have a relationship with a friend if your relationship is built according to the following principles.
- Mutual disinterested work. You help each other just because you enjoy doing it, not counting on gratitude or help in the future. The true friendship of two women is mutual assistance. A real friend will never say that she has suffered inconvenience and difficulties through helping you.
- No gossip in your relationship. If one of the mutual acquaintances speaks unflatteringly about you, a friend will never support such actions and will easily put the offender in his place. A close friend will never tell you about this episode, "savor" the details, watching your reaction.
- Each of you has personal relationships with men. Many, quarreling with boyfriends or husbands, run to share this problem with a friend in order to get support. But a good friend never gives “dump that ass” advice without a very good reason. Also, do not let a woman into your life who deliberately wants to quarrel you with your man.
- The presence of constructive criticism in your communication. It is important not only to hear praise, but also smart, cautious criticism that motivates you to work on yourself. Your conversations should bring you development, not degradation of the mind.
It's up to you to choose who to be friends with! Sincerity, tenderness, recognition of female sexuality, support, love freely live in constructive female friendship.