Female Friendships – More Complex Than Romance?
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Female Friendships – More Complex Than Romance?

Women can have complicated relationships. I am one and I admit it. The curtain has been pulled back, the jig is up, the cat is out of the bag. I have enough marital relationship navigation to do without having to figure out my girlfriends. That said, all relationships are work and I am game. But like anything, there is a spectrum of maintenance and I suppose I have placed my friends on this spectrum according to my relationship history with them. So at risk of diminishing my already sparse brunch invitations, here is my insight into the female psyche when it comes to our gal pals.

It is no secret we dress for each other. I was a bit surprised when I first got wind of this little gem. At times we dress to attract the opposite sex, but unless the male judging our attire is a metro sexual or gay, we will almost always go with the female opinion before we set a stilettoed foot outside. When I shop I have one pint sized imaginary gal pal on one shoulder and another on the other. If neither would wear it, it is tossed. That part is simple. Where the complexity starts is the nuances of the expectations of the friendship.

Guys have it relatively easy. Beers, sports, business. Yes, I am painting them with a broad brush, but this is about the gals today. I merely point out that if a guy asked a guy friend to move a sofa, they move the sofa, have a beer and it is done. If a girl asked a girl to move a sofa, not only would your sofa grow moss on it, you may find your phone number blocked.

Sofas aside, what are these expectations and why should you keep them in check? Growing up being sorely disappointed when a “best friend” let me down, moved away or otherwise did what any childhood girl is supposed to do, I thought it prudent to think twice about slapping a label on a good thing. Unless there is an agreed upon list or some binding agreement in the manner of Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory for you non-nerds), would it not be almost impossible to know what is expected of you?

Like a romantic relationship, it is important to establish and manage these expectations. Only unlike a romantic relationship, it is a bit unorthodox to issue a list deeming bikini waxes and mammograms as mandatory attendance while moving Victorian era dining room sideboards as an opt out. I only wish I had learned not to put mental sticky notes with people’s names on them on life’s events earlier. As an adult, I was always so busy trying to navigate the romantic relationship with the male in my life that analyzing the significant and casual female bonds was not on my radar. Married eleven years now, and far from having figured it out, I started to direct more attention to the ladies that I count as my friends.

In the concentric circle of friendship, like a dartboard, the closeness and knowledge of intimate and sometimes boring, but necessary, detail radiates outward and diminishes on the “intimacy-o-meter” as you get further out. Your bull’s eye is what could be termed your BFF, though I discourage such labels. I prefer “dear” or “one of my closest”. BFF carries with it such pressure and expectation, and frankly immediately brings to mind Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, neither of whom I aspire to emulate. You don’t see Paris asking Nicole to ask her move furniture. Despite the unrealistic analogy, do you see them speaking anymore?

Your inner circle, the bull’s eye, know what you take in your coffee, that you have a mole that needs to be removed and then goes for coffee with you after the mole is removed. The next concentric level outwards knows you had something done recently and says we should go for coffee soon. The next level out says we should have coffee sometime and if you do, the chatter is about work, kids, the high level stuff. Moles are off the table. I am not judging however. Not everyone can be a BFF, or reasonable facsimile, to you, nor can you return the favour to every buddy, acquaintance, comrade or colleague. It’s not 1960 and we have to reserve the air kisses for someone.

The good times are easy. Fair-weather friends are a dime a dozen. Parties, shopping, light-hearted gossip – all good stuff. But what about when your guard is down and you need someone to hear you out without being judged, pitied or scolded? Where are they when your marriage is challenged; when you are waiting for biopsy results; when a parent dies? I recall a couple of times when I just could not work through something and I needed a girlfriend’s shoulder on which to cry. I was surprised at who stepped up and who did not. If it was a horse race, I would have lost my shirt. The people whom I thought would have dropped everything for me in my moment of need were nowhere to be found. The people, whom I thought would not be there, surprised me in the best way.

I am fortunate to have a handful of the latter and my gratitude for having them in my life is great. One in particular, with whom I happen to share a particularly humourous bond with, used to take great pride in regaling me with what a crappy friend she was and how selfish and unavailable she is. “Don’t ever expect anything from me”, she would say, “I’ll just let you down”. This is the same person who has listened tirelessly to my woes, laughed with me over the goofiest private jokes, shared honesty with me even when it was not convenient, and travelled across town against rush hour traffic when she had other plans, to bring my family dinner the day my mother passed away.

So the lesson in setting expectations comes into question. Does setting expectations, spoken or otherwise matter? It would have been well within reason to expect grand gestures from a romantic partner without question. But the boundary for friendship is more gray than delineated. Is this friend an anomaly? Did she purposely set impossibly low expectations so that there was no pressure to deliver in the dark times, only to come through and dispel the very myth that she had perpetuated? Maybe, but at the end of the day what mattered was I had a great friend when I least expected it, and maybe that was the key.

My mom used to have a plaque on our kitchen wall that read: “True friends are like diamonds; precious and rare. False friends are like autumn leaves; found everywhere”.

I do not think that we need a basket of diamonds and no leaves. Leaves are great, not as false friends, but as more casual friends with whom mutual mole memos are non sequitur. But I have a few diamonds in my back pocket and I plan on taking very good care of them.


Street Talk

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