I was a very shy kid. It wasn’t until fourth grade that I finally opened up enough to make my first two “real” friends. They were the ones I passed notes to in class, the ones who I told about my crushes, the ones who stayed up all night giggling with me during sleepovers. They were also the ones who gave me my first taste of “drama.” A group of three meant that someone was often left out, and, because I was the one who lived out of town and matured later—that someone was usually me.
On warm evenings, they would ride bikes to each other’s houses and talk about their boyfriends, while I was tucked away on my parents’ farm, immersing myself in books to help take the sting out of feeling left out.
Although I had many wonderful memories with these girls and cared (and still care) very much about them, I began to develop the idea that female friendships were competitive and problematic. In college, I found myself gravitating more towards male friends. My guy friendships were playful, affectionate, and only became intense if “other” feelings were involved. The few female friendships that I did make usually ended in a storm of hurt feelings and misunderstandings.
For a long time, I was one of “those girls.” The ones who complain about “girl drama” and prefer the doting attention that comes from male friendships. Even after I got married, I retained my guy friends and often gravitated towards the males in our couple friends.
Then I became a stay-at-home mother. The only men I saw on a regular basis were my husband and the one or two stay-at-home dads who brought their kids to story time. My options were either to develop female friendships, or be alone.
And so, I choked back my reservations about women and made a few female friends. As a busy mom of two boys, these friendships mostly consisted of swing-side chats at the park. We’d compare nap schedules and commiserate about breastfeeding woes, but it never really went deeper than that. We were all so consumed by new motherhood that our old selves seemed inaccessible, almost nonexistent. Talking about our kids was the only way we had to connect and, as the kids began to go their separate ways, so too did our friendships.
The birth of my daughter caused a shift in my perspective. Looking at that perfect little creature I began to re-think all my views about what it meant to be female. The idea that anyone would ever use words like “drama” or “catty” to describe my daughter’s intense, sensitive approach to friendships horrified me.
Watching my daughter’s friendships blossom and grow has been a learning experience for me. Yes, she does get angry with her friends, often over things that seem silly to me. But, it’s because she loves them—fiercely, deeply, with her whole heart. She’s not being “dramatic” when she cries because Emily played with Karen instead of her today. She’s sincerely hurt. And she’s not being “catty” when she excludes Sophie—she’s feeling worried that “Sophie” will make fun of her again (names have been changed to protect the young and not-so-innocent).
What I found when I tried to help her through these situations is that, in most cases, she handles them best on her own. She is an amazingly thoughtful, caring, devoted friend. It’s not that she doesn’t make mistakes. She does. In fact, only a few weeks ago she ditched her most loyal friend for the “new girl.” But my warnings were not nearly as effective as the hurt she felt when her old friend rejected her after the novelty of the new girl had faded away. It took a few days for her old friend to accept her apology, and, in those few days my daughter learned more about loyalty and friendship than I could ever have taught her.
Labels are often used as shields to keep us safe. By watching my daughter navigate the messy, passionate world of female friendships, I began to realize how I’d used labels to protect myself as well. Calling female friendships “too complicated” was my way of protecting myself from the vulnerability that can come from opening up to another person.
In the seven years since my daughter was born, I have made a real effort to open myself up in friendships… both with my (old) male friends and my (new) female ones. Doing this has brought me a level of closeness and connectedness that I’ve never experienced before. It has also caused me to feel more frequent bouts of hurt and anger. I know now that these feelings are not “drama,” they’re simply my heart’s way of protecting the relationships I care most about.
I am proud to say that I now have several extremely close female friends. Those friendships are a testament to my own growth and maturation, and, perhaps more than anything, to the amazing example my daughter has set.