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Which Came First, The Dis or the Delicate Flower?

39 comments | June 4th, 2012

(story by Mir, from WouldaCouldaShoulda.com)

Consider the following scenario:

X, Y, and Z are all friends. One day X tells Y something rather personal, and Y is supportive about it, but X asks Y not to mention it to Z, because sometimes Z isn't all that empathetic. Well, Y ends up telling Z and not only does Z totally make fun of X's situation, Z convinced Y that X is being ridiculous, too, and before you know it, Y and Z are still friends, but X is left out in the cold.

Now. Are X, Y, and Z women or men?

My unscientific research (consisting of… being female and talking to other people) shows that nearly everyone who hears that little scenario will assume that X, Y, and Z are all women. Do you know why? Because men don't do that kind of stuff. If all three of them were men, the story would go like this:

X, Y, and Z are all friends. One day X tells Y something rather personal. Y never mentions it to Z. X, Y, and Z all continue to be friends and never pass judgment on each others' personal lives.

Right?? I mean, yes, there are exceptions to every rule. But complicated friendships and secret-telling and alliances and shunning, those are all the purview of the female species.

I don't know a single woman who doesn't have at least a handful of stories of betrayal, and not the romantic kind, either—the kind where someone who you believed to be a true friend either stabbed you in the back or simply turned her back on you in a time of need. We seem to all have these sorts of stories from childhood, but most of the women I know have adult versions of the same tales to tell.

My first "frenemy" came into my life in kindergarten, and stayed all through elementary school. I adored her, she tolerated me. She often used my devotion to get me to do things I wouldn't have, otherwise, and my reward for compromising myself was frequently being ignored or derided by her and her other friends. She was the kind of girl who would invite me for a sleepover, tell me we were best friends, and then a day later would tell the boy I liked that I had a crush on him. Perhaps we can chalk it all up to immaturity (both her using me, and me putting up with it).

Many years later, when my kids' father and I divorced, one of our "couple friends" assured us they wouldn't take sides. The wife (my friend) assured me that she and I would stay friends, her husband and my ex would stay friends, and all would be good. Then she started laying ground rules about what I could and could not talk about with her; we could stay friends, but I wasn't allowed (she would actually cut me off) to say anything at all about my kids' dad, or any issues related to him. It was, as you might imagine, increasingly difficult to feel like our relationship was genuine. I finally told her I found the restrictions she'd placed on me too stifling (particularly in a difficult time when I really needed support), and that I felt it best if I just let her go—I felt my ex needed her husband more than I needed her. A few years later, when my ex took me back to court over custody matters, he came armed with a stack of sworn affidavits, one from this woman. She had stated under oath that after the divorce I had "rejected my previous life and friendships without explanation" and this was evidence that I was undervaluing my children's father's role in their lives. Not true, from my perspective. But also: Ouch.

My elementary-school frenemy maybe didn't know any better. And maybe I was too sensitive to her, or not smart enough to know when I was being used? But the woman who chose what was perhaps the most difficult time in my life up until that point to decide she was the sole cruise director of our relationship, then acted like a spurned lover when that didn't work for me… what was that? I'd love to believe it was unusual, but I know too many others with similar stories. Women are hard on each other, then carry grudges when they feel wronged. Heck, I'm not immune. I still fantasize about the opportunity to face that woman and tell her exactly what I think about her micromanagement "friendship" style and subsequent meddling in my parenting.

My husband and I joke that I'm a delicate flower. And I am; my feelings are easily hurt, particularly by other women. I feel like I've been burned repeatedly. Sometimes I have no idea why, while other times I can see the part that my or someone else's baggage played in the drama. At the same time, I can think of a couple of different friendships which I chose to end, and while it was perfectly clear to me what was happening, I know the other woman was left feeling hurt, and I wish it didn't have to be that way. (Two examples come to mind, and in both, my friends were self-medicating with alcohol to such a degree that in both cases I had confronted them about my concerns. In both cases I was assured I was being ridiculous. Eventually I stepped away from the friendships. In one case the woman is still trying to convince me she's fine and we should totally be friends again, and in the other, she retreated but told mutual friends I abandoned her.)

In the meantime, my husband has friends who go all the way back to elementary school, and he can't recount a single friend "drama" from, well, ever. It's just us women, seems like. And the end result seems to always be a questioning of our intrinsic value because, gee, if our fellow females don't have our backs, maybe there's something wrong with us…?

So which is it? Are women somehow naturally prone to being over-sensitive about perceived wrongs? Or have years of being crappy friends to one another made us hyper-vigilant lest we be further tormented? And how in the world do we leave some of this middle-school garbage at the curb and just… be friends?

(get more Mir here)
 

39 comments

  • Anonymous

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    As a guy, I would add a level of distinction. Any people I still consider friends today, that I knew when we were young (say, earlier than college) I think we are friends BECAUSE we were able to avoid, or mutually face and deal with, those issues. I was ‘wronged’ many times as I grew up. I do not consider those people friends. I suspect your husband may have similar thoughts… unless NOONE he knew while growing up ever did him wrong (in that case, he is a LUCKY man).
    In a broader sense, I have a feeling that men have less issues than women, and it has to do with many of the male stereotypes I think actually helping us to avoid them. Listing examples would take pages, but if you think about it men dont put themselves into a vulnerable position all that often. And when they do, its with a friend you KNOW you can.
    Just my opinion, though.

    Report this comment

    • Sarah

      Posted on June 5, 2012

      Excellent comment! Maybe girls and women have more friend drama because we choose to be more vulnerable. I am certainly guilty of trusting a friend with too much too soon. We are always harping on men to be more open to their feelings, but this is an example of how being a little closed off can be marvelous for self-preservation. At the same time, we can lose out on so much joy by not allowing people into our lives – it is a difficult line to walk.

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  • liz

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    I have to say that, since being involved in politics now for several years, it’s been my experience that men do this much more than women do…but only in certain contexts.

    Women may do it in the context of small friendships, but men do it way way more in the context of a larger group.

    Report this comment

  • Headless Mom

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    I hate women. I steer clear of drama, retreat from friendships when it’s obvious that someone causes drama. That may make ME a bitch, but I’d rather that than be caught up in it. Thus, the friends I have are mostly drama free.

    Report this comment

  • Anonymous

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    OK – does anyone else have a problem with the little “off our chests” pingback or tweets or whatever it is covering up the left side of the story? It happens every time and I never get to read the endings! Ugh!

    Report this comment

  • Anonymous

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    Yes, I get that covering up the end of the story, too. I just select the text, copy and paste it into a Word document. It only copies the text of the story, not the annoying box in the middle of it all. Kind of a pain, but it works.

    Report this comment

  • jen_alluisi

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    For those having trouble reading – what browser are you using? I typically use Chrome and have never had that issue.

    Report this comment

  • Anonymous

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    Mozilla firefox works fine, too. Internet Explorer is the culprit.

    Report this comment

  • el-e-e

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    I also have the problem of the text getting covered up but since my work uses IE8, I figured it was my issue to deal with.

    (I liked this post but haven’t had too much friend-drama in a long time, thank GOD.)

    Report this comment

  • Stacy

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    This is why I always had more guy friends than girl friends in high school and college. I actually had a friend for 15 years who stopped speaking to me when I married my husband because she thought one day they would be together. Did I mention they had NEVER dated and she was MARRIED?!? Women are crazy. And we put up with it because we are delicate flowers who think we did something to deserve it and we want to make it all better. We just need to be better at realizing our self-worth and just walk away. It’s a lesson that takes a lifetime.

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  • Lara

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    I think its the crappy friendships. Women spent years fighting for the right to work outside the home and then proceed to put each other down and judge each other for their choice to work or stay home. Lots of judging in general about all kinds of things. Which is why for many years, my best friends were guys. But I’m happy to say, I have finally found a good group of women without any of that nonsense :)

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  • Nancy

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    So hit home with me. I lost what I always said was my ‘best friend’ after my divorce when she sided with him. It all had to do with which one of us was easier not to break off with – he golfed and played poker with her husband and another friend – and I can see that now. But we were friends from 3rd grade and she was my daughters god-mother! From a distance now (10 years and much therapy) I can see that she never was a good friend, comments like “if you don’t do something about your situation, don’t talk to me about it anymore” don’t really come from a good friend. Still painful though, and makes me extremely ‘friend-shy’, I just don’t have any except my boyfriend, who is the best friend ever. And, surprise! a guy.

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  • The Other Leanne

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    Well, this is certainly timely. My mom is 85, living in a lovely retirement home, eats her meals with a regular group of 80s-ladies, and last week one of them got mad about a chair (OMG! a CHAIR!) and told my mom she could just go sit somewhere else. Just like frickin’ high school.
    Yep, a boy gets mad, socks his friend in the arm, and they go off to play together. Girls say, “you’re not my friend anymore!” and make it so.
    But I don’t think that makes us hyper-vigilant unless we are naturally prone to it, nor are we over-sensitive (just attuned to our feelings more than men); and we can leave it at the curb by focusing on something bigger than ourselves, or at least bigger than a CHAIR.

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  • Jessica

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    I was just talking to a good friend of mine last night about this (in our relationship). I would say that our relationship is more guy-like that most women. We don’t take crap from one another (“Hey, you’re being an idiot, so stop it.”) and we pretty much tell each other the straight-up truth. I have only met ONE woman like this in my life (her), and she says she’s only met one woman like this (me). The sad fact is that we are only like this with each other, because we know we can take it from the other. (Sadly, we were discussing how crappy it was that we are so far apart, distance-wise, when we could really use the truth-telling on at least a monthly basis, face-to-face.)

    On the other hand, I remember junior high and high school when I would purposefully tell groups of friends that if they put me in the middle of any disagreement, I was out of the group-think completely. I hated the drama and pretty much eschewed that whenever it was around. I speak my mind and that’s that. I hate the idea of sneaking around behind someone’s back. If I don’t like you, I’m polite and civil, but I’m not pretending to be buds. If I do like you, I will actually talk and joke with you more than just getting whatever contact I have to have with you out of the way. I’m a pretty easy read in that way, and I am a huge extrovert, so it’s pretty obvious when I have my “down to business” suit on versus my “I’m relaxed around you” clothes. I remember one girl in college that I had a major, ongoing disagreement with. She lived across the hall from me, so I’d be polite when I saw her but not friendly like I was with my actual friends. She always complained to me that I should be civil to her, but she actually meant that she wanted me to pretend to be her friend. I finally told her that I WAS being civil when I would greet her with a simple “hello” if she was in the room and would listen when she spoke and even reply when she spoke directly to me. The main issue was that I wouldn’t pretend to like her and be her friend when she was around, which is what she thought normal women should do.

    I guess that all boils down to say that I have never understood the “girl drama” some women seem to carry with them like the dirt around Pig-Pen.

    Of course, I also don’t tend to have large groups of friends that are friends with each other. I have a friend over here and a friend over there. I have always jokingly said it’s because I don’t want my friends to get together to throw me a surprise party (I hate surprises), but thinking about it more, I really think that I hate the X, Y, and Z drama. It’s easier to stay away from it if Y and Z aren’t even friends. X can tell Y something and not tell Z and vice versa without any worries that Y and Z will discuss it behind X’s back at all.

    Hmmmm…now you have me analyzing my friendship patterns, and I think I have (since high school) set it up to avoid all that drama crap. I kind of like it that way.

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    • Leanne

      Posted on June 7, 2012

      Your comment made me smile. I thought for a second you were describing me. Now that I’m older. I remember drama central in grade 8, name calling and nasty notes and bickering over stupid things. We got over it and moved on.

      Nowadays I have lots of acquaintances, very few friends. My tribe is me, and I kind of like it that way.

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      • Jessica

        Posted on June 9, 2012

        I’m glad it’s not just me! Grade 8 was the worst for me, as I was (finally, I thought back then) accepted in the “popular” group. I learned that only meant there was more drama (not only that, but then the entire junior high school knew about the drama and got involved), so I quickly left that scene behind.

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  • mamaspeak

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    I have PTSD from my BFF from 5th-12th dropping me, (and everyone else prior to college,) for no apparent reason. The other girls in our group went to different colleges, but her and I ended up at the same school. (Not unusual, we had the same major & this was a good school for it.) Our group, who had been together since 6th grade, agreed not to discuss college until we all knew where we were going, so as not to influence each other. She got involved w/Young Life, (which I introduced her to,) but took it up in a way that was not typical. From what I could ascertain, she felt everyone else was not living the “Christian Life,” that she now was. She didn’t want to sully her life any longer w/those who didn’t practice what they preached. (Yes, very ironic, as judging others is so very Christian, right?) Over the years, I’ve tried to find out what the problem really was & why she did it that way. (There was a lot of history to just disregard.) But whenever I do that she disappears from my life again, so I just leave it. (She friended me on FB a few years ago, so I thought after a while that I’d approach her again about it, via email. She didn’t unfriend me, but she didn’t answer and stopped commenting on photos,etc… for a while. Whatever.) I haven’t really had a BFF since. I wasn’t kidding about the PTSD. I have a lot of friends who are more like “acquaintances.” But the BFFs in my life number 2. They are my daughter’s godmothers.

    I live in a neighborhood where a majority of us don’t work outside the home. I did for the first few years we lived here, but am full time SAHM now. The DRAMA that goes on w/the SAHMs makes high school look like nothing. It drives me nuts. I won’t play politics, so I get left out things. I also, won’t kiss the “queen bee’s” arce, so there’s that. The thing that bothers me, is that I think my kids get excluded at times bc I won’t play along. I do feel guilt over that. Ultimately, I don’t really care what they think if they’re going to carry on like we’re back to mean girl days. I find that I get along best w/the moms who are still working. They don’t have time for the BS. Just wish they were around more to hang out with. Oh, and the husbands in the neighborhood have a little “poker clique” going, so there’s drama on that side too.

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    • Nora Jaye

      Posted on June 27, 2012

      I had the same experience moving to a town full of SAHMs when my kids were small – good lord, the dynamic in my seventh grade class was more mature. It was horribly isolating and depressing. I guess I should be grateful, it motivated me to get my butt back to work within the year, something I’ve never regretted. But I do regret that my kids suffered for it. We probably should have moved.

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  • Lady M

    Posted on June 5, 2012

    I only stay friends with people who don’t choose relationship drama, but that’s something that I think we learn over a long period of time.

    Funny story from work – When I was pregnant, I started telling people after the first trimester, as is usual. For the next THREE MONTHS, each colleague to whom I mentioned it was quite surprised and congratulatory. Even if the person had been working side by side all day long with someone who had known for weeks. Guess – were they men or women? Yeah, guy engineers.

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    • meredith

      Posted on June 6, 2012

      That is typical and funny. My engineer husband sometimes comes home from work and tells me that a co-worker has had a baby. But when I ask if the new baby is a boy or a girl, he usually doesn’t know or can’t remember. I’ve given up asking him what the name of the new baby might be.

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  • meredith

    Posted on June 6, 2012

    Unfortunately, I think most of us end up being hypervigilant. As I get older, the number of really good friends I can count on has been reduced to just a few, and none of them live where I do, due to location moves on both sides of the friendships. I’ve lived in the same town for ten years and I’ve had three bad friend dramas. Since those incidents, I’ve retreated from those “friends”.
    Men don’t gossip or get hung up on the little stuff as much as we women seem to do.

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  • Megan

    Posted on June 6, 2012

    Hmmmm. I am MAJORLY gossip averse – huge – which makes for a few problems in the sort of superficial work-type friendships with women but I’ve finally learned how to tactfully side-step conversations that veer into what I consider Not My Business At All Thankyew. My close friendships always used to be with males (first best friend was a boy – mostly ’cause there weren’t any other kids in the neighborhood) and I think my friend-habits developed a bit more along those lines maybe?

    I make friendships around shared interests and activities and I think I’m always a bit wary of dipping into emotional stuff – I’m always afraid of saying the wrong thing and hurting someone.

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  • joanne

    Posted on June 6, 2012

    I find the drama prevalent among women .. who let the drama rule. There are very few people that I have chosen to share secrets with, and have not been disappointed in them.

    I think society emphasizes the importance of a great number of friends, and to be nice to everyone… and this ends up hurting our girls in the long run. If we can learn that a few good friends are better than a host of acquaintences, we would be better off in the long run.

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  • MomCat

    Posted on June 6, 2012

    This is why I don’t have many close friends anymore. The last time something like this happened I was….38. Seems like it never ends. I have three close friends, all older, so if they go before me, I’m turning into the crazy cat lady.

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  • Lucinda

    Posted on June 6, 2012

    I can’t say that I’ve experienced that much but I also haven’t had a lot of long-lasting female friendships. In truth, I viewed this being due to me changing over the years. Having grown up in a fairly dysfunctional home, I had to learn over the years how to develop healthy relationships. So women I was friends with at a younger age I essentially outgrew and the friendships faded. For example, I barely talk to my maid of honor.

    That said, I have always had little patience for drama and gossip. I tell you what I think in as kind a manner as possible but I don’t play games or put up with thoughtless behavior. So my group is pretty small but I love the women who are my friends and would do anything for them.

    My husband does have friends from childhood but his friendship with them is different. They don’t get into the deep personal stuff much and they tend to let conflict roll off their backs. They are less likely to perceive something as a slight because their interpersonal skills are much different than women. I don’t think it makes us bad. It just makes us different. Strong female bonds can absolutely form. You just have to know who you are before you can do that.

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  • CJ

    Posted on June 7, 2012

    The drama so sucks. A couple of my parents’ friends got into it over a derisive comment about meatballs and ended a friendship of 35+ years. They’re still not speaking more than 10 years later. So sad that they’re missing out on each others’ lives.

    I’m pretty sure I could have more friends if I were able to keep up with all of the drama details and be involved, but I simply can’t remember all of the minutiae, so I think I’m just left out of a lot of circles. My brain just doesn’t operate that way.

    FWIW, my husband is known to cut off friends and hold grudges over perceived slights. I try to stay out of his drama, too!

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on June 7, 2012

    Ugh. I’ve always thought the drama-types seemed like an alien species that I just could not grasp.

    It’s always made me kind of on the fringes, but I’ve always avoided the emotional, let’s-talk-about-our-deepest issues friendships, so there are a lot of people I consider “friends”, but no really close friends.

    Now as adults, we may possibly know about some stuff, nothing TOO secret (eg., parents’ serious illness or such), but discuss for about 2 minutes then move on to more cheerful, light, fluffy topics! Where it’s safe!

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  • Nancee

    Posted on June 7, 2012

    I must have learned my lesson early on in life with girls/women and drama. Since college I have been in a male dominated profession with few lasting women friendships through the years (secretly I really miss that bonding, but maybe I don’t either if it has drama attached to it), I have no problem at all communicating with the guys. Although I will say, as gossipers they win the ribbon, despite the sterotype. I often struggle to find my “feminity” in my career, however with family and being a mom defines it for me most days…I nuture the heck out of everyone and it’s appreciated. My teenage daughter has avoided those drama incidents so far in life and has chose friends wisely, but I share those broken heart stories from fallen friends with her (from my adult life) often in hopes to build her guard up or help her find the path. It’s most likely inevitable, but my avoidance of those relationships has made my life richer.

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  • Lori in MN

    Posted on June 19, 2012

    I always thought it was because I didn’t have a sister like all my other friends or maybe because I wasn’t popular or fashionable or maybe I read too many books, but it’s always been easier to be friends with boys. And I’ve spent the past 6 months NOT talking to my BFF of 25 years (since college) because my life of working every other weekend, having kids, etc. doesn’t often allow me to make last minute plans, no matter how awesome they may be. And now the nightmare of being married to a cranky alcoholic is too much drama for anyone else to have to deal with. It’s my wedding anniversary today, and I don’t expect that anyone will remember. Can’t thank you enough for your wonderful, thought-provoking posts here and on WCS.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on June 25, 2012

    Wow – I stumbled upon this today when I REALLY needed to hear it! I love your writing. I have always had tons of very good friends but in the last couple of years I have had some personal problems. Where did those friends go? They fled – and I always prided myself on being there for them during their problems – I would NEVER abandon a friend. I am so hurt – I don’t think I will ever trust women again. I have nightmares about it. I just can’t believe they left me when I needed them the most.

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  • Nora Jaye

    Posted on June 27, 2012

    Women can be the worst friends, but they can also be the best.

    I decided in college that I was a grownup and therefore no one could make me put up with competitive, back-stabby people again. That decision led me to switch fields – when I was in finance, the other women were like junior high all over again.

    Over the years, I’ve slowly acquired about a dozen close friends (mom friends, colleagues, etc), plus I have my sister and a bunch of female in-laws I’m close to.

    It helps that there are so many in my life – sometimes I think the dynamic with two or three super-close friends creates drama in people who aren’t like that otherwise.

    I recently dropped a friend who was prone to drama. She needed me to “prove” my friendship by prioritizing her over my own needs, my family and my job and was very unpleasant when I didn’t. She was competitive with my other friends and one day ended up being horribly snotty to one. That was the end.

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