Which Came First, The Dis or the Delicate Flower?
(story by Mir, from WouldaCouldaShoulda.com)
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)