Thursday, February 18, 2010

Women as Friends and Me as Woman

I'm working on a blog post for BlogHer.com about female friendships. It's kind of a hard write for me because my mind is very noisy on the topic and because I don't tend to keep lots of friends. My personal experience on the subject matter is rather limited because I don't think that I've ever had a BFF (Best Friend Forever), not even as a younger woman.

Oh, I have friends that I knew when I was in high school that I can still connect with when we choose, but one of those friendships with the kind of bond that causes a buddy shows up to nurse you back from cancer or a group of friends that keeps in touch with each other regularly and all their children know each other? Uh, no, don't have that, and at this late date am likely to ever have that, which is probably why the book The Hot Flash Club fascinates me. What's the likelihood of finding that kind of friendship between random women springing up after age 50? However, it would be nice.

When I started working on this post, I had a working title, "Are We Liberators or are We Crabs? Females as Friends, Mentors, Champions" because this question of women as the lifters of women, as balm and guide for other women, women as friends has been on my mind juxtaposed to critical statements about women as friends that I see too frequently in the news or fiction. I'll probably give examples of what I mean in the BlogHer.com piece. But I've concluded that to think about how as a woman you relate to other women is to look in the mirror for the kind of woman you reflect.

When my marriage ended, I was left alone with a woman I did not know as well as I thought I knew. Me. As I look back at some of my writing from those days, blog posts and poetry, I see that I struggled not only with who I am but what is woman and her role on the planet, hence my mulling over the concept of goddess.

Consequently, I wrote poems such as "Light and Only Light" aka "I am Goddess"--sort of me telling me to think more of me or nobody else would, certainly not a man--, or "I Can Only Speak of Me, that reflects a search for self and the dark places it takes you, and "Evoulution" that reflects what it might meant for me to be a straight woman without a man. I wondered how much more dependent I might be on female networks than I'd ever before considered as I quickly discovered males didn't want to be real friends unless that included sharing a bed sometimes. I couldn't accommodate them because casual sex is not really my style.

I emphasize "straight" with the word "woman" because I recall the men who dropped by my poetry sometimes to suggest I was a lesbian because I had no clear interest in knowing them instead of myself at the moment and because I wrote about womanly matters.

Unlike my former spouse, I had no desire to leap immediately into a new marriage. And as I pushed away a few men who clearly had marriage in mind, I contemplated what it means to nurture the bonds of platonic affection. The kindest word a man dubbed me, as far as my work went, was "womanist."

Lately, perhaps because I look at the world with five decades beneath my belt, I ponder how this world has changed its view of female friendships. It seems women's relationships with women, especially well-known women, get pinned beneath microscopes. While men have been encouraged to have male bonding sessions, the female bond is being scrutinized and open acts of affection labeled "gay."

You know what I'm talking about, the Oprah and Gayle rumors that Rosie O'Donnell, for instance, would rather fan than discuss intelligently under the possibility that there is such a thing as platonic attachment. I'm not sure what that's about, Rosie fantasizing or the world's growing dysfunction revealing a belief that the only real affection is sexual or romantic affection.

I call it dysfunction because I know that if a shrink ask you, "So, do you think that the only way to show affection is sexual?" You'd better answer "No" and list some other ways or you'll be paying for a lot more sessions. And yet women today have less liberty to be openly affectionate as though the whole world is made up of confused middle-schoolers.

I remember when teen girls and young women could walk down the street holding hands, whispering in each others ears about what else but boys or older women could drape an arm around a female friend's shoulder just because she loved her like a sister and nobody questioned that. No one. It was understood that women had friendships with women to whom they felt deep connection and that was the extent of it, a deep sense of kinship, unquestioned loyalty.

I wanted one of those; however, as I suggested earlier, I'm not sure that I was ever another woman's best friend. I mean I was not the woman called up to be the maid of honor at the wedding or the one people called when they wanted go shopping. Maybe that was one of the drawbacks of being the "fat" friend. I don't know.

But I've been the friend people call when things fall apart with the boyfriend because they want advice, when they want help with their resume or to give an opinion on an office situation. I was even asked once to go to a party, talk to a specific man, and then report my impressions of him back to a friend, sort of like a psychic being asked to give a reading. But I've never been the friend that everybody else knows is the BFF, the one you know that if you look for one, there is the other. I think I've been the BFP, best friend in a pinch.

And yet, I've never developed all these odd ideas of female relationships. The ones I see that judge and label female pairs and cliques as "frenemies" or "repressed lesbians" or "bitches in ditches," "queen bee and hive" or "bucket o' crabs." Maybe I'm not that observant.

The most I've done is observe women in groups and like Heidi Klum on Project Runway determine who was either in or out, meaning I tended to notice the females who were like me and those who weren't. The ones like me were there in the group but not really. They were good at faking being in the group and sometimes fell over themselves worried about fitting in while at other times didn't think fitting in mattered at all. The ones unlike me were consistently popular, usually excelled in social graces--the art of flattery, lying, knowing when to keep mum.

I can only write this because to my knowledge, none of my brick and mortar friends read this blog, and so I won't have people writing me to say, "But what about me? I'm your friend." To which I would say, "Yes. Yes you are." That's what you say when you care enough not to hurt anyone feelings, knowing that person won't be there when you need them at all because you wouldn't feel comfortable telling them you needed anything. A friend is someone you feel won't judge you if they see you at your worst.

However, I do have friends who I know will come if called. I'm just not the calling type. I'm the do as much as you can alone type, and that's either a character flaw or common sense. I still don't know which it is.

2 comments:

cactusrose said...

I can relate as well as identify entirely with your expressions. Like you, I also am the deal with it alone type.
I have a 22 year old daughter, and as I observe her friendships, I have noticed that there seems to be quite a lot of helping each other through many situations. Unlike my experience at her age. There seems to be a genuine support for each other and true caring.
My thoughts are that the times I grew up in were not conducive to these types of friendships.
I do hope they strengthen and last her a lifetime.

Libertine said...

This is a very good post and thought provoking. You see, I'm one of those who has a few, who I call friends. The best friends are those, who I might not see or call for months and once I do, there's alot to say and it feels we met yesterday. I am one of those who don't care if I fit in a group, and my best friend has a similar "policy". She, however is in many ways different to me. I think these differences are keeping us as friends, because these things have attracted us in the first place.