Friday, March 14, 2014

Female Friendships

For book club this month I read The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. It's not something I would have picked up on my own, but it made me think and tore me in a few different directions.

One aspect I liked is that it made me think of This American Life where they interview average Americans and find that everyone has a unique story. If you delve deep enough, no one's life is boring.

The Girls from Ames is about a group of 11 women whose friendships go back forty years. They were (mostly) good friends through high school and kept in touch over the years. Now that they're in their forties, they meet together once a year even though they have completely different lives and live all over the country. It is inspiring how they support each other and how long they've kept in touch--even before social media was big.

On the other hand, as great as they treat each other, this kindness didn't always extend to outsiders--especially in high school. There is one girl in their group whom they gang up on and tell her all the things they don't like about her. She briefly leaves the group but ultimately forgives them and is accepted into the group again as adults. Many in their smallish town thought they were clique-ish and frequently excluded others.

As I read this book, I knew that they were girls I would not have liked in high school. And worse than not liking me, I would have been too unimportant to even notice. There's a character on the T.V. show The Middle. She's awkward and nerdy and unabashedly enthusiastic. And she's constantly having to convince people that she's lived there her whole life and isn't a foreign exchange student because they so rarely notice her. I was that girl, except that I was too shy to try to convince people that I did exist.

Today, I have exactly two Facebook friends who were friends from high school. I have plenty of "friends" who I barley know and haven't talked to in years. But I was important enough to two people in all my childhood and high school years for them to even bother "friending" me on Facebook where everyone has friends they barely know.

I do have some closer friends from college. Some who I can reconnect with even after years of silence between us. And there's a little comfort in that. But, I also have friends from college who I lived with for years and I thought we were really close even as the years have passed. And then they suddenly stopped speaking to me or replying to my messages. I don't really want to know what I did to either offend them or become so unimportant that I'm no longer worth the time to send a message to every few months. Now that I'm in my thirties, I wish I was beyond being hurt by such things, but it does make me second-guess myself and make me uneasy about new friendships. Do I dare get close enough to people for them to discover whatever unknown unlikable thing there is about me that has caused others to cut off years-long friendships without a word?

There are some bright spots in my close relationships with female friends (and if you read the book, as you age close female friendships are extremely important, even to your physical health). I have moved seven times in the eight years I've been married. And lived in five different states. But one of the great things about the church I belong to (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), is that no matter where you go, you have a built-in network of people who will befriend you and help you. Especially in the Relief Society, the church's women's group. Though I'm still a reticent person and take a while to become close to someone, almost everywhere I go, I have women who are willing to help me out. I've noticed this blessing more as my husband has had to leave the country on business for weeks at a time. His co-workers' wives have reached out to me and worried that I'm pregnant and have young kids alone in a new place. While I'm grateful for this and happy to pursue friendships with them as well, I've known that I am not as alone and isolated as they fear.

And the brightest spot, is my female friendships that truly have and will last a lifetime--whether they want it to or not. I have three sisters. We did not always get a long as children, we don't always agree as adults, but we love and support each other anyway. I turn to them for advice and ranting and de-stressing all the time. It was one of the things that made me desperately want a sister for my daughter.

1 comment:

  1. This post made me sad, Emilee! I sure hope I'm not one of those roommates! For the record, I think you're one of those people that if people would really get to know, they would realize what an incredible person you are. For all that you've been through in your life, I am amazed at where you are today. To me it says you are full of strength and courage. You try to become better all the time and try to be the best mother and wife you can. You are smart (incredibly smart!)--that always kind of intimidated me to be honest! I've never felt like I was very smart, especially compared to my siblings. Anyway, you are a woman of strength that I love and respect.
    Over the last few years I've thought a lot about friendships. I had a really good group of friends in this ward, but they have all moved out except one. While they were here we did a lot together and I think some people viewed us as a click (clique? whatever :). It bothered me because I didn't feel like we were an exclusive group, just a group of close friends. Why can't I have close friends that I do things with all the time? Plus at RS activities we rarely sat together. We always tried to sit with and talk to others. I've realized since they moved that I was a little (or maybe a lot) insensitive to people that may not have a close-knit group of friends. I haven't had any close friends in my ward for almost 3 years (except the one, but she works so I don't hang out with her much). It has been really rough for me! I've realized that while yes, it's fine to have close friends, it is not easy to be the one on the outside wishing they could have friends like that, too. I'm not really sure what the right balance is, though. I think it's really hard to find that. But I've learned what it's like to be left out, even though I know it was never intentional. I think I needed to see the other side to learn that lesson.