The Joyful, Unique and Messy Aspects of Women’s Friendships
A glimpse into the special nature of women’s friendships and what makes them so complicated.
Written by: Sheila Kiss
The friendships we form with other women are a key part of our lives as we grow from girls to women. In elementary school, we met our first friends. Some may not be a part of our lives forever, although a few may remain as we grow up. We start out with “playdates'' doing crafts, playing outside, and dressing up in ridiculous costumes, pretending to be princesses or cowboys. There is the occasional quarrel about who gets to wear the prettiest dress or who gets to play with their favorite doll, but by the end of the day we are begging our parents for a few more hours together. In middle school, we have sleepovers for each other's birthdays or for school dances. We stay up laughing until we almost pee ourselves, eating snacks, and playing games. At times, certain girls are excluded from the group — maybe their parents wouldn’t let them come or because they aren’t “cool” enough.
In high school, those friendships really begin to change. We start growing apart from our first friends and we find new friends and new interests. As many of us know, high school is notorious for being filled with hormonal drama, and when we look back on it, it’s difficult to say what all the drama was really about or why there even was drama. You find out your “friend” is talking about you behind your back or you don’t like that one girl your friend is close with. Your once lifelong best friend finds a new best friend, leaving you in the dust. It’s difficult to say what causes these discrepancies, but one thing is certain — the fallout of an ended friendship can be heartbreaking and painful.
Although many girls and women may not relate to every one of these situations described above, many women have similar — if not the same — experiences when it comes to their friends. Not every female friendship is the same, and many other factors play into these friendships due to the fact that we are all different in our own ways. However, many undeniable factors specifically unite friendships among girls and women.
As in most relationships and friendships, communication plays a crucial role in how we grow close to one another and learn about each other. Conversation is a key aspect in female relationships and can even be a distinguishing factor of women’s friendships. According to Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, conversation is the “glue that holds a relationship together,” for friendships among girls and women. Tannen is a renowned author of many books including “You’re The Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships,” which focuses on the complex and joyful nature of women friendships and the role that conversation plays in these relationships. For this book, she interviewed 80 girls and women, ages ranging from 9 to 97 years old, who gave detail on their friendships with other females.
One of the highlighting factors of Tannen’s research on this topic is that women’s friendships are based on “talk,” as she puts it, and the conversations tend to be more in depth compared to friendships among men. Girls and women are more inclined to share secrets and personal details about themselves with each other, and this determines the level of closeness they have with one another. Tannen says that this was reflected by many of the women she had conversations with. “One woman said a close friend knows things about me that others don’t and another woman said if a friend is a true friend I tell her everything I think and everything I feel,” she said. Women go to each other for venting, for advice, and for help in troubling situations. This nature of women friendships make these relationships very special on one hand, but can also make them very complicated and complex on the other.
An aspect of women’s friendships that is in connection with women’s tendencies to share personal information with their friends, is that the friends who know personal information first are considered “more close” to you. Being the last to know (or maybe just not the first to know) leads to feelings like you aren’t “as close as you thought” with that friend. Although this sounds silly and in some ways immature, this is a tendency among women’s friendships, as found through Tannen’s research. She notes, “It is such a huge part of women’s friendships that you tell what’s going on in your life, you tell secrets, that not being told is a violation of the friendship and you feel hurt.” This also leads into the aspect of being left out of “the group.” It is important to note that this aspect is not exclusive to women’s friendships although it is common. Most would agree that being left out of an outing with friends, whether it be a birthday dinner or trip to the mall, can be one of the worst feelings in the world. Tannen notes that “girls really do punish girls they don’t like by locking them out.”
It is important to note that not all female friendships are focused around hurt, secrets, and gossip. Most of the time, the friendships we have with other women can be fruitful and therapeutic in many ways, as we turn to our friends in times of need and, most importantly, to have fun together. Friendships among women are based on a lot of different aspects, not just conversation; although it does play an important role in these relationships. Much of the drama we experience with our friends can be mostly confined into our middle-school and high-school years. Many women may also prefer to be friends with men for the aspects of female friendships described above. With all this in mind, the friendships we form with other women are very unique and special, and all women can relate in some way or another because of the commonalities we experience with our friendships.