I came across this quote a few weeks ago and it really stuck with me for a while. It put me in mind not only of the dynamics of female friendships—which, although this is probably quite sexist, I believe can be exceptionally unique—but also of the difference between the friendships one has as a child and those one experiences as an adult.
I’ve always been interested in groups of girl-friends, especially in their teenage years. Whether it was a group that I was part of and loved, whether it was a group I watched and thought lovely, ridiculous or both, whether it was a group that made me feel like an insignificant member or a group that I didn’t know but seemed to band together to follow myself or my friends around school, apparently for no other reason than to intimidate us.
It’s always struck me that a large gang of girls have the potential to be almost dangerous…
Female friendships can be pretty intense. I’ve noticed this in starting university and building up new relationships…while I absolutely love and feel a definite need to bond with other females, I’ve found it a lot easier, at least in the first instance, to bond with males. Boys often demand less. Boys are quite comfortable to have a light conversation with you, and as someone who can be quite private and is becoming not necessarily slow to trust, but slow to get to know people and make judgements or decisions, this is a huge relief. Many girls, on the other hand, feel the need to make a close bond right away. And I can see that this has its place and it a wonderful thing, but for me personally it’s always a little intimidating being expected to share things about myself with people I’ve known a few weeks or months “because we’re really close and you should tell me everything.”
I don’t know how else to describe it other than that it can all get a bit much. In fact, the girls I would consider my closest friends now are the ones who have understood that it takes a while to get to know someone, and while we’ve taken an interest in each other’s lives from day one, there has been a mutual understanding that there is no need to become close, intense “best friends” until everybody feels ready for that. It’s really the same as entering into any kind of relationship, as I’ve discussed.
But I digress. Going back to the fascinating dynamics of the teenage girl gang, I have always sensed that almost unnoticeable aura of competition. Even in conversations between a group of friends—I mean, friends who actually get on with and like each other, there has always to me seemed the smallest struggle between some people to be the one who everyone is listening to, to be the focus of the conversation and to gain the upper hand…
And of course, alas, some things never change. But I have noticed that making friends as an adult—I still use the term ever so loosely… let’s clarify it as “one who no longer has to put up one’s hand in order to go to the toilet”—has a slightly different dynamic than making friends had back when I was twelve, the last time I had to, shall we say, befriend en masse. And again, as I will always clarify, though I’m using the girls and women in the titular quote as an example, this applies to males too. (Though perhaps we mature at different rates? I’ll put a pin in that argument as otherwise we’d be here for a week.)
Perhaps as we get older and start realising how many options we have in life, we begin to focus a bit more on ourselves and what we’d like to do or be. Experiences like taking our final exams at school (or college) and gaining our place at university or our first job can often serve to remind us that, while I suppose we did compete for points and places, no good really came of comparing ourselves to others and trying to be better than our friends. Most of us got where we are today by leaving the competitive one-upmanship attitude behind and concentrating on being the best we can at what we want to do.
At the moment when I look at my group of friends, for example those I live with in halls or those on my course, the fact is that there’s no time or opportunity to be competitive. We’re all so different that nobody wants to be “the most x, y or z in the flat”, or if they are, nobody else minds it. My friends right now, most of the time anyway, definitely empower me. If I make a decision, it is supported by my friends. They want what’s best for me, not what will make them look good. My friends want me to succeed and I want them to succeed. They are not quick to judge. If I do well at something or become happy, my friends—my real friends—experience the joy along with me without a smack of resentment. And I have to say that I feel the same way about them. I want them all to get Firsts—it doesn’t affect whether I get one or not. I want them all to be well liked and supported—it doesn’t mean people will like or support me less.
At the moment I’m enjoying being supported in everything I do, and supporting others right back. Jealousy and competition have never seemed more of a waste of time.