Women have a gift for making deep, complex friendships

Mister D: Funny, I always thought it was due to heavy drinking a la Sex and the City. Who knew it was a gift??? 🙂 BTW, they should add “Friends” to the playlist at the end….it’s a no brainer!

San Jose Mercury News
Women have a gift for making deep, complex friendships
By Bruce Newman
Published: Sunday, September 19, 2010

SAN JOSE, Calif. | The qualities that make women’s friendships special remain cloaked in the mists of cultural myth and gender stereotypes – the ermine and pearls of the war between the sexes. A recent example surfaced during a camping trip that forms a cultural counterpoint to the fictional gal-pal gatherings of HBO’s “Sex and the City,” with flannel taking the place of Fendi, Birkenstocks instead of Blahniks.

On an annual outing with their families, the group of eight women – who gathered daily at the Parents Nursery School playground in Palo Alto, Calif., a dozen years ago – resumed the easy exchange of mixed feelings, shared insecurities and hot flashes from the war’s front lines that began at the cooperative preschool when they were young mothers.

“We felt like we could talk about anything,” recalls Lucinda Abbott, 52, whose two daughters now attend Palo Alto High. “All our problems with child rearing, how fat you felt you were, whether or not you were going to get Lasik. That was one of the best periods in my life for friendship.”

What Abbott refers to as “the talk, talk, talk” of those friendships gave them a lively, limber quality that allowed them to endure, even as life intruded. This is the great gift, or gene, that women have for strong attachments, a prize that is theirs alone.

Compared to men, women’s friendships are quicker to light and launch; cover an emotional landscape more varied than a Neverland of sports and strippers; and find in the expression of their own vulnerability an intimacy and strength.

But that willingness to explore everything, to extract meaning from most things and to let go of absolutely nothing inevitably creates drama. Strong feelings often make small transgressions seem like terrible betrayals. Sometimes, when women’s friendships crash, it can be devastatingly final. But it is also within their capacity to love each other so much that they are better able to forgive one another than men.

The determination many women have to get quickly to the heart of things, to talk problems through in a way that would exhaust most men, has led to a fundamental misunderstanding: that women are gossips. But one of the great strengths of their gender is the ability women have to keep each other’s secrets.

It starts with the sort of deep, layered conversations that men rarely have. “It doesn’t actually solve any problems, but it feels so affirming,” Abbott says. “I think that’s what women do when we talk. We’re affirming our love for each other. To me, it almost feels like going back to the village square, when the women were all doing their laundry together.”

On “Sex and the City,” Carrie Bradshaw suggests at one point that she and her helpmate harem become each other’s soulmates. They would only require men for fun.

“And I was like, ”˜That’s it! She nailed it,’” says Chrystal Bougon, who organized a recent Ladies Night Out party that started with Diva-tinis and ended at a showing of “Eat, Pray, Love.” “I don’t want to say it’s impossible to have a male soulmate, but I’ve been with the same guy for 23 years – love him! – but it’s just not the same, you know? We speak a different language.”

Apart from the occasional “Iron John” chest pounding sessions, it’s unlikely there are male gatherings where as much bonding takes places as the “pleasure parties” Bougon organizes for groups of girlfriends through her San Jose sex toy business, Bliss Connection. Her recent presentation of lingerie and lubricants for the wives of a local pro sports team went characteristically well. Everybody talked and laughed for three hours.

And yet the fabric that holds such evenings together isn’t lace; it is sterner stuff derived from difficult phone calls late at night, when someone has lost a child, or found a lump, that bind women together.

Bougon says her husband often gets frustrated that she has many more friends than he does. One of her pals is going through the same thing. “Her husband has no friends, and he’s mad about it,” she says. “He’s a 50-year-old man. Where does he go to make new friends? For that reason alone, I would not want to be a guy. It seems so sad and lonely.”

Women seem to understand that to have great friends you must be a great friend.

“That’s what I try to explain to men,” Bougon says. “If you want to have really deep, meaningful friendships, then maybe you’re the one who needs to take a risk and (befriend) somebody male.”

Women have fewer barriers to friendship, according to sociologist Scott Swain, because they more easily show their feelings. Women relate to each other face-to-face, he says, while men’s friendships are typically conducted side-by-side – watching sports, fishing, drinking beer.

“Women can say, ”˜You’re my best friend,’ ” explains Swain, author of a chapter in the book “Gender in Intimate Relationships” and now head counselor at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, Calif. “With men, things are much more implicit” – a quick fist pump, a back slap, a nod.

When sociologist Karen Walker interviewed women in the workplace for a study about gender and friendship, she found many expressed guilt for not always being caring at the office. “Because these women weren’t able to share their intimate thoughts and feelings in a business setting, some responded that they weren’t very good friends,” Walker says.

Helene Lavelle has concentric circles of friends, the widest of which she categorizes as “close,” narrowing to a more select group of mostly female “best” friends, and an inner circle of her “dearest” pals – all women. But after 26 years in sales for Silicon Valley tech companies, Lavelle rarely mixes those groups.

She knows the difference between making friends and networking. “Some friendships can be based on not a lot,” she says. “There was a lot of that going on in Silicon Valley years ago.”

One of the distinguishing characteristics of women’s friendships is their complexity, which is why, as she navigates middle age, Lavelle cherishes the relationships she already has with her female friends, but isn’t looking for any others.

“There’s a lot of drama with women, and I hate drama,” she says. “I don’t have time for it. Get a grip. That’s why men’s relationships tend to be cleaner. There’s no funny business.”

In Gail Caldwell’s new memoir, “Let’s Take the Long Way Home,” the author tells a female friend, “Men don’t really understand women’s friendships, do they?”

“Oh, God, no,” her friend replies. “And we must never tell them.”

MaryLynne Rodriguez tells them.

Rodriguez, a 32-year-old guidance counselor at Presentation High School, and her husband consider each other their best friends. They tell each other everything, and in MaryLynne’s case, that includes unraveling the mysteries of her friendships with the women she grew up with. She recently took an introductory hip-hop class with one of her few unmarried girlfriends, determined not to allow that difference come between them.

Rodriguez says her friendships help define her. “At work I’m the college counselor; at home I’m mommy and the housekeeper; but with my friends I’m just MaryLynne – a silly person who’s fun to be around,” she says. “It makes me remember who I am, and who I was, when I’m with my friends.”

Friendship Playlist

1. “You’ve Got a Friend,” James Taylor

2. “Lean On Me,” Bill Withers

3. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” Randy Newman

4. “Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones

5. “With a Little Help From My Friends,” the Beatles

6. “That’s What Friends Are For,” Dionne Warwick and others

7. “Cisco Kid,” War

8. “Moon River,” Audrey Hepburn

9. “For Good,” from “Wicked”

10. “Friends,” Whodini

11. “Thank You for Being a Friend,” Andrew Gold

12. “Ben,” Michael Jackson

13. “You’re My Best Friend,” Queen

14. “I’ll Be There for You,” the Rembrandts

15. “Umbrella,” Rihanna

16. “You Want to Be My Friend?” from “Closer Than Ever”

17. “The Painter,” Neil Young

18. “Artesia,” Dave Alvin

19. “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Bette Midler

20. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” the Hollies

Share A little Divinity

3 thoughts on “Women have a gift for making deep, complex friendships

  1. Mr. D:)! Thank you very much for posting this article — I have the actual newspaper with me coz I saved it and then forgot to tell you:(. I am really delighted to see the article here and you can castigate me for forgetting, LOL!! xox

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