Since college, I’ve moved a lot. Each time, I’ll look around around at the grocery store, park or library and wonder if any of the women I’m passing will become my friends.
How do you choose friends, well? I mean, it’s a daunting job, finding good girl friends.
Books like Hayley DiMarco’s Mean Girls: Facing Your Beauty Turned Beast, Mean Girls All Grown Up: Surviving Catty and Conniving Women and Hannah Seligson’s New Girl on the Jobwork to address this problem. In 2004, the movie Mean Girls, showed us, as one critic put it, “a magnified, genuine portrayal of female friend relations”.
The secret is out; Women are often very unkind.
In 2007, Live with Regis and Kelly introduced “Mean Girls All Grown Up: How to Deal with Vicious Women” by highlighting celebrity catfights between Paris Hilton and Brittney Spears, between Cameron Diaz and Jessica Biel over Justin Timberlake. The panel, made up of some psychologists and authors like Susan Shapiro Barash, included two self-titled “mean girls”.
The interview left me concerned, the show highlighted female unkindness, but the solutions felt thin. I bought Barash’ book Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry and found her collection of interviews startling, her solution depressing. I was just dipping my toe into a whole new subject.
The Worst Enemy
When my first book was fresh off the press, I summoned my courage and approached a wise Christian woman, a professor who I admired. I felt hopeful that she would be excited about my book, possibly even review it or endorse it. I sent her a copy, followed it up with a personal visit and several emails. She did not respond and was absent when I visited her office.
I followed my visit up with an email saying I could imagine she was busy, but I hoped one day she could find the time to glance at my book.
When I ran into her over a year later at a conference, I asked her about my book. She made a wry face, and launched into a critic of my style, my metaphors and my historical inaccuracy.
“Really? I would like to know where I was inaccurate” I said.
She couldn’t recall.
That’s when she admitted to not having read my book, but that her assistant had and informed her of these inaccuracies. Again I pressed her if she could remember any specifics or put me in touch with her assistant. Without batting an eye, my professor excused herself from our discussion.
Unknown to me, a well-known, seasoned theologian was standing close by. He had heard the entire conversation. He walked up and pulled me aside.
“Let me tell you something,” he said looking down kindly at me. “Jonalyn, this woman is single and alone.” He paused and searched my face to see that it sunk in. “You do know who the worst enemy of women is.” I paused,
“Women,” I said slowly.
I have no doubt that women can be cruel to each other. It’s a problem out there with all those women, but it’s also a problem inside. I mean don’t we all have the potential to be at least a little cruel.
Terri Apter, co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships writes that “among female friends there is: a wish to offer support and see a friend thrive, on the one hand, and a fear of being left behind or out-shone, on the other.”
You could simple say women have love-hate mixed into every friendship, but the hate isn’t venom as much as it’s envy or insecurity. Add envy to any friendship and you have a “frenemy”, a female friend who, on occasion, treats her friends as enemies.
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