Girl Friendships: I Love Her. I Love Her Not.

Posted on October 14, 2011 by

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mean girls

(Image Source / Corbis)

My best friend Liz and I had one fight when we were seniors in high school. I caught her crinkling her nose about something I said. And so I teased her. She didn’t like that. I believe I taunted her a bit. She didn’t like that either. Outside, we screamed at each other. In each other’s face. We’re both first-borns–no one was backing down. What were we screaming about? I wasn’t sure. The argument was loud and dramatic enough for people to stare, and then, a girl neither of us liked walked past us and chanted, “Fight, fight, fight!”

Liz and I simultaneously turned to her and hollered: “SHUT UP!” The girl backed away. We turned to each other and smiled. Our fight was derailed by our dislike for someone else. Another girl. (So typical girl of us, wasn’t it?) And our friendship back to normal about a day or two later.

Fighting with your BFF is part of the cycle of friendship in high school (and beyond). Liz and I worked out what we were upset about. And she’s still my best friend to this very day. The problem is when girls don’t make up. When the group dictates who should be friends. When one girl stops talking to the other one. When a girl is wandering the hallways feeling alone and isolated when her friend decides that she’s “mad.” Rachel Simmons  author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls says this kind of behavior is really masked aggression. Simmons tells the Daily Beast:

“It doesn’t give girls an opportunity to remedy or repair. The experience of not knowing why somebody is mad at you can derail her entire day, or maybe even her entire academic year.”

In her book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, Rosalind Wiseman explores the hierarchy of girl friendships and class-like denominations of where your kid fits in. Last year, I interviewed Wiseman for a magazine article and we talked about  how the “group” can become more powerful than the actual friendship. I remember having this experience in junior high, the place where all nasty group dynamics form (and hopefully die as well), with a particular girl who ruled the group–or the “Queen Bee” as Wiseman describes. Each week someone was her marionette. She didn’t like one of the girls, so we all went after her. Then the tide changed. She didn’t like me, and they all went after me. Then she liked me again… and so on, and so on. Oh the whims of the mean girl.

No one turned on her, surprisingly, until we moved up to the high school and I decided she was no longer my friend. I didn’t want to be attached–or unattached, if she so desired–to the mean girl. There was no campaign against her. I just focused my attention on friends who didn’t do shitty things. Not a bad motto, eh? Wiseman says finding a quality  friendship is crucial:

“Parents say, I just want my child to be happy. To just have friends. But more important: what are the quality of those friendships? Do I have those kinds of friendships in my own life and how does that spill over to my child? Those are the most important questions to ask yourself.”

I hear stories from friends with middle-school aged girls. The fighting bewtween the girls is just awful. Brutal. Everyone is hurt. Moms and daughters. But here’s a question to think about. Are you pushing your daughter to be friends with someone even if she’s the royal bitch in charge? Yes, yes, yes, you want your kid to be liked. You want your kid to be popular. But what about allowing her to stand on her feet and make her own decidions. What about the message: you don’t need to be friends with people who aren’t nice to you. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take away the hurt. The heartbreak of a friendship–even if it wasn’t a good friendship–is torture.

In the end, my friendship with Liz endured to this day because we were true friends. We worked out our problems like friends do and allowed forgiveness, even despite of some taunting and a few nose crinkles. Isn’t this what we need to be teaching more of to our daughters–that friends make mistakes. That conflicts arise. You got into a fight with your friend? So what! Conflicts are part of friendships because we’re not robots. Think of Big Bird in this instance. Everyone makes mistakes so why not you… Of course, you can only hope that your daughter’s BFF’s mother is giving her the same advice. But if not? Then give your daughter the tools to seek out a friend who will.

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Posted in: Friendships, Girls, Teens