Dear Friend or Foe,
I'm a woman in my late 30s who prefers male friendship to the female kind. It just feels more comfortable and more relaxed. I know what to talk about. I don't fear saying the wrong thing. Poop jokes are OK. So is not being particularly "girly." I've been fortunate to have experienced some great friendships in my lifetime, full of interesting conversation, laughter, openness, and honesty. With one exception, they've all been with men. Unfortunately, as my guy friends have met nice girls and gotten married, they've slowly disappeared. Some are busy with pregnant wives and young children. Others have a jealous spouse. In no instance have I done anything to cause my friends' distance.
I know it's damn well time I started making some female friends. The problem is that I don't really know how. Nearly every time I've tried, it's been a crash-and-burn. Why couldn't I see ahead of time that Woman A was going to spread nasty rumors about me; that Woman B only wanted to hang out so she could get dirt on her ex (my good friend); or that Woman C, when she moved away, would only want to stay in touch with my boyfriend? My male friends are just as "out there" as any of these women, but none of them have ever stabbed me in the back. What am I doing wrong? Is there a book I can read? Or a blog? I'm tired of feeling like an outsider, and I don't want to end up 40 and virtually friendless.
Sorry you've had such shitty experiences with the shorter sex. Gossip and backstabbing are certainly components of female friendship; so are laughter, commiseration, and even detailed descriptions of bathroom achievements. If you're not the kind of woman who goes in for "who said what" conversations, what about joining a club or class where you're likely to meet ladies with similar interests? Check out the offerings at your local YMCA, sports club, yoga studio, or house of worship. If athletics and religion aren't your guiding stars, try the adult education listings at the nearest college.
Here's another idea: What about pursuing friendships with one or two of the "nice" (and non-jealous-type) wives of your male former best friends? Invite one out to coffee or drinks. If your male friends were as great as you say they were, they probably picked stellar gals to marry as well. Also, since these ladies are already paired, it's unlikely they'll want to use you for your male connections. Finally, if you and wifey hit it off, it will be a double bonanza: You'll get your (guy) buddy back in the fold, and you'll have a new lady friend on your rolodex, too. Please note that just because you're currently single doesn't mean you have to stay 10 feet away from married people. Plus, if you're looking to meet a love match of your own, couples are often the ones with the best introductions.
As for reading up on the topic before you try it yourself, check out the Friendship Blog by Irene Levine, Ph.D. And remember: There are as many types of women as there are lettuce leaves. Be yourself, and be friendly and open. In no time, I bet you'll have a gaggle of your own.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe,
Last year, the 16-year-old son of my friend "Ashley" died suddenly from a rare and previously undetected heart defect. The loss hit Ashley, her husband, and their two daughters hard. Her husband took an unpaid leave of absence from work. Their daughters were acting out at home and at school. Luckily, the family is well-insured through Ashley's job, and they all have access to excellent mental health services. Over the past several months, there has been a definite improvement in Ashley's husband and their daughters. But Ashley herself doesn't appear to be getting better—really the opposite.
Ashley has always been a bit of a drinker. She'd have a glass or two of wine pretty much every night, and when we'd go out she'd have a few cocktails. Before last year, however, the boozing never seemed like a problem. But now when we go out, she gets wasted to the point where she's stumbling and slurring her words and coming on to strangers. It seems that even when she stays home, she drinks herself into a stupor. I've tried to get her to go out with me for activities that don't include drinking (movies, coffee, etc.), but there's always a reason why she can't come. We've all tried to gently bring up the subject and she acknowledges the problem but says she'll quit when she's ready.
I'd feel terrible telling Ashley, "Until you can get your drinking under control, I can't be around you," because it would feel like abandoning her while she's still struggling. But her behavior is taking a heavy toll on our friendship. She doesn't even remember the last half of the evening anymore! Is there anything I can do to remain supportive of her but not of her addiction? In fairness, Ashley doesn't drink and drive, and she has never shown up drunk to work or to her children's school.
I Know She's Suffering, But. . . .
In the words of Valley girls everywhere, what a nightmare. If you want to be a supportive friend, you need to find a way to nudge Ashley back in the direction of professional help. If she's still seeing a mental health professional, you should urge her to be more honest about her behavior with the person who's trying to help her. To do this, however, be sure to phrase your concerns so they don't seem to be about your feeling put off—but about your being worried on her behalf. It goes without saying that you should broach the subject while Ashley is sober. If she won't meet you for coffee, invite yourself over to her house.
I'd start with something like, "I can only imagine what you're going through." Go on to say that, while you too might want to go to sleep inebriated every night (if you were in her situation), you're worried that she's self-destructing in the process (of grieving). And that her son wouldn't have wanted it that way.
If you're not getting anywhere and/or she tells you to bug off, I wouldn't give up quite yet. Instead, consider asking her husband to contact the mental health professional that Ashley was or is still seeing to express his own concerns. At some point, however, you may find that you've done everything you can do as a friend. Unfortunately, apart from the passage of time itself, there's no cure for coping with a tragedy on this level.
Friend or Foe
Dear Friend or Foe, I'm a third-year student in a five-year graduate program. Last year, I was befriended by a professor—"Mary"—who is close to my age and was recently single. (Most people in my program are married with kids, but I'm not). Mary and I became really close and socialized several times a week. Then, over the summer, a man that she was dating assaulted me in her home during a party. This was after I had complained to her several times about his advances, and she did nothing about it. I left the party immediately afterward and refused to be around him again. After he broke up with her, she accused me of coming on to him and refused to listen to my side of the story. Then she stopped calling and blocked me from seeing her status updates on Facebook (but didn't un-friend me). At first I thought, "Good riddance." However, when the new school year started, she befriended many people in my cohort, deliberately leaving me out of social gatherings and telling some of our colleagues that I'm "not to be trusted." This has put me in a very bad situation, as I'm losing friends and collaborative work partners alike. Mary was responsible for getting me funding, and I don't want to put that source in jeopardy by standing up to her. Plus, I miss hanging out with the group! Luckily I have no classes or research ties with her at the moment, but it's awful seeing her every day and knowing she's ruining my reputation. She just won a teaching award for being popular, which makes me want to vomit. How do I handle this? Sincerely,Burned by My Prof
Well, if Mary is going to talk crap about you to your friends, I don't see why you need to keep your own lips sealed. If I were you, I'd disseminate the same story you're telling me—about how her ex-boyfriend assaulted you, yet Mary managed to blame YOU for her subsequent break-up with the guy! Considering that Mary is clearly an educated woman in a position of leadership (who should know better), all I can guess is that you somehow became the face of her own humiliation. This guy was supposed to be her boyfriend. And yet he was coming on to one of her students? And then he assaulted that student?!
You don't say if you pressed charges. But if you haven't already, I suggest doing so. You'll be sparing the next woman what you went through. You'll also be sending a message to Mary and to the world that you're the victim here not the perpetrator. In the meantime, keep your head high and initiate plans with the gang yourself—so you can leave Mary out of them. As for your funding, if Mary has the nerve to get it cut off, prepare to go to the dean and wage a formal complaint. In the meantime, as a safety precaution, I'd work extra hard and solidify relations with other faculty members, including your advisor. In the next two years, however, you'd do well to limit the extracurricular socializing to other lowly graduate students (who have no power over you).
Friend or Foe
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