Should I Really Befriend Someone Just Because She's Successful? 

What Women Really Think
June 3 2013 12:42 PM

Should I Really Befriend Someone Just Because She's Successful? 

160619441
Kelly, time to forgive.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

It took me all weekend to figure out what did not sit right with me about Ann Friedman’s “Shine Theory” of female friendship, which ran in New York magazine on Friday. The much-applauded piece has a veneer of warm and inspirational. Friedman, who does seem like a lovely person, basically advocates for the end of schadenfreude in female relationships. If you meet a woman who is cooler, more successful, more effortlessly creative with her prints than you are, don’t hate on her—be her friend:

Hanna Rosin Hanna Rosin

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.

But even if it were somehow possible to objectively evaluate all of our female peers against ourselves, it’s worth asking why we’re spending all this time creating a ranking system in our minds. When we hate on women who we perceive to be more “together” than we are, we’re really just expressing the negative feelings we have about our own careers, or bodies, or relationships.
Here’s my solution: When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.
Advertisement

This is uplifting advice, right? It imagines a world where Kelly Rowland loves Beyoncé and all the Kardashians stop resenting Kim and the Texas cheerleader mom never existed. Where we are all sisterly and supportive because if our friends shine, then we shine, too!

But the problem is that this worldview posits a definition of friendship I can’t really relate to as a strategic alliance, a self-improvement project, or maybe just networking, which is a fine and noble pursuit but not the same as actual friendship. I might have a “ranking system” in my mind (although I don’t spend all my time on it), but it involves my colleagues or fellow journalists, not my friends. My friends, even if they are journalists, are largely exempt from this ranking system. When they are doing well I toast them, and when they are having a hard time, I hear them out. Sometimes I envy their shine for a day or two or even their new pair of sweet sandals. But so what? I’m only human.  

If I chose my real friends using Friedman’s advice, I would be in big trouble. What would happen if my successful friend’s career suddenly hit the skids? Do I have to drop her because she will tarnish my shine? And what if I have a sudden bout of success and my friend emits the jealous vibe? Do I have to shun her because she’s being unsisterly? In any case, the advice seems old-fashioned, a relic from the days when women did not see themselves as worthy competition for men, so they fought one another for scraps.

It seems to me a much safer strategy to divide the world between friends and professional acquaintances and have different rules for each category. If it’s a fabulous friend you are feeling envious of, ride it out, tell yourself it’s only natural, and then let it go. If it’s a fabulous acquaintance, call up your friend and have a nice, satisfying gossip session about how she can’t actually walk in her sweet sandals or whatever, and then eventually let that one go, too. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

We Could Fix Climate Change for Free. Now There’s Just One Thing Holding Us Back.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 5:56 PM Watch Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, and More on New YouTube Channel
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Jurisprudence
Sept. 17 2014 4:49 PM Schooling the Supreme Court on Rap Music Is it art or a true threat of violence?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?