The contradictory messages and assumptions for women, of every age, clearly affect female friendships, perhaps today more than ever before. In our slick, speedy society, women aren't always certain of where these friendships fit into their lives, while at the same time, the desire for successful bonds and close connections is at an all time high.
After all, these aren't our mothers' or grandmothers' style of friendships, where women were hesitant to disclose unhappiness, weakness or disappointment. Rather our female friendships in the 21st century are filled with expectations, support, confessionals and the pervasive sense that "we're all in it together," as if we are twins by virtue of our gender, the female condition, and the very air we breathe. We live a long time, and have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves along the way, including the friends we choose at each stage and the reasons we are attracted to one another.
Ideally, these friendships should make women feel accepted and secure, but many women report that they feel obligated to a friend, despite the fact that the relationship is unhealthy and antithetical to what they hoped for. These scenarios are all too familiar to us, shown to us through the media. Consider the Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie fallout of several years ago, or any Real Housewives reality show - and our culture at large. All the while, we're fantasizing that our "perfect friendships" can be a panacea for all ills, including unhappy marriages, troubled children, or lack of work in the downturn.
Thankfully, there are styles of friendship comprised of positive aspects such as affinity, affection, and communion. However, the truth is that there are those friends whom we cannot trust, who are harmful and negative. Not only is this the case, but women tend to hang on to these friends rather than break free, even when the relationship isn't working and the amount of psychic space the friend takes up is far too valuable. We make excuses for these friends, everything from their heroic presence during a burst appendix to an offer to carpool year in year and out, to a shared history, and we suffer the consequences. The question soon becomes, why is it so difficult for a woman to recognize that she has a toxic friend? And then, how does she become "unstuck," by extricating herself from the relationship.
Much of why we stay has to do with the pressure to be "the good girl," someone who doesn't make waves or fail at anything, including friendship. Also, some women don't like to be alone and the rationale is, "better this friend than no friend at all." Besides, there is always the fear that if you battle this one friend, your entire social life might unravel as she spreads the word about the conflict to the "group." And still, women continue to make excuses about why they shouldn't "break up" with the emotionally draining, toxic friend. Women often describe this friend as someone to avoid at all costs, someone who no longer has the moral center she appeared to have, or has done something that personally offends and is hurtful, such as example might be seducing your boyfriend or husband, undermining your child, or stealing your idea at work.
This friend can actually be your frenemy, the darkest type of toxic friend. She's respects you and wants to be your friend, but also can't bear that you're a winner. Perhaps you're prettier, smarter, thinner, richer, or more successful. Perhaps you have the perfect boyfriend, the genius child, the drop dead gorgeous house. Your frenemy is envious of all of this, or even worse, she might be jealous. And jealousy is a very dark emotion. While envy is, "I want what you have," jealousy is, "I want what you have and I want you gone." Whether we like it or not, whether we try to ignore it, this kind of negativity in our daily lives is tough to fend against. There's no return on the investment; she'll listen to your good news, secretly seething, she'll use you for what she can, and wish you ill.
Alas, it's time to be strong enough to give it up, admit that this friendship is going nowhere and bringing you down. When the friendship turns this grim, it's best to sever the relationship altogether, although many women say they'd rather renegotiate or sit down and have a heart-to-heart. Despite the logic, it's quite taxing to cut loose and this can produce a haunting effect. One way to lessen the impact is to consider how much more time this affords for healthy friendships, where trust and dedication are at a premium.