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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mean girls

I’ve been accused of having a problem with women.

To be honest, there have been many times when I’ve been disappointed, hurt, dismayed, betrayed, bewildered and utterly crushed by females. I’m not alone in that experience. Entire books have been written on the phenomenon of mean girls.

But in all fairness, I think I’ve come a long way toward acknowledging the root of my particular problem and doing my best to overcome its inherent limitation on my growth.

My own story stems from a junior high incident (don’t they all). For a period of two weeks none of my female friends would speak to me. Not in school, not at track practice, not on the phone at home. I was and I suppose still am a very sensitive person and rather than force myself to ask, “What gives?” I kept my hurt and silence to myself, convinced that somehow I brought it all on.

Eventually my mom caught wind of the incident. I broke down and told her I had no idea what I had done (still convinced on some level that this was my own doing). Given my despondent behavior, my mom decided to call the mother of one of my friends. After some back and forth it turned out that this incident of not speaking to Wendy was all a game.

“We didn’t mean anything by it,” one friend told me. “We just wanted to see how long we could go without talking to you.”

That incident has colored my relationships with women ever since.

I don’t easily open up to anyone. I’ve not nurtured lifelong friendships. With the exception of my younger sister, I had not found women reliable or trustworthy as friends. It was always easier for me to relate to guys as friends. They weren’t petty, didn’t require constant attention and solved conflicts more openly. They accepted me for who I was, not who they expected me to be.

Of course, being friends with guys opens you up to all kinds of attacks from women. And so the cycle of mean girls continued. If you are well-endowed you must be a slut. If you laugh easily you must be a tease. If you smile a lot, you’re not cheerful, simply a flirt.

These same narrow-minded gaggles that ruled the halls of high school and college didn’t understand that you enjoy arguing politics with a guy on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Or that you find their belief in you and your talents exactly the kind of supportive friendship you require. Or that they push you to become the intellectual person you knew you always were. Or that they have no expectations of you to dress a certain way or hang with certain crowds. In essence, they let you be yourself without pretense.

I thought for a long time that I didn’t need close female friendships. My sister has always been my closest pal and I believed that enough. I had plenty of acquaintances, personally and professionally. My first editor was a woman and she taught me how to be a reporter, but not without first breaking me down emotionally. I've had some who have supported and mentored me and some who underestimated my determination. Though I'm surrounded by four loving, supportive guys who have shaped me into wife, mother, writer and friend, I realize that I miss the company of women.

It’s not easy for me. I’ve told a trusted few friends of my experience with women friends. I tell them I’m not good about calling regularly, that the maintenance of friendship is not something that comes naturally to me, probably a by-product of having moved around a lot as a kid. But I also tell them that simply because I don’t call daily or remember every special event in their life doesn’t mean they are not in my thoughts and close to my heart.

The experience of growing older and, one hopes, wiser has provided me with some wonderful female relationships, some more personal, others more professional. I treasure them all. They don’t throw my mistakes in my face and as a result have helped me to grow as a human being. I’m immensely flawed, lacking in patience, prone to excessive multi-tasking, borderline workaholic, passionate to the point of being defensive and my own worst enemy. But I have a corps group of women in my life who, along with my guys, accept me flaws and all.

And that group continues to grow, sometimes when I least expect it. I am grateful for the growing influence of women I admire personally, intellectually and spiritually. They all have shared with me in a piece of this infinitely strange yet wondrous journey we call modern womanhood.

I don’t have a problem with that at all.

1 comment:

Amy Green said...


I really like this. I'm glad you're out there pitching. You should be. I enjoy your columns. I told you about the stay-at-home mom who has a column in The Tennessean. Have you thought about pitching a once-weekly column to your hometown paper? You could syndicate it to other papers in your state, too. Post it on a secure Web site and allow papers to download it for a fee. An editor suggested this to me once, but I've never had time to really look into it and make it work.

Just a thought. Good luck!