I’ve always known good friends are hard to come by, but what I’m beginning to learn is after a certain age; having girlfriends AT ALL seems to be an anomaly. In the past few months, several different women have uttered the same sentence to me, “I don’t really have friends.” My reaction: <<stunned silence, pause-pause>> “Huh?” Girlfriends are so important. Is everyone in a fight? Where did all the girlfriends go?
The image of two little girls promising to be best friends forever and frolicking off to play a make-believe game is common, when you’re 8 years good, but if these friendships transition into adulthood, what do you do when you hit a bump in the road?
I don’t hear many adult women claim they have a best friend. No one can be the “everything girlfriend” anyway. Being the only best friend is just too much pressure and the expectations are impossible to meet. I’m the first to admit I have different girlfriends for different parts of my life. There are the obvious “mom friends” who completely understand what it’s like to have little kids; “work friends” can relate to the professional side of my life, “working mom friends” cross both categories, and then there are “historical friends” who have stood the test of time with me and have known me through many stages of my life beginning with early childhood, the painful teenage years, the even more painful years of young adulthood, single-Michelle, dating-her-soulmate-Michelle, married-Michelle, and now married-with-three-kids-(surprise twins!)-Michelle. I’m constantly evolving!
Recently, I found myself in a terrible disagreement with one of my very closest friends. In simpler terms, it was a fight. This girlfriend is going through a very difficult time I personally cannot relate to. I can try to understand, but as one of my other mom friends told me, I just can’t.
A seemingly benign conversation took a bad turn and spiraled down, down, down into a very yucky and dark place. It started with a misunderstanding, but became so much bigger. I feared this could be the deal-breaker for this friendship. I have been in this position before with very close friends (and I could usually see it coming years in advance – perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy?). I did NOT see this coming and I was left feeling sad, confused, and heartsick. When the conversation ended I was simply left thinking “What just happened?!”
A weird and awful place
So here I am in this weird and awful space with one of my best friends and I’m not sure how to dig myself out of this terrible hole of horribleness. In my 30+ years of life, any time I have had a disagreement with a woman, it usually involves hurling nastiness at one another including name-calling, blaming, guilt, shame, yelling, and the refusal to listen and hear the other person out. When in a skirmish with different women in my life, I typically experience an exchange which feels very toxic, destructive, coercive, passive aggressive, manipulative and all around awful. Thankfully, none of this happened here. I did not want to be in a weird space with my bestie, but it’s oddly nice to know if we disagree about something (and this was our first REAL “uh-oh this isn’t good” moment aka fight), it did not turn into atomic WWIII.
What usually happens in a fight
Before this experience, every time I’ve entered an uncomfortable place with a friend the friendship started to disintegrate instead of get stronger. Typically, there are some false starts where I would attempt to revive the friendship, but in my heart of hearts I knew the friendship was done. There was too much hurt and too much unwillingness to see the situation from any point of view but our own. There was no room for growth on either side, but this has a new and different ending.
Why this fight was different from all others I’ve been in before with girlfriends
A glimmer of goodness and hope was granted when my girlfriend continued to talk to me and process and share.
It’s incredibly refreshing and interesting to have a civil and well thought-out discussion with someone I love (husband excluded). We’ve both definitely grown in our friendship through this experience. After years and years of knowing one another (longer than we’ve known our husbands!), we’ve learned something new about one another and in a lot of ways, has helped brought us closer and we now feel more committed to our friendship.
4-Step Guide to a Grown Up Girl Fight aka Healthy Friendship Conflict Resolution
Step 1: Try to see the conversation and misunderstanding from both sides.
We were incredibly civil, sensitive, and really tried to understand where the other person was coming from. It was nothing short of AMAZING and kind of miraculous.
Upon entering this uncharted friendship territory, I thought “This must be what being a mature girlfriend is like.”
Step 2: Focus on feeling hurt instead of feeling angry and getting mean to your girlfriend
It’s emotionally harder, but also so much easier to come to the table feeling hurt and vulnerable (which is really the predecessor to anger in my mind), than just begin shouting, putting up walls and shutting down.
We were committed to processing, working really hard to understand where the other was coming from, even if we don’t agree. We both discovered something new about ourselves, learned something new about one another, and there was no mean girl bullsh*t.
Step 3: Be open, honest, acknowledge the obvious and COMMUNICATE with your girlfriend
I really did not like being in the weird space with one of my “lifers,” but I’m really thankful we were there together. Were there some really uncomfortable and awkward moments? Yep, for sure there was the sense of walking on eggshells. But even then, we acknowledged it and said we didn’t like feeling less authentic and genuine with one another… so no more eggshells.
During this time, we were reminded of how we are different people. When you get along with someone so effortlessly for so long, it can feel disorienting when you suddenly feel like you need to put a lot of work into the relationship. In this case, my bestie and I have very different coping and processing styles. If we were not good about realizing this difference, it could make things worse and feel like the other person does not care because they do not process the same way you do. Figuring out and/or remembering everyone handles things differently is important. While my girlfriend was well ahead of me in processing our conversation, I needed at least another day or two to really wrap my head around it. My lack of communication could have been interpreted as me simply not caring, but my silence was really needing more time to think about what transpired.
We acknowledged one another’s feeling, validated what the other was feeling by saying things like, “I can see how you would feel this way. If I were in your shoes I would be thinking…” and mirrored back what the other was sharing.
Bottom line: We talked about it, talked about it some more, emailed, called… continued to process ad nauseum, but ultimately walked out of the weird space together hand-in-hand (across states no less).
Step 4: Stay committed to the friendship, not committed to being right
We realized this is actually harder than fighting with our spouse because you can walk away from a friendship pretty easily (compared to divorce). We learned how much we value our friendship. Our friendship is very important. We are a big source of support, comfort, understanding, sharing, and dare I say a bit of magic in the world because despite being two women from different backgrounds (born literally an ocean apart on different continents with different cultures), we have found a soul sister in one another and keeping our friendship intact mattered most to us, not “being right.”
My point is we made it the priority to be thoughtful and work towards a common goal instead of get more hurt, which would lead to becoming angry and distant.
So I’m left hypothesizing… do the best friends we find in our earlier years just fizzle and fade away when we grow up? Not every friendship enters a point of no return. Maybe we all need to make more of an effort to keep friendships going and try to be extra compassionate and caring when there’s a misunderstanding?
I hope anyone reading this can learn from my experience. It wasn’t pretty and I definitely felt like I was fumbling and clumsy with my words at different points, but I am really glad we went through this together because we need each other. Girlfriends have to stick together, even when things get sticky.