Girlfriends are getting a lot of flack these days. Despite the popularity of “Sex and the City,” “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” and “Lipstick Jungle” (well, maybe that one wasn’t so popular), female friendship is under attack. In the past few years it has become trendy to poo-poo girlfriends and hang with a posse of guys. Considering the legacy of girlfriendship in history and literature, I am surprised to find contemporary women viewing them with such disdain. I grew up reading about the bonds between sisters in “Little Women” and “Pride and Prejudice” and the unbreakable ties of friendship in “The Babysitters Club.” During grade school the notion of even being polite to a guy was incomprehensible; boys did have cooties, after all. As I grew, so did the possibility that a guy might make a decent friend. I think it must have been some time during high school, but suddenly every girl was touting that she didn’t hang out with girls, she preferred to have guy friends instead.Well, at my school that was nearly impossible, as there were hardly any boys at all (performing arts school and all that jazz), but the sentiment was there. Just as Orlando Bloom was a universally accepted hottie, it became a universal fact that girlfriends were catty, dishonest and untrustworthy. Young female classmates proudly told anyone who would listen that guys were naturally better friend material than fellow females. They waxed on about how other girls would stab you in the back and how they were mean because they were jealous. Other girls were out to steal your boyfriend and tell the world your darkest secrets! The chatter more or less made it sound as if the typical girlfriend spent her time polishing her venomous nails (which she would use to claw your eyes out) with the devil.
I can’t say I had strong opinions on the matter at the time, probably because I didn’t know enough guys to keep up the pretense of having guy friends. I had great girlfriends as well as girlfriends I knew would sabotage me the first chance they got. For me, the mixture didn’t reflect poorly on female friendship overall but as the general mix of humanity. Some people are awesome and some deserve eternal misery. College, however, and the sudden influx of men in my life, suddenly had me up there on the soapbox proclaiming the joys of male friendship.
To be fair, I did have some great guy friends. During my sophomore year I lived in a suite with four boys. We were absolutely inseparable. I was a girly girl and they were mountain men, but our differences only gave us things to bond over. We would talk for hours and marvel about my obsession with moisturizers while I feigned interest in video games like “Oblivion.” While I might have found a lack of hygiene gross in a girlfriend, on them it was just something to fondly shake my head at. With guys, the differences were to be expected and not viewed as dividing characteristics. Our friendship was easy and effortless. In comparison, friendships with girls were just so tiresome. The gossip and constant talking about who liked who and all their feelings bored me to tears. Girl talk seemed so trivial and juvenile. Clearly I had seen the light and transitioned my friendship needs to the guys in my life. With them there were no expectations and none of that “being there for each other” crap. It was all fun and games. Until I actually did need someone to be there for me.
Midway through that year I had an awful breakup. My guy friends said they were sorry and hugged me when I started crying. When I was still crying five minutes later, they began to panic. To their credit I never heard one of them mutter one word about girls being overly emotional or crazy. They would have liked to have made me feel better, but they were stumped. For the first time in our friendship my gender was a dividing point. How does a guy cheer up a brokenhearted girl?
A few hours later my best guy friend had an “Eureka!” moment. He called my best friend (a girl) for instructions. She was abroad, so she gave him a very detailed list of things he must do. He must have a constant supply of chocolate. He must watch the six hour BBC “Pride and Prejudice” with me. He must listen to me say the same things over and over again. He must prevent me from crawling into bed and not getting out. The list went on and on.
The boys attended to their tasks with as much speed as they devoured their breakfasts. They even found a girl on our hall we knew a little bit and dragged her into my room to “talk.” I guess they figured that a girl, any girl, would know how to comfort me. The odd thing was that they were right. The one thing I really needed was the one thing they couldn’t give: a shoulder of another girl who has been there to cry on. That girl and I talked for hours. We didn’t know each other well, but upon seeing my tears she immediately opened up about her last traumatic breakup.
My friendship with those guys has dissolved over the past few years. Nothing dramatic, we just went separate ways. There was never a formal end or anything to prevent us from being friends, but it’s just not like that with guys. I know if I needed them they would be there for me in an instant, but more for out of respect for the memory of our friendship rather than a living one.
None of this is to say that guys can’t be great friends. Some of my best friends are guys and they are the best friends I could ever wish for. Guy friends might be simpler to have in some ways, but they are more limited in others. Girlfriends can be complicated, but they can be there for you when a guy can’t. Girlfriendships are complex, but it is this very complexity that allows them to be there for you no matter what life throws your way. I truly believe every girl needs at least one girlfriend. A true girlfriend can take years to find and a deep friendship can take decades to develop. These friendships are rare and priceless.