We all have friends who act stupid. The one who’s sleeping with her unemployed alcoholic ex again. The one who continues to pick up her mother’s phone calls even though they always end in tears. The one who works for corporate America and still posts nip-slip pics of herself on Facebook. We, the friends, usually stand by as these inanities occur, lying in wait with a shoulder to cry on. That is the role of a friend, right? We’re here for you after the fact.
But in a piece for July’s issue of Marie Claire, author Lori Gottlieb argues we are the ones making bad decisions by not being blunt with our friends. (You’re crazy if you’re still seeing that jerk! Your mother is messing around with your head! You’re going to lose your job if you don’t exercise a little more discretion!) As female friends, Gottlieb writes, we “yes” our pals “into false presumptions and bad decisions … convincing one another that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong.”Now, Lori Gottlieb is no stranger to controversy. As the author of Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough, you can’t pull out a tampon without knocking over a woman she has pissed off. She’s made a career out of saying blame-the-women-for-their-problems stuff like this.
But all that said, I totally agree with her on this one.
Girls and women are socialized to be pack animals. Friendships are huge parts of our identity. From movies like “Heathers” and “Mean Girls,” shows like “Gossip Girl” and “The Hills,” fiction books like The Babysitters Club, to non-fiction books like Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture Of Aggression In Girls, the importance of our friendships is clear.
What does being a “good friend” mean? Of course it varies based on the dynamic (the “Heathers” are obviously different from the Babysitters Club girls). But generally being a “good friend” means being nice. Being nice means supportive. Not being rude. Not offending her. You don’t rock the boat or else you’re a “bitch.” I mean, just look at how badly things go on “The Real Housewives of New York City” when someone rocks the boat! (That was a joke.) One could probably even make the argument that as women’s opportunities opened (in work, in sex, in life) during the sexual revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, our attitudes about what we have to be nice about have changed. We should be able to do whatever we want to do with no one telling us “no” or judging our actions, shouldn’t we?
All this niceness, Gottlieb argues, is actually hurting our friends — antithetical to the whole idea of friendship, no? We encourage our friends even when our gut tells us it’s a bad idea, lest we let the air out of her balloon. We hold our tongues because saying, “Well, you do drink too much” is harsh. So instead of getting free advice from us, our friends pay a therapist $100 an hour to tell them what we already know.
Gottlieb quoted dating coach Rachel Greenwald — who charges $400 an hour, oof! — who said, “It’s the one-in-a-million friend who will actually tell you the truth when you’re complaining. Many of us care more about maintaining the friendship than fixing your romantic life, your career, or your issues with your sister.” Adds couples therapist Helana Rosenberg, “Our social learning has taught us to be consensus builders.” Can we not, Gottlieb argues, quit it with the niceness and just be unabashedly candid with our friends?
Just call her the Fairy Godmother of Rudeness.