Girl Talk: The Evolution Of Female Friendship

When I was wee, I was best friends with the girls who were handy. Neighborhood kids, playgroup participants, and the like. In grade school, I gravitated toward girls who were brainy like me. Since book smarts were considered to be at odds with potential popularity, and since I had more going in the Brains Department than the Social Graces Department, I sought out equally bookish girlfriends. High school was pretty much the same as grade school, but in college, I ran with girls who shared classes, activities, or interests with me. And after college I befriended women who worked with me. Longstanding friendships from school and activities sometimes lingered, but new friends were drawn almost exclusively from my coworker pool. 

All of this makes sense. It’s easiest to befriend people who live near to you, spend loads of time with you, and have similar experiences and temperaments to yours. Proximity and common ground foster close relationships, support networks, and mutual understanding. We love the ones we’re with, especially when we’re young.

But over the years, most of my friendships have dissolved. A contingent of my closest friends from high school disappeared for more than a decade, but I was delighted to reconnect with them through the magic of Facebook. I was amazed to find that the 10-year gap meant virtually nothing, and that their presence during my formative years gave them uncanny insight into my adult personality. Other friendships have endured for decades, over miles, and through extremely sporadic in-person visits. But those are the exceptions. Most of my women friends are no longer my friends, and left my life either passively and slowly, or through active, ugly breakups. Fairly recently, many of the women I considered to be my close friends jumped ship all at once. I got dumped by three important friends over the course of six months. It was confusing, painful, and downright awful. Mostly because — in all three cases — I was left without explanation or opportunity to apologize and make amends, wondering what the hell was wrong with me.

I still don’t know. I’m sure there were real, important reasons that these women chose to sever ties with me, but I was never told what those reasons were. I can’t make things right if I don’t know what I did wrong. And, in the end, I came to realize that part of what’s “wrong with me” is my continued reliance on proximity. The people nearest to me don’t always make the best friends.

This is not to say that locals must be discounted. I love my long-distance buddies, but sometimes you need a gal pal who can hop in her car and be on your doorstep in under 20 minutes. But the hard lesson I learned from this recent round of dumpings is this: Just because someone works with you or takes classes with you doesn’t mean she’s ideal friend material. Just because someone has the same day-to-day as you doesn’t mean you’re truly connected. Just because someone is funny or enthusiastic doesn’t mean she’ll stand by you, communicate well, or understand when you’ve changed, grown, or shifted. I want to be liked. Most humans do. But now I know that liked is not enough. My friends need to like AND understand me, and vice versa.

Since that dark period of abruptly ended friendships, I’ve learned to place my trust and emotional well-being in the hands of a very different friend group. It took a long time to find them and I feel incredibly lucky to have them in my life. These women are smart, funny, and loving just like all of my lost friends were. The key difference? They’re also self-starters, entrepreneurs, and brimming with ambition, just like me. We share those traits and goals, and feel connected to each other because of them. We are fully grown, fully formed, and all in the same mental place. I may not feel as passionately emotional about these gals as I did about my fiery friendships of the past, but I know that these women really get me. If I piss them off they’ll tell me why, tell me right away, and give me the chance to apologize. If I need help, they’ll be there. If I have a crisis – be it personal, professional, or emotional – they’ll have insight to share. They like me AND they understand me.

My female friendships have always been my deepest and most valued, which is why watching them end was so traumatic. But as I’ve evolved, I’ve needed friends and friendships that could evolve along with me. And I think I’ve finally found them.

Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.