I have noticed a big difference between the way men hold onto friendships and the way women do. I can point to anecdotal evidence for the present until I dig into further research. My little brother, single but happy, has a circle of close friends that he has kept since kindergarten. He can call them in the middle of the night, and he has, and they come to his aid—to bail him out with 10Gs, to pick him up from the airports, to go into business with him, to even drive his sister going through birth pains to the hospital!
I, on the other hand, although I can boast strong spiritual bonds with sister friends throughout the world, have not been able to keep long-term connections. I have had a series of female friendships that have fallen apart.
The unraveling of more than one female friendship points to a greater issue with the fundamental foundation of women’s inability to trust and forgive each other.
When the best friend of one of my acquaintances stopped talking to her, she defended her action on the grounds that, “Once you get married, you have to let go of your single ways. My focus and priority is on my husband and my new family. I don’t have the time to do the things I used to when I was single.”
This is the typical stock response given to Greek women and expected of them. Once you get married, your friendships take second saddle. To a certain extent this is true. But, what I have an issue with is how easy it is to cut off the support circle that once sustained you and become totally enmeshed with your husband’s social network. I understand that women must become integrated into their husband’s “soi.” but to chop off all relations with your former friends and siblings? I am asking the big question, “What is the healthy balance between keeping your own set of friends and meeting the needs of your husband and new family?”
In more cases than one, it is the woman who is supposed to cut off the bonds to family, to friends, to extended associates, once they get a man in their life. Why is it that they more than their Greek husbands have to change their identity? In the past, this was required. A bride had to follow her husband into a new world, a new continent even. But nowadays with easy access to communications, why does it happen that women choose to cut themselves off with their friends? Is the negotiation between keeping their original identity and taking on a new married one too difficult so they do away with the old entirely?
To these once “best friends,” the cutting off seems like a betrayal. Many times I have felt that friendship with single girlfriends who got married and then shit on you felt like I was just the waiting room until they met their husbands. This registers in deep way the original stereotype—“you can’t trust female friends; eventually they will betray you.”
In other instances, women’s friendships fall apart due to the inability to forgive and forget. Greek women (and to a certain extent all women) are taught to believe deep down that another woman is a threat. They are stereotyped as having unchecked jealousy and envy that manifests in cattiness and seemingly schizophrenic displays of “frenemy” behaviors. How often in your experience (be honest) have you had a “bestie” who you spent every waking hour together with, drop off the face of the earth because of some petty juvenile incident? In some cases, she does not talk to you and you still can’t understand what happened? You question yourself, “What did I do? What was so bad that she has completely cut off all relations to me?”
More than once I have heard it—“Why doesn’t Roula talk to Koula anymore?” They had a falling out and now they don’t talk to each other.”
And they will go on not talking to each other for decades. Women cannot forgive each other easily, or so is the common thinking.
I am really trying to understand this phenomenon—to analyze it to see if it is really just an exaggeration based on a series of unfortunate anecdotal events or if there is a universal quality to the fact that women cannot sustain long-term female friendships. And if the sad fact is true, that women will not provide support for one another when they feel threatened, that the illusion of sisterhood can be shattered at a whim, then why is it so?
So I did some research to delve into the first question. While on the surface it might be that “men harsh, women more social,” new research has uncovered that indeed, “men have larger social networks than women do, and that male-male friendships last longer than female-female ones” (New York Times science blog.) Another blogger at mensxp, maintains men make better friendships because they are not as judgmental as women, they accept each other’s flaws more realistically, they don’t bitch behind each other’s backs (something women do all the time), and are more prone to confront each other about differences and disagreements. In this way men have a more easy-going, honest, up front dynamic that pervades the “bro” code.
That does not go to disprove that women can have deep intimate relationships with other women, even deeper than men. Men are not expected to expose themselves psychologically so their relationships, although meaningful, do not go as deep as women’s. Yet, women’s friendships are more complicated because of this fact.
As for the second question, I believe that the sad situation of shaky female friendships exists in the Greek community especially is due to the implicit patriarchal norms women and men are expected to play out. It is beneficial to a patriarchal society to divide and conquer women. By perpetrating the idea that a woman cannot be trusted, that she is a threat, that she will betray you as so many others have done, it further undermines the ability for women to provide the means of emotional, professional, and everyday support they need to be successful.
The way this is done is by having the ideology and the bias passed on to women by women themselves. It is sad that some of the most vicious examples of meanness towards women come from other women. I am sure you have heard the adage, “A woman’s worst enemy is another woman.” Well, if that is true, it is because women have swallowed the ideology without analyzing whether it is good for them all around. There is so much deep internalized hatred of women by women themselves in this Greek society, they cannot even verbalize the implicit bias. It becomes manifested in extreme reactions of rage, envy and spite. The hatred, the subconscious rivalry and distrust that women harbor against other women become a weapon of self-policing. “Don’t get too close to her, she will betray you, ‘ Listen to your husband/father/brother, who know best’ (to keep you in an inferior position that does not allow you to live out your needs, your goals and expectations but serve to advance others to your own detriment).
This explains in part why women believe it is justified to forsake your ‘best friend’ from childhood when you get married. That a husband or boyfriend is more important than your friends. Never mind that it will be your friends and sisters who will help you cope with his adandonment/abuse/disrespect/ divorce/betrayal if necessary and who have done so. It is this implicit bias that makes women subconsciously and consciously devalue the friendships with other females than with “the MAN.”
The bottom line is friendships, whether male or femle, are crucial to a life well-lived. Long-standing powerful friendships are the keys to professional success, physical and emotional health, and generally make life worth living across all the entire life span. “Among various studies linking friendships to well-being in one’s later years, the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that family relationships had little if any impact on longevity, but friendships increased life expectancy by as much as 22 percent.) The Challenges of Male Friendships, Jane E. Brody. One of the reasons cited across all ‘blue zones,’ locations on the planet where people live on average 30 years longer than the rest of us, Ikaria our Greek island one of them, is the existence of deep, meaningful, long-lasting same-sex friendships.
In American culture, especially pop culture, there is a growing tide of “femships” that are focusing predominantly in the media. A recent article in .Mic, “Women With Strong Female Friendships Have a Surprising Advantage Over the Rest of Us,” Rachel Sklar, a women’s advocate says the lack of focus on the power of female friendship is a consequence of the way our culture erases female power and the bonds that women make. “Male partnerships have gotten lots of attention because men get attention,” she told Mic. “Men have always helped out each other, and continue to do it. We are seeing more and more of this for women, and it’s good for everyone, because there’s nothing quite like a lady power team,” Sklar explained.
That’s why she created TheLi.st, a network platform meant to empower women, with her partner in crime, Glynnis MacNicol. “That was the basis for TheLi.st, a community of women who are professionally interested in each other’s success.”
The notion that strong friendships with powerful women can help women get ahead is the basis of shine theory, a term coined in New York Magazine by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman that refers to the way that being around fabulous women makes you more likely to be fabulous, too. Sklar points to famous female pairings like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, or Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, as examples of long-standing female friendships that also helped women advance professionally.
Elizabeth Plank ends the article by stating, “Celebrating friendship, rather than competition, between women will help the next generation of women embrace, rather than resent, the strong women around them. In a world still ridden with gender inequality, femships may be the game-changer we’ve been waiting for.”
This is my wish for the Greek community. This is why I established The Hellinida Foundation—to foster healthy relationships between women, to draw attention to positive Greek “femships,” to create events where women deeply and really mutually support each other, not just act like they do. Until Greek women can bond on a level that is long-lasting and sustainable across the decades without fear or reprisal from others, but especially from within themselves, they will not reap the benefits of true friendship—one of the joys of living.