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Navigating Female Friendships in Your Twenties
conflict, comparisons, boundaries, change, etc.
More than once, I have heard a woman say, “women are not easy to be friends with,” or “I prefer being friends with men.” Sentiments like this are not uncommon when it comes to friendships with other women for a number of reasons, chief among them, the prevalent social realities that inevitably pit women against each other.
From a young age, we’re conditioned to compare ourselves with other women. We’re taught that men are the prize, and we must battle with other women to win their love and attention. We compare our bodies, grades, possessions, ability to make boys laugh, and so on. And even where the focus isn’t on male attraction, there’s still this belief that men exist in a different class and the rules that apply to them are different, therefore leaving women as the sole recipients of our comparisons.
Many schools of thought have tried to explain why this is the case. Feminist theory posits that we play into patriarchal rules that have already been laid down for us, while Evolutionary theory states that in a bid to have natural selection work in our favour (read: procreate with men), we must eliminate threats (read: other women).
However, unlike men whose rivalries tend to be more direct, women experience more emotional complexity in life and relationships that are displayed in the way we handle conflict. Instead of blatant aggression, we tend to be more underhanded, which can manifest as sarcasm, backbiting, undermining each other’s achievements, etc. Lana Del Rey sang about it in This is What Makes Us Girls, and Chimamanda spoke about it in her iconic “We Should All be Feminists” TEDx talk. The idea that women don’t make good friends stems from a combination of these factors. And to be honest, it has always baffled me because the relationships I have felt safest in and which have allowed me to express myself to the fullest have been friendships with other girls.
In your twenties, when you are starting to discover your place in the world, having quality female friendships will help you in so many significant ways. I have been blessed with many women I love, who have laughed with me, cried with me, nursed me through heartbreak, helped me navigate life's difficulties, celebrated my wins with me, and sympathized with my losses too. In these friendships, I have also had cold spells and pretty bad arguments, but all these experiences have taught me a lot about navigating female friendships.
So in this article, I will share some of the lessons I have learned over the years, in hopes that they will help you cultivate better friendships with the women in your life. Interpersonal relationships are not socks. There is no one size fit for all. So use your discretion in applying these. Let’s get into it!
Treat friendships like romantic relationships: You know how when you’re in love, you tend to do all these cute things? You want to spend time with your partner, send them random messages telling them you are thinking of them, and go on dates? In friendships with other women, you should do these things too. Date your friends. Fill your friendships with romance. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be thoughtful. A simple “hey love, I’m just texting to check in on you” can make a person’s day. I read an article that said that kindness is the key factor in long-lasting human relationships, and I fully agree. Be attentive to your friends’ needs, likes and dislikes. Date your friends!
Stop projecting: A core component of friendship is compatibility. We love when our choices and value systems are similar to those of our friends. However, different upbringings and perspectives on life could lead to different lifestyle choices, and the sooner we realise this, the better. Avoid projecting your choices on your friends. Allow them to be who they want to be and do what they want to do. Just because you don’t see yourself dating a type of man, getting piercings, or doing certain things, doesn’t mean your friends wouldn’t want to do these things. Being judgemental or critical is one of the easiest ways to lose friends, so if you feel these differences cannot be overlooked, then you might want to reconsider that friendship.
Be proactive in validating their feelings: Being a woman means we tend to do a lot of emotional work when it comes to expressing ourselves and understanding others. We are conditioned to do the heavy lifting, and this could often lead to misunderstandings. If you know your friend is the type of person to overthink responses and cues, help them out. Try to communicate as clearly as possible, and with love, even in arguments. Something as simple as, “I love you, but I didn’t like when you did this and this”, could go a long way in how you guys navigate conflict and resolve your issues.
Stop playing God. If they tell you something, take their word for it: This could be particularly difficult if you have a PhD in overthinking. However, as we grow older, we are expected to learn to communicate better. So even though, as women, we may not always say what we’re thinking, I have resolved to take my friends at their word. If something happens and I ask a friend, “are you okay?” and they say yes, and I ask again, “are you sure?” and they say yes, then I’ll take their word for it. Even if I don’t believe they’re telling the truth, I will not bend over backwards to try to make someone express themselves to my satisfaction. It’s unhealthy for both of us, and could be a breeding ground for manipulative antics. This may be difficult if you have people-pleasing tendencies, but practice makes perfect.
Allow People to Change: Especially in your early twenties, your friends are going to metamorphose in so many ways, in a bid to express and explore themselves. This means there might be connections and disconnections along the line, and you have to make peace with it, as painful as it may be. I have felt out of sync in relationships I thought would last forever. It hurts, but that’s just life.
Respect Your Boundaries: People will only respect you as much as you respect yourself. The same way you’d probably feel more comfortable throwing a chocolate wrapper on the floor of a dirty car is the same way people would feel more comfortable disrespecting you when you don’t respect yourself. Live out your belief systems. Learn to say no. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something or going somewhere, say it, and don’t go. You don’t have to be unkind in the process. A lady on Tiktok spoke about affirmative boundaries, and the idea is so cool. Basically, you can say no, while also validating your friends and their feelings. This could look like declining an invite to a party while offering to meet for coffee the following week. Or declining a phone call when you’re busy, while offering to go for a walk later. You don’t have to be overly apologetic about your boundaries. You’ve set them for a reason. But volunteering to meet the needs of your friends in another capacity is a gesture that shows you care.
Learn to Love Yourself: Believe it or not, loving yourself more and more will make you a better friend. Sometimes you’re the problem. You feel inferior to your friends, so you always seek their validation, which could wear them out. You don’t know how to say no, so you say yes to everything, which breeds resentment that eventually spills out. You don’t have your own dreams and goals, so you imitate and replicate everything your friends do, which fosters conflict. You struggle with jealousy, so you find it difficult to celebrate your friends when good things happen to them. These are normal, human struggles, especially when you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you want from life, but dealing with them will help you grow and have more quality experiences. Not just in your friendships, but in life in general.
Give Yourself Grace: There’s a lot of guilt that comes with relationships in your twenties, and you don’t always get it right the first, second, or third time. Sometimes this guilt is internal because you hate yourself for accepting subpar treatment from people you thought were friends. Other times it could be the other way around: you didn’t give enough time, presence, loyalty, and love to the people that loved you, and you feel sorry for it. Carrying these things around would weigh you down, so learn to forgive yourself. If possible, reach out to the people you’ve wronged and ask them for forgiveness as well. Then put down the weights. You deserve to breathe with ease.
Female friendships are top-tier experiences. The way, as women, we are able to understand each other, sometimes without saying a word, is so amazing. In your twenties, the game gets more complicated because we’re figuring out who we are, what we want from life, how to execute our ability to make choices, school, our careers, etc. And all these factors tend to complicate things. However, I believe that while we are not born knowing how to be good friends, we can learn as long we are willing to try. And at the end of the day, trying is all that matters.
Well that’s it for this week. Thank you so much for reading this newsletter. I hope it resonated with you, and I hope you learned a few things.
Till next week,
Media I Consumed this Week
Reading: I finished reading The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. The book was just laden with tragedy. I found it poetic, too, the way the author compared things that happened to objects we find in quotidian African life. It was a well-written novel, but it made me really sad.
Watching: I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), directed by Wes Anderson. I loved it so much. I also watched Fallen Angels (1995), directed by War Kong Wai. I am obsessed with Takeshi Kaneshiro and I really enjoyed his role in this film. Also, the colours were super pretty. Which to me was not surprising. War Kong Wai is, after all, the god of dreamy films. These two movies were great and made me happy. I am also watching Singles Inferno Season 2, and so far, so good. My favourite person is Nadine, but I love Soeeun too. Best babes.
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