It's Hard Out There For a Friend: On Grown-ups and Girlfriends

Women’s friendships, especially in adulthood, are perhaps the most complicated, peculiar and delicate match-ups of all.
Publish date:
July 20, 2012
girlfriends, friendships

“I don’t have any girl friends. I get along better with guys.”

There’s a novel, a cultural anthropology dissertation, a TED Talk and possibly a Diablo Cody screenplay living in the above statement. The truth is, though, it came out of my mouth. Mind you, I was 17 at the time and trying to appear aloof and assured in front of a boy. Three things to note here:

1. I had just graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school in Montreal.

2. When I said it, I was in the midst of typing up said boy’s book report while he sat on the edge of my bed (the door was way open -- relax).

3. We already covered the part where I said I was 17, yes?

My ridiculous declaration came to mind, now [redacted] years later, after reading this well-circulated New York Times piece about the challenges of finding real (i.e., not on FB) and close friends in adulthood, post-college.

The writer, Alex Williams, describes striking up perfect “friend chemistry” with another guy who was married, like him. They were an instant hit, he says, and were finishing each other’s sentences by the end of the double-date dinner. Sadly, it all fizzled, and Williams realized that he and his new buddy were merely “kind-of-friends.” You know, that friend-ish person you’d have a fine convo with if you bumped into each other on the F train, but there are no movies, brunches or long, late-night, laugh-fest phone calls in your future.

The story definitely hit several nails and nerves. It was saying what many of us already knew: We’re old. Things done changed. Women’s friendships, especially in adulthood, are perhaps the most complicated, peculiar, and delicate match-ups of all. Corrosive things like competition and cattiness lead some women to make statements like the one from 17-year-old Nicole -- and actually mean it!

“Female relationships can be difficult, frightening, and hurtful,” says Allison M. Lloyds, a licensed psychotherapist based in New York City. “We often have unrealistic expectations of the friendships and end up not putting in the work to nurture them.”

Flanked by my two Gayles (yes) on our inaugural Sisters Trip last year.

I’m fortunate to have two sisters. They’re my built-in Gayles. (Yes, I’m the Oprah. Let it be.) However, I’ve had my share of seemingly good girl friendships dry up and vanish because one of us moved away (unavoidable distance) or simply moved on (intentional distance) leaving patchy memories soaked in sour feelings behind. As the NYT piece wisely pointed out: This is life.

You get older and start negotiating new paths, ones that include big-ticket items like partnership and parenthood. You settle into the reality that the friends you make now may never be as intense and locked-in as your homies from 20 years ago.

But that’s not reason enough to swear off all grownup girlfriends. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s in these heavy, heady times -- motherhood, divorce, marriage, career blastoffs and blow-ups, aging parents, and celebrity-style meltdowns brought on by “exhaustion” -- that having women friends is essential. You can still meet remarkable women who will offer something layered and meaningful to your life.

“Have an open mind and step outside of your comfort zone,” is psychotherapist Allison M. Lloyds’ basic advice for making new women friends.

“As adults, we are constantly growing and evolving, but sometimes we stay with what is familiar.” Try chatting up the new co-worker, the girl at the gym you always end up running next to on treadmill, or even your neighbor who shares the same dog-walking route with you. “Consider the women that you meet and greet on a regular basis as potential new friends,” Lloyds says. “It starts with a simple, warm hello … you never know who you will click with or what they can bring to your life.”

Thankfully, I’m no longer 17 or trying to deny having girlfriends. Which is good, because I recently moved to the semi-sticks of New England (long story, filled with bears, deer, and a gang of wild turkeys). I could use a few new female faces in my small circle. And I’ve already started reaching out: I met a lovely mom at the local library some months ago.

Best part is, she had just moved her too. So far we’ve done play dates, family dinners, birthday parties, and even a movie date (sans les enfants!), all successful, all fun. Next up: I plan to walk over to the neighbors’ house -- well, maybe I’ll just go to the mailbox and drop off a note to keep things creepy-free -- and invite that mama over for tea soon. Oh, yes, I’m on a roll.