Mean girls

The New York Times wonders where its friends went:

But unlike those books, or this year’s “The Friend Who Got Away,” an anthology of essays by well-known women writers, Ms. Lippman’s entry is not segregated in the “relationships” section of the bookstore. It is first and foremost a gripping mystery novel, one that Ms. Lippman notes is more likely to reach plenty of readers – men as well as women – who until now have given little thought to the emotional attachments among girls and women.The giddy beginnings and heartbreaking endings of all her failed friendships haunt Ms. Lippman, 46, whether she was the one who walked away unceremoniously or the one abandoned and bewildered. “I’ve been in both situations,” Ms. Lippman said. “I imagine most women have.”

So why is it, Ms. Lippman wonders, that female friendships, so deeply felt, often end so shamefully?

The logical assumption would be that both parties are women. It mystifies me that this sort of thing is even considered a matter for debate. No one questions the fact that men are more murderous and physically dangerous than women, so why is it at all controversial to assert that women are nastier and more psychologically dangerous than men?

I suppose the absence of a psychological body count would suffice to account for this, but still, one need only look at the ways in which male and female friendships differ to understand why one sort is more likely to last than the other. Female friendships burn hotter and are more intimate than the closest male friendships, but as everyone who’s had a romantic relationship go bad knows, even serious intimacy is perfectly capable of leading to bitter hatred and mutual loathing.

One difference that I have noted is that while men tend to treat their friends better than everyone else, women often seem to treat their friends worse than they treat complete strangers. I don’t know if the idea is that closeness is an justification to reveal the unpleasant aspects of one’s character or if female friends are expected to cut each other slack that they would not give anyone else. Either way, it’s a recipe for disaster in the long term.

One thing of which I’m sure is that friendship is not about doing nice things and building up a store of gratitude in the other party. I know several women who not only visibly keep score of this sort of thing, but actually make a hobby of telling uninterested third parties about the saintly deeds they are doing and how much the recipients appreciate them. Weird. Friendship has nothing to do with being nice per se, it’s more about continually building up trust between two individuals.

I have been fortunate to have had the same friends for decades. I am not blind to their flaws nor are they blind to mine, but we shrug our shoulders, accept them as given and go on. Without this indifference and mutual acceptance, a friendship is ultimately doomed.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon Ms Lippman laments is not of complete irrelevance to men, however much we might wish it to be, as I suspect that some aspects of the difficulties encountered within male-female relationships may stem in part from the problematic history of earlier female friendships. I suspect that a man who can teach his daughter how to be a good friend may be laying a foundation for her to have a successful marriage one day.