The ins and outs, ups and downs of female relationships
Once upon a time in a memory far, far away I was a school girl. I had my best girl friends and we bickered sometimes but for the most part we all got along. In junior high and high school, girls started forming groups. From then on, I was always a member of a group of four. I had other best friends outside the group who I loved just as much but I was definitely a member of a quartet. The foursome format comes up a lot as art imitates life in television shows such as Girls, Golden Girls and Sex and the City. Interestingly, while the latter two shows kept things light, only briefly touching on any of the girl friends having arguments, HBO’s Girls was a little darker and raw showing a more realistic view into the female world.
Though I mostly have fond memories of my high school friends, I do also remember the fights. One in particular resulted in a world summit-style sleepover for the Original Four. That weekend we agreed to meet at the home of the girl whose parents would be out for the evening. We sat in her father’s upstairs office having heated discussions until well into the night. We went to bed only when we had come to an acceptable solution to a problem I cannot even remember now. It was highly likely that the issue was a girl outside our group causing trouble between us. Funny when you are growing up and someone talks behind someone’s back or causes trouble in some way they tell you to “grow up.” Is that actually what needs to happen? After all, as a “grown up” I see all of the same things occurring around me quite frequently.
In the Fall of my sophomore year of college I became a founding member of a sorority on my campus. As a person who has always marched to the beat of her own drum, I loved the idea that a group of girls were coming together to make something from scratch. Whoever we were as people would become the identity of the sorority instead of us being assigned an identity based on the sorority we joined. The girls who became founding members with me seemed to be like-minded in most aspects and we really had a start. That Spring we held our own Sorority Rush (something usually only done in the Fall of each year) to help us increase numbers in preparation for the next year’s official rush. We were lucky enough to find another set of girls who fit right in with the group we were becoming. We were the anti-sorority sorority. We didn’t wear bows in our hair and we didn’t do a whole lot of standing around holding candles and singing. We weren’t models but we weren’t bad looking either. We just had other priorities that made us more well-rounded. Some of us did well in school, some of us were artists. All of us thought for ourselves and weren’t really into following “group-think.”
During that year, as is true to my style, I participated in the things that interested me and skipped the ones that didn’t. I sat on the board as Social Chairman, planning events with the Fraternities on campus and participated in parades and social activities. I only attended about half of the weekly Chapter meetings and none of the study hours. That year the rest of the board looked the other way on my free spirit but when the Fall approached again bringing with it our first official sorority rush, the national office of our particular sorority sent people in to make sure we did things right. They made all activities mandatory attendance and, worse, they began pressuring us to bring up our numbers during the upcoming Rush. Despite the philanthropy aspect of sororities, they are not non-profit organizations. Each new girl meant money for Nationals.
Now, as I mentioned before I had learned that too many girls can be a bad thing. Until now, I just wasn’t sure of why. That year Fall Rush in my sorority house did not bode well for the band of sisters we had become. Being asked to double in number would wreak havoc on our peaceful, solid dynamic. It started right away with a pain every sorority member in America knows when we began fighting over who to let become a pledge. This one made bad grades, this one wasn’t pretty enough, that one was fat, this one was a bitch, that one was a slut, this one didn’t get along with that one back in high school, etc, etc. etc. The civil war was on and people took sides. We succeeded to double in size but the other half were basically unwanted strangers. Eventually things did settle down and the new girls were accepted. The older members took on “Little Sisters” from the new pledge group and the new school year began. Apart from some bickering between the girls who lived in the sorority house, it was ok.
Well, it was ok until the pledges were about to become members and one of them began to show her true colors. The girl, who I will assign the fake name Carrie, had come from the same high school as one of our board members. The board member had warned us that Carrie was not the greatest of people. I think Carrie got voted in anyway because she was skinny and we had reached our quota of non-skinny but still needed the membership. (Yes during that Rush week some of us slid right down to the level of most of the sororities on our campus.) Anyway, Carrie started rubbing me the wrong way. In the beginning it was just little things that I couldn’t even put into words. Then I started seeing her out at the student clubs at night hanging all over guys that I knew had girlfriends, even flirting with the guy that I currently liked. Something was wrong with this girl. She just had a bad vibe. I stopped wanting to hang out with her. As social chairman I wasn’t exactly a wall flower so people started to notice. They asked questions. At first I answered their questions and they defended her by saying they hadn’t personally seen her do anything. Carrie started acting like a victim wailing about how mean I was to think those things and for not wanting to be friends with her. She spent a lot of time talking behind my back and eventually got everyone talking behind each other’s back. That was something that didn’t really happen the previous year. After that I would only state that my sisters were welcome to hang out with Carrie all they wanted but that I would be doing something else during those times. It wasn’t long before Carrie started showing my sisters the side of her I had already seen. One by one they began to distance themselves from her as well. Of course this meant more trouble for me. The more left out Carrie felt, the more victimized she felt. After all, the problem couldn’t have been her, right? She began blaming me. Sparing you all the details that ensued after this point I will cut to the finale where I came out of a student club one night to find that Carrie had taken a knife and carved a large hole into the convertible top to my beloved Volkswagon Cabriolet.
Many (many, many) years have passed since my college days and since that time I have either heard about or been brought into situations involving issues with girls. Stay tuned because it is likely I will share them with you in another post. For now, I have a story that took place just recently.
A couple of years ago I joined an Americans in London group on Facebook and became friendly with several of the girls in the group. We all got along so great we started spending a lot of time together outside of the group and even our husbands were becoming good friends. We all seem to be like minded, coming from similar backgrounds and having the similar experience of transplanting ourselves across the pond. Excited to have found this sisterhood, we decided it would be fun to have a monthly girls brunch with bottomless Prosecco and endless talk about ourselves, our lives and our adventures abroad. It was not a club and it was not exclusive. There were never any issues or disagreements. Everyone could feel safe about being themselves without ever so much as considering to wonder what would happen when they left the room. It was like Utopia in the Land of Women.
Then one of my friends introduced a girl to the group who I will call “Leslie.” We all accepted Leslie into the group without thinking anything of it. After all, this was not a sorority, we didn’t have an initiation period and certainly any friend of our friends was a friend of ours. Soon enough though this girl started to show herself. Again it was little things at first. Negativity and complaining. Constantly belittling and complaining about her husband to him right in front of us all making us all feel uncomfortable. We did our best to ignore it and see the good in her but soon even the sweetest, most patient and accepting of the bunch were losing their composure. From there it evolved into Leslie turning on us. First accusing us of sitting too close together while talking and making her feel left out. She actually called us “Mean Girls” like in the movie. Later, we were having a dinner party at a bungalow we were all sharing for a week on an island off the coast. It was just four of us girls and our four husbands. The girls were drinking Prosecco that night and one of the husbands hid the rest of the bottles and said we had already gone through them all. It was just a joke (which I actually thought was funny) and he later handed over the bottles. Unfortunately at the time it sent Leslie into a tailspin. She had been in the kitchen cooking and not drinking that much. Now she was yelling at the so-called Mean Girls for drinking all the alcohol, getting drunk and leaving her sober and feeling left out of the fun. Not knowing what to do at the time I handed my full glass of Prosecco over to her and had her drink it. I then started collecting all of the alcohol I could find to give to her – Limoncello shots, beer, anything. Eventually the husband produced the remaining bottles of Prosecco and we all went on to drink way more than necessary. The night ended with a very drunk Leslie tripping over her own feet and crashing to the tile floor landing on her head. She screamed about a concussion and eventually went to bed. The next morning she wailed about her possible concussion and scolded her husband for not seeming to be concerned. The rest of us went on to enjoy our vacation doing our best to ignore the accusations from Leslie that we were leaving her out and the digs that she made when we expressed our opinions on anything from politics to life in general. That night we made another big dinner and again drank way too much. By 10pm we had all had enough of Leslie. Certainly I had and I would no longer be taking being wrongfully accused of being a “Mean Girl” or anything else lying down. A huge fight ensued.
In the morning Leslie was playing the role of victim to the levels of an Academy Award winner. She hid in her room, she cried, she demanded apologies that were not coming. She forced the other girls into long talks about everything when they could have been outside enjoying the pool and the sun. She accused us all of talking behind her back when all we really wanted was to think about anything but all of that drama. After all, none of us were in the practice of talking behind anyones back in the lives we had now. It put a damper on the holiday.
Back in London, the drama continued. I tried to move on with my life and never discuss it again. After all, as a person I am not defined by one night but by all of my actions every day as a whole. I had hoped that my friends would respect that and never discuss it again either. Instead, phone calls were made. Pleas for me to go to coffee with this girl to discuss the matter…again. I had no desire to spend another several hours of my life going around and around in circles with someone who would never accept any reality other than the role of victim. Leslie began a full-fledged campaign. She called up the single girls in our brunch group and plead her case with them. This was causing trouble within the entire group. The dynamic of our group would never be the same. Bickering began about who was in the group. I had already refrained from inviting anyone into it for fear of messing with the harmony but now it didn’t even matter. In the end, I decided to drop out just as I had in the sorority. I would remain friends with those who were truly my friends but I would not be forced to spend time with anyone other than people that I loved. Life is too short and my time is limited enough.
So what happens with women in general? Why is there always that one wreaking havoc on an otherwise peaceful group? At the age that a Generation X’er such of my self is now, I feel like I shouldn’t have stories like these anymore. Shouldn’t we have outgrown them or does this go back to my theory from high school that we were already grown up back then? Is this just how we are as the female of the species? I began asking my friends. I emailed a few of my friends from back in The States that I have known for 20+, 30+ and in one case almost 40 years. All seemed to have the same thought – that yes even as adults this behavior occurs among women. They also said that they do their best to remove themselves from the middle of drama as fast as possible even if that means declining on future invitations.
The trouble with women has been written about countless times in both the context of personal relationships and the work environment. The proclivity to tear others down or manipulate them as a way to bring oneself up is sadly rather common. But why? Psychology Today wrote an interesting article about the difference between conflict in women and men. This article by Forbes discusses how this difference in how women handle conflict effects them differently in the workplace and The Scary Mommy hopefully heeds women to bring up their daughters to treat each other better. While those articles brought up some other good points that I will be further exploring, they didn’t quite explain the Carrie or Leslie issues. After all, the groups at large were not tearing each other down.
Digging a little deeper, I was surprised to learn that what I was dealing with was actually Female Narcissism. (BTW the article I just linked was very interesting.) Narcissistic women are defined as always being self-centered. The must have attention on themselves at all times and will stop at nothing to get it even if that means creating drama where none exists. They have a hard time understanding why they can’t maintain long-term relationships with girlfriends or maintain romantic relationships. They blame relationship problems on others instead of taking any responsibility. Another article by Thought Catalog states that “Female narcissists do not grow out of their childhood aggression; eerily enough, they evolve into even more effective aggressive behaviors in adulthood, using their manipulative tactics to serve their selfish agendas and to exploit others.” This would somewhat explain my theory of teenagers and grownups but while most teens, such as my friends and I, did in fact grow out of our adolescent narcissism, these women never did.
What to do when you come across a Female Narcissist? According to the reading I did it turns out my long-time friends from back home had it right. Remove yourself from the situation. You can’t save a person with this disorder because they don’t want to be saved. If the person is your friend and you choose to remain friendly with them don’t tell them anything too personal and keep them only on the surface level of your life. Don’t let them in too close. If the woman was causing you trouble, just move forward with your life and focus on other things. Hold onto your real friends as that is what is important. Those that care about you will still be there and that is all you need.
SIDE NOTE: I am still friends with all of my best friends from the different points in my life. If any of them read my blog, this is for them. To my best friends from high school: you helped me form the woman I would become and all of you (not just the original four) will always have a special place in my heart. To my college friends: not a week goes by that I don’t look back and wish I hadn’t given up and dropped out of the sorority during my senior year. I’m connected to many of you on Facebook now but I wish I had more memories our our time together back then. No matter what any of us looked like, what personality, intellect or temperament we had you are all extraordinary women. To my best friends from adulthood in LA: you are still the ones I turn to in times of stress and joy. You are the ones who pick me up and remind me of who I am when I am feeling weak. To my newer friends in London, I am so happy and lucky to have found you and I look forward to many happy memories filled with laughter and Prosecco in the years to come. Every once in awhile, I may come across a narcissist and I will take comfort in the fact that at least I have you all. To the female narcissists out there: maybe one day you will see the light and all women can peacefully co-exist.