There is one secret off-limits topic that has followed me for decades: girl friends and the unspoken issues that come up between us. I have to be honest, even thinking about writing this article brought up a lot of resistance– as if the very idea of writing about my fear of female confrontation was enough to silence even my inner voice. In speaking to other women about this, everyone came up short on solutions. We have all experienced times in our lives where we have had to ‘break up’ with our girl friends, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus when it comes to the tools or solutions. In fact, the answers I got back most generally involved some form of backing off, giving space, not addressing the issues head-on and just sort of waiting until the friendship was ready to come back around or letting it simply drift away completely.
From my earliest memories I have always surrounded myself with– or attached myself to– super-strong, generally popular, pretty best friends. When I was younger I desperately sought approval and acceptance from them. In exchange, I kept my mouth shut and accepted how I was treated and spoken to. In one particularly cruel high school event, my then bestie managed to convince our entire grade to stop speaking to me on a bus trip to Niagara Falls for no good reason other than she knew she could. I allowed it, because I was too afraid to stand up to her. In my mind that would have meant losing the return of her favor– which eventually came back around.
As I’ve gotten older the pattern morphed into less dramatic abuse, more of a not-so-subtle inability to speak up for myself. (More passive, less aggressive). I’ve let friends tell me what they think I should or shouldn’t do, where I should live, what they think is wrong with me, take things out on me, ignore me, mock me… My own words and feelings would flood my body. My nervous system, adrenaline, and opinion would shoot through my veins pushing self-expression up through my body only to get caught in my throat and shoved back down where it came from.
But wait! Haven’t I spent the better part of the last 10 years learning to connect to my true self? Talking about everything I was learning to anyone that would listen? My old program of wanting to be liked was running louder than my new program of liking myself. My throat chakra had developed a lifetime of unexpressed anger and emotion, and it’s no wonder that it also developed a slow-growing cancer.
As a woman, the need to communicate clearly is so very important as we define our boundaries and our relationships to ourselves and to each other. So how do we draw the line between being non-reactive and being a doormat?
The consensus amongst the women I spoke to is again, rather varied. Allowing space for people to drift apart, evaluating whether or not the friendship is one that is still relevant and leaves you feeling good, accepting friends for what they are able to give you, and letting go of expectations. In meditation I always tell people to pay attention to relevancy; sometimes relationships simply run their course, and to hold onto them will only cause suffering. Surrendering to the ‘what is’ and not the ‘what I wish this still was’.
I heard a spiritual teacher say the other day, “The work doesn’t protect us from suffering, it allows us to move through it.” In that moment I realized that in fear of speaking up to my girl friends I wasn’t being fluid, I was paralyzed– playing dead, like a doormat. Without the movement there can be no flow, no change, no surrender.
Going through my cancer treatment over the last year many friendships began to unravel around me. I had run out of ways to pretend everything was okay, and so I needed to start to let go. I took myself out of the line of fire by literally removing myself. I stopped spending energy I didn’t have making plans or being the person always reaching out. I let the idea of needing to be approved of and liked go. If friends came around to me and made efforts to connect I made space for them, but most importantly, I began learning how to make best friends with me.
This girl stuff is complicated. Life, as long or as short as it can be, doesn’t allow for time to be wasted. If a friendship isn’t making us happy and it comes to a bump in the road, then allow each other the space to acknowledge and talk about it. If efforts are not made or the conversation never comes, allow that friendship to move into a new space. Surrendering isn’t so much a thing we must do, it’s just a matter of moving out of the way of what must be done… or at least that’s what Buddha says.
Although, in actuality, he only surrounded himself with guy friends. Maybe he was on to something?
Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy & Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.