19 May 2008

Friends and Enemies

I had an interesting conversation with a student. She often feels like she doesn't have any friends. I remember feeling that way a lot. In fact, only a few months ago I felt like I only had one or two really tenuous connections.

I wonder if this is a female thing more than a male thing. Do men obsess about their friendships as much as women do? I feel like men are pretty clear on who they like and don't like, while women are in a constant state of turmoil about it.

Without doing lots of research, or over-analyzing it, I'd say that some of it has to do with socialization. But I also feel like it must go deeper than that. With men, it often feels like, "I like beer, you like beer; let's be friends," whereas with women, it's something more, something deeper.

If you take it one step further and consider bullying, even that sees a significant gender difference. I remember in elementary school, when my best friend was a boy, if he was picked on, it was something physical -- a shove, or a sucker punch. My clearest bullying experience was when a bunch of girls in my neighbourhood ganged up on me to humiliate me. Two of them separately had conversations with me about how a third girl annoyed them, and when I admitted that I was also annoyed, they used my admission against me. They cornered and confronted me at the local pool. They made me out to be the bad-guy. I can still remember that image of trying to walk out of the locker room, but being surrounded by them as they called me "mean" and claimed that they were just trying to find out what I thought. I remember leaving the pool in tears and biking home, feeling betrayed. Even back then I knew that I'd been set up. That was almost 20 years ago.

Movies like Mean Girls are based on the premise that girls interact on a different level, that they connive and scheme and manipulate in order to belong. Is it always true? No; but my experience is that girls are often trying to prove to each other that they have something special that makes them belong.

I'll make note of the fact that it's not true that boys can't be conniving and manipulative in social settings, nor that physical bullying isn't as psychologically damaging. But that isn't my point.

Why do people have to make it so difficult to be friends co-exist?

Back to my student: she is a lovely girl, who is probably too mature for her age. At the same time, she doesn't have a ton of life experience, so she is also immature. She hangs out with people who generally keep her at arms length. When someone shows interest in her, she is suspicious because she is used to being ignored. When someone disconnects from her (even momentarily) she is paranoid that it has deeper meaning. It's what she's used to.

She and I talked about the importance of honesty and how it hurts less when someone comes out and tells the truth about how they feel about you. Knowing the truth is always better than not knowing. Understanding where people come from is something that you can build on. Uncertainty doesn't do anyone favours.

The worst enemies you can have are the ones who don't admit they hate you. They best friends you have are the ones who would rather tell you the hurtful truths than the pacifying lies.

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