It sometimes seems that the main role of female friendships is to make ourselves feel better; to make ourselves feel like we are not alone in our inability to stop eating girl scout cookies, we are not alone when we worry why it took him so long to call, we are not alone in our unhealthy obsession with sappy, unrealistic reality TV that leaves our hearts thirsting after a guy (preferably a tall, dashing guy) to tell us he wants "our forever."
In fact, empathy just might be the main ingredient in female friendships. Every time we're together we spend bundles of time retracing all that's been bothering us emotionally; "of course your boss doesn't hate you, he was just stressed;" "of course he loves you, he's just emotionally guarded;" "no way, you have not gained weight, you have the best body ev-er!"
Between the listening, the nodding, and the undoubted complimenting we are excellent at building each other up, but where does the need for confidence boosting end and truth telling begin?
A few months ago I watched an interesting moment between my mom and one of her best friends. My mom, mind you, has four brothers that used to pee on her barbie house and a mother that made her get her hair cut at the men's barber shop to save time. She likes to tell me "it's not a fashion show!" when I take too long to pick out an outfit (but, oh life is a fashion show, isn't it?) and often looks at me like I am a different species when I become weepy and emotional at the drop of a dime.
Of course, she does all of this while wearing Stuart Weitzman's, let's not get it twisted.
Well, my very honest mother and her friend were seeing each other for the first time in a couple of months and her friend was worried about the weight she'd "gained." I, naturally, replied that she "looked great" and that I couldn't notice anything (which, I must add, was not a lie). My mother, however, looked at her compassionately and said "nothing we can't work off."
I was appalled. She conceded to weight gain on thighs that were not her own!? I shriveled into the corner like a wilting flower sinking away from the sunlight of truth.
A few months later I've been looking back at this moment curiously. The truth is, her friend knew she'd "gained" weight so anything we said otherwise was (well intended or not) a lie. The other thing is, my mom's response was deliberate. She did not say, "yes your butt looks big," or "maybe just a few pounds," but she instead disregarded the dilemma altogether and offered a solution. No matter what we said, her friend would still feel she'd gained weight, so why not skip the sympathy session and get straight to the finish line?
Instead of sitting around, wallowing in the societal pressures to be thin and wondering whether or not we can ever drop the pounds despite our love of carbohydrates, my mom offered an easy solution to the problem so that we could be done with the negative topic and move on to the important topic of which cocktail to order.
I am not exactly sure I'll ever be eager to tell my girlfriends they look a little plumper than usual, but the strategy of disregarding the negative and focusing on the solution is something that could be valuable in all dilemmas.
As women, we like to talk about our problems, commiserate, lay around in the shadow of rejection and sulk and eat and gab on and on about how we are clearly more stylish (and generally better) than the coworker that go the promotion before us. But what if we became a bit more like men and fast forwarded to the part where we figure out a solution?
What if we disregarded the heaviness of negativity and the repetitiveness of reassurance and just went straight for the jugular of the issue?
Maybe he's not calling you back because you've texted him an unhealthy amount of times and now he thinks you're a little bit psycho. Maybe your boss hates you because you spend the day shopping online and talking to your friends on gmail.
Sitting around, commiserating about issues for hours is sort of like sipping a pina colada: it looks nice, it's sugary and sweet, but it takes a lot of time for it to really get you anywhere and it makes you a little fatter. Honesty, on the other hand, is like a shot of (top shelf) tequila: it's a little rough on the intake, but if taken with a grain of salt, and finished with the sweetness of a lime it takes you to where you're going much faster and with fewer sympathy calories.
At the end of the day I'll never lose my need for the sugary, pina colada aspect of my female friendships. Sometimes I really do need them to tell me I'm pretty or funny, or more awesome than frozen yogurt. And sometimes I don't want a solution to my problem, I only want a glass of wine.
What I'm hoping, is that in between these moments of sympathy, I can learn to appreciate the truth a bit more. It takes a true friend to tell you when you've messed up, and it takes a strong bond to survive the sometimes unflattering light of honesty. But ultimately, it's worth the sting. All those hours we spend wondering why our boss said we look tired or our boyfriend forgot our favorite flower could really be spent talking about important things: like why in the world they chose Ashley (and her crazy dentist hand gestures) as the new bachelorette, or the complexity of pattern mixing.
And, yes, your ass looks huge in those pants.