I know many of you out there doubt the meaning and value of girlfriends. I know, because I used to once wonder if such thing as a genuine girlfriend exists. I’ve come across good ones as well as bad ones, and one “best friend” even tried to steal my boyfriend which severed both relationships. I spent more than a few nights in tears and feelings of betrayal but I’m over it now, and looking back, I’m glad I learned these important life lessons before it was too late to create lasting and meaningful friendships.
Now that I’m a married mom of two, I find it much harder to see my friends regularly. The heart is there, life just doesn’t allow it. Sometimes we can go months without physically seeing each other, and the only communication takes place on social media in form of text messages with lots of I miss you *heart emoticons, Facebook comments and Instagram posts with tags like #bff #bestie #bestfriends with lots of heart, kissyface and dancing girl emoticons. Not all communication on social media are fake. Sometimes we gotta take what we can get.
But one thing remains true. We love each other and depend on each other to be there through rough moments in marriage and motherhood, sporadic hormonal venting sessions as well as each other’s birthdays, kids’ birthdays and other special occasions. When we do see each other, we pick up right where we left off. We try our best to squeeze in play dates with our children regardless of our kids’ age and gender, and plan regular wine nights and dinners. And even if we’re too busy to do this as much as we’d like, our hearts remain steadfast.
I realize I’m truly blessed to have such meaningful friendships that have lasted on average of 15 to 20 years. It’s priceless and without it, my life would not be as wonderful today.
Women need women in their lives. And to attract and maintain lasting friendships, here are some things to bear in mind.
1. Be open, honest and connect deeply
If you can’t do this, you’ll probably find yourself spending your whole life going from one girlfriend to another unable to find a home for your heart. Women are naturally emotional, nurturing, sensitive and empathetic beings. Women have an innate desire to connect in deeper ways than they can with a male. Female friendships cannot grow and last if you don’t share your deepest worries, struggles and vulnerabilities.
My close friends and I know more about each other than the day-to-day. We know about each other’s childhood pains, past relationships and broken hearts, as well as each other’s fears, struggles, weaknesses and flaws. We embrace each other even more because of this. We never use this to judge one another or gossip about it elsewhere. These deeper stories are meant to be shared only with each other, and create a level of intimacy and bond that cannot be replaced by anyone, not even your husband or boyfriend.
Yes this may sound scary at first but once you start opening up, you realize that your problems and emotions are not that different after all. Everyone has pains and you no longer feel trapped by your own. You learn to see the bigger picture and healing begins. Pain and imperfections are no longer something to hide, but a springboard for creating deeper, more meaningful connections. If you expect to find genuine and lasting friendships without learning this process, well good luck. You’ll probably find yourself stuck in one-dimensional, skin deep relationships that do not add real value and meaning to your life.
By being open and honest about yourself, you encourage the other person to do the same to you. Know when to listen and when to share. Don’t spend all your time listening or talking. You need to do both. Genuine friendships aren’t created overnight and it takes years of listening and sharing- but once you get there, you’ll understand the true meaning of sisterhood. It’s beautiful and priceless; every woman deserves to experience it.
2. Be trusting yet vigilant. Listen to your heart
Before you do #1, you have to first see if you can trust the other person. This is the most difficult part of female friendships because sometimes it’s hard to tell even after a few years. As a woman, I know how jealous, two-faced, manipulative and mean-spirited some women can be. This is the sad truth and yes, they are still out there. But once you discover their true colors, you realize that there was always something a little “off” about that friendship.
For example, that friend may have always talked too much about herself and spend less time listening. Or that friend listens all the time but rarely shares her stories. Or she is always talking about other people in a negative way. Or you have been friends with her for many years but feel like you don’t really know her. Or you see frequent inconsistencies and contradictions in her words and actions. Or you sometimes see that fleeting weird, jealous look in her eyes when you share a happy story about your life. You get the point.
Every bad friendship I’ve had usually came with signs. I just was too young and naive to recognize it. Sometimes I felt it but was too dumb to do anything about it. When you begin to feel that something is a little “off” about that friendship, keep your distance and listen to your heart. There is no reason to “talk to her about it” because sadly some people don’t change, especially if you are in your 30’s and up. This can also give her a chance to lay out a series of reasons and excuses which weakens your intuition.
If you’ve given her a few years of your life and you still feel this way, it’s probably best to leave that friendship in a kind, amicable way. Don’t look back and don’t wait until it hurts you. Protect yourself and listen to your heart.
3. Don’t badmouth a friend and don’t share each other’s secrets
I’ve learned that sometimes even what you say without bad intentions can be misconstrued and be used against you. This can also cause problems amongst a group of girlfriends with she said this, she said that telephone game. It’s unnecessary and wasted time and energy.
I have a group of five girlfriends whom I consider very close like sisters. Some are close with each other, and some are not as close. This happens because everyone has different personalities and various ways to making connections. Some friendships take longer, some establish an immediate bond. That’s okay, because best friendships happen naturally without force.
Sometimes I’m with only one or two of those friends at a time. When we gather together in smaller groups, we make sure not to talk about the other girls who aren’t there. When we do, we only share nice things or facts, like “Oh, yeah I just talked to her, she is doing this these days,” or “Wow I’m so proud of her doing this and that.” We never bad mouth each other or talk about each other with unnecessary details and feelings.
Also, don’t ever share each other’s secrets. Even if you feel like Friend A will tell Friend B anyway, it’s not your place to tell Friend B first. Let Friend A tell Friend B according to her own time. If a friend shares something personal with you, don’t take that and gossip about it elsewhere. Just listen, share your thoughts and keep it in. There is no better way to lose someone’s trust than to have a big mouth and go around sharing other people’s personal details. Just don’t do it.
You can talk, but no need to gossip about other friends. You can listen, but no need to be the messenger.
If you find yourself bad mouthing a friend, it’s time to reevaluate that friendship. And remember, what Susie says of Sally tells more about Susie than Sally. Don’t ruin your credibility because of a bad friend.
4. Know when to walk away
If you find yourself talking about Friend A to Friend B and even Friend C, it’s probably time to reevaluate your friendship with Friend A. I know sometimes it’s hard not to vent about certain relationships because it bothers you, like an itch you can’t quite scratch. You’re confused about the person, and turn to others for advice.
When you find yourself in this situation, and you know you never had ill intention in that relationship, it’s probably best to walk away before things get ugly. If you’ve created a genuine, soulful connection with a friend, there should be no bad feelings. If there is, that friendship is most likely not genuine.
I know this is hard, especially when you two have been friends for a long time, but there comes a time in life when you just have to accept others as they are. You can’t change them, you don’t control them. Don’t try so hard to “fix” anything. If the problem is there, it’s probably more deeply rooted than you think.
Use your best judgment, listen to your heart, and know when to walk away. Accept that you can’t change anyone and get along with everyone. It’s okay. Just let it go and use your time and energy with friends you do connect with.
5. Accept everyone, except fake people
What I love about my group of girlfriends is that they are so similar yet different. Some are ambitious career women, some are wonderful stay-at-home-mothers, some are religious and some are free-spirited. Some are conservative, some are liberal. Some want three kids, some want one. Some have tattoos, some have none. Some have boys and some have girls.
One important thing we all have in common is that we are genuine and passionate about life. We are also confident and happy with who we are.
This is crucial because it means we’ve learned to accept ourselves for who we are and are psychologically and emotionally mature enough to develop deeper connections. It takes maturity to be confident without being self-absorbed. These women usually make the best girlfriends.
And resist the urge to surround yourself with a homogenous group of people. While this can feel comforting, you’re limiting yourself from new experiences and awakenings. If you find that your group of friends are naturally similar, that’s fine but if they are different, that’s okay too. Don’t go into a friendship with preconceived notions. You never know what you’ll discover, what life lessons you may learn.
6. Be genuine and natural
My girlfriends and I connect with our hearts rather than our minds and respect each other’s privacy and boundaries. We are not controlling, competitive, jealous or possessive of each other and we know when to listen and when to open up. Every friendship is a two-way street where we give, we take, we share, we connect, we laugh, we cry and most importantly we cherish and love each other.
We are open to meeting new people but are never overly eager to make new friends. The best friendships are ones that occur naturally and organically. Some of my best friends today are ones I never thought would be my best friend. We were never eager to call each other bff’s or best friends, it just happened over time. No need to force it or tell the world loudly. There should be nothing to prove when it comes to genuine relationships. Just let it happen naturally because these are the women whom you can call your best friend for a lifetime.
Be wary of women who go out of their way to get close to you or reach out to many people simultaneously. They are probably just in need of a friend, any friend, and can leave you once they get what they want.
Be wary of people-pleasing women who are a friend to all. They are nice to you, but they are nice to everyone in the same way. They probably don’t know the meaning of deep connections and maintain only skip deep friendships to mask their insecurities.
And be wary of fake women. Trust me, you can never change them and they are never worth your time.
This essay was originally posted on Huffington Post.