girlfriends

The Role of Female Friendships on March 8: International Women's Day

Tomorrow is March 8, International Women's Day.

Started in the early 1900's, now dozens of countries from Afghanistan to Zambia celebrate this international holiday to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. I've written before about my awakening to the ongoing needs to be powerful women so today I'm going to take a slightly different angle and talk about the role of friendship in that journey.

Relationships at the Center of Women's Development & Identity

Women's development is largely understood by psychologists and sociologists as being more dependent upon our connections with others, as compared to the development of men where they seemingly place higher value on their independence, self-reliance, and destiny fulfillment.

When I hear all those "masculine" words I actually feel very drawn to them so it reminds us that it's not an easy, either/or, black-and-white, male vs. female comparison.  Nonetheless, on the spectrum of where we form our identity, women tend to lean into feeling their worth based on our relationships: being chosen (married, dating), being a mother, on being admired by the other women in our lives, by being the glue in our extended families.

Historically, in fact, we were only defined and valued by our relationships to men-- who our fathers, husbands, and sons were.  Legally, morally, and socially, we had to be connected to men to have a secure status.   We've come a long way since the days where our characters were either "good" or "bad" due to our behavior with men and our place in society was dependent upon having a man to provide property, food, and reputation.  We are still expanding our definition of our own unique identity as women.

In the book "girlfriends" written in 1995 by Carmen Renee Berry and Tamara Traeder they make a compelling case for female friendship by saying,

"When we look to men as reference points, however, we lose sight of who we are as women. It is like trying to define an apple by comparing it to an orange.  The apple, described in terms of the orange, will never have it's own identity, appeal, and value; it will simply be "not an orange."

We are more than the value of our relationships to and with men, just as we are more than being "not men."

An Ode to My Female Friendships

We are women, and perhaps it's with other women that we can best define and name ourselves as we tell our stories, practice our power, and model our experiences. Not to negate one iota from the value I have found in connecting with men, but rather, to focus on the distinct value of connecting with women, it is in those relationships that I have found so much of myself.

So tomorrow, on International Women's Day*, this post is to the women who have taught me to not just try to imitate men or be different than men, but to simply become a woman.

Thank you for the stories you've shared, whether it was during the slumber parties of our childhood, in the bath rooms of high school, in the college classrooms after class, over happy hour drinks or coffee or tea, in parks watching the kids, or in the adjacent offices of our careers.

Thank you for modeling for me and letting me ask the awkward questions as we all bumped through life wearing training bras before we needed them, wishing for our periods only to then wonder why we had ever thought that sounded like fun, and watching each other survive broken hearts to remind ourselves that when the time came, and it always did, that we, too, would survive.

Thank you for asking for the promotion and giving me courage to do the same, and thank you for whispering your fears as you weighed the cost of ambition as it helped me gauge my own price tags.

Thank you for being just as excited about finding that perfect rug on sale that pulls in all the colors of your living room for a mere discounted price worthy of your hunt, as you were about splurging that day at the spa.

Thank you for simultaneously assuring me that I don't need to lose weight while also validating my desire to "get back into shape," for telling me you like my hair long or short, but always concluding that how it is now is your current favorite, and for nodding understanding about how fast time flies while also telling me how young I still am.

Thank you for being the kind of women I could call in tears should I ever need to tell you that they found a lump in my breast. And conversely, that I could call with indistinguishable words should I ever have a book go on the best-seller list.  But more often than not, simply calling you with a nonchalant, "What are you making for dinner tonight?"

We alone know that even when men are doing 50% of the household chores that there are still countless things we do that make our lists a bit longer; and we alone know the feeling of pride and exhaustion of believing that we are the only ones that could do those things.  We can brag and commiserate that we are multi-taskers, seek balance as though it's attainable, and feel guilty saying no even when it's precisely the right answer.  Thank you for being a woman with me.

It is an honor to be a woman with you.  It is my privilege to learn from you and your stories.  It is a gift that you hear my own.  Thank you.

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* For more information about this international holiday or to participate in one of the hundreds of events across the country visit the official web site of International Women's Day.

** On a side note, I'd be honored to have your vote of appreciation for my blog in the About.com Readers Awards for Favorite Friendship Blog. Two seconds of your time can help me narrow the gap from 2nd to 1st place! Thank you!

5 Tips for Finding Time for Friends

If you're anything like me-- and you don't have to admit it if so!--I can get caught up in the idea of doing things more than the actual doing of those things. I like the idea of being someone who reads the classic books and authors, but when my reading time is limited, those aren't the books I pick up.  I think of myself as a traveler, though wonder how many years I can go without traveling abroad and still have that self-identity?  I want to do more physical activities outside, but often choose sitting at a cafe when free time arises. I love the picture of having friends over all the time, entertaining in those magazine-inspired ways, and effortlessly throwing together parties on a regular basis.

clock running out of time

And while I want to keep holding the ideal version of myself... I also know I need to create a way to still lean into what I value even if it's not ideal.  For we don't all have unlimited time to read all the books we want, the budget to travel every year, the energy to choose tennis over a drink in a cafe, or the space in our lives for ongoing party-hosting.  So I can't always have it all.  But surely I can have some of it?

Time-Saving Ways to Connect with Friends

So in our ideal worlds we have 3-7 women we keep in touch with, hopefully getting together regularly and easily for potlucks, parties, barbeques and girls nights out.  But what about when life doesn't warrant that all the time? Or, any of the time?

We have jobs, relationships, kids, mortgages, yard work, a growing pile of mail, parents to call, emails to respond to, facebook to check in on, a toilet that needs scrubbing... the list goes on.  There is no doubt that we live busy lives.  And that list doesn't even include the hope that we can find time to have our "me-time" to include our exercise, yoga, meditation, or at least a glass of wine and fifteen minutes on the couch before bed. We're tired.  Busy. Stressed. Where are we expected to fit in our friends?

Here are five friendship ideas I gave to the Chicago Tribune last year:

  1. Book it: Make a standing appointment with your nearest and dearest. Say every Tuesday night. Or first Sunday of the month. Or get really creative and buy yourselves a season subscription to a theater, or orchestra, or sports team. That way there are no five e-mails back and forth figuring out what works. You've got the slot; stick to it.
  2. Piggyback it: Figure out what you need to get done, what your dear friend needs to get done, and do it together. Be it a pedicure, or shopping for undies, or a trip to the gym.
  3. Bond it: When you do make time to be together, don't dawdle around on the surface, take it deeper. Ask questions that matter. Don't just get updates on the kids but find out how she's feeling about her parenting. Use the time to actually bond, not just be together.
  4. Make it multiples: See a few nearest and dearest friends at the same time. Get together in groups of anywhere from three to six close friends. I don't want to sound crass, but it takes less time to share stuff once, instead of calling each of those friends and retelling the same story. And that way you get four unique responses at once. This generous approach helps more of you reconnect — and if a pressing deadline or last-minute obligation forces one person to cancel, the rest still get to bond.
  5. Pare it: The challenge for some women is that their network of friends is so vast, they feel they can't possibly keep up with everyone. Pick anywhere from three to five friends who matter the most. You simply don't have to be friends with everyone as that risks you not really feeling close to anyone. Prioritize. Give the most time to the ones who matter most and who feed you the most.

The honest truth is that time spent with friends really will boost our energy so it's worth adding into a busy schedule.  But we're gonna have to cut out the guilt trips we're placing on ourselves to do everything!  Find a few women who are your priority and start leaning into more time with them in creative ways.

It's not all-or-nothing.  We can have meaningful friendships with a little something.  :)

What other ideas do you have?  How do you make time for your friends?  Leave comments sharing your tips!