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The Misunderstood Value of Female Friendships

So many things in 2019 have forced me to stop and take stock of my life decisions. I’ve spent countless hours pouring over all the choices I’ve made through the years in an effort to capture what went wrong or, better said, where I lost myself along the way. And while a few of these decisions are clear-cut and I can now resolve not to stray from the path again, one haunts me: Why did I give up my girlfriends?

The common excuse of course, would be that life is busy. Being a full-time mom, attorney, and wife (not to mention daughter and sister) left me with fewer hours to spread around. And while that’s perhaps the easiest, and most commonly accepted rationale, when I dive into it, it just doesn’t hold water.

If time alone accounted for my decision, then how do I explain the fact that in the same time period, I watched and re-watched the entire Parks & Recreations series… like four times? That’s 125 episodes of let’s just say, approximately 20 minutes each. That means that I spent 2,500 hours (or a little over 104 days) of my life over the past several years just watching one show that brings me joy. When I break it down like that (not to mention all the other countless hours I’ve wasted on re-watching shows or scrolling through social media) the truth becomes clear — it just isn’t solely about time.

So I continued to turn this question over and over in my head, until I arrived at a hard and uneasy truth: I didn’t understand or appreciate the value of female friendships.

That stings to admit to myself, much less publish for all to read. After all, the All-Encompassing Power of Female Friendships are well documented and are embraced by feminists the world over. So why then have I spent years of my life discounting or ignoring them?

I think the fault lies within myself of course. Like the vast majority of women in America, I grew up feeling inadequate. Society, including the people closest to me, constantly sent me subliminal messages that I alone, wasn’t enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. My breasts were big enough. My stomach wasn’t flat enough. My features weren’t dainty enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t funny enough. I was instead, merely Kate and that alone seemed inadequate.

And where did I seek comfort for feeling inadequate? Sadly, it was typically from the very source of those inadequate feelings. Don’t feel fit enough? Here, read all these magazine articles featuring fitness models that you’ll never look like and follow this easy 10-minute routine each night before bed. Don’t feel funny enough? Well, self-deprecating humor is a cure-all. It always gets a laugh and has a built in trigger to keep your self-esteem in complete check. Don’t feel pretty enough? No problem. Find a dude who will tell you aloud that you are beautiful and then turn that into a relationship even though it may not suit either of you.

None of that is to say that I haven’t had my share of female friends over the year. I have — Growing up. In college. In law school. And even now. But during each of those phases of my life, I didn’t allow the amazing women I knew to play the role they were born to play and in return, I certainly didn’t do the same for them. More directly, I did not realize that for female friendships to have power over our lives and our destinies, we have to first, hand them the torch.

So what does that look like?

I’m still learning this honestly, but I think I’m getting better at it. It means checking in with friends – not out of obligations, but out of genuine care and concern for them. It means asking for a lunch date – not just because you need to vent about life but because you want to hear about theirs. It means showing up to events not because there is anything in it for you, but rather, because it means something to them and that alone is worth schlepping across town in the middle of winter. It means admiring qualities in females without envying them. It means realizing their path is not yours and that’s okay. It means stepping out of the spotlight so that it can shine on your fellow female instead. It means realizing that judgment – of them or of yourself – only serves to benefit those who cares about neither.

Each time I’ve done these things, I am stunned at how the universe returns the favor. I’ve literally had my breath taken away by the stunning generosity and care I’ve received from women who, quite frankly, didn’t owe me a damn thing.

I used to think that the single most important relationship in your life was your partnership. Your marriage. I used to think that you should prioritize it over everything else, because at the end of the day, the kids grow up and friends move away, but your partner is always your partner.

But perhaps it isn’t healthy to have a “single most” important relationship. Maybe that’s the fallacy that causes us (or well, caused me at least) to give up on the girlfriends in my life. What if by insisting on such a thing, you and any such relationship, are inherently made less healthy and whole?

Like me, you are a beautifully complex and magnificent creature. You read that correctly. (As women, we’d do well to remind ourselves of it more often.) One person cannot possibly understand and appreciate the complete wonder that you contain. Frankly, it is irresponsible to place that burden on a single set of shoulders. Plus, that wonder within you aches to learn and to grow from the experiences of other women. It desires to support another woman on her journey. It craves a type of validation, care, and understanding that an intimate partner simply cannot provide.

I’ve seen the error of my ways. I thought relationships existed in a vacuum. I thought I could work hard on one without much regard to the others. But that’s wholly incorrect. Intimate relationships and friendship are really an amalgamation. Neither can truly thrive if you are wholly neglecting the other. I now understand that I need and deserve the strong, unshakable, and incomparable beauty that female friendship brings to my life and to my spirit.

And so do you, my friend.

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