What if Your Best Friends Are Your Worst Enemies?
In our February issue, Lori Gottlieb -- author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough -- provoked hundreds of furious e-mails from you by suggesting that women are too picky. Now she argues that female friendships are a sham.
By Lori Gottlieb
Remember the scene at the end of the first Sex and the City movie, when the fabulous foursome was sitting down to cocktails? Samantha had just left Smith, her gorgeous, adoring boyfriend — whom she loved and who had lovingly supported her through breast cancer — because "I love myself more." That's right: She dumped a keeper using what was arguably the most idiotic grrrl-power proclamation in the history of chick flicks (and there's some formidable competition there). And how did the gals react? They toasted her! As always, the bobble-headed brunch mates unquestioningly took her side. And something dawned on me: This is exactly how I am with my friends (minus, perhaps, the four-figure handbags). Just like the girls did in every episode of SATC — and in the new film, currently luring Miatas-ful of women to theaters like well-shod moths to a flame — we cheer each other on, thinking we're being supportive, when often we're just enabling bad choices. To put it plainly, we're one another's yes women.
I've always enjoyed the unconditional support of my female friends. Life can be a rough ride, and I count on that cheerleading squad when things get me down. But for women, a bit of consolation can balloon into a complex system of chronic ego-inflation. Was the lawyer boyfriend who didn't call me for a daily check-in when in court "too into his career," even though he was really attentive the rest of the time? Probably not. But I heard a round of hurrahs from my friends when I broke it off. And the next guy I dated, who never responded to my e-mails, was he secretly gay? "Yes!" shouted my book group, practically in unison. Look at you, they said, successful, smart, and cute! He must be gay. We "yes" our friends into false presumptions and bad decisions — tell your demanding boss off! Buy the $700 Alexander Wang stilettos; you'll wear them everywhere! — convincing one another that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong because, according to those who know us best, we're always right. But instead of a frenzied pack of enablers nurturing our self-delusion, what we need is someone brave enough to give us the truth.
Elizabeth, a 38-year-old writer in Los Angeles, is an unrepentant yes-er. She tells me about an overweight friend who was having trouble getting dates. "I'd never tell her that something's not attainable for her, because even if it's unlikely, there's still a chance," Elizabeth says. "There are even websites for men who love fat women! Why make her feel bad?" But there's a difference between making a person feel bad and offering counsel, says Rachel Greenwald, a Denver-based dating coach and the author of Have Him at Hello: Confessions from 1,000 Guys About What Makes Them Fall in Love ... or Never Call Back. "It's the one-in-a-million friend who will actually tell you the truth when you're complaining," she says. "Many of us care more about maintaining the friendship than fixing your romantic life, your career, or your issues with your sister." In other words, what feels like altruism could be the fear of being ostracized — or the desire to avoid any hint of that worst kind of female interaction: cattiness.