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Women's Health

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.
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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.

Recently a colleague told me about a friend of hers who'd been having a hard time dating, and a male friend told her, "You should date less good-looking guys." As harsh as that sounds, this woman did just that — and the next man she went out with, she fell in love with and married. It's the same simple principle behind the He's Just Not That into You juggernaut. How refreshing it was, after having our female friends egging us on in the wrong direction, to get such a straightforward assessment of what was really going on. Finally, some clarity! But, my colleague continued, if she had given this advice, the woman would have rejected both the advice and the friend. In fact, she would likely have gone to others to complain, and they all would have reassured her that the honest friend was no friend and she should hold out for Mr. Perfect.

Helena Rosenberg, couples therapist and the author of How to Get Married After 35, says this kind of enabling is a female habit. "Our social learning has taught us to be consensus builders. We think we're not on the same team if we disagree," she explains. "A male friend might give us a more accurate reading of what's going on, because men have been conditioned to help by being more practical. Women spend a lot of time spinning events in our friends' favor." Speaking of men, we rarely do them any favors when the yes-ing gains momentum: Eavesdrop on consolation drinks for a newly single gal, and there's a good chance you'll hear, between sips of rosé, that her ex was intimidated by her "greatness" — the cool job, the fab threads, the busy social calendar. Groupthink can reduce guys to a subspecies — with the married women chiming in about how they tolerate their dirty sock machines, but they don't enjoy it.

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