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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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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.

I learned firsthand the dangers of ducking my yes-woman duties recently, when I suggested that my neighbor take a job she was offered instead of holding out for something better. Her reply? "So you're telling me to settle for a job that's beneath me?" Whoops! I practically shivered from the icy silence freezing up the phone line. I backtracked immediately and told her that she was right, she should absolutely go after the jobs she "deserves." Then every week she'd call me with tales of rejection, and every week I'd tell her it was "their loss" that they didn't hire her. And guess what. Her other friends were telling her the same thing, even though none of us believed it, and the unemployment checks kept rolling in.

Charlotte, 34, gives the yes to get the yes. "Even if a friend is saying the stupidest thing I've ever heard, I don't contradict her — because I wouldn't want her to be negative toward me," she says. "I'd rather get 'tough love' from a therapist. From a friend, it feels like criticism." Which explains why women pay $400 an hour for honest feedback from Greenwald, the dating coach. When a client comes to her, baffled by her own singleness, Greenwald will often interview the woman's closest friends to get the real scoop, then report back to her client (without using names). "Often a woman will send signals that say that she just wants you to reinforce her position," Greenwald says. "She'll ask rhetorical questions, like, 'Am I crazy? Isn't he a jerk?' And she wants you to say, 'You're not crazy! He's a jerk!' It's almost like she's feeding you lines in a script." So Greenwald gets everyone speaking candidly — albeit anonymously — to buck the pattern.

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