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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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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.

She suggests that we instead offer feedback the way she learned to at Harvard Business School. "Start positive, and then move on to something constructive," says Greenwald. "So when Elizabeth's friend says, 'Do you think it's because I'm fat?' Elizabeth might respond, 'I think you're one of the warmest women I know, but I also think men can be superficial and might not get to know you. If you're interested in getting in shape, it might attract more men. How can I help you do this?'" This way you enable her goal and not her self-deception. Or, as Michael Broder, Ph.D., Philadelphia-based psychologist and author of Can Your Relationship Be Saved?, puts it, "Instead of keeping your friends in fantasyland, help them cope with reality. That's true friendship."

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