This is not what female friendship looks like.

The past few weeks have been immensely busy for everyone I know. Some of this mayhem has been the good kind: one of my friends just opened a BEAUTIFUL new bar here in Toronto, employing two other pals in the process. Another dear bosom, who happens to be the co-founder of a fantastic Milwaukee-based theatre company that I’ve worked with, just got married this weekend.

Life, you’re awfully skilled at moving.

I just returned to Toronto from aforementioned wedding, and it put me in a real State. That kind where only a capital letter can suffice. There’s much to be said for the happiness of others, and experiencing the well-deserved bliss of those you love is—to put it in utterly reductionist terms—the absolute best. I like to play hardass, but this was my third hometown wedding and I have to say I could really get used to this 4-8 year period of young adulthood we like to call “wedding season.”

One thing I’m always reminded of, on these brief but uber-social visits home, is just how incredibly fortunate I am to have the world’s most wonderful girlfriends. Really. I live a country away, and yet the infrequent reunions feel as though no time has passed at all. I wish I could show the awkward, lonely teenager I once was how great the future would look in this respect, to tell her to buck up and chill out. The future is kind of scary, but at least you’ll have killer friends.

Which brings me to the subject of friends. The female variety in particular. And, as you may have anticipated, a confession: I always had a hard time with girlfriends. Yes, growing up, I was THAT type of girl.

The first lesson in sisterhood mythology

Why is it that some girls have such a hard time forging solid friendships with members of their own sex, while others latch onto a bff at the age of four and travel merrily attached to the other’s side for the rest of their natural born lives? I always envied the latter, whose lives seemed so what they were supposed to be according to the books I read and the shows I watched. I felt defective for feeling more comfortable hanging out with boys, and my platonic dude preferences only intensified as I got further into the mean girl years of tweendom and early adolescence. Sure, I still have a few really dear friendships leftover from those dark ages of elementary and high school, but I feel like it wasn’t until I reached university that I learned to be good with girlfriends.

Many of the girls I feel closest to have disclosed similar feelings of galpal-itis, and I’ve noticed a certain set of commonalities among those of us who share this trait. The most noticeable of these? An uncanny combination of confrontation avoidance and fierce competitiveness. In other words, we’re all the kinds of people who are inclined to measure ourselves against other women and, yet, fear positioning ourselves against anyone else. We’d rather seethe silently than stir up drama. More than anything else, we overthink our failure to replicate the kinds of friendships books like the Babysitters Club series (and, later, shows like Sex and the City) told us we were supposed to have, wherein each “character” in the friend circle fulfills a very specific role without competition or substance.

Competitiveness shouldn’t be a barrier to forging relationships, but a prevailing mythology of benign “sisterhood” that paints the ideal female friendship as a never-ending slumber party oversimplifies the complex nature of women, the ways we interact, and how we benefit from one another. It can be difficult to balance this ideal with the reality.

I won't say it if you don't.

During a particularly soul-searchy phase a few years ago, I came upon a book called Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry. In that book (which I of course bought without a moment’s hesitation), author and gender studies scholar Susan Shapiro Barash argues that the constraints on female success and self-realization that have long existed in society have forced women to become envious and competitive for limited windows of opportunity, traits which are complicated by the sisterhood mythology. While I thought the book was a little short on analysis, I recognized a kernel of truth at its core. Sure, the same underlying competitiveness could be said to exist in relationships between men, but we ladies aren’t encouraged to duke it in the open out the way our be-wanged counterparts are. We’re supposed to play all nice and sisterly, which makes the idea of pursuing girl-girl friendships that are both emotionally and intellectually fulfilling seem like an exercise in suppression of any individual needs or desires.

I guess that, long story short, this baggage is the reason I find myself so rewarded by my lady friendships. There’s a lot of junk that needs to be confronted, negotiated, and mindfully placed aside, and I’ve found that the process has given me tremendous clarity and reassurance. Girl friends require a lot of maintenance, but they can be the most true blue relationships a broad will ever have.

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