In partnership with Palm Breeze.
Leandra Medine: We’re women who feel feelings and love to talk about feeling those feelings, so what better topic to address in this week’s round table than our own experiences with friendship and our girlfriends? I guess the disclaimer here is that we are approaching this conversation as four heteronormative women, some of us in relationships and others not, so these opinions reflect a very particular genre of friendship, right? Recently, a survey sponsored by Palm Breeze (editor note: an alcoholic beverage brand that is trying to promote kicking drinks back among female pals) indicated that 70% of women (surveyed) who spend ten or more hours of girl-time each week say they are fulfilled in almost every part of their life, 77% think they are more confident as a result and 73% say they feel happier after spending time with their girlfriends. I like these statistics because they make me feel like friendship promotion is now scientifically proven to enhance your life! Medicine!
Haley Nahman: That’s interesting — female time as medicine! I do think there is something therapeutic about being around women. When I switched from working in an environment with a lot of men to an office of all women, I definitely noticed a shift. Something felt easier. There was something about working with men, for me, that presented more layers and filters and room for interpretation. Working with women and having our friendships inform how we work together…it’s made me feel more like myself. Maybe…less filtered?
Jasmin Aujla: Do you mean that there’s no facade? Like, your walls come down and you’re more comfortable?
Patty Carnevale: I grew up around brothers but I always had really close female friends and, as I’ve grown, I’ve made male friends who I’ve become very comfortable with and have complete trust in, but it’s different from the women I’m close to. In whatever way we’ve found this kinship with each other, there is always an erasing of layers between us. It’s like a different level of intimacy.
Jasmin: I went to an all girls boarding school, so it was sleepovers every night. My relationship with those girls was beyond sisterhood, there was a true closeness. Over the years…through college…through different jobs…through moving so far from each other…through not talking for months and feeling guilty about it…I can still talk to them tomorrow and our friendship will be exactly the same. It’s like a comfort blanket! No matter where I go, no matter what I do, I know they’ll always be there. But on the other hand, I have newer friendships that have showed me a different side of myself and taught me new things that in some way feel just as important. I think the role that the women in our lives play can vary so much. It’s hard to nail down because there are so many different levels of female friendships an so many degrees of impact those relationships can have.
Leandra: Do you feel like the general consensus in popular culture is that women don’t help other women?
Patty: I don’t think so. Shine Theory is a concept coined by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman to explain that “when you shine, I shine” and I think it was a reaction to that notion. It’s this idea that when women help other women everyone’s work gets better, everyone gets stronger, there’s not this sense of sacrifice. When you help someone out or someone helps you — you’re both better for it. You give each other strength. And it doesn’t deplete something else, it’s not a zero sum game. What was striking about the theory when they started spreading it was that it almost felt revolutionary, but it shouldn’t be! I think women have grabbed onto it because that’s the world we want to live in.
Jasmin: It’s kind of what Man Repeller does if you think about it. In the community there’s a mix of very different people coming together and strengthening each other’s opinions and perspectives by talking about things and asking the hard questions and forming friendships.
Haley: Have you guys felt competitive with your female friends before? Maybe not explicitly, but perhaps in hindsight?
Leandra: I’m not competitive to start but I have opted out of friendships because of people who were. Because I’ve always processed the times in my life where I have experienced competitiveness as jealousy — and that makes me feel like a shitty person. I only had two girlfriends growing up, and that felt like enough. I never had a #squad. I was also very happy that I only had brothers, but I also never had many platonic male friends.
Patty: I’m unsettled by women who only befriend men. And I’ve always been around a lot of men, but still, I haven’t met someone who I’ve connected with on a deeper level, who’s put out the idea that they can only be comfortable being friends with men and not women.
Haley: I feel like that’s a confidence thing, a self-worth thing. Like, if you’re getting your self-worth from male attention or that equation is settled into your bones, then you might feel threatened by other women or seek more relationships with males. I think the fault there is also blurry. A lot of people have their worth informed by shitty stuff and it builds on itself, too.
Patty: I don’t think it’s necessarily a fault. Instead maybe a clue to ask some questions there because there’s so much to be gained.
Haley: So much to be gained! I think that’s what I meant by the complexity of the male/female friendship versus the female/female one. Sometimes the latter one feels simpler. I don’t know if I’m explaining it well. It’s a When Harry Met Sally type of thing, right? Can men and women be friends? Which is silly because most people think a resounding “yes” and I agree but I think there’s still a little something to that question.
Has anyone read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay? There is a chapter where she talks about how girls grow up learning to be observed, like objects acting things out. And as much as we try to undo it as we get older, there’s still an element of observation when men are in the room. Not always, but sometimes. I think that can add a layer of complexity in the work place. I wouldn’t have recognized it as existing until I came here and felt its lack of presence. It feels really good to work with all women.
Patty: Meanwhile, it has been proven that teams that are largely female are more likely to be successful. I think that’s proving the point that diversity in any form will lead to more success so if you’re talking about a predominantly male anything, world, business, whatever it may be, it’s just not inclusive of enough view points to be as good as it can be.
Haley: I wonder if that seeps into friendship, too. Do you feel more revived being around a group of women at a table then being around a group of friends that are a mix? Perhaps because you’re not going through as much processing or your guard is down more, so it’s more fulfilling? Could that be true or connected?
Leandra: I think the piece that’s really interesting about friendships among women is how they evolve over time. Because when we’re younger, they’re like our sisters and we put them before our families because they are our families and we want to do everything with them and don’t want to know anything beyond them. Then, as we begin to get older, we cast them aside because we start dating and want to give all our attention to that and there’s this quiet understanding that we’re going to abandon each other. Then we get older and a whole new list of priorities come up. There’s this slow shift of priority and it seems like, at a certain point, and maybe this is what happens in your late twenties or maybe it’s just happening to me, you wake up one morning and are like, “Where the fuck are my friends? I’ve never needed them more.” And they become a priority again, in the primal way that they used to be. Is that an experience you can sympathize with?
Haley: Maybe we reach a stasis wherein our focus becomes more about committing to or dedicating more time to and cultivating your female friendships, versus so much turn over and change that happens up until that point.
Leandra: I think because I’m from New York and I went to school here that I never had to deal with the very awkward but very real process of making friends as an adult. But I’m fascinated by who you identify as the people you want to befriend when you move to a new city; how do you do that? And what are you hoping to get out of those relationships and how is that different from what you hope to get out of your friendships from when you’re younger? Because your younger friends kind of just happen to you.
Patty: When you’re younger, if you get along with somebody, you’re like, “Oh cool, you and I are best friends.” As we grow up, the assumption is: we’ve been in this world and we’re scared to be vulnerable and just say, “Hey, do you wanna hangout sometime?” It’s scary! It’s like asking someone on a date. And that’s something that my friends and I talk about a lot because some of us were were thrown together as roommates or thrown together during internships. I think it takes a lot of bravery to make new friends in your adult life. But it’s so awesome. I don’t know if I necessarily know what I’m trying to get out of a friendship when I want to befriend someone. It’s more like, “I feel this very gratifying connection with you, I want to get to know you better.”
Leandra: And it’s so energizing! I would say in the last ten years I’ve come across three people who have made me feel like, I need you to be in my life at whatever cost. It’s exciting because I think there’s a psychological element at play in that you identify character traits in other people that you either want to see in yourself or do see in yourself, and hold those dearly. So you get to know yourself a bit better based on what you like about those other people.
Haley: Yeah, but it’s also the deepest parts of yourself too, right? It’s never anything stupid and overly surface-level.
Leandra: So that’s interesting to talk about during the height of generation Squad Goals. Because that does seem like it’s contingent on surface value, right? Who’s gonna make for the best picture, and who’s gonna be wearing what, and what roles are these people going to play? It feels lowest common denominator in a way that’s kind of dirty and objectifying.
Jasmin: Yeah, there seem to be few opportunities in life to make friendships on deeper levels, but there are so many great friendships to be had. I guess it’s a matter of just finding a way to bring people together, which is how I’d like to approach the Man Repeller community.
Haley: Especially because the content that brings people together on Man Repeller isn’t lowest common denominator type of stuff. It’s the more cerebral stuff that is hard to recognize in people if you’re just meeting them quickly.
Leandra: Do you think there’s a reality where women don’t value their female friendships?
Haley: Hmmm. I can think of one friend of mine who said that as they got more settled into their marriage they felt less of a need for their female friends.
Leandra: I would think you need your friends more.
Haley: I think I feel that way, too. But maybe some people who are more invested in building out a family unit and putting time into that don’t see their friends as often and feel okay with that.
Patty: I see it in stages. Or cycles, rather. It’s hard for me because I have always so direly needed my friendships.
Leandra: Do you think that’s a function of the fact that we both only have brothers and have never had the experience of blood sisterhood?
Sometimes I feel like I try to turn my friends into sisters. And all my closest friends have always had their own sisters, so I found that the way that I addressed my friends was always different from the way they addressed me because they didn’t need me as much as I needed them.
Patty: My girlfriends are more important than any friendship I’ve had with a guy — and I have close ones, but I don’t know — the relationship with a girlfriend just feels deeper than a friendship.
You were saying earlier that, per the study, it’s no real surprise women love their friends. But I think what could be surprising is the attachment that happens even as we go through these cycles and stages of life. That our friendships can have a constant impact on all areas of our lives. Like, it doesn’t give, it doesn’t take, time spent there doesn’t remove from something else.
Leandra: Right. Or what is surprising is that women actually need their friends. It’s science now! So this has become more of a meditation on why friendships are helpful and less of a round table. Can you think of a specific, seminal moment where a friendship changed the course of your personal history?
Patty: I remember I wanted to move to New York so badly, and one of my best girlfriends who I grew up with met me at a diner before an interview and gave me a pep-talk that saved me. And another friend living in New York dropped off three outfits to choose for me to wear to the interview. It was just amazing. They descended upon me to help make me my best self for that situation.
Jasmin: Different friends really do shape and make who you are. It’s like you become a reflection of all of these great moments given to you by your friends. You’ll never forget your friends helping you get ready for that interview. And you were probably so great in it.
Leandra: The other thing is that, truly, nothing feels better than helping another woman. And you can’t understand that until you’ve been helped. It’s so empowering. In a way it’s selfish, because often it can help you out of a rut when you’re the helper, but it’s also very special in that it makes you feel like you are contributing to the evolution of the cause.
Haley: We all have so much overlap just because of our gender. Maybe naturally but also because of where society has put us or tried to. Now it feels like we’re shining a light on so much stuff that just feels shitty and in a way it brings us together.
Jasmin: I became very close with a woman who I met in grad school and when it came to doing our final project, there was no doubt that we would work together. And the nights that we spent sitting on my sofa, questioning each other and pushing each other, and asking each other why we loved the things we were arguing about and working on, how we could do stuff bigger and better — she just really encouraged me to think differently and it’s a mindset that I try to apply to everything I do now. When I was applying for the job here, she helped me go through the presentation that I showed you guys. Her input was so important. I feel so much stronger and better for having her in my life. Professionally and as a very close friend. So I guess that’s not one time, but it’s a relationship that is very special.
Leandra: Your turn, Haley!
Haley: Well I guess I also got here through a female friendship. It started with my friend Chelsea, whose blog I’d followed for years before I spotted her standing in front of me on an escalator. I was like, Chelsea? And we ended up talking at the top of the escalator for like 30 minutes and struck up a friendship. Eventually I asked if I could help her with her business and she said yes and eventually gave me a space to work on a lot of stuff that I was interested in. When I joined her on a work trip, she introduced me to a writer in New York named Carlye. And then it was kind of like a chain of women helping women, because later I asked Carlye for advice around how I might jump into the industry and she was super cool about helping me strategize. Eventually I asked her if she could introduce me to Leandra and Amelia since she’d written for Man Repeller back in the day and she was immediately like, “Of course!” And now I’m here. This was about a year and a half after I started talking about my dreams with Chelsea.
Leandra: It’s funny that the common thread in all of your stories is how women helped you professionally.
Haley: Yeah, I mean…lots of women have helped me through break ups, too! So much crying in my friend’s bed for nights while we watched 30 Rock because that was the only way I could get my mind off of it.
Leandra: Amelia was always a violent enabler in my life. When I was dating terrible, terrible guys, she was always the friend I’d go to for advice, because she was the one who was like, “Sure I’ll come with you to meet him, no problem!” And all my other friends were like, “I am not condoning your communicating with this person for a minute longer.” Amelia’s view was always, “What’s the worst that could happen? I mean, you’re not gonna end up with him and you know that in your heart, so have some fun.”
Patty: I feel like that’s the best advice, actually, because you’re gonna do the thing you want to do. So at least the person who is ride-or-die comes with you.
Leandra: When I thought about how my close friends have impacted me most profoundly, I first thought about Emily Weiss, too, who’s been a dear friend since we both launched our sites like, six years ago. We shared a developer and sales people for a bit. So many of the women who I have met through Man Repeller have taught me that there’s enough business to go around. That we can all be successful and we should be successful and doing it together is much more satisfying that not. That’s worth something, right?
Since this round table became a celebration of female friendships, I’d like to cap it off by suggesting that our community (hi friends!) share this story with the important female figures and friends in their lives and then share with !us! their own story of how friendship has, in some way, shaped them. I mean you.
Illustration by Joseph Amar.