I discovered the joy of girlfriends relatively late in the game, compared to many women I know. I was a tomboy for most of my childhood, and I still am in some ways. I liked some of the same things other girls liked, and I was as much a victim of eighties eyeshadow and big bangs as any of my female peers – but I couldn’t play their games. The preteen you’re-my-friend-now-you’re-not-and-she-is misery. The evaluation of a girl based on the brand of jeans she wore, and how many pairs she owned. I knew more than one girl whose hoard of jeans topped their age. This confused me, as there are only seven days in a week. Being included in groups when they needed an extra girl, and being dropped if there was one girl too many. Watching intelligent girls act stupid so guys would lean over their math textbook or chemistry notes to explain something, and catch a whiff of their perfume. As much as I wanted a boyfriend, I couldn’t bring myself to hide my brain. And the gossip …. I was fortunate to have learned early my Dad’s philosophy on gossip: if people have nothing better to do than talk about me, imagine how boring their own lives are. I had one or two really good girlfriends until I went to college. There, I found two or three more. Now, at 34, I have several. Why? I don’t think I’ve changed that much. I still like alot of the same things, though I’ve picked up a few new interests along the way. I’ve learned to delay judgement when meeting people, and maybe that gives a few more women a chance to become my friends. However, I suspect that the biggest factor in the upswing of girls in my life is that the games aren’t as popular. While some bitches are bitches-for-life, most of us eventually mellow and mature. Life has a way of knocking you around and forcing you to dig through the bullshit you’ve manufactured to find the essence of yourself – the strength of character you need to keep your head above water.
Just last week, I went out with Kathy, Cara and Blue, three solid girlfriends. We talked our way through several bottles of wine, did some not-too-shabby amateur painting, and laughed. Oh, how we laugh when we get together! What elicits a chuckle when I’m alone turns into a teary-eyed, open-mouthed, gasping-for-breath roar when we’re together. I am grateful for their friendship, and that of a handful of other lovely ladies. I’m even grateful the next morning, when I’m questioning the wisdom of having friends whose …. er …. lust for life equals mine. Also, friends who know that the real food groups are wine, chocolate, and poutine …. I recently found myself wondering what makes a great girlfriend, and I came up with a list (as my esteemed readers know by now, I loves me some lists).
Great girlfriends know your life. They know the names of the players in every drama. They know who to dislike, and who to cheer for, and why. They know where the bodies are buried, and how they came to be that way. You don’t have to set the scene for them, you can just get right to the point.
And even if they’ve heard it before, they’ll listen again. Every disappointing stand-off with your kid starts and ends the same way. Every argument with your sister features a few standard button-pushing lines. You’ve had the same beefs with your job and your co-workers for years. Your pet peeves are familiar territory, too. Every bad day has more-or-less the same list of flaws and fumbles. But a great girlfriend will let you rant, rationalize, forgive and step back from the ledge as if you’ve never done it before. At no point in the conversation will a bored or impatient heard-this-before expression cross her face.
They hear what you don’t say. If someone asks me how I’m doing, and the answer is “shit-tacular” but I don’t feel like getting into it, I’ll say I’m fine. Most people won’t even wait til the word “fine” has fluttered out of my mouth before moving on. I can’t get away with that if the askers are my girlfriends. They will stop what they’re doing, raise their eyebrows and give me the “really” look. They wait patiently for the façade to crumble and fall away, then gaze without judgement on what I’ve been trying to hide – and offer a hug that makes all my problems a little smaller. When I tell them what’s not fine, I don’t have to try to explain why – they can hear that, too, because (like I said) they know my life.
Great girlfriends are not afraid to argue with you. They won’t let you make excuses for assholes, even if the assholes are people you love. They’ll tell you if your mother should mind her own business, or if your boyfriend should be treating you better. They won’t let you martyr yourself – they are not afraid to confront what’s unfair in your life, and make you recognise it, too. A great girlfriend will tell you that you shouldn’t be the only one who attempts to empty the trash cans in your house, and to stop doing laundry for your college-aged kids. If your boss is being a jerk, they won’t just shrug and say “whatcha gonna do”. They’ll remind you you’re worth more than that, and help you come up with ideas to improve your work situation. They don’t shy away from telling you how they would handle your issues. If you’re doing something that won’t help, or not doing something that will, they care about you enough to nudge you in the right direction. They won’t just smile and nod as you grapple with the tough stuff, they shout encouragement and pointers from the front row of the bleachers. The only sacred cow for great girlfriends is your feelings. They treat your heart like it’s made of glass. (Love that song? Me, too – you’re welcome.)
They know you’re juggling lots of balls (or swords or torches, depending on how you feel). They are not demanding or jealous. Sometimes, life takes everything you’ve got, and you can’t be everything to everyone. If you’ve just scored a promotion, landed a man, bought a house or had a baby, you’re going to be preoccupied and busier. Your true girlfriends are not going to whine about you not calling as often, or not being able to come out and play. They know you need time to let the chips fall and the dust settle, and they’ll wait until you come back around. When you do, they’ll buy you a drink to celebrate your return.
Great girlfriends build you up. They know your cake mix and your hair dye came in a box, but they’ll praise your goodies and your ‘do anyway. After you’ve dropped the ball, they’ll tell you they admire how you carried it until the drop and the way you scooped it back up. They don’t dredge up the moments you wish you could bury, they hand you a shovel and then get to work with the one they brought for themselves. They don’t pour scepticism on your big plans, even if they know that these plans coming to life and a snowball in hell share the same chance. You will not walk away from a chat with a great girlfriend feeling worse than you did before.
I guess I took the long way around to the following statement: I have been blessed with great girlfriends, and I am so thankful for them. You know who you are …. This one’s for you.