There’s an article in this month’s Marie Claire by Lori Gottlieb (author of the controversial Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough) in which she argues that female friendships are a sham. She writes:
“I’ve always enjoyed the unconditional support of my female friends. Life can be a rough ride, and I count on that cheerleading squad when things get me down. But for women, a bit of consolation can balloon into a complex system of chronic ego-inflation. … We ‘yes’ our friends into false presumptions and bad decisions — tell your demanding boss off! Buy the $700 Alexander Wang stilettos; you’ll wear them everywhere! — convincing one another that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong because, according to those who know us best, we’re always right. But instead of a frenzied pack of enablers nurturing our self-delusion, what we need is someone brave enough to give us the truth.”
I too have always enjoyed the unconditional support of my closest friends, but Gottlieb’s definition of support is apparently very different than mine. To me, unconditional support means that my BFFs will stand by me through the contemplation and aftermath of any decision, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll encourage bad ones. Take Naomi. Back when I’d just moved to Chicago we went shopping and I fell in love with a way-overpriced $280 dress I didn’t need and had no occasion to wear. At the time I was in between jobs and had no income. She didn’t say, “Just get it! You’ll earn the money later and you look like a goddess in it.” No. She said “Maybe you want to wait till you’re getting a pay check at least?” Fair point. I took her advice. And though I still think of that blue-with-gold-stripes number with a bit of longing, I’m no worse off without it in my closet. I made the right choice. (Naomi’s now a San Fran-dweller, bah! Who will be shopper’s voice of reason?)
If I decided to tell my boss off—is that something that people actually do?—my friends would not encourage me. But if I got fired and called them crying, would they listen and talk me off the ledge? I think so. I hope so.
In her article, Gottlieb cites the first Sex and The City movie as a prime example of yes-ing a friend to death:
“Samantha had just left Smith, her gorgeous, adoring boyfriend — whom she loved and who had lovingly supported her through breast cancer — because ‘I love myself more.’ That’s right: She dumped a keeper using what was arguably the most idiotic grrrl-power proclamation in the history of chick flicks (and there’s some formidable competition there). And how did the gals react? They toasted her!”
But what were they supposed to do? She’d already made her decision. Should they have said, “You made a huge mistake”? What would that have accomplished? Mistake or not, the deed was done. No use kicking yourself after the fact, I say.
I don’t think Gottlieb is totally wrong. Good friends shouldn’t just be yes-women. They should be honest. Friends don’t let friends buy shoes they can’t afford. Or flush their careers down the toilet. Or stay with a bad boyfriend. But then, we’re just friends. We can discourage bad decisions but we can’t always control them. Sometimes our job is just to help our BFF pick up the pieces of her own mess.
Do you think Gottlieb’s right? That “we cheer each other on, thinking we’re being supportive, when often we’re just enabling bad choices”? Or do you think she’s missing the point of what it means to be supportive?