Dear Younger Self,
On your third day of Kindergarten, your teacher sat you next to an unabashedly chatty girl with chestnut skin and gold-flecked eyes. You were instructed to pair up and illustrate memories from your first days of school. The girl turned to you, smiled, and with such confidence, said, “Hi! We can be friends. Let’s draw a horse!” You readily accepted both offers without so much as a faltering glance.
Your bond with that girl grew stronger throughout your adolescence, but that simplistic approach towards friendship grew muddier with each passing year. By the time you reached middle school, you found yourself navigating the unfamiliar waters of puberty and cliques. You had to fit into a new environment. Also, for whatever reason, you decided that attention and approval from boys were very important. You quietly watched these boys establish a hard line in the sand that separated “us” from “them,” turning the average girl’s emotions into liabilities and our friendships with each other into mysteries.
Your desire to win those boys over diminished any will to fight those sexist, harmful notions about female friendships. So you did what many girls in your position do:
You smiled and worked to distinguish yourself from “other girls,” to make yourself “different” from the rest, thereby making you “better” or “cooler.”
I’m not here to admonish you. Internalizing that kind of rhetoric – especially when it’s presented as some sort of biological fact – is a really easy trap to fall into when you’re merely trying to survive your teen years. I’m also not interested in vilifying boys who held those views during their adolescence. After all, when you have basic, everyday inequality confirming that bias, it can be difficult to challenge social norms without the proper language.
Still, I want to save you years of stress and isolation. I want to make it easier to unlearn misogynistic ideology, if I can. The truth is that while you are certainly unique, your experiences with obstacles like sexism, heartbreak, body image, and mental health aren’t.
Instead of searching desperately for differences between you and “other girls,” you could recognize that they share your struggles and find healthy ways to cope together.
Can you achieve similar results with boys? Absolutely, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of friendships with the girls around you.
Also, try to understand that the language used to downplay female interaction is intentionally deployed to devalue our friendships.
Labels like “catty,” “petty,” and “dramatic” are irresponsibly assigned to us when, in reality, all relationships include conflicts and difficult emotions. “Jealousy” often insinuates competitions that don’t truly exist. Language has such a strong, lasting influence that we have to be diligent about using it responsibly and calling out those who fail to do so. Remember: conflict and negative emotions are not exclusive to girls.
And finally, realize that you can be and are friends with other girls, even when you’re experiencing distance between each other. In fact, those friendships are going to grow into some of the bonds you treasure most. When your romantic relationships crumble, your girls will be the ones to drag you out of your house and reassure you that you’re still loved. When you freak out about becoming a mother for the first time, you’ll befriend a group of mothers who will become your best support system. That golden-eyed girl who helped you draw the ugliest horse in existence nearly three decades ago? She’ll be your maid of honor and the sister you’ve always needed. By the time you’ve reached your thirties, you will have amassed so many stories about women who have quite literally saved your life.
However, you’ll never reach this point if you continue to see bonding with other girls as some kind of hindrance.
You’re young and you’re still learning. Through great fortune, you’ll develop treasured connections with people all across the gender spectrum. Take the time to remember that good friends from all walks of life drastically improve your existence. Remember that other girls can have such a positive role in your world if you let them.