The Complicated Reality Of Womens Friendships

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Womens friendships are complicated to maneuver because friendship among women entails a laundry list of both wonderful and heart wrenching possibilities.

stephanie sprenger friendship

Friendship Among Women Can Be Beautiful. 

It Can Also Be Heartbreaking.


Friendship among women can be the most wonderful and the most drama-filled experience. The reason this is a friendship truth is because women love and get attached to their friends deeply and emotionally. Sometimes this is beautiful, and sometimes it is definitely not. On VProud, there is an interesting friendship video discussing what it means to downgrade a friendship, to break up with a friend or to lessen the intensity and closeness of a friendship. Below, mother, author, and editor of three books including two books on female friendship, Stephanie Sprenger, takes a fascinating look at what downgrading womens friendship really means and entails and why just the thought of doing so in a women to women friendship makes us all, quite honestly, cringe. Take a look at Stephanie's beneath-the-surface analysis of how female friendship works — we honestly couldn't tear our eyes away from it — and see how her thoughts match, inform, or contradict your own. Fascinating, indeed.

—The VProud Team

womens friendships

The Paradox Of The Female Friendship

By Stephanie Sprenger for VProud


Women’s friendships can be incredibly rewarding, but they can also be more complex and awkward than romantic relationships. Taking your relationship to the next level, downgrading, taking a break—these are tricky maneuvers that can apply to platonic female friendships as well as to a dating relationship. But while there are a plethora of resources for those seeking or fine-tuning romantic partnerships, there is a distinct lack of guidance for those trying to navigate issues with close friends.

I loved the friendship video about whether or not it’s possible to downgrade a female friendship. Be honest, just the idea of downgrading a relationship with a close pal makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Or is it just me? If I had a friend that I thought wanted to be closer, more emotionally intimate, or spend more time together than I was comfortable with, I might start panicking and looking for the nearest exit. Because who among us wants to have the “I need a little space” conversation with a girlfriend? Not me.

So I really appreciated the ideas about how to back away from a friendship a bit without actually blowing it off or destroying it. She asserted that it is important to respond to communication from your friend rather than ignoring them, and that you can skillfully put a bit of distance between you, even temporarily, without overtly asking for time, space, or renegotiating friendship terms. (Talk about a potentially awkward conversation!)

Women’s friendships can ebb and flow naturally depending on life circumstances, and that it makes sense that things might change naturally over time. I think that’s a reality that women should definitely bear in mind to help prevent hurt feelings or introducing unnecessary drama into their friendship interactions.

However, I think there are a few roadblocks to downgrading a friendship with ease. First of all—why a downgrade? Doesn’t that indicate that the relationship is somehow failing to meet your needs? If there is in fact a problem—a chronically late or thoughtless friend, a self-absorbed pal, your husbands or kids don’t get along—it may indicate that something more than just a low-pressure, casual downgrade is in order.

I wholeheartedly agree that women often have very high—perhaps sometimes unreasonably high—standards for their friends. I think this is something that may be unique to women’s friendships. Men are better able to weather friendship changes, in part, I think, because they demand less of one another emotionally. It’s not so important that values line up, that communication is honest and authentic, or that each friend initiates contact on an equal basis.

But women demand a degree of loyalty, trust, emotional intimacy, and support that can be difficult to maintain—it’s a real commitment. I think the flip side of this is another commonality of many women’s friendship—despite these high standards, women often have a difficult time with confrontation.

These two conditions create a real paradox; perhaps the most paradoxical element of women’s friendship is the high standards to which we hold our friends juxtaposed with our unwillingness to confront them if our needs aren’t being met. In a way, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. We demand true closeness, commitment, and open communication from our friends, but if they’re failing to deliver in a way that we need, we would rather jump ship than discuss it with them. That’s a problem.

In our romantic relationships, many of us devote a great deal of time and effort to pursuing improved interactions with our partner; we read self-help books, insist on regular date nights or family meeting times, perhaps we even seek couples counseling. We tell our partners that we need to hear “I love you” more, that we wish they’d help more around the house or with the kids, we tell them to make us feel beautiful, we even let them know when we don’t appreciate the way they loaded the dishwasher!

But do we apply the same maintenance and care routine to our friendships? Not really.

So while I do believe it is possible to just step back, give a friendship some space, and accept the natural rhythms of a relationship, I also believe there may be a time when direct communication—even confrontation—may be a better choice for friends.

I also wonder if—true to the old 1990s sitcom romance clichés—a “break” is just a watered down step towards a “break up.” Needing some space or taking some time is often just code for “I’m taking baby steps away from this relationship as fast as I can.” And I think sometimes that’s perfectly fine. Just as a dating relationship may have served its purpose or run its course, not all friendships are meant to last forever. And while it’s uncomfortable to downgrade a friendship, it may be a more humane way of doing the slow fade.

I think the real challenge lies in determining whether your friendship is worth having the hard conversations to effect positive change, whether it’s time to walk away, or whether a casual downgrade really is the best thing. Just like romantic partnerships, these things are rarely black and white.

stephanie sprenger vproud
About the author: Stephanie Sprenger is a freelance writer, mother, and editor. Along with Jessica Smock, she is co-editor of TheHerStories Project, a writing and publishing community for women. Their most recent anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and LosingFriends, was a finalist in Foreword Reviews’ IndieFab Book of the Year contest. Their next book, Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About thePostpartum Experience, will be published in November by She Writes Press. Join Stephanie's honest conversations on VProud.

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