Friday, June 7, 2013

From "Dear Diane" – One Girlfriend’s Advice on the Trouble with Girlfriends

Sometimes, when it comes to my girlfriends, I don’t feel much different than I did in 5th grade.  Is it the same for you?

Back then we traded clothes and secrets, and wondered when our periods would ever show up.  Today, we still trade clothes and gossip - and lament PMS and hot flashes.  Not that much changes – most women I know need their girlfriends as much as their spouses – maybe even more.  A girl without a girlfriend is like a fish without water.

What is it about women and friendships?  They’re different from men’s.  Women share everything, often, and in great detail. We listen; we empathize; we give our best advice.  We don’t always solve the problems – it’s just the processing that helps.  Hear that guys?  We love that you want to fix stuff for us, but what we really need is for someone to just listen.  We just want to talk through it - and girlfriends get that.  

The tight bonds women form, though, can create a double-edged sword.  When we invite girlfriends in to share our deepest secrets; we also open ourselves up to hurt feelings and rejection.  Sometimes their feedback does more harm than good - unintentionally or not.  Check out the advice I gave to one girlfriend who wrote in about a good friendship gone bad.  How would you have advised her?

Dear Diane,

A couple of years ago I met Amy* and her husband Bill* at the gym. They are spin instructors and co-instructed the class. Bill and I became gym buddies and chatted frequently when we ran into each other at the gym. Amy didn't seem to be as interested, but one day she walked up to me and asked if I would be interested in training to run the mini marathon with her. I’ve wanted to become a runner and thought a buddy would be a perfect way to go!
We started meeting at 6 a.m. twice a week to run, but it became apparent neither one of us really had the gusto to train (and I really didn't care to run). Our early morning workouts tapered, but our friendship continued to grow.
Our families started getting together for dinner once a week and we were chatting on the phone daily. Then I started gaining weight. A lot of weight. 25 pounds to be exact. I found out later it was my medicine, but in the midst of the weight gain, I relied on Amy to help me. She helped me analyze my diet, my workouts ... but nothing worked and I continued to gain weight.
She began to feel frustrated b/c she wasn't helping me and I was only getting worse, so she sought council - without my knowledge - of another instructor at the gym. Aaron* and I had become acquaintances and shared pleasantries while a the gym. One day during my workout, he came up to me and said we needed to talk after my workout. Jokingly I said "Am I in trouble?" His response: "Sort of."
After my workout, we go sit in a quiet corner of the gym and he begins asking me about my goals and if I'm meeting them. I told him I was trying to lose weight, but I keep gaining and I don't know why. He begins asking me how hard I'm working out. I told him I felt I pushed myself to 80% at the gym. His response, "bull****." He asked how many times I was getting into the gym. I said 6 days a week. His response was again "bull****." He proceeded to tell me I'm lazy and not working hard enough and not really trying. Tears welling in my eyes, I asked, "Where is this coming from?" He says "Amy asked me to speak with you."
I went home and sobbed the whole rest of the day. I texted Amy and said we needed to speak after she got off work. I went over to her house later and said "So, I spoke to Aaron today...." and she begins laughing. She claims she went to him to help figure out new way to motivate me. But she also knew he wanted to talk to me. While she had no idea how he was going to handle the situation, I felt completely betrayed. She tells me, even to this day, she didn't do anything wrong and she thinks the reason I got upset was because I was embarrassed.
I told her I wanted to remain friends and work through this, but she backed away. She was distance and cold. Then she invited me out to dinner last night. She called it a "date." Even now I'm off the medicine that caused the weight gain, I'm still struggling to lose the weight. She asked me how things were going (in that area). I told her about my SELF magazine challenge and how I did lose 3 pounds last week. She congratulated me and then proceeded to tell me when I'm in the gym I don't work out hard enough. I workout 6 hours a week. She's like "well, I've only been to the gym for 2-30 minute sessions in the past two weeks and I get a better workout than what you're putting in."
So my heart is crushed. Our families have become so close and now I can barely stand to be around her. I don't know how to continue a friendship with someone who thinks so little of me.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Dear Shannon*,
I understand. As women, our connections to our girlfriends are so very important, so it hurts deeply when they disappoint us. I believe that some friends come into your life and stay forever; some come for a season, and some come to teach you something, and move on. It sounds to me like Amy is not necessarily "lifetime friendship" material.

First - it not her place to "fix" your issue with weight. Her role is to encourage and affirm you efforts. I'm not sure why she took on frustration for your situation - it's not hers to "own." Further, it wasn't her place to involve Aaron. His brand of tough love might work on a guy, but rarely a woman. Personally I believe that only "lifetime" caliber friends - the ones you know love you deeply and who have your back, whom you trust without reservation - have the right to apply tough love when necessary. Sometimes out of love a person should say the hard thing, but in a loving way - never a shaming way. Neither Amy or Aaron had the right to speak to you that way.

I'm a believer in forgiveness, and I think if you truly value your friendship with Amy, you might consider sharing with her, in a loving way, how much her words/actions hurt you. That you don't need her "help" - you just need her friendship. Tell her you need for her to understand how her actions affected you. "I felt really hurt when you went to Aaron and put him up to talking with me..." Use that "I" message they teach the kids in school!  If she isn't open to it, personally I say, slowly release her from your life. You, and your family will make new friends - and you can do this slowly. Boundaries are very healthy. You can love yourself by choosing your friendships very wisely. You deserve better in my opinion. 

I also hope that you give yourself a break on the weight loss. There are so many messages out there telling us women we should be less. Buck the system and LOVE yourself! Accept yourself first, and others will follow. Eat right, get your exercise and focus on all the good in your life. Allow happiness, joy, peace and compassion to radiate from within you - and what's more beautiful that that?
I wish you the best and I hope I shed new light for you to consider. You have the answer - follow your heart.

I hope this helps!
Chime in - did you agree with my advice?  What would you tell her?   Ditch the dishes or the reports for a few minutes and join the conversation!