The Evolution of Friendship: From Mean Girls to Meaningful Women

Every year for the last three, along with a group of friends, I’ve packed my bags, left color-coded instructions for my family, and flown off for a long weekend. If our annual women’s weekend (or as I christened it this year, Vajayjay Vacay) were a movie, here’s how I envision the poster:

Six full-grown females, running, suitcases clacking on the cobblestones. For good measure, they’d throw in a harried and clueless looking dad. There’d be one mom checking her e-mail ‘on the go’–in business wear and heels, natch. And in the background, a gaggle of frowny kids, except the demon child with the cute, but mischievous look on his face.

There’d be a dumb tag line, something like With No Kids in Sight, Will Moms Go Wild at Night? perched tipsily on a margarita glass or something. Because of course the first thing mothers do when away from the daily grind of spit up, vacuums, and carrot sticks is to let their hair down, flirt with every hunky man they see, and drink themselves into a stupor until they end up passed out on a park bench in the middle of Madrid.

At least that’s the stereotype, the tired and trite and perhaps sometimes true trope.

I don’t know. Maybe that happens when you’re a mom in your twenties. Or thirties. Maybe it happens when you’re still breastfeeding and one glass of wine gives you a hangover. I’m in my late forties. My kids are older. My tolerance for red wine has built up like an impenetrable armor.

In my reality, a weekend away with women in their forties can best be summed by this comment, made by one of our group:

Eating a bag of chips in bed, without having to share them with my kids, napping under the covers at 5 pm? Bliss.

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I’ve always had close friendships with women. Some, in my teens and early twenties, were intense. Others sizzled with a live wire of competitiveness, even if we weren’t aware of what, exactly, we were competing for. This is how girls are…or at least were…conditioned. To find a guy. To marry. To have kids. That was always the end goal. Even if your goal was to be an astronaut, there was the assumption you’d be a married astronaut. The catch phrase for girls growing up in the 70s and 80s was not You Can Have One or Two things. It was you can Have It ALL. 

All most definitely included a husband and kids.

Girls absorb those assumptions. We marinate in them, soak until our blood expectation level is over the limit. You’re not always aware of it–I know I wasn’t–but it’s there all the same, the idea that a girl, a woman, is defined by her ability to get a man. Preferably one who puts a ring on it. Datable, marriageable men are presented to us as a limited resource. A rare Pokemon siting, a nugget of gold in an otherwise barren mine of rock.

And so the societal stage is set for mean girl antics and bitch behavior. Most of us play along, unaware we’re not much more than girl pawns in a game of social conditioning chess.

None of this is to say I haven’t had emotionally connective and cherished friendships with women and girls throughout my life. I absolutely have.

But….there’s something especially nice about the friendships of women in their forties.

Less competition, more chips.

****

Here’s a sneak peek into what a weekend away with six moms in their 40s really looks like…

Drinking sangria in the middle of the afternoon without having to worry about the school run.

Talking about labor, kids, periods, the future, sex. Exchanging stories about our husbands. Sure, there’s the odd complaint, but more often than not, the stories are of how we met, the sweet things they’ve done, they do.

Walking through a museum actually looking at what’s on the walls, not trying to stop your kids getting too close to the rope or bribing them with gummy bears to let you see the exhibit.

Deciding what to have for dinner as you’re sitting down. Not worrying about what to make for dinner and who eats what and who hates that? Heaven on Earth.

Long meals filled with constant conversation. There are no silences in a group of six women. There are no gaps, no awkward pauses, nothing left unspoken, no reading between the lines. When you do not have to worry about second guessing what the person across from you is thinking by what they’re not saying, there’s a lot of room for real listening.

No one is interested in flirting with the cute waiter. Oh sure, we comment on the cute waiter, but it is more important he bring us our Cava fast than make our hearts beat faster.

We talked about finding a substitute in our now long marriages for those first butterfly feelings. We talked about what the next few years hold, our fears for our kids. We joked about the weight we’ve gained. Ok, I joked (mostly) about the weight I’ve gained.

We compromised and took each other’s ideas into consideration. They toured around the feminist art exhibit with me and I sucked up the overpriced 19 Euro hotel breakfast for them.

We walked. A lot.

We walked more.

And then collapsed on the bed without having to make sure everyone else was ok first. With a bag of chips we didn’t have to share.

****

This is what female friendship in your forties is like. There’s enough room for everyone. There’s no drama, no competition, no let’s hang out with her because she makes me look good. Not mean girls, but meaningful women.

Oh sure, we dress up, slap on a little makeup, put on a little sparkle, but it’s so we cover the grays and the laugh lines in the inevitable photos rather than to attract attention. There is no seeking attention. Unless it’s signaling to the waiter we need another bottle of wine.

Female friendships are often portrayed through a filter of cattiness, of snide comments and back stabbing. I’m sure those relationships exist, even for women in their fifth decade.

Not here. Not mine. I’ve only got a limited amount of time left and choose to surround myself with meaningful women.

Even if they don’t share their chips.

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Skirting the Issue

The long or short of it? We're at risk regardless.
The long or short of it? We’re at risk regardless.

The foreign minister in India just made headlines for a newly published list of tourism tips. They run the gamut of normalcy, common sense mingled with observance of local custom, but with an interesting caveat for female tourists.

Don’t wear skirts.

After a string of high-profile rape cases in India against foreign women, (not to mention the appalling rape and sexual assault statistics for Indian women themselves), I’m sure the foreign minister thought he was helping by giving women tips to lower their chances of being the victim of sexual assault.

That right there is the problem.

Once again we’re putting the burden on girls and women to AVOID being assaulted or raped when the burden should fall squarely on the shoulders of men. Women should not need to avoid getting raped. Men should avoid raping.

Don’t drink too much.

Don’t go out at night.

Don’t go to an area you’re unfamiliar with.

Don’t go out alone.

Don’t go out for a run.

Don’t wear suggestive clothing.

Don’t wear skirts.

You may as well just issue a blanket statement: Don’t be a woman.

No matter the intention, when you give women a list of dos and don’ts to follow like a checklist of rape avoidance, you’re reinforcing the notion that it is somehow IN THEIR CONTROL, that rape or sexual assault can be avoided if they’re careful and follow all the rules. The corollary is that if it happens, it must mean it was their fault, something they did wrong.

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Not only is it damaging and insulting, it’s flat out wrong. There are plenty of women who are assaulted and/or raped who are wearing pants, or sober, or at a party with others. There are plenty of women raped in broad daylight, in their homes, by men they know.

There is one commonality. They are women.

We still haven’t truly changed the way we look at sexual assault and rape. We still haven’t changed the way we talk to boys and men about it. And we still haven’t come up with solutions to stop men from doing it in the first place.

Again, women don’t need to avoid being assaulted and raped. Men need to avoid assaulting and raping.

How do we do that? Education. Training. Punitive consequences. Zero tolerance for sexual assaults. More education. More training.

A friend told me this morning about a college in Canada which suspended their entire hockey program because two of the players were involved in a sexual assault and several more were complicit. Suspending an entire hockey program sounds harsh, right? Especially for the ones who weren’t involved at all. But…

The school put its foot down and took a zero tolerance approach. The school actually put the welfare of women above its hockey team. Imagine that. By taking a resolutely punitive stand on the issue, perhaps the next generation of hockey players will think about the consequences, because the consequences will actually have meaning to them. Maybe it will stop someone in their tracks. Maybe a friend will stop a teammate from committing an assault. 

But in order to have that work, the consequences must be real. We must reach a social and judicial point where raping or assaulting a woman just isn’t worth it.

Until we do, assaults and rapes will keep happening. Two recent cases of young, white men convicted of sexual assault who walked with a slap on the wrist are just one example of why the justice system needs to look at the way they sentence men convicted of sexual assault.

Harsher sentencing and stricter consequences for assault and rape isn’t about an eye for an eye. I’m not arguing that a woman’s life is irreparably changed and therefore a man’s should be as well.

It’s about changing the way we look at assault and rape. It’s about putting the burden on the potential rapists, not potential victims. It’s about making sure that assault and rape are not viewed as ‘youthful mistakes’ or indiscretions that can be overlooked or forgiven, but crimes. With sentencing that means something.

Instead of ‘don’t wear a skirt’, we need ‘if you rape, you’re going to jail.’

Instead of ‘dont’ drink too much at a college party, we need ‘this university has a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault and should you be found guilty of such, you will be expelled in addition to legal consequences.’

Instead of ‘don’t wear suggestive clothing’ we need ‘clothing never equals equal consent’

Instead of ‘what have I got to lose?, we need ‘here is exactly what is at stake’

skirtWe need to change the entire mindset. And that starts with the way we talk to our kids. Both girls and boys. Yes, we need to teach our kids to be safe. We need to teach them to use common sense. But we need to hammer home the difference between right and wrong when it comes to sexual assaults and rape.

We need to shift the burden.

Otherwise, all we are doing is skirting the issue.

34 Things Women do to Feel Safe: The Burden of Being Careful--how many have you done?

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Lose My Shit and Count the Ways

car
Do you think the car’s alright?

My husband wears many hats in our relationship. For instance, he is Cooker of the Steak and Killer of the Bugs. He is Chancellor of All Things Camping and Chairman of the Ball. Minister of Family Vacations is only one of the titles he wears as jauntily as a trilby.

While acting in his capacity of Minister, often with little to no guidance from me other than don’t spend too muchbut make it nice! he more often than not pulls a spectacular holiday rabbit out of his hat. Which is exactly how we found ourselves 120 kilometers outside of Reykjavik this summer, on our way to spend three northern nights in the cabin Björk (it had to be Björk really), situated among the lava fields, a remote and picturesque location in the shadow of Mt. Hekla.

(NB: Outside of Reykjavik, essentially everywhere is remote. When it comes to Iceland, remote is the most redundant of adjectives.)

On our way to Björk, we stopped to marvel at natural geysers. We sniffed at the sulfurous air and gazed at wind-swept cliffs that made Heathcliff’s moors look like mole hills. And, in true family fashion, managed to get on the ONE ring road the country boasts going the wrong way. We back tracked, took a few more wrong turns (off the ONE road) until we eventually reached the point on our map with an asterisk and a handwritten note.

**the last 10 km to cabin Björk is on gravel.

Now, gravel to me conjures up driveways with tightly packed scree. Gravel is pebbles. Gravel is small bits of asphalt and perhaps tiny bits rock. But not in Iceland. Oh, no. In Iceland, gravel means small boulders and bits of volcano that have broken off into fist-sized chunks.

Within 500 feet, the first bit of ‘gravel’ hit the under carriage of our rental car with a melodic ping. The noise resulted in a slight shoulder twitch from my husband. Another 500 feet and several more glacial sized rocks kicked up, scraping against the muffler and abrading all the unknown yet important bits and pieces that make up a car. The pings turned to plonks and then to thunks and my husband stood on the brake and let out an audible “FUCK.

I panicked. Because I panicked, the kids panicked. I had visions of dying out there in the (remote) shadow of Mt. Hekla. I had visions of struggling ten kilometers with suitcases stuffed full of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, dodging meteor-sized ‘gravel’ while the car smoked in the distance. I sat on my hands and practiced deep breathing.

No, honey. I don't think you're theory is crazy. Not at all.
No, honey. I don’t think your theory is crazy. Not at all.

After another grueling 9 kilometers, which ended with a steep incline, a cattle grate and a dip in which we expected to leave behind the front axle, we eventually made it to Björk. Our momentary shouts of “Huzzah!” and celebratory cheer were somewhat dampened by the realization we would need to make the journey at least 6 more times during our stay.

As with most things, it didn’t seem so bad when we rehashed the whole escapade over a glass of wine and soak in the hot tub (other than the gravel roads, have I told you how awesome Iceland is?) Relaxing in the late-night summer sun, I confessed to my spouse exactly why I was so freaked out when he freaked out.

“You are the eye in my hurricane!” I said.

Ok, I didn’t say that exactly, but it’s what I meant. Though I would not count patience among my husband’s virtues, he is always—always—-a calm port in the storm of our family.

And by family, I mean me. And by storm, I mean me.

Because of all the roles I listed above, of all the hats he wears, the most onerous by far is his role as Official Calmer Downer of Irrational Wife.

I completely rely on my husband to be the voice of reason in the maelstrom of emotions that is life as a pre-menopausal, sometimes-prone-to-bouts-of-madness-and-irrational-rage-mother. I have total and complete faith in his ability to extract our family from any situation. Perhaps it is unfair to expect that of him, but that does not make it any less true. It’s also why his anxiety on that gravel road increased my own ten-fold.

I usually have a fair amount of patience of the every day life-with-kids kind. But every now and again, something (usually ridiculous and irrational) causes me to lose my shit. I jump off an end so deep I’m in danger of getting the bends on the way back up. And my husband, bless his size XL cotton socks, is always there haul me up straggling and dripping from the depths. He listens to me vent about the world’s injustices, about the crazy things happening in my home country, about stuff going on with the kids. He listens to me rail about our crappy medical insurance, how much I loathe the approach of the Yuletide season, and my un-founded conspiracy theories as to why our son didn’t make the soccer team.

how do I love theeHe knows when to nod and when to eventually step in and metaphorically slap me across the face with a Moonstruck like “snap out of it.”

Being Official Calmer Downer of Irrational Wife isn’t an easy job. But it’s one I am forever thankful he has taken on. It’s only one of the many reasons I love thee.

And by thee, I mean him.

(Another is that he eventually found a smoother alternative to the gravel road of death to and from BjörkHuzzah!)

Nine People You’ll Meet on a Plane

miami-international-airport-sign-1950s_27207I don’t travel as much as many do. That said, I’ve spent a fair amount of time taxi-ing and learning the correct position to use if I hear “Brace. Brace.” I’ve spent plenty of woman hours hurtling through the air with a bunch of strangers, angling for arm space and eking out some elbow room. Between zoning out during the oxygen mask demo and listening for that blessed announcement asking the flight crew to prepare for landing, there’s been time enough to observe. People are creatures of habit, and there are behaviors you’ll recognize wherever you are.

I’m just doing my job taking notes.

Clueless Clive. It’s clear Clive hasn’t flown since the end of the Cold War. Unused to security measures put into place sometime in the last century, Clive mumbles and bumbles his way through the airport. Despite written, pictorial and holographic directives, Clive is astounded when he is asked to remove his belt, watch, loose change, shoes and the forty travel size bottles of gels and liquids he is carrying in his pockets. He reluctantly removes the offending items, one at a time, blithely unaware of the snaking line of passengers impatiently tapping their shoe-less feet behind him.

Overstuffed Olivia. Olivia stands at the check-in desk moving dirty underwear from suitcase to carry-on, from carry on to purse, shoving and stuffing and rolling to reconfigure her bags because they are .03 of a kilo overweight. Watching Olivia sweat and struggle as her dirty knickers fall to the floor is almost enough to take pity. Almost.

Reclining Ron. Ron thrusts backward immediately upon taking his seat. And there his seat remains, making it impossible to use your tray table, view your video screen, or feel anything below your knees. Ron’s further attempts at comfort include ramming his body repeatedly against his seat back resulting in spilled drinks, crucial bits of movies missed due to the angle of your screen and the very real possibility of developing deep vein thrombosis.

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Screw-the-Rules Sal. Sal marches on board with a carry-on three times bigger than most suitcases, a duty-free bag, and a didgeridoo (true story) and then gets pissy when there’s no room in the overhead lockers. He keeps his seat reclined and his tray table down until the flight attendant has to come by and ask him to comply. He openly uses his electronics upon take off and landing. He probably doesn’t even set them to airplane mode. He’s up before the seatbelt signs go off, develops an urgent need to use the toilet during turbulence, and generally seems to enjoy making life slightly uncomfortable for everyone else around him.

Frank and Fran, the Freaked-out Parents. Frank and Fran are so worried they’ll be given the evil eye by their fellow passengers they spend the entire flight loudly making sure you know they are ON TOP OF IT. “Are you ready for the wild rumpus, Freddie? Are you? Is daddy’s Freddie ready for the rumpus? Ok, here we go. Ready? Fran, where’s the snack?? Oh no, we don’t kick the seat. No, no, we wouldn’t the nice woman in front to get upset. Here, have some Cheerios.” If you listen closely, in-between the lines of exaggerated hushes and pleas to stop eating Cheerios off the floor, you can hear their desperate cries for understanding.

Life-story Lena. Lena is lovely. She is going to see her family on a trip she’s been looking forward to for ages and ages. Her friend Madge told her which travel agent to use, (that nice place on the corner of Pine and Main, they sure gave her a good deal!). You know all of this before the plane starts to taxi down the runway. Lena is happy and smiley and full of memories and stories. And she wants to share Every.Single.One.Of.Them.With.You. Lena is not put off by sleep masks, headphones, hints of communicable diseases or the obvious fact that you are a mere twenty pages from finishing your who-dun-it.

Jiggling Jules. Jules is up and down the entire flight: to get his book, to use the toilet, to put his book away, to get his antacid pills. Every time Jules rises or falls, he holds on to the back of the seat in front in a Viking death hold. The seat ricochets like a pinball. Inevitably, Jules will need the toilet just as you are nodding off or be struck by a sudden desire to retrieve his word search book as you are about to take a sip of your drink.

1950-flight-attendant-552nm-111709Must.Be.First.Off. Mike. You know Mike. As soon as the plane touches down he’s got his finger on the seat belt release. As soon as the gate is in sight you hear the unmistakable sound of the metallic release. Mike is up and out of his seat, hand luggage in hand before the doors to manual cross check is complete. If getting off the plane first is a race, it’s one that Mike isn’t going to lose. Even if it means taking out a few grannies and toddlers on his way.

Ice-cold Irene. Irene takes her position as a flight attendant very, very seriously. Never have the words “sir” or ‘ma’am” sounded quite as cold as when they come out of Irene’s mouth. She’s off like a shot if someone is up before the captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign. No tray table is left unturned on Irene’s watch. No sir. Irene makes “stow your bags and put your seat in a full upright position” sound chilling and ominous. There is evidence Irene “accidentally on purpose” knocks into stray elbows and knees with her trolley. And takes great pleasure in it.

Sat next to anyone like that recently? I thought so.

May the skies stay friendly, folks. And the passengers too.

I’ve had great fun with these ‘Nine X You’ll Meet” posts–so much so that I’ve decided to make them a semi-regular series. You can find the rest of them under the Nine Lives heading on the blog. Ideas of something you’d like to see? Leave a note in the comments below!  x