Sometimes, when I see one of my 7th or 8th grade girls struggling with friend issues, I go over and quietly assure them that it get’s better, that it’s really never as hard as it is during these hormone-adled, socially devastating years. Really, it will get better, I whisper. I promise.
And I think that is 99% true. Except for those times when it’s not. Because let’s face it, friendships and groups and belonging and not belonging extend past middle school. Heck, you can even find yourself immersed in that drama as an adult.
I have to admit, I don’t have many female friends. I’m not very good at female friendships. I haven’t had much practice at it, quite honestly. I had a best girl friend in elementary and middle school, but then we moved away from each other, both returning to the US from Hong Kong. We actually remained close friends despite the medium-sized state between us, until late into college when it all imploded.
In high school most of my friends were guys. I had a couple girl friends and one best friend that was a girl, but when she dated–and then broke up with–my other best friend, he got me in the divorce. And in college, I had three great girl friends but they were outnumbered by at least ten good guy friends. And while my guy friendships were relatively drama free, my girl friends and I had to work through some serious issues to get where we are today.
Even at work I gravitate toward the five male teachers and chat with them far more than I converse with my women colleagues. I’ve always had an easier time initiating, and maintaining friendships with men. It wasn’t until I started blogging that I felt I could fall back on a large network of amazing women to help me through the hard times.
The women I’ve met through my blog, the ones I now consider friends despite the geographic distance between us (and the fact that we’ve never met face to face), are some of my most significant female relationships. I consider them to be ushering in a new era in my life, one that centers more around female friends than male friends. And mostly, I’ve been really happy about that.
Except when I’m reminded that sometimes friendships with women are vastly more difficult and complicated–at least to me–than friendships with men.
Blogging relationships can become really amazing friendships. I consider many of my blogging friendships to be of the same caliber as IRL friendships. Truly, they are meaningful relationships for me and when one fizzles, as friendships are wont to do, it hurts.
You would think that because a blogging friendship is mostly remote, because you don’t see these people in your every day life, that it would be easier to end a blogging friendship. But that isn’t necessarily the case. While it might seem easy to avoid someone who exists almost entirely online, the opposite might be true. Sometimes making a clean cut can be even harder online, when that cut has to extend to the myriad social networks where your friendship once thrived.
And of course, if the desire to end the relationship is complicated in any way, if one side is more interested in ending it than the other, the whole thing can get pretty messy, and feelings are bound to be hurt.
One of the reasons URL friendships are able to thrive in today’s world is because there are so many social media sites on which they can flourish. Ironically, when the friendship sours, each of those sites becomes an opportunity to hurt and be hurt.
The ALI blogosphere is a unique place. ALI blogs are created as sanctuaries whose purpose is–first and foremost–to provide a safe haven for women to work through what is probably the most difficult time in their life. Ultimately their blog, and the people they meet in the blogosphere, are meant to provide support above all things.
There are many reasons a blogging relationship might sour. Perhaps one of the bloggers achieves pregnancy before the other, and the one left struggling needs to distance herself for protection. Maybe one of the bloggers is struggling in ways, and to degrees, that the other blogger can no longer handle. Maybe one blogger just can’t give the support the other one needs.
And so–it seems to be collective understanding in this community–that self-preservation reigns, and when a blogger needs to step away, that is what she should do. The only problem is, she might be stepping away from a blogger who doesn’t understand that distance and without it being anyone’s intent, feelings are hurt. Sometimes gravely.
Suddenly all those sites that once fostered the relationship are reminders that the relationship has faded, and the fact that what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet can come back to haunt us. Sometimes a blogger isn’t just comfortable avoiding another blogger’s life, but feels the need to block that former friend from her life. With all the social media sites available, there are so many ways people can be excluded, and so many opportunities for them to know that they are being pushed away.
It’s interesting that social media not only creates opportunities to bring people together, but also exaggerates the pulling apart of two people’s lives. There are few IRL situations that mirror the public finality of being blocked from a private Twitter feed or denied the URL for a blog. Password posts, friending on Facebook, following on Twitter, there are countless ways you can invite, or disinvite, someone from your life. There are myriad ways you can belong and be excluded.
In many ways it feel just like middle school, all over again.
And like middle school, the ALI community is ultimately a very small place. It’s hard to completely avoid people, especially if some of your friends still run with your former friend’s crowd. Suddenly the little groups in the blogosphere feel very cliquey, and if your people aren’t around much one day you might feel like you’re standing in the cafeteria with your lunch tray while everyone scoots over to assure you there’s no room left where they are sitting.
Or it might just feel like one person that you used to call friend, is turning her back, pretending you don’t exist anymore.
Yes, it can feel a lot like middle school, except for one noticeable and important difference. You’re not 13 anymore, and you have a lot more years of experience and understanding than your 13-year-old-self had to fall back on. Hopefully you have a much greater reserve of self esteem to access as well and you’re learned the hard lesson that your self-worth is not predicated on someone else’s opinion of you. With those tools, hopefully it won’t sting so much when someone decides they can’t be friends with you anymore. Maybe, after the sting has worn off a bit, you might even be able to understand why they left you. Maybe, with the maturity and the perspective you’ve gained in your life, knowing that you can’t be a part of a group won’t hurt in that same soul crushing way it did when you were an adolescent.
I’ve never been very good with female relationships. These kinds of things, these cliquey demonstrations of belonging and not belonging are not common in male relationships, at least not the ones I’ve been a part of. I have to admit, experiencing things like this make me want to shrink away form my network of amazing women, the ones who I want to believe are there for me no matter what. Self-preservation mode kicks in and I pull away, attempting to save myself from possible betrayal. But, unlike my middle school self, I’ve learned that there is a lot of good to be found in these friendships, and the positives do outweigh the possible negatives. That usually friendships are worth it, even if someday, they may have to end.