Middle School, Take Two?

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.

14 responses

  1. A couple of my very closest blog friends (who I’ve actually met in real life, even!) have completely fell off the board with me. No emails. No comments. They’re just…gone… (for no reason that I can discern) except I still see them commenting on other people’s stuff (like Instagram photos), and it really fucking hurts. I feel ya on this.

  2. When you let someone into your heart, breaking it off hurts. Doesn’t matter if you’ve never “met” in person, they may know you more than all the IRL people you see every day because of how you open your heart on your blog. I definitely get this. Really great post.

  3. I think blogs also give us the illusion of being able to get into another person’s head, because it’s a medium where so many intimate thoughts are shared. But we can’t, really. It’s hard to know, ever, whether what I’m experiencing as a result of someone’s action is what they intended, or whether the intent I ascribe to the action matches what was in their mind. But even applying the most generous hermeneutic, it still fucking hurts to feel ignored or rejected or left out.

    I’ve heard it phrased that the basic, underlying question we ask of one another in forming relational attachments is this – “will you be there for me when I really need you?” – and applying this has helped me make a ton of sense of a whole range of relationships in my life – including work relationships. Isn’t that what we’re asking of one another in ALI-world? “Will you be there for me when I really need you?”

    I think for the most part we do our best – I know it’s what I strive for in my URL relationships, and when I’m offline for whatever reason, I know things fall through the cracks. I try to keep tabs on my peeps – including you – (I have like 10 of your posts marked “unread” in my reader to go back and comment on – good heavens). I don’t always succeed as well as I’d like to.

    And it really is a tangled, messy web of relationships online, isn’t it? I was thinking about that today while looking at comments from familiar names on different posts, people (women) who are reading one another in this extremely complex network. And yet the correspondences are certainly not 1:1.

    Still hoping to meet you IRL in November…

  4. I remember asking my mom when I was little if all of the cattiness of middle school would be gone when I grew up, and she told me… no. HA! At least she was honest 😉

    I have never been good at female relationships either, but I’ve gotten better over the years. I’m telling you – when I was in my 20’s, all I wanted was to turn 30 because I had this thought that I would be more confident in my 30’s. And I was right. I am extremely confident, especially now that I have a child. I was not this person 7 years years ago at 29. My 30th birthday got me to cut the bullshit and grow up, and thank God! I don’t know what it was, but I stopped taking things personally, and I stopped being a judgemental snob. Seriously – I was so judgemental and immature. That judgement and immaturity then, in turn, made me a very insecure female. Turning 30 was my stopping my point – and I saw it coming in my late 20’s and made a conscious effort to change things.

    And since turning 30, every year has been better for me. I have become more and more confident and secure – more comfortable in my own skin (even while going through the IF). I’m sort of looking forward to 40 😉

    I think women become more confident every year that passes, and I think men become less confident as they age (hence so many mid-life crises for men). I know this sounds overly simplistic (because it is), but I’ve seen a lot of evidence supporting this simple thought.

  5. Be in on the internet or IRL, I’m still struggling with where to fit in….I feel like I sometimes get left out of things within the ALI community. I’ve always been more of a follower, so I’m not surprised people don’t want to include me. My feelings are still hurt because a certain blogger won’t follow me or comment on my posts, especially when she very obviously posts on other people’s pages. It is just like being in Jr high all over again….and let me tell you those years sucked for me…I’m just glad I can close my lap top and walk away for a while….I couldn’t do that in Jr high.

  6. I’ve read your blog for long enough that I think I understand what you’re trying to say here and why. Analytically, the intersection of our online and real world lives is interesting to dissect, as are the differences between male and female friendships. But because this community is small-ish, I also suspect that I know who & what prompted this particular post. Though I realize you’re not asking anyone to take sides, this post sets up middle school lunch vibes for me too – two tables of friends and I’m stuck holding my tray and wondering where I’m supposed to sit down…

    • I’m truly sorry that you feel that way. I’m just trying to talk about a phenomena and not any actual situation. Actually, this post is more about an amalgam of different situations that have happened to me, or others, over the years, though I’ve seen and experienced more of this kind of thing in the past few months. But it was not my intent to make anyone feel uncomfortable or to feel they have to take sides. I sincerely apologize for that.

  7. I am sorry you are experiencing middle school cattiness in the blog world. I know I would be so hurt if I was written off or ignored by someone who I considered a true friend, even if we’d never met. I have a lot of good girl friends IRL, but for some reason, I am cautious online- maybe it’s because I really am more reserved and shy and I am so careful of the words I put out there because that’s ALL you have online. I see people on twitter or blogs who have these great friendships and I get a little jealous- sometimes I feel like I just need to put myself out there more. Anyway, I think you are great, friend, and promise I’ll always be here for you.

  8. What you say about disinviting and unfriending here as a result of our interactions in social media is interesting … I’d never really thought about it, but those actions are even more public, in a way, than they were in middle school, aren’t they? Even more alienating, potentially more hurtful because of their reach.

    I’ve written a few times about my own difficulties with female friendships. And you’re right; they are more complicated, it seems. I wish it weren’t that way, because sometimes guys just don’t get it, either. I’m sorry that you’ve experienced this pulling away, and that you’re stuck trying to figure out where to sit now.

  9. I’m never been cool enough to have guy friends 😦 I don’t know why: other than a few boyfriends and Darcy and my brother, no guys have ever wanted to hang out with me for extended periods of time as buddies. I’m sure it’s me and I’m boring. Actually, I was told that in high school.

    My view on female friendships is the positives have far outweighed the negatives in general for me: friends have been a great support for me over the years. But I have had a few toxic meltdowns. And they were PAINFUL. (((Hugs)))

  10. This is interesting. Just last week I had an email exchange with another No Kidding blogger who commented that it felt as if we were back in school, with the popular girls, and then us. So you’re not alone thinking about this.

    I do agree that URL friendships can be just as real as IRL ones, and as you point out there are inevitably going to be joys and hurts. But the thing with URL friendships is that all of a sudden you can develop ten new friendships. I think because of the very personal nature of a lot of the writing we do in the ALI community, that we feel an affinity, an empathy, with others very quickly. So the relationships can be very intense – and therefore felt very intensely if they end.

    And we can be in touch everyday, whereas with our IRL friends, we might meet once a week, or once a month, to catch up. We might call each other more regularly, but it’s easy to say “sorry I can’t talk now” when that can be harder to do politely and without offending online. Or they can become very time-consuming, and sometimes we just have to stop visiting as many blogs as we do, simply to ensure we have time for what we need to do.

  11. This paragraph was perfect and SO true: “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.”

  12. Oh my goodness, yes. I, too, get along better with guys. I tend to feel that guys are more straightforward – I don’t endlessly second-guess their words or actions towards me. Or if I find myself starting to, I feel I can ask to clarify without upsetting the world as we know it.

    I think the number of affirming comments here is testament to the fact that this is largely nurture, rather than nature – we teach women to play games, to relate “between the lines”, to be two-faced, to send out “secret handshakes”, to manipulate – and some of them get it, and do it, and others are just comfortable navigating it though they don’t use it cruelly, and then others of us find it a stressful minefield and wish everyone could just get along without the subtext. As a society, I really think we need to get over this assumption that women have a subtext whereas men present honestly. Something to work on for mothers of daughters?

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