Herewith, a helpful guide.
1. Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be toxic, bitchy or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.
1A. This is not to say women aren't bitches or toxic or competitive sometimes but rather to say that these are not defining characteristics of female friendship, especially as you get older.
2. A lot of ink is given over to mythologizing female friendships as curious, fragile relationships that are always intensely fraught. Stop reading writing that encourages this mythology.
2A. The female friendship in Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? is actually awesome and powerful. If you read it as otherwise, ask yourself why.
3. If you find that you are feeling competitive, toxic, or bitchy toward the women who are supposed to be your closest friends, look at why and figure out how to fix it and/or find someone who can help you fix it.
4. If you are the kind of woman who says, "I'm mostly friends with guys," and act like you're proud of that, like that makes you closer to being a man or something, and less of a woman as if a woman is a bad thing, see Item 3. It's okay if most of your friends are guys but if you champion this as a commentary on the nature of female friendships, well, soul search a little.
4A. If you feel like it's hard to be friends with women consider that maybe women aren't the problem. Maybe it's just you.
4B. I used to be this kind of woman. I'm sorry.
5. Sometimes, your friends will date people you cannot stand. You can either be honest about your feelings or you can lie. There are good reasons for both. Sometimes you will be the person dating someone your friends cannot stand. If your man or woman is a scrub, just own it so you and your friends can talk about more interesting things. My go to explanation is, "I am dating an asshole because I'm lazy." You are welcome to borrow it.
6. Want nothing but the best for your friends because when your friends are happy and successful, it's probably going to be easier for you to be happy.
6A. If you're having a rough go of it and a friend is having the best year ever and you need to think some dark thoughts about that, do it alone, with your therapist, or in your diary so that when you actually see your friend, you can avoid the myth discussed in Item 1.
6B. If you and your friend(s) are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this, without shame. It's not your fault your friends are awesome. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It's okay for women to do it too.
6C. Don't tear other women down because even if they're not your friends, they are other women and well, this is just important. This is not to say you cannot criticize other women but understand the difference between criticizing constructively and tearing down cruelly.
6D. Everybody gossips so if you are going to gossip about your friends, at least make it fun and interesting. As a corollary, never say, I never lie or I never gossip because you are lying.
6E. Love your friends' kids even if you don't want or like children. Just do it.
7. Tell your friends the hard truths they need to hear. They might get pissed about it but it's probably for their own good. The other day my best friend told me to get it together about my love life and demanded an action plan and well, it was irritating but also useful.
7A. Don't be totally rude about truth telling and consider how much truth is actually needed to get the job done. Finesse goes a long way.
7B. These conversations are more fun when preceded by an emphatic, "GIRL."
8. Surround yourself with women you can get sloppy drunk with who won't draw stupid things on your face if you pass out, and who will help you puke, if you over celebrate and who will also tell you if you get sloppy drunk too much or behave badly when you are sloppy drunk.
9. Don't flirt (too much), have sex, or engage in an emotional affair with your friends' significant others. This shouldn't need to be said but it needs to be said. That significant other is an asshole and you don't want to be involved with an asshole that's used goods. If you want to be with an asshole, get a fresh asshole of your very own. They are abundant.
10. Don't let your friends buy ugly outfits or accessories you don't want to look at when you hang out. This is just common sense.
11. When something is wrong and you need to talk to your friends and they ask you how you are, don't say, "Fine." They know you're lying and it irritates them and a lot of time is wasted with the back and forth of "Are you sure?" and "Yes?" and "Really?" and "I AM FINE." Tell your lady friends the truth so you can talk it out and either sulk companionably or move on to other topics.
12. If four people are dining, split the check evenly four ways. We are adults now. We don't need to add up what each person had anymore. If you're high rolling, just treat everyone and rotate who treats. If you're still in the broke stage, do what you have to do.
13. If a friend sends a crazy e-mail needing reassurance about love, life, family, or work, respond accordingly and in a timely manner even if it is just to say, GIRL, I hear you. If a friend sends you like thirty crazy e-mails needing reassurance about the same damn shit, be patient because one day that's going to be you tearing up GMAIL with your drama.
14. My mother's favorite saying is "qui se ressemble s'assemble." Whenever she didn't approve of who I was spending time with she'd say this ominously. It means, essentially, you are who you surround yourself with.
Roxane Gay's writing appears in Best American Short Stories 2012 and other places.
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