In my opinion, since the beginning of time women have borne the brunt of society's expectations of us. As the fairer sex we find ourselves conforming, trying to live up to someone else's ideal. That's where a girlfriend can step in to save us. I am willing to bet that if Eve had had a good girlfriend during her reign in the Garden of Eden, undoubtedly the girlfriend would have influenced Eve's decision to partake of the apple, thus altering the history of the world.
Good girlfriends have the knack of rescuing us at the right time, preventing our missteps, and saving our hides. As a forty-plus woman who's been duly blessed with a supportive circle of girlfriends, I can personally verify the aforementioned statement. To have a good friend, you must first be one. So, keeping that adage in mind, I came up with a list of strategies to be a good girlfriend:
* Be a good listener. I try to provide my undivided attention if my girlfriend needs to vent or needs a sounding board.
* Be supportive. If a girlfriend expresses interest in a specific area -- let's say education, health, or business -- I take it upon myself to provide news clippings, magazine articles, and dates and times of TV broadcasts related to the subject.
* Provide encouragement. Attempting anything new or different can be scary, so I encourage my girlfriends to take risks if they feel "a calling," but to always research and prepare first.
* Plan a girls' day out. When girlfriends are experiencing major drama in their lives, I recommend a Saturday matinee -- no kids, husbands, or housework. And the price is always right.
* Counter negative images. Because women seldom receive enough positive reinforcement to grow and thrive, I accentuate the positive. Yes, you may have gained twenty pounds but what about that master's degree you completed this year?
* Check in to the spirit. When a girlfriend gets overwhelmed or feels like her life is out of control, it's time to go to church for some spiritual uplifting. Afterward, brunch is just what the doctor ordered!
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* Fantasize. Winning the local lottery, meeting Mr. Right, or fulfilling that lifelong dream -- yes, we know the odds may be against us, but a little fantasy never hurt anybody.
* Laugh. This cannot be emphasized enough. We must help our sisters find time to laugh at the absurdities of life, ours and others.
* Separate the decision from the decision maker. I may not like my girlfriend's decision, but it is her decision, and I will still love her.
One would think every woman would be a friend and have a friend. But this is not necessarily so. There are categories of women ineligible for membership in the girlfriend club. The emotional baggage they lug with them restricts them, and they drain energy out of a friendship. Who are these women? They are:
* Negative sisters. Constantly harping about any and every thing. Outings are usually a disaster. Food too hot, too cold, prices too high, seating too bad, and so on.
* Sisters with no ambitions or goals. These women are afraid to take chances. Instead of making things happen, they wait for things to happen to them and for them.
* Fearful women. Sisters who view other women as threats or competition and act accordingly.
* Rigid women. Sisters who are uptight, unwilling, or unable to kick off their shoes and let their hair down. Every sister should do this at least once in a while.
* Insecure women. Sisters who throw their accomplishments (professional, personal) and material possessions (luxury car, designer clothes, jewelry) in the faces of other sisters.
* Dangerous women. Sisters who engage in potentially risky, life-threatening activities like illegal drug use, drinking to excess, one-night stands, and unprotected sex.
* Dishonest women. Sisters who'd lie just as soon as they'd tell the truth. These sisters cannot be trusted.
* Disinterested women. These sisters don't feel the need to connect or establish ties with other sisters. They fail to see the importance of friendships in their lives.
I was personally introduced to this last category of woman last year at a Youth Empowerment conference in Fort Lauderdale. The youth minister asked the audience of mostly African-American teens to name some important qualities that people should have.
"Loyal!" "Trustworthy!" "Honest!" "Dependable!" "Supportive!"
These were some of the responses shouted out. At that point, the minister asked for a volunteer. Several hands immediately shot up, waving with urgency.
Out of the sea of brown, tangled arms, he selected a young lady who appeared to be between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Short in stature, with an infectious laugh and chic hairdo, she bounded out of her seat, sashayed to the front, and stood in front of the blackboard.
"What I want you to do next, young lady," said the minister, "is write down all of the important qualities of your best friend -- in other words, those characteristics that make her special."
Her response surprised and saddened ire. "I don't have any girlfriends," she said flippantly. "All of my friends are boys." She said that loudly, perhaps for emphasis, or to impress those of us listening to her seize her fifteen minutes of fame.
What I wondered, could make someone of such a tender age, reject those most like her?
Years before, I had heard that very same statement from a coworker. She was loud, arrogant, and pushy. It was a no-brainer to understand why she didn't have any girlfriends. My theory then, as it is now, was that she probably had alienated, betrayed, or pushed most of them out of her life. At any rate, she unknowingly and unwittingly did womankind a tremendous favor.
As I looked at "Miss Thing," clad in her skin-tight designer jeans, gold hoop earrings, and attitude for days, I still could not fathom the extremity of her views. Could they have originated from some adolescent misunderstanding among her peers? Perhaps that green-eyed monster we know as jealousy? Or maybe the classic "he say, she say" created these hard feelings she so willingly shared with the rest of us this day?
I thought about girlfriends and women friends who have been a part of me since I was me. I thought about those who encouraged me in any and every endeavor I attempted. Those who were my sounding boards during times of crisis. Marathon phone sessions that started in darkness and ended in daylight of the following day.
Thought about ten- and twenty-dollar bills pressed into my hands (amid protests), by girlfriends who were struggling financially as well. Thought about girlfriends who called long distance, or sent cards "just because."
Thought about girlfriends who believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. Thought about girlfriends who came to hen parties to grub and catch up on gossip. Girlfriends who listened and offered advice on ill-fated romances. Girlfriends who fed my body and soul. Girlfriends who spent hours with me in local bookstores, just chillin'. Girlfriends who hung out with me in malls, browsing and eating cookies from The Original Cookie Company cause we were both broke. Girlfriends who walked with me in parks in another futile attempt to lose some of that middle-age spread. Girlfriends who thought any outlandish ideas had merit.
Girlfriends who listened in silence as I sobbed hysterically upon learning that my baby sister had been infected with AIDS by her wayward husband. Those same girlfriends who flanked me for seven hours in a funeral home at her wake, one year later.
Girlfriends who continue to implore me to "Go back to school and finish that degree, because you are not too old!!"
Girlfriends who support my decisions to quit unsatisfying unfulfilling jobs. Girlfriends who laugh at my dirty jokes. Girlfriends who embrace me and tell me that they love me. Girlfriends who eat and like my cooking. Girlfriends who take my side automatically whether I'm right or wrong.
Girlfriends, who, a year and a half ago, helped me select the dress to bury my mother in. Girlfriends who quickly and quietly moved in to close gaping holes left by deaths of loved ones.
Girlfriends who are black, white, old, young, bisexual, professional, uneducated, single, married -- near and far.
Girlfriends support, nurture, sustain, and protect me. I shudder to think how much more difficult my life would be without my navigational system of girlfriends. I pray this is something I will never have to find out.
While male friends have been known to be supportive and caring, their very maleness, as sexist and elitist as this may sound, excludes them from entry to this most prestigious club. After all, anybody can apply, but not everyone will be accepted for membership. Besides, when I think about it, it's kind of hard to imagine a one-on-one conversation with a member of the opposite sex about newly discovered stretch marks, drooping breasts, weight gain, and that oh-so-dreaded cellulite!
To that unknown, unnamed, young lady in the breakout session, there is still hope, because time, in fact, is on her side. It is my hope that as she matures and grows, she will come to view her sisters as the valuable commodities that they are, instead of the enemy to be feared, hated, and avoided at all costs. It has been my experience that the circle of sisterhood is invaluable and enriching in many different ways, but only if one is receptive to its many gifts.
This article is excerpted from the book:
by Beverly Hughley.
About the Author
Beverly Hughley is currently working on a book of short stories regarding the African-American experience from the feminine perspective, a collection of personal essays, and a book about her relationship with her youngest sister. She is a graduate of Florida International University with a degree in public administration, and lives in Hollywood, Florida.