By Dawn S. Davies
I appreciate the importance of friendship, but I’ve not been the kind of woman who has a posse of besties who meet on Thursday nights for cocktails.
I don’t have any girlfriends.
I want to, I think. I’ve certainly tried over the years to have some. I suspect I’m missing out on something fundamental by not having them, and it’s not that I would be a bad friend, either, or that I am incapable in some way. I’m intensely loyal. I care, in a theoretical way, about other people’s lives. I hate to see people struggle. I have dropped everything to help someone in need, and I understand the importance of knowing another person to the core: the good, the bad, the embarrassing. Of carrying the weight of the shared experience, and of loving someone through both the swells of life and the tedium. But I don’t have those kinds of relationships with women.
I appreciate the importance of friendship, but I’ve not been the kind of woman who has a posse of besties who meet on Thursday nights for cocktails. I don’t have anyone to go with on a girl’s getaway weekend. I don’t belong to a social sorority and I certainly didn’t join one in college. I don’t play Bunco, and candle parties and jewelry parties and spa days make we want to shriek. When life gives me lemons, I call my husband and we lament and make the lemonade together, but at the same time, I question what is wrong with me that I don’t have close friendships with women, like all the other women I know.
The most obvious answer is that I’m an asshole. I can’t chat. I don’t like to share my thoughts. I can’t abide hearing a report about the actual minutiae of anyone’s life, although I do like to write about it. I will listen to someone for a while, feigning interest, mimicking body language, adopting an empathetic face complete with the subtle, quick nod and raised eyebrows, but then my foot starts shaking and I begin to sigh deeply and check the time. Assholianism may be my issue.
The second most obvious answer is that I have interests that many women don’t have, and I am unable get excited about the bountiful wellspring of themes women are traditionally drawn to. I like transportation. I love cars, actually. I like classic cars, new cars, watching the way that different models of cars evolve over time, and TV shows about cars. I like to reminisce about cars I have owned. I like other kinds of transportation, too, such as boats, and motorcycles, and mountain bikes and road bikes. With the exception of trains, which, Lord love him, my husband can talk about until I fall in a coma, I could be happy talking about cars for the duration of a standard house party.
I also like sports. I like following leagues, teams, coaching decisions, player trades. Fantasy football. March Madness. MMA. Pro basketball. World Cup. I think 30 for 30 is one of the most fascinating shows on television, and I believe that sports analysts are secret geniuses.
I love working out, and workout theories, muscle building and body sculpting, and trends in exercise and fitness, but I don’t care about diets. Actually, I don’t care about your diet. I care very much about mine, but I don’t like to talk about it, or lament aspects of it, or share pounds lost or pounds gained, because I don’t find diet struggle an interesting topic of conversation. If you want to lose weight, eat a shit ton of vegetables and a little fruit, some nice starches, and some decent organic protein. Lift weights. Don’t snack. Don’t eat packaged foods. Don’t drink a bottle of wine a night. Don’t eat your kids’ leftovers. Just stop talking about it and get it done.
I also don’t like to get too personal with people, and perhaps this is what is revealing. Perhaps I’m fundamentally damaged by the loss of several close girlfriends when I was a child. Perhaps I have a deep-rooted psychological injury. There was Mia, who died of leukemia when we were eight. There was Danielle two years later, whom I left, and Michelle, two years after that, and because we never made it three years in one place before we moved, I was constantly severing friendships, forced to make increasingly feeble attempts to replace much loved girlfriends in another city or in another state. Maybe all of that got old.
Or maybe it’s an identity problem, because I am six feet tall and find no joy in clothes shopping and I don’t look good in most feminine clothes. Shoe shopping, about as enjoyable for me as a kidney stone, is even worse. Nothing fits my size 10 1/2 feet, and the two times in my life I wore heels it caused people to gawk and make insulting comments to where my evening was ruined. I buy my shoes online when I get holes in my old ones. Not that I am reducing women in general to talking about clothing, but it is often a common ground, where women, even strangers, can meet. But talking about clothes and designers, and deals bores me to weeping silt from my eyes, and I can’t. I just can’t.
Prescriptive things I’ve tried: a women’s book group—oh gawd, it didn’t work—they didn’t talk about the author’s craft or the structure of the book, or noticeable literary elements; they talked about how the book made them feel—candle parties, jewelry parties—the obligation of purchase only slightly less painful than the girl talk I had to stumble through. I tried bible study groups for moms and wives, and meeting other moms for coffee, and talking about our kids. I adore kids, but frankly, I don’t like hearing about yours for very long and I don’t like talking about mine. I’ll do it, but I can’t bring myself to schedule a meeting and do it a second time. I joined a women’s quilting group once. We made quilts for sick people. Noble and good of concept it was, with a promise of sitting head to head, glasses perched on noses, the parts in our hair visible in the circle, talking about sensible things, our children, perhaps, or spouses, or maybe world peace. But it wasn’t like that. All these women talked about was who had what cancer and how long they had left, and how many young children they were leaving behind, and if I didn’t go in the room a hypochondriac (I did, actually), I came out one, in full medical panic attack that kept me from sleeping.
None of these group activities worked, likely because I was required to show up more than once and execute a repeat social performance, and these activities were filled with so much weight. So much vulnerability, and worry, switched up with insignificant details and pointless, yet likely therapeutic, chatter and then more weight. The women in these groups could navigate the switching of that effortlessly, like piloting a boat through a treacherous pass without a single dash against the rocks. But I couldn’t balance the weightier parts with the chat, because I couldn’t relate to the chat, and at the end of each event, I left feeling unattached, and a little bit like an asshole for not caring.
Not long ago, at a back-to-school event at my new university, I was introduced to a group of women in my department, the Languages, Literature, and Composition department, which in olden times would have been called “The English Department.” Five or six accomplished and lovely women were sitting at a round banquet table that fit twelve, leaning in to talk to each other. All of them had PhDs. I was intimidated by them and excited to meet them at the same time. They welcomed me and I sat down and smiled, and then they turned back to their conversation. Recipes. Cooking. Their children. Their children cooking. Their children growing up. Their children growing up too fast. Where they bought the dresses they were wearing. Where all the time was going. Department changes. Highlights and lowlights. Tenure. More cooking. What I’m not saying here is that there is anything wrong with these women or their topics of conversation. They are perfectly fine, intelligent, powerful women, replete in their abilities to have children and PhDs at the same time, and to be able to speak the magical language of women everywhere, and to be nice to each other besides. What I’m trying to convey is that for some reason, I don’t speak this language, even though I am supposed to. I have to fake it. Make the mad eye contact with raised, interested eyebrows, nod my head and ask clarifying questions so they think I am not a jerk, but secretly, I would rather be over in the corner with the men in the department, talking about cars and traffic and sports, although it makes me look like a traitor, or a hussy. I am sure there are other women like me in the world, but I haven’t found them.
I recognize that this flaw is within me, and not within other women, who are beautifully complex, verbally weaving the fiber of their lives together, laying their lives out for each other to hold for a while, to try on, to rub between their fingers, to help each other mend. The depth to which they connect, the intimacy, the intensity: I don’t have that. I wish I cared about those things so I could be on the inside. So I could speak the language and care about the meaning of it. So I could be one of the girls.
Dawn S. Davies lives in the South. She is the mother of a blended family of five kids. Her work can be found in River Styx, Ninth Letter, Fourth Genre, Green Mountains Review, Chautauqua and elsewhere. Read more at: dawnsdavies.com.