When I was in the third grade, I confronted the class queen bee on the playground. I don’t remember my exact words, but it was something to the effect of “You’re not the boss of me.”
It didn’t exactly make me popular with the In group. The third-grade “Daphne’s” shunned me after that, and home room became decidedly awkward. Eye contact and talking across our shared desk stopped, and when the Daphne’s ignored my existence, so did their cronies.
Nonetheless, being honest about my feelings continued to feel like a core part of my being throughout my life, as if keeping hurts to myself would eat a hole in my heart. I went on sharing my real feelings, sometimes in a destructive way, until I finally got the memo: Women who had friends did NOT tell each other about hurt feelings.
My women friends never told me I’d annoyed, confused, or otherwise offended them. And I followed suit. Clearly, this kind of talk was off-limits between women friends.
Over time, some friendships just faded away. I couldn’t understand it: Why, if there was never a “problem,” did we each let the friendship die? If they had been the ones to fall out of touch, had I done something to offend them?
I never asked. A little voice told me that if I showed I cared, I would be the only one who did. And that was too big a risk.
Fast-forward to my 50’s. I’ve learned when to let something go versus when to speak up. I don’t unload on anyone just to get it off my chest. If I feel confused or hurt and know it will fester, I no longer just try to ignore it. I speak up. In fact, if I bring something up with a woman in my life, she can be sure I care about our relationship. And I’ve come to terms with my Inner Critic, that nasty voice that says really mean things as we try to take risks.
Some of my friends have been surprised by my honesty, but they’ve also told me they’re deeply grateful. It’s a gift when a friend cares about you enough to share her feelings about you, and it gives you permission to be open too. That leads to long-term, meaningful friendships we can depend on and be ourselves in.
Women are so used to pretending with each other. We were raised to be good little girls who don’t make waves. We learned on the playground that the key to keeping friends is to be “easygoing” and keep our feelings to ourselves. But we need to give each other more credit. Superficial friendships may not need that level of honesty, but mature friendships – the kind that grow and add joy to our lives – need it.
This post originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.