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TheRootDC
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Posted at 03:50 PM ET, 12/27/2012

Woman to woman: the joys of female friendships


Whitney Houston starred in the 1995 film “Waiting to Exhale”. (Kevin Winter - GETTY IMAGES)
It’s Gloria’s birthday. Savannah, Bernie and Robin have all come to her house to celebrate. They’ve had their share of drinks and at least two of them become overwhelmed with emotion. Bernie suddenly rushes to the phone hoping to confront her husband’s mistress. Robin’s not far behind ready to back her up, though Savannah and Gloria want her to calm down.

“Bernie, don’t do this,” says Gloria.

“Gloria, I gave him two babies, and she thinks she can take my [expletive] husband,” Bernie says shedding tears.

Gloria unplugs the phone before Bernie can finish the call.

“Cut! Bernie, it’s stupid. It’s stupid, and it’s childish,” Gloria says.

I still tear up hearing “Count on Me” play at the closing credits of “Waiting to Exhale,” the 1995 movie that explored the lives of black women. We all have our favorite scenes, but none summarizes the friendship shared by these black women more than Gloria’s birthday party and the final scene of the film. For me, it tells a simple but significant lesson: The women who care about us the most are often the ones to give us tough love when we need it.

But this ideal is often a fleeting one for many of us.

Our mothers watched this film with their friends, and we watched it with ours, seeing at least a few qualities in one of the characters that reminded us of ourselves or women we know.

Despite iconic films like this, I’ve heard the same thing time and time again from other black women: we don’t play too well in groups. At least not in the ideal way portrayed through Terry McMillan’s four protagonists or in the more recent adaptation of “Steel Magnolias” with an all-black cast. I’m sure the constant bickering of the women on reality TV shows hasn’t helped any.

In our cultural dialogue about the lives of black women, we may talk about our relationship with black men and other races but too rarely do we talk about our relationship with each other.

Just imagine your life without the influence of your closest black girlfriends.
News aide Macy Freeman (center) with her friends Camille Augustin (left) and Dominique Rice. (Dominique Rice - For The Washington Post)

D.C. resident Ashley Ferguson, 25, has had one black female friend at any given point in her life, and each time the friendship ended badly.

For this reason, she questions whether she’ll ever be able to maintain lasting friendship with a circle of black women whom she can confide in and trust. Still she remains hopeful that she’ll find the friendship she’s looking for, because no one can understand her “better than another black woman,” she says.

I think sometimes we forget to appreciate the bond we share with the women who look like us.

We forget that by developing friendship with other black women, we can find a listening ear, a support system of women who understand where we’re coming from without too much explanation. We learn from each other’s experiences and relish the idea that there’s someone on our side, there to back us up or provide us with another way of looking at things. For some black women though, their strongest black female influences may not go much further than their immediate family members. Such has been the case for Ferguson.

Seeing the bond my older sister has shared with two of her best friends from college, I was excited for the opportunity to attend an HBCU and meet other black women my age with similar ambitions and experiences.

One of the things I’ll cherish most about my college experience is the friendship I developed with my closest female friends — my girls.

These are women I admire, women who I know have my best interests at heart. They’re also the people who, aside from my family, know me the best.

Growing up as one of two black girls in my class, that’s something I didn’t always have.

I am thankful for the role my friends have played in my life. Growth and maturity have allowed me to recognize the part I played in friendships that didn’t end too well: I don’t always say what’s on my mind.

The truth is we sometimes let our friends get away with things we might never let a man or our significant other get away with — taking us for granted, betraying our trust or making us feel down about some part of ourselves. We keep quiet about how we feel for fear of coming across too sensitive.

We’re supposed to be strong at all times and never let anyone see anything else, right?

In an episode of Iyanla Vanzant’s show “Iyanla Fix My Life,” the spiritual teacher and author worked with the six black female bloggers of the “Six Brown Chicks” blog, who were struggling to work together due to underlying issues they couldn’t remedy alone.

By the end of the show the women came to terms with what they felt had been done to them, but more importantly how they had individually contributed to the issues within their relationship with one another.

Later, Vanzant gave her take on “Why Women Can’t Get Along” saying, “Because we’re afraid. We’re afraid to be vulnerable. We’re afraid to be soft. We’re afraid to be hurt, but most of all we’re afraid of our power.”

What’s getting in the way of our friendships?

You ask different women and you’ll probably get different answers, but most of the issues we face come down to us seeing each other as competitors instead of allies.

We may feel like our options are limited in terms of finding love and career opportunities, but our strength comes from our ability to support each other. It is that support that, historically, has brought us through some of the most turbulent times.

By Macy Freeman  |  03:50 PM ET, 12/27/2012

 
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