After my freshman year of college at a fratty, rapey liberal arts college with a drinking problem, attending a Women’s College felt like the solution to what can at it’s worst be described as a fear of college-aged boys, and at it’s best a distrust of men between the ages of 18-24.
All-women spaces and female friendships were the solution to the exhaustion of that school year. There is a certain level of emotional labor involved in friendships with people who will never get your experiences as a women, just as there is a type of self-explanation necessary for people who identify solely as straight, when you yourself do not.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t have male friends, or that all men are unable to feel empathy and love for (queer) women. Of course not. But there’s a missing piece. I thought I was expected to do that labor – education, explanation, frustration – all the time. But Smith offered me opportunity to take a step away from that role into something far less exhausting (or at least, far less ridden with fear). The point of this story only this: female friendships offered an astounding amount of relief, safety, and understanding at a point of my life when surviving 50% of the population felt like an exhausting (and congratulatory) feat.
Since graduating I’ve reopened my mind and heart to the possibility of male friendships which has been empowering, enjoyable, and essential to my day-to-day in a way I could not have imagined four years ago. But I am still wildly here for female friendships and what they can offer. So in the style of Roxane Gay’s, “How To Be Friends with Another Woman”, I offer you The Ultimate Girl Tribe Instruction Manual.
1. First things first. Let’s define “Tribe”. Noun. A social community linked with social, economic, religious, or blog tires. A distinct close-knit group, typically with a recognized leader. A group of persons with a common interest. A badass crew who get’s shit done together. A group of ride-or-dies. A girl gang. A squad. Got it? Good.
2. What does this really mean? Our tribe is the crew we text after an amazing (or terrible) date with the cute barista from Tinder who just moved to the city from the Midwest. The team we sign up for that race, mud run, or intro-level CrossFit class with. The ones who devour the conversation-screenshots we send them and respond with the appropriate emojis. The squad we share our sacred soul desires with. The crew who reads our horoscopes and let’s us know when the stars are aligned or when mercury is in retrograde. The authentic, juicy, effortless, fun, social circle that knows the ins and out of our day-to-day, our relationships, our workouts, our work drama, relationship woes, and family dis-ease.
3. Call yourself whatever the F you want. Whether it’s BFF’s, girl tribe, girl gang, crew, or bad bitch embassy, how (and if) you and your buddies name yourself is your business. Girl Tribes are the new language “ish”, the trendiest hashtag on Instagram, the sought-out go-to group for adult women. But concept of a “bestie”, “BFF”, “sprawling college crew”, “close knit circle of girls”, are not new, nor are they uncomplicated. The in’s and out’s of female friendships can be tricky to understand: we spill secrets and sometimes gossip, we are the on the giving and receiving end of the silent treatment, we judge and are judged, we go and grow through periods of distance and weeks of uninhibited closeness, we post photos and celebrate birthdays, and we meet each other’s loves, family’s, coworkers, and roommates.
4. What’s up with the girl-tribe and squad lingo popping up? In short, not much. The new language we have for female friendships doesn’t change the closeness of the BFF’s or what those friendships actually look like. There’s a power to the word “squad” or “tribe” a level of don’t-fuck-with-us-ness, but there also a aura of exclusiveness and you-just-can’t-sit-with-us-ness in the word.
5. Don’t by buy into the nonsense that all women are bitchy and competitive. If you find that all your female friendships are toxic, take a look inward, reevaluate those friendships, and make the necessary changes.
6. Having more male friends than female friends is not something to be proud of. Pride is not the right emotion. It’s okay if you have more male friends than female friends but not if this if you use this as a ticker to “better than you”
7. Your tribe is who you talk and listen to. According to socio-linguist Deborah Tannen, author of You’re The Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, female friendships are solidified through talking, secret sharing, and in the age of technology, non-stop communication. This communication makes gossiping easier than ever. So if you’re going to gossip, which you are because everybody does, at least make it fun. And never claim that you don’t gossip, because we know you’re lying.
8. Women are competitive about who knows what and who knows it first, because that is a marker of closeness among women: How was that Bumble date and did you do it? Yes it it. How was the chemistry? Did you confront your boss about the paycheck? And how did your interview go? Have you tried this workout spot? And do you think I could handle it? How was it seeing your Dad? And how’s your Mom doing? Your friends want to know what’s going on in your life. If something major is happening, and your friend doesn’t know about it, either she finds out she isn’t as good a friend as she thought she was, or she’s just going to feel hurt that you didn’t tell her.
9. Technology has heightened this dynamic of knowing and wanting to know, happening and knowing what is happening. With Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, iMessage, and Twitter, our phones and messages are just an extension of the friendship: a way of continuing to keep in touch. We can no longer disappear for 10 years, or 10 months, 10 days or even 10 hours and come back. In some ways our relationships are allowed to be and able to be more constant communication. But that has its downsides: if you ignore a text, but post on your Instagram story, your friend can see that. If you haven’t seen one friend in over a month, but have gone to dinner with another 3 times over the last 3 weeks, chances are your social media presence will give you away. Social media increases the chance that we will know about an event that we were not invited to, enhances the likelihood of FOMO, or hurt. Save your friend from hurt, invite her to the damn party.
10. On the other hand, maybe the technology holds us accountable to our friends: if we want to post that IG, we respond to our friends text first. If we are going to host a dinner party, we air on the side of caution. If we want to snapchat our new bae, we make sure our girl-pals know about them first. In friendships where knowledge is power and inclusive is mandated by impulse to document, technology facilities an in-touchness that is indisputable. Let me reiterate, save your friend from hurt, invite her to the damn party.
11. And if you can’t invite her to the party (or whatever it is that she is being excluded from) a little tact goes a long.
12. Generally speaking, a little tact goes a long way when it comes to telling the truth to your friends.
13. Things you shouldn’t have any truth about. Or have to lie about. Or deal with tact about: flirting with, having sex with, getting all emotionally involved with, or otherwise crossing boundaries with your friends baes. It doesn’t matter who the significant other is. Or how glamourous, well-built, or “nice” they are. If you want to poke around with an asshole, download Tinder and let your intentions be known.
14. Befriending other women will save your life. Fear is born of isolation and everything in the world is working to pit women against each other and keep us apart, especially (especially!) minority women of any kind. We’re told we’re the only ones at our work who feel the project is sexist. We’re told to smile on the streets. We’re told to “calm down” about street harassment and sexual assault. We don’t talk about the injustices of existing in a world built for men because then then we have to deal with the consequences of whining. The world is exhausting. Friendships, a girl tribe if you will, are essential for survival. In Trump’s America, it’s a war out there, afterall.