Let’s face it – women don’t always support other women. We could spend hours debating why that is. Maybe some of us were raised to see all women as competitors for the attention of other people (like men). Maybe some of us had bad mother- or sister-experiences. Who knows. But we all experience that other women can be our worst enemies. It’s sad, but it’s reality.
How can you tell whether the woman who says she is your friend, is truly your friend? We can absorb a huge amount of advice that is “given with love” but that also rips us apart. And we may never say “this advice is not helpful to me” because we don’t want to offend. We hear our “friend” say “it’s because I care about you that I tell you [what all your faults are, and why you will fail].” We don’t need friends like that.
Listen to your friends, but also listen to the friends who tell you that everyone who says she’s a friend of yours is not necessarily on your side. When someone says “I sometimes wonder about how much influence Joanna has over you,” take that seriously. It is EASY to fall into that trap. We all need mentors. But a bad advisor is an anti-mentor.
When I’m not working or being a mom, I’m an opera singer. I’ve had a lot of voice teachers and coaches. In classical music, you keep taking lessons forever. You still have a coach in your thirties, forties and beyond. I had one voice teacher from about age 26 through my mid-thirties. I knew she was bossy and imperious. She demanded crazy things of me – like driving 30 miles to her house in a blizzard, for a ten p.m. voice lesson, and when I said ‘the weather is horrible’ she insisted that I spend the night at her house. She was very controlling. Now the odd thing is that my husband (boyfriend, at the time) saw this clearly, but as far as I could tell, he kept his mouth shut about it.
But some years later – after I had my first kids (twins) and a couple of bad interactions with this teacher, and I said something to a friendly accompanist about it – the accompanist burst out with “Why are you still studying with her!? There are so many better, more uplifting teachers for you!” That was risky of her to say. Her comment went through me like a thunderbolt. I made some excuse (no one ever says “I’m leaving you for a different voice teacher”) and that was that. I never went back for another lesson with that controlling teacher. It was a huge burden lifted from my shoulders.
I asked my husband (by then we were married) if he had seen the unhealthy relationship develop. He said, Of course I did. I tried to bring it up a few times, in fact, he said. But I couldn’t hear it at the time! It wasn’t his fault.
The point is that this woman, the voice teacher, was not my friend. She truly did not have my best interests at heart. Probably she convinced herself that she did. But as I got better roles and became more confident, she became more insecure and controlling. Meanwhile, she begged me to stay at her house, have dinner with her, she was “there for me.” Not really, though.
Is there a woman, or are there several women in your life who don’t need to be there? Or, at least, women who don’t need to be central figures for you? Tolerating unhealthy relationships saps the strength right out of you. You can’t afford it. You can cut the cord entirely or begin to send signals that you aren’t the shrinking violet someone may think you are. To some pieces of advice you will respond “Great idea!” and to others, “Hmm, not sure that will work for me.” It’s time to stand up for yourself.
Women CAN help women and they DO, but not always. Sisterhood is powerful when it’s real. When it’s not, it’s evil-step-sisterhood and you don’t need it.