Maria, an intelligent, mature, respectable, well dressed and attractive woman, sat in front of me. With a gesture attempting to portray courage, she looked at me in the eye and declared: “I have no women friends, I have never had them and I don’t need them.”
As I listened to her, I felt deeply sad and somewhat confused. More than anything, I was engulfed by an almost uncontrollable curiosity. Like autumn leaves that are blown by the wind in all directions, so were my questions revolving around my mind.
What does friendship mean to Maria? How was Maria able to live without girlfriends and arrive to this stage in her life without having established any friendships with other women? I wondered how she was raised or what happened that prevented her from having weaved a friendship with people from her own sisterhood… Furthermore, how had the fact that she had not practiced BEING a friend to another woman impacted on her?
Over the last ten years of my practice, I have gotten to know women who have belonged to Latin families. Within their family structure they tend to automatically relate to mother, sister, sister-in-law, female cousin, godmother and mother-in-law in an intimate way, as part of their family clan. It seems as if they do not have to reach further in order to satisfy that need that we humans have of emotional nurturance, sharing and mutual support. These dynamics are wonderful as long as they function in a healthy way because they give us a point of reference, a secure base with which we can identify – a sense of belonging.
However, I feel that if we limit ourselves to family relationships only, we can be like a bird only using one of its wings, not risking to use two wings for flight and thus unable to fly freely or over long distances. This bird has not experienced how wonderfully exciting it can be to risk flying to its fullest potential.
If we, as women, have not experienced making friendships with other women, we are preventing ourselves from creating new social and community networks. We have not tasted the communal elixir that would nourish many facets of our being. Establishing a friendship, just like with any other human relationship is a risk and it can be a very gratifying challenge. It is also true that we sometimes make mistakes and we can end up getting hurt just like the birds when they are learning how to fly. When we open up and extend ourselves in order to know someone different it implies giving of ourselves without expectations. It opens up the possibility of mutual enjoyment and sharing with other women. Unfortunately fear, envy, lack of practicing, inner security, judgement and disapproval can prevent us from initiating the flight.
We can look at this challenge from various points of view. Here are some examples:
- Fear: “She can snatch my boyfriend or husband away from me. I want to keep my distance from that woman.”
- Envy: “She got a better mark than me at school – I won’t talk to her.”
Lack of Practice: “I’ve never had friends. I dislike change. I’m fine on my own.”
- Inner Insecurity: “She’s better looking and richer than me: she will never want to be my friend”
- Judgement: “She’s such a bad mother. I don’t want to associate with her.”
- Disapproval: “She is such a gossiper. I stay away from her.”
Alternatively, we can look at this as:
- “I don’t know this woman. She might be a nice person. It will be interesting to get to know her. I might really like her”
Some of us have grown up believing in the fantasy that we will get married and when we are married to our ‘Mr. Right’ he will ALL of our needs – material, emotional and sexual. Therefore we do not need girlfriends. After all, have we not dreamed about being the ‘good wife’ looking after our ‘shining knight’ and they, in turn will be everything for us? How disappointed we will be if after a couple of years we realize that we are missing something else: “What a ‘let down’. I was not expecting to feel this way…!”
If we are in our own environment, we may learn to manage this void somehow amongst our family, job, children, etc. However, what happens with us Latin immigrants, when we arrive in Canada on our own or with only our nuclear family? Many questions may be flying around in our heads.
- What internal resources do we have?
- What past experiences can we draw from in order to establish relationships with other women?
- How do we bring ourselves to reach for what we need, or to offer help to someone else as a friend?
- How would it be if we enjoyed each other’s company?
- Who would we exchange new ideas with upon arriving in a new country?
- What can we do in order to help each other integrate into this new land while being both strong and flexible at the same time?
- What happens when we believe we can solve everything within our nuclear family and we keep ourselves to ourselves?
Sometimes issues remain unresolved for the fear of embarrassing ourselves. Sometimes we collapse, or even worse: we use our sons as a surrogate ‘man of the house’ and our daughters as ‘executive secretaries and confidents’, drawing on their better command of English. In doing this we alienate our husbands. In most of these cases, the family is guaranteed to malfunction! It is then when the bird within us has to exercise her second wing. I believe us women have been organically designed to forge friendships amongst ourselves. The intensity with which we need external friendships depends upon our individual personalities and circumstances. Sometimes we are required to undergo a traumatic experience in order to realize that we need friendships.
Of course, like in everything, there has to be a balance. Relying too much on external friendships can also have a negative impact upon the family (Stay tuned to the next article discussing the impact on couples when there are no external friendships to provide support).
I invite you to reflect upon the last time you met a woman who impressed you in some way. Maybe she seemed intelligent, interesting, humble, kind, someone whom you felt so comfortable with that it felt you had known each other for years… In the spirit of the new year, I want to suggest to you that the next time this happens to you , you pause and enjoy the moment. Pay attention to how you feel and the messages you ae getting from your brain, for example:
“That only happened then; there will never be another occasion like that; it is not worth calling her” OR “She may think that I want something from her and she will not be interested in my friendship, I have nothing to offer her, I feel embarrassed”. On the other hand, you may think: “Wow, I had such a great time with her! That woman seemed so nice and I would love to get together with her again”.
Do something different this year: do not stop at your intentions but ACT upon them!
Create the opportunity to get together with her, either by having a chat over the phone, going out for a walk, to have a cup of coffee, cook together with the family, etc.
Let yourself be guided by your intuition, NOT by your fears. Stay open to the possibilities, check how you feel about each situation. Which of the attitudes cited above can lead us to a meaningful an fuller life? Which of the scenarios indicate to us that life in a new place has more possibilities of being enjoyed, of learning from others and sharing our own skills?
By the time we arrive in Canada, we have all gone through a journey and have collected a bunch of experiences. Which of the attitudes will enrich us, our families, the planet and has more chances of bringing about world peace?
I use the opportunity to wish all of you, web-browsers a year filled with trust, good health, understanding and self-fulfillment!