As it gets harder and harder to cobble together the time I need to put coherent thoughts in a blog post I am reminded of what a friend says about her writing – “I write a blog post every day in my head.” From head to page (or post) can be a big leap some days. So my new tag line is “Sent from my head, please pardon any typos.”

I was recently in a group of women who were talking about how women constantly judge each other. I could have pointed out that we should substitute “humans” for women, because men judge themselves and each other as well, but that would have derailed the topic. Another time.

People brought up how we judge how other women raise their children, or where they send them to to school, or if they are a stay-at-home mom, or a working mom. This landscape is so familiar that someone piped up immediately “As if a stay-at-home-mom is not a working mom!” The problem, an older woman postulated, is that women are their own worst enemy, tearing each other down when they should be supporting each other.

Now I am all for sisterhood, but that just sounded like one more freakin thing to add to my to-do list. Maybe I was just tired. Luckily someone else raised the level of discourse away from its-our-own-damn-fault to how women being unsure of their choices allows them to be more manipulable by society, media etc. The conversation swirled for a while but what caught my attention was someone naively asking, “How do we make it safe for women to talk about topics without judgment?”

The context for this was how do we talk publicly about abortion so that it is de-stigmatized. A simplistic answer was offered: “Wear a button that says I live in a glass house and I don’t throw stones.” I’m thinking I would not be inclined to talk about the weather to someone wearing that button, let alone abortion.

The question of safety included an unacknowledged shift from the visible to the invisible. We can judge a woman’s choices in child rearing and work because they are visible, we can only judge her choice to have an abortion if it is revealed. Hence the de-stigmatization efforts. I wholeheartedly agree having an abortion is nothing to be ashamed of, and most women experience relief rather than shame. So what else is behind the silence? I think we are back at judgment.

Judgment influences behavior because of its complexity. Whether it is internally or externally imposed it can be a verdict (You are a bad person), or an opinion (You are that kind of person), or a statement (This is who I am). We make choices every day about what we make visible because we know we are judged. Revealing information is like pouring Kool-Aid into water –  it can’t be unmixed. So to talk about your abortion in our society calls for either a whole lotta trust or a whole lotta nerve.

As one woman said the fear of judgment is less about her feeling bad about the abortion than about what crap is going to blow back from the other person –  “I don’t feel like dealing with their 92 different feelings about my choice.” Interestingly, as the conversation continued, people revealed other seemingly taboo information kept invisible because of its potential to shape how we will be viewed:

  • I had an abortion and didn’t feel bad (the implication being you should feel bad)
  • I don’t have children because I can’t have children (the implication being you are a failed woman without children)
  • I don’t want children (see above)
  • I am an atheist (too many implications of bad badness to list here)
  • I was sexually molested (the implication being you are a victim)

The list could go on and on, especially around less political but still volatile issues like “I slept with a married man.” How many currently married suburban women do you know that will reveal that to their currently married friends?

I think we all live in glass houses and we all throw stones. So to the question, “How do we make it safe for women to talk about topics without judgment?”, my answer is we need to find ways to build trust into casual friendships so the invisible can be visible. Invisible parts revealed are not a burden, they are the bits that turn a casual friend into a true friend. So we need to trust first, reveal first. I need to trust first. Hmmm. Lot more to think about.

My daughter was lamenting last night that her lack of a “best” best friend which was defined by her as “someone you automatically hangout with, end up each others houses, call everyday, that sort of thing.” I think we all crave that kind of closeness.

I pointed out that she has good friends and has had these relationships in the past, but I suspect her dissatisfaction stems from duration. All around her are kids who have been fast friends since birth or kindergarten, and I can see how it might be difficult to make room for a “newcomer”.

Her best friend in preschool lasted three years. Her best friend in elementary school didn’t survive her switch to a new school in 4th grade and her summertime best friend is only around six or eight weeks of a year. Its sort of a non-problem problem in that you can’t force that kind of closeness. So I lend a sympathetic ear.

But I know what she means.

A similar dynamic happens in adult friendships too. Everyone is so busy that making new friends, or moving from acquaintances to friends, takes effort and seems like a major commitment. A friend recently said to me “I only have so much time, I’m not going to waste it on someone I don’t know!” which, instead of feeling like the compliment she intended, made me feel like I had a somewhat tenuous membership in a privileged circle.

I am lucky enough to have one old “warts and all” good friend, and I am usually cautious about leaning too heavily on other friendships. Most people already have a “best” best friend and don’t have room for anyone else (and God forbid I should appear needy). Which brings me back at my daughters dilemma, how do you get a “best” best friend if you aren’t lucky enough to have one through longevity?

During the same conversation someone else remarked, “Who needs more friends? You only need one or two” and it went through my head – ‘Who doesn’t need more friends?’ I started thinking about my friend categories – friends I lunch with, friends I see movies with and friends I shop with. Then there are the different levels of socializing with friends who are couples and friends who have children. Some friends have the high-res retina display view of my life and others the 140 character thumbnail depending on the space they have available in their lives.

Could I call any of them in any kind of emergency? Many of them, without a doubt. Would I feel comfortable calling any of them just to chat or share something funny? No, just the one.

By a 13-year olds definition that must be my “best” best friend. I am lucky indeed.

I just finished a book where all the women friends tell each other in great detail about their sex lives. Usually while eating ice cream or bakery in their jammies. These descriptions include cute, short-hand words for various positions and intensity, as well as props for “gettin what you need”. I am woman hear me roar. Continue reading

I am currently reading books on personality types in order to manage a prickly situation. As I am well aware that we can’t change anyone but ourselves. So of course these are self-help books.

While I have gained many new insights from “Type Talk at Work” and “Fundamentals of Organizational Communication”, the most interesting bits are from a book I stumbled on because it was nearby on the virtual shelf. The online public library system has very broad keyword sorting so next to the work related material was “Your Erotic Personality: Identifying and Understanding Your Sexual Self.” Who can resist? Continue reading

I was having a little chit & chat before a meeting with some people I know casually. They somehow got themselves around to talking about dreams. One of them had recently had the classic recurring school dream of taking a final exam and you realize you didn’t study/never attended class. I mentioned that I’d never had the “back in school” dream and was told of course I had, everyone has, I just don’t remember.

Now I don’t remember a lot of things, but I do know what kind of anxiety dreams I have.

Being told I ‘just didn’t remember’ told me more about him than it did about me. Seems he wants his experience to be universal, his anxiety centers around personal performance, or forgetting responsibilities, regret or paths not taken. More importantly he is someone who thinks he knows more about me than I know about me, and isn’t afraid to say so. Valuable information to have when forming a new business relationship.

It also amazes me how much people will reveal to an “almost stranger”. Maybe they don’t know what insights they provide. Or maybe they do.

During the dream chit chat I was thinking that one recurring dream I have is being chased, attacked and physically fighting for my life – in ever changing venues and situations just to spice things up. That recurring dream leaves so much open for interpretation that I can’t see how or why I would share it with casual acquaintances.

I know I am guarded. That’s a hurdle I may never jump.

But casually intimate people can be casually hurtful just as easily. So in a world where peoples personal “layers” are displayed like a parfait in clear glass, I will continue to wear my layers like an onion.