The Intense Friendships of Girls
By Ruth Ashmore
TO ALMOST every very young girl there is sure at some time to come a feeling that is half friendship and half worship. This is given often to an unknown who has some fame, or perhaps to an ideal of womanhood, invariably much older than herself. Little harm results from this sentiment, which in time exhausts itself, although if the ideal should be disappointing the young adorer thinks herself heart-broken, and becomes cynical. I am a believer in the friendships of women, but personally I seriously object to, and do not wish to see any of my girls drift into the so-called ecstatic friendships that are just now fashionable. Womankind has proven that she can care for herself, and yet she thinks it necessary to make the world at large understand that she is satisfied with the affection of a friend, that she is willing to pass her life with her so-called “chum,” and that nothing stronger than friendship for a woman, or a Platonic liking for a man, is demanded of her. To my mind there is something wrong about such a woman.
SHE REGARDS MAN AS HER ENEMY
THE ecstatic girl lover is invariably bitter against man. She regards him as her natural enemy, for, in her heart of hearts, she knows that there is a stronger sentiment than affection, and that women are not always looking for reflections of themselves. Into this ecstatic friendship there is apt to come jealousy and often positive anger. Adoring her friend with all her young heart, she objects seriously to her having any friendship or even any pleasant conversation with any other girl. All that is good in life, all that is interesting must be between these two. She allows no rivals, and as of the two she happens to be stronger of will, her friend either drifts away from her, resenting her masterful manner, or yields to her selfishness in a sentimental way that is a tribute, so she thinks, to real friendship. It has been said that women dislike more than men; that what to men is nothing but a trifle which they pass by and never give a thought to, a woman will dilate upon, and grow morbid about. The girl who thinks she could if necessary die for her friend has not the patience to wait while her friend does the duties that are demanded of her in her quiet home. Once free she greets her with a rapturous kiss and a close embrace. Bad manners, my dear girls, bad manners! The strongest love between girl friends is not that which exercises itself in words and caresses.
SHE IS SENTIMENTAL AND SILLY
EAGER to be generous, a girl ceases to give her little mite to charity, stops offering an occasional gift to her mother, that she may send, with a sentimental note, a posy or a box of sweets to the friend she has made her idol. It annoys her when this friendship is laughed at. She is eager to protest that two girls can love each other as sincerely and be as true to each other as are men under similar circumstances. But she forgets that men seldom behave to their friends as she does. Men do not talk about their affection for one another. Although all their lives long they may find pleasure in each other’s society they never dream of telling of the feeling that exists between them. But when the day of trouble comes then these friends, who have done no talking about the value or strength of their friendship, do something better than talk to prove it. One girl I know told her intimate friend of a friend, “who,” as she pathetically put it, “had been loved and lost.” It sounded very pretty; the friend to whom she told it cried, and for a long time believed that the friend had died, but one day when they were out for a walk her friend in a dramatic manner drew her to one side and said, “I cannot stand looking at her, it will kill me.” Just then a plump, jolly-looking girl passed, and after nodding her head said, without any affectation, “How are you?” And this was the lost friend! Evidently the situation had not affected her as it had her more romantic friend. But, oh, how that girl talked that night! How she told of the love that she had lavished on this unworthy object, of the worship bestowed on one who, after all, turned out to be commonplace. “Who,” as she put it, “did not understand me as you do, my darling.” Of course the darling was very much flattered, but in the depths of her heart she had to confess that she did not altogether understand, and she wondered how she would ever get the courage to tell her friend that she had accepted an invitation to go to the opera with some one else. She never did tell her. Her courage failed and the ecstatic friendship proved itself even at that early stage productive of untruthfulness. And surely anything that does that cannot be a good thing.
SUCH FRIENDSHIPS GROW LIKE WEEDS
A FRIENDSHIP like this grows like a weed in the night, for anything which is so extreme cannot have much stability. The stronger of the two in one of these extreme friendships demands of her companion that she give her all of her heart and all of her thoughts. She must be without ideas of her own, unless they are those approved of by her friend. She must see nothing good in any other woman; nothing pleasant nor agreeable in any acquaintance — in fact, there must be nothing good in life except that which has the approval of, or indeed owes its very existence to, the girl with the strong will. A friendship of this kind is like a house built on the sand, without a foundation. It is going to topple over, and when it falls there will be much dust and many stones thrown. Such friendships cannot last, for they are foolish and wrong from their very beginning. The food upon which they feed is artificial, and the result is not a real friendship. A real friendship takes years to form.
Gradually there comes to two nice girls, who find pleasure in each other’s companionship, a real affection that is not expressed in foolish kisses, in ridiculous caresses, or in nonsensical love letters. When two sensible girls are friends each is glad that the other is happy. Each is glad when the other makes an agreeable acquaintance, or is asked to an interesting entertainment. Their friendship is so unselfish that it is shared with those members of the two families who are near and dear, while some day, if one friend should whisper to the other of a love that is stronger than affection, it will be because she knows that in her friend she will find the tenderest sympathy for her happiness and a sincere wish for a life of sunshine.
FRIENDSHIPS THAT ARE TRUE AND LASTING
THERE have been, and there are, friendships between girls that are as sweet and fragrant as the beautiful wood violets that hide themselves so modestly under the green leaves. There have been friendships made in girlhood that lasted all through life, and in some instances when life ended, for history tells of women who, being great friends, made the world better for living in it, and who slept in the same grave when death called them. It was not the enthusiastic friends, who had accepted lands, money, jewels and honors from Marie Antoinette, who stood by her in the hour of her trouble, ready and eager to do for her all that was possible. It was the quiet, dignified, truly affectionate Princess de Lamballe, who had never asked a favor from her, who refused to leave her Queen and who was martyred for her friend. Another historical friendship was that of Madame de Staël and Madame Recamier; one more than ordinary in appearance, but a great genius, the other one of the loveliest women that ever lived, gentle, with a remarkable candor, and a continued happiness that made her very presence a joy. That which the great genius admired most in her friend was her ability to make people love her, while the great beauty, at whose feet both men and women fell, simply because she was so lovely and so happy, admired with all her heart the intellectual gifts of the other, and failed to see her absolute plainness of face and oddity of dress. Catering to her friend’s fancies Madame de Stael never failed to express admiration of her toilette, for the genius knew of how much worth was the friendship of a true-hearted woman, and if a trifle pleased, if a pleasant word gratified, why not offer them? Can you imagine a woman like this drifting into the foolish, ecstatic, miscalled friendship of to-day?
FEW FRIENDS CAN LIVE HAPPILY TOGETHER
POSSIBLY in my pronounced objections to the ecstatic friendship, you may think that I do not believe in friendships between women. In this, my dear girl, you are mistaken. I think great affection and close friendships are possible between women. Indeed, if to neither of them comes a greater love, I believe that, with a sure friendship as a foundation, they may form a home, but before doing this the strength of the friendship must be tested. A pretty girl who came on from Virginia to study art, and who met a girl who was here to study music, and whose home was in the far West, grew to be good friends, and when each started her life work in New York they agreed to live as bachelor girls. Their home was delightful for a while, and then — and then — both realized that they were not as companionable as they had hoped, and unless they parted very soon they would grow to dislike one another. Few people, unless bound by ties of kinship or great love, can together make a home. There is so much that in friendship must be overlooked, so much must be forgiven, so much patiently endured, and yet friendship demands a constant interest. What use are you to your friend if she wishes to read to you the play or the song or the story that she has written, and you plainly show her that she is boring you?
IN FRIENDSHIP THERE MUST BE SINCERITY
WHAT kind of friendship is it that does not hide the weariness and throw an interest into whatever the friend may wish to criticise or talk about? And yet in friendship there must be truth. It cannot exist with falsehood as its leaven, and yet there are always disagreeable truths that had better be left unsaid. Great women — that is, women great in the history of the world — have most of them been fortunate in having about them women friends who were as true as steel. Do you believe any one of the four Marys who were the close friends and companions of Mary Stuart showed their affection for her after the fashion of the foolish girls of to-day? And what would the gushing girl friend of this century have thought of Catherine Douglas, the friend and maid of honor to the wife of James I, of Scotland, who, when the assassins were forcing their way into the Royal chamber, thrust her beautiful arm, about which the poets had written, into a stanchion of the door as a bolt, and held it there until it was broken.
You are sure you could do great things, but you count the world of to-day as ordinary, and yet there is just as much self-denial possible now as ever. You remind me of the story of the ecstatic girl friend who, hearing that to the chosen one there had happened an accident — her hand had been burned — and desiring to show her affection, plunged her own hand into the fire until it was burned as nearly as possible into the condition of that of her friend. Affection? Nonsense. She simply made herself an additional trouble to people who already had troubles of their own, and an object of ridicule and scorn to the world at large.
SOME ODD PHASES IN GIRLS’ FRIENDSHIPS
YOUR chosen friend should be some one of whom your mother approves. She should be able to supply for you the good which you lack, and encourage you to do that which is right and unselfish. She should never lead you into foolish confidences. She should have sense enough to avoid the ecstatic friendship as if it were a dangerous disease. She should be perfectly able to live without you. It is true that she might miss you, regret you, and wish that you were with her, but she would not annoy a whole household by her morbid mournings for a friend whom the exigencies of life had taken away from her.
An odd phase in the ecstatic friendship of to-day is the exchange between girls of valuable gifts that possibly neither can afford, but that certainly neither should give. A fancy for rings that match, for brooches that are alike in having the same loving quotation engraved upon them, or for bangles with luck coins attached to them — these are the gifts that girls who are chums offer to each other. Practical people say, “Oh, such friendships wear themselves out and do nobody any harm.” They do wear themselves out, but they do much harm. Every time that which is good is made to seem valueless by its bad imitation the heart of a girl is hurt, and these bruises, my friend, are difficult to heal. Sometimes they are more than mere bruises; they are open wounds that sting and burn, and seem to fill all the brain and all the heart with hatred and bitterness. Therefore I beg of you be careful in your choice of a friend, and be more than careful in the conduct of your friendship. It is almost as easily killed as love. It requires as much consideration and a little more unselfishness than any love where there is always one who plays while the other holds the candle.
BE TRUE TO YOUR FRIEND AND YOUR WORD
THAT remarkable genius, Margaret Fuller, after looking earnestly at the picture of Madame Recamier, wrote in her journal: “I have so often thought over the intimacy between her and Madame de Staël. It was a beautiful friendship. I like to feel that such friendships can exist. It is the same love which the angels feel.” Margaret Fuller herself was the object of a great deal of foolish adoration from young girls, but she wisely enough recognized the affection that was worth accepting, while she made her young adorers conscious of the folly of their behavior. There probably never lived a woman who so eagerly longed for affection, and it was not strange that, after her death, there was found among some papers written when she was a young woman this prayer:
Father, I am weary. Reassure me for a while, I pray Thee. Oh, let me rest a while in Thee, Thou only Love. In the depth of my prayer I suffer much. Take me only a while. No fellow-being will receive me. I cannot pause; they will not detain me by their love. Take me a while, and again I will go forth on a renewed service. I sink from want of rest, and none will shelter me. Thou knowest it all. Bathe me in Thy love.
I do believe that woman is happiest who has a true, honorable woman friend who is companionable, lacks inquisitiveness, and is always considerate and always true. She is the ideal friend, and the only one worth having. The object of the ecstatic friendship is a poor fraud, a base imitation. Once get the real friend — the only sort of friend worth having — then make this the motto of your life: “Be true to your word, your work and your friend.
Ashmore, Ruth. “The Intense Friendships of Girls,” The Ladies Home Journal, Vol. 15, No. 8 (Jul 1898):20.