Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like when doves cry
One of the nicest things about being an established writer-for-hire is that occasionally editors will come to you asking you to write an article on the very topic you’ve been wanting to pitch for ages, but haven’t found the right angle/venue/news hook for.
And one of the strangest things is when, very occasionally, they approach you to write about a topic that has been secretly eating you up, even though you never really planned to write about it.
So I had to laugh to myself when, a couple of weeks ago, one of my editors wrote to me asking if I’d like to write a feature on “the dark side of female friendship”.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’ve been fortunate to have had some amazing friendships in my life. The kinds of friendships people write books about, and the kinds of friendships I dreamed of having back when I was a lonely little kid who literally wrote up an ad for a “best friend” in one of my primary school diaries (sad, I know). My best friendships over the years have been universally fierce, fun and passionate.
They also, I’m embarrassed to admit, have a history of being somewhat explosive. Not the kinds of explosions that don’t repair themselves eventually, but explosions nonetheless.
A couple of weeks before I moved to London, I asked a psychologist friend why this might be. She very diplomatically told me that there was something that attracted me to high intensity people (and for good reason, she said, they could be some of the most exciting, loving people to be around), and similiarly, something that attracted such people to me. This didn’t mean there was anything wrong with me or with them, it just was.
So I’ve been thinking about how to write this story. The “obvious” angle would be female jealousy and insecurity, but I don’t want to play to the stereotype of petty and competitive women, because I don’t think women are petty and competitive - at least, not as a class.
Some of my explosive friendships have had competitive elements to them, but nobody was trying to systematically undermine the other person. Nor do I think that friendship is doomed to be either light and superficial, or dark and brooding.
Chatting to my decidedly non-explosive boyfriend about all of this, we wondered if perhaps this explosiveness - and I know it’s far from a universal phenomenon, some people are able to maintain perfectly stable, sane relationships - is simply the flipside of the good stuff. That friendships that are passionately positive inevitably contain a latent potential to be passionately negative. The opposite of love isn’t hate, after all, it’s indifference.
Watching the film the story is hooked to this afternoon, I was also struck by the ways in which our anger at people and about situations often has very little to do with the material facts of what caused it in the first place. Asked to explain the roots of a rift between two friends a few months ago, I said: “Well, it’s like one of them poked the other, then the other responded with a slap, which was met with a punch, which was met with a tackle… until finally one of them dropped the nuclear bomb.” The poke didn’t necessitate the bomb, nor did it really deserve it, but after a while, it isn’t about the poke anymore.
Similarly, when I think about my own anger, about grudges I’ve been unable to let go of, often it has little to do with the original offense. Instead, it’s about a residual feeling I can’t get rid of, a new framework I’ve built up in my head through which every piece of information is run through, however counterfactual.
What I liked most about the film I saw today, though (and the title of said film will have to remain a secret for now, because it doesn’t come out until next year), was that it wasn’t about one person doing evil unto another, or even about two people being nasty to each other. It was about a situation building up in one of the character’s minds until she couldn’t control it anymore. That a lot of what she was fearing wasn’t real didn’t matter, because it was certainly real in her head.
Anyway, this story isn’t due for a while, so I’d be interested to know your thoughts on these situations. Ever had a friendship go bad? What caused it? Is this really just a “girl thing”?
Related: Friendship in the age of uncertainty