I never used to value my female friends. I never had that many of them — friends, or friends who were females — and I honestly just never thought about the value of surrounding myself with strong women.
In college and even in my early career many women seemed like threats — personally or professionally. I always felt like even with close friends there was so much…drama. We got wrapped up in each other’s lives way too much, we judged too quickly and easily, and used other women’s experiences to make ourselves feel better about our own failings. I always felt like I had to compete with female friends. Somehow guy friends back then seemed so much simpler. No drama, no judgment.
A few months ago I joined a women’s writing group. It’s an informal gathering once a month with eight other women. I am the youngest in the group and for the first time in my life I feel such comfort in the company of strong, smart, funny women. Maybe it’s because we share our truest selves in our writing that I immediately felt a bond with everyone in the group. Once you’ve heard someone’s honest, heartbreaking account of a family history, struggles with a sick child, or an ailing husband, it’s hard not to feel that intimacy. Whatever it is — trust, warmth, experience, love — our group provides all of that to every member.
This weekend we spent a day on Star Island as our yearly writing retreat. We ate a picnic on the lawn listening to a 1920s jazz band. We wandered around the island, in and out of small churches and cottages, taking pictures of rocks and driftwood and the blazing, bright blue sky above us. Later in the afternoon we sat in a circle on the wide porch of the island’s hotel and read what we had written that day. Here is what the ocean and the waves brought out of my pen:
I’ve been feeling like one of these huge waves crashing on the rocks along the shore.
I am still a drop of water or a small quiver on the surface somewhere off shore, but far off in the distance I can see the rocks. Gray, shiny, smooth, beckoning. The water is murkier around those rocks, but also warmer. My choices are limited: I can drown with the rest of the little drops around me, or be sucked into the mouth of a whale. Or the rocks.
I could roll myself into a big, frothy wave and punch my way through the depth around me. I know the crash will be painful for a moment maybe — all that smooth hardness breaking me into droplets.
But then it will be exhilarating to feel the cool splash, to take flight for a second, to break away. Maybe the rock I will land on will be warm from the afternoon sun and I will sizzle away in the heat. Or maybe I will land on a cool, slimy spot and gently roll back into the wetness. But it will be worth it — the rush, the leap, the splash. It will all be worth it.
When I got done reading it to my friends, I felt such a huge relief. It’s not much as far as writing is concerned, but I felt like I finally told someone — someone who mattered — what’s been going on in my head for months now. The uncertainty, the excitement, the feeling of possibilities and the terrifying possible outcomes that haunt me every day.
These women now know. I didn’t have to tell them the details — that I am bored out of my skull at my job, that my heart is sick and worried about my marriage, my parents, my brother, or that I feel lost, alone, and scared, and so uncertain about the future. They asked me if I was OK after I read it and for once I felt like I can really say that “yes, I am OK.” Or if I am not OK yet, I will be soon.
I am OK because of these women. We surround each other with words, with love, with wisdom.
No drama. No judgment.