It doesn’t exactly take a degree in sociology for one to realize that men and women are very different — a fact that occurs to me on a regular basis in my capacity here at Babble. That said, I’ve always prided myself on relating well to women (especially compared to my gender as a whole). Even so, several comments from Babble’s (predominately female) readership suggest that many of you might find that hard to believe.
My point? I really enjoy writing for Babble, but sometimes I feel that my gender makes it more challenging than it would be if I were a woman. And that’s not a bad thing. It just goes back to my first point. Men and women are extremely different. And an article I read the other day — When Moms Break Up — served as yet another reminder of that fact.
The title alone sparked two questions. Do moms really break up? And if so, what’s to blame? By the end of the piece, I was pretty sure I had found my answers. And in so doing, I may have figured something out about the way moms build their relationships as opposed to the way dads build theirs.
The piece I’m referring to appeared on Salon and was written by a former entertainment attorney by the name of Beverly Willett. Willett details the rise and fall of a friendship she shared with a woman named Laura. Their relationship sprang from the women’s common denominator — the friendship their daughters shared. But their bond grew even stronger when Willet’s husband left her after having an affair. Laura was Willet’s “self-appointed defender.” But after a short while, everything changed. According to Willett, Laura simply “disappeared,” leaving her feeling as if she’d been “betrayed.”
I found it interesting that this relationship still effects Willett enough to pen a (beautifully written) piece about it seven years later. Willett recites minute details of phone exchanges that happened nearly a decade ago and describes the time (when things were still good between them) when a consoling Laura had called her “baby” with a palpable longing. She also writes about a time when she had advised her daughter to mend a fence with Laura’s daughter, though she was admittedly unsure if the advice was, indeed, for her daughter, or born out of Willett’s desire to mend fences with Laura.
Maybe it’s a gender thing, but I’ve never formed a friendship like the one that Willett and Laura had. If I’m friends with one of my kids’ friends’ dads, it has nothing to do with our children. But the same can’t be said of Willett and Laura’s friendship. Or at least so I gathered after reading sentences like this one: “As the girls’ friendship blossomed, so did ours.” Could it be that moms are more apt to piggy back off of the friendships of their children? And could it be, also, that women are more likely to take a friendship to a much deeper level when one of the women is going through something as emotionally trying as a divorce?
I’m typically the one to whom my guy friends turn when the chips are down — the one they call when they need to articulate their vulnerability — the one they go to in hopes of finding help. Like last year when a friend of mine was blindsided by his wife’s decision to leave him. We spent hours and hours each and every week on the phone (which was all we could do since he doesn’t live in my town). He constantly asked me for advice. To tell him how I’d handle certain situations. To tell him it’d be okay. And I was happy to do just that. In fact, I was honored that I was able to be a source of strength for him. And though our friendship reached a new level, one that was more intimate than ever before, this man and I had known each other for over 20 years. We were best of friends before his life-changing event.
And though I can’t speak for him, I’m pretty sure that he’d tell you that the only person he could have ever confided in would have been a lifelong friend. And I, for one, would say the same thing. Maybe I’m seeing it the wrong way, but it seems to me that Willett and Laura built a relationship upon Willett’s vulnerability. So, I suppose it doesn’t surprise me that their relationship deteriorated so rapidly. There’s a reason why you can’t build a house on quick sand. A sturdy foundation must exist for any construction to stand the test of time.
Regardless, the article made it clear to me that moms really do break up. At least Willett and Laura did. And Willett was heartbroken, her language crafted as if she were describing a long-lost love. And that was her point. That she had lost a love. Her friend.
So what was to blame? Willett wondered the same thing: “Had I made too much of our friendship, too mired at the time in my own anguish to see what was really there? Had we grown too close too fast?”
I think the answer is all of the above. I suspect that Willett didn’t realize how needy she was and I bet that her neediness was draining Laura long before Willett ever caught on that their relationship was deteriorating.
And that’s why I could never turn to someone I didn’t know very well during a time of such vulnerability and need. Because when you’re vulnerable and needy, sometimes you’ll overwhelm the person who’s helping you. I know there was a time or two when my friend overwhelmed me. So you know what I did? I told him to pull his head out of his ass and to cut met a two-day break from his legendary pity party.
Cruel? Maybe. But at least I didn’t just cut ties and bail on the guy like Laura did.
Then, again, how could I have done that? I’d known him for over 20 years. And I loved him. Long before his wife left him. Hell, long before he even married his wife, for that matter.
And our kids don’t even know each other.
So what do you think? Do moms really break up? Is this a gender thing, or is the Willett/Laura saga unique to Willett?