My College:
Dear Adina

How Should I Help My Daughter Navigate Female Friendships?

Adina Glickman


Hi, Adina,

Do you have any advice for young women navigating female friendships? In the fall, my daughter (a freshman) got along so well with her roommate in her dorm but now is really struggling with this relationship. I have noticed a pattern of intense connections with her female friends, and then she becomes disappointed or decides to become aloof with them. Thank you.


Hi, Parent,

Books have been written on your question.* I will offer my 500-word perspective knowing it is woefully incomplete by comparison!

What you’re describing of your daughter’s experience is not uncommon. Female friendships can be rich, intensely satisfying — and deeply fraught. Throw in the adjustment to college, being away from the familiarity of home, and living in close and COVID-ified quarters, and you’ve got yourself some of the trickiest interpersonal waters life has to offer. Take those dynamics and contextualize them in age-old narrative myths that women are competitive, catty, insecure and vain? There's potential for heartache and confusion at every turn.

Of course there is also no question that female friendships profoundly enrich our lives. If being a woman in a man's world diminishes us (in the U.S. women still make between $.57 and $.75 on the dollar compared to men, endure sexual harassment in both public and private spaces, and have our reproductive decisions governed by others), then female friendship counterbalances and uplifts us.

Female friendships address deep psychological needs and raise issues of identity and boundaries. And in young adulthood, with our identities still forming and emerging, our relationships with women provide not only companionship and comfort, they help us figure out who we are. There’s a lot riding on them, which can heat up the fireball when they crash and burn.

We often project our best and worst selves onto our friends. If I’m feeling good about myself, I look at my friend and get the feeling she feels good about me also. And that makes me feel loving towards her. Nice.

But when I’m not feeling good about myself, when I’m judgy about whether or not I’m a smart/beautiful/worthy person, I look at my friend and attribute those judgments to her. And then I feel rejected or judged and vulnerable. Not so nice.

Meanwhile, my friend, just like me, wants to be seen and loved. If all I see when I look at her is a projection of how I feel about myself, she feels overlooked and rightly so. Oy. Complicated.

The work we need to do in making our relationships healthy is often around reeling those projections back in and taking ownership of how we feel about ourselves. When we see past the mirror we’ve put in front of our friend’s face, we can truly be ourselves and see who they are.

That makes for a healthy, loving friendship. Boundaries are present but permeable and we no longer attribute our judgments about ourselves to other people. I’m almost 60 and still working on this, so it’s worth reminding your daughter to be patient as she learns how to do this work.

If you’ve been reading my column, you know that my advice will start with asking your daughter some questions. The first, of course, is whether she wants to talk about her relationships with women. If the answer is no, then you walk away.

If the answer is yes, it might help to start by asking her to tell the story of one of these friendships. As the story unfolds, you’ll hear clues about what happened and how your daughter felt about things and responded to them.

Approach her story with curiosity, asking questions like, “What did she say, and then what did you feel?”

If you can help your daughter express some of the feelings she's had along the way in her friendships, you might begin to see more depth to the patterns you’ve already observed, and then be able to help her see some connections. “Ah, so when she didn’t include you that time, it felt like she iced you out,” or “When you were feeling especially generous, you were also feeling kind of lonely and wanted something from her also…”

It’s entirely possible that your daughter has poured enormous energy into connecting with women but is still a stranger to herself. Hopefully telling her stories will begin to reveal her relationship to her own inner self — whether she's aware of her own needs, how she seeks to get those needs met, and what her expectations of relationships with women are all about.

From there, I would want to know more about the intensity factor. I’d ask what she is looking for in her female friendships, and if she can think of commonalities or themes. Helping her see that her friendships have been something of a mirror, and then helping her reconcile what she's been seeing in that mirror, will help her clarify what she sees and begin to separate what is her from what is her friends. And clarity will equip her with more choices in how she pursues, develops, nurtures or ends her friendships.

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

*Further reading: Deborah Tannen’s You’re The Only One I Can Tell

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at adinaglickman.com.

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    18 hours ago
    CollegiateParent

    Hey Colleges – How About a School Picture Day?

    When my kids were in elementary school, I always tried to volunteer on School Picture Day. It was fun to see all the students each year looking photo-ready, many with new haircuts, outfits, and big smiles. The perk for keeping kids in line all day and refereeing battles with plastic combs was a free basic photo
    package of your child.

    And any parent who has paid for school pictures knows this is sweet swag, because school pics are pricey. And the marketing geniuses at these photo companies know how to sucker parents. They’d send home an enormous packet full of all kinds of glossy photos of your adorable, precious child. Big prints, small prints, wallet-sized prints, bookmarks, and heart-shaped keychain pics. And that was just the start!

    If you went to their website, you could find a hundred more products to purchase, so that every living relative of yours could receive a mug, a calendar, or a magnet. And they made it difficult to simply buy one class photo and a 5” x 7” for your desk frame. Even the smallest packages had stuff you didn’t want, which is why we all have dusty boxes full of kid pictures stuffed away in our closets. (If you don’t, I’m impressed with your purging skills.)

    But what I grasp now is that having our elementary kids line up each year at school on two occasions – for fall and spring pictures – was not really what we needed. Our kids were living in our houses then, and we saw them up close and personal every single day. To the point where we often closed our eyes, took some deep, cleansing breaths, and wished we could just disappear for an hour and NOT see their sweet, little faces.

    Plus, we could take our own pictures of them any darn time we wanted – at their games, their performances, during spirit week, and on their birthdays. We had an overabundance of photo ops.
    But now we’re college parents, and our kids aren’t living with us. We’re not closing our eyes in frustration, sneaking off for a little peace and quiet in our bathrooms. (Or was that just me?) We’re
    closing our eyes and wishing that our kids were about to walk in the door and ask for a snack, just like they did when they were seven.

    Many of us haven’t gotten more than a couple peace-sign selfies since they left home a month ago. We miss their faces, and right now I’d pay a ridiculous price for a picture of my smiling son on a mug, with cheesy, autumn trees Photoshopped in behind him.

    It shouldn’t be too much to ask colleges for a fall photo of our kids. We won’t care about backgrounds -most of their campuses have beautiful architecture and green spaces at the ready. Is it too much to ask for one quick shot, in between classes? I’m willing to bet more of us would purchase a package now.

    Let’s try this, college!

    - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH
    ... See MoreSee Less

    Hey Colleges – How About a School Picture Day?  When my kids were in elementary school, I always tried to volunteer on School Picture Day. It was fun to see all the students each year looking photo-ready, many with new haircuts, outfits, and big smiles. The perk for keeping kids in line all day and refereeing battles with plastic combs was a free basic photo
package of your child.  And any parent who has paid for school pictures knows this is sweet swag, because school pics are pricey. And the marketing geniuses at these photo companies know how to sucker parents. They’d send home an enormous packet full of all kinds of glossy photos of your adorable, precious child. Big prints, small prints, wallet-sized prints, bookmarks, and heart-shaped keychain pics. And that was just the start!  If you went to their website, you could find a hundred more products to purchase, so that every living relative of yours could receive a mug, a calendar, or a magnet. And they made it difficult to simply buy one class photo and a 5” x 7” for your desk frame. Even the smallest packages had stuff you didn’t want, which is why we all have dusty boxes full of kid pictures stuffed away in our closets. (If you don’t, I’m impressed with your purging skills.)  But what I grasp now is that having our elementary kids line up each year at school on two occasions – for fall and spring pictures – was not really what we needed. Our kids were living in our houses then, and we saw them up close and personal every single day. To the point where we often closed our eyes, took some deep, cleansing breaths, and wished we could just disappear for an hour and NOT see their sweet, little faces.  Plus, we could take our own pictures of them any darn time we wanted – at their games, their performances, during spirit week, and on their birthdays. We had an overabundance of photo ops.
But now we’re college parents, and our kids aren’t living with us. We’re not closing our eyes in frustration, sneaking off for a little peace and quiet in our bathrooms. (Or was that just me?) We’re
closing our eyes and wishing that our kids were about to walk in the door and ask for a snack, just like they did when they were seven.  Many of us haven’t gotten more than a couple peace-sign selfies since they left home a month ago. We miss their faces, and right now I’d pay a ridiculous price for a picture of my smiling son on a mug, with cheesy, autumn trees Photoshopped in behind him.  It shouldn’t be too much to ask colleges for a fall photo of our kids. We won’t care about backgrounds -most of their campuses have beautiful architecture and green spaces at the ready. Is it too much to ask for one quick shot, in between classes? I’m willing to bet more of us would purchase a package now.  Let’s try this, college!  - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH

    Comment on Facebook

    Marybeth Loyd Bock this is too funny- takes me back - I still have those crazy plastic photo keychains! 😂

    Goodness, I’d love a glimpse of my college freshman “out in the wild”!

    I would LOVE this 💖

    22 hours ago
    CollegiateParent

    My daughter has been busy from morning till night with a flurry of activities to welcome new students to her college campus. There’s been mini golf on the lawn, epic games of giant Jenga, bingo nights, spa nights, dorm meetings, roommate bonding activities, and a class photo with every new student sporting their crisp class t-shirts in a beautiful shade of emerald, for they are the new green class of 2025.

    Except my daughter is actually a member of her school’s red class. The class of 2024.

    She is a sophomore returning to her campus as an Orientation Mentor, providing guidance, support and information to new students as they join the college community. She’s been tasked with supporting new students in a transition she never experienced in this traditional way.

    Her own first-year orientation was virtual due to the raging pandemic last fall. And while she was so grateful to be able to start her college experience on campus a year ago (many students didn't have that option), there were no in-person meet-ups, no class picnics and games on the lawn, and no roommate to share a new space and a new life with. Like most of the entering class of 2024, her college experience was lived through a computer screen and socially distanced small gatherings, grab-and-go meals and masked faces.

    My daughter is thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in (secondhand through the freshmen) the in-person college orientation she never had. Although she admits it’s bittersweet as she now realizes all that she — and all this year's sophomores — missed.

    (continue reading this blog post from No Sick Days For Mom—Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, Writer:
    www.collegiateparent.com/student-life/our-sophomores-are-still-new/ )
    ... See MoreSee Less

    My daughter has been busy from morning till night with a flurry of activities to welcome new students to her college campus. There’s been mini golf on the lawn, epic games of giant Jenga, bingo nights, spa nights, dorm meetings, roommate bonding activities, and a class photo with every new student sporting their crisp class t-shirts in a beautiful shade of emerald, for they are the new green class of 2025.  Except my daughter is actually a member of her school’s red class. The class of 2024.  She is a sophomore returning to her campus as an Orientation Mentor, providing guidance, support and information to new students as they join the college community. She’s been tasked with supporting new students in a transition she never experienced in this traditional way.  Her own first-year orientation was virtual due to the raging pandemic last fall. And while she was so grateful to be able to start her college experience on campus a year ago (many students didnt have that option), there were no in-person meet-ups, no class picnics and games on the lawn, and no roommate to share a new space and a new life with. Like most of the entering class of 2024, her college experience was lived through a computer screen and socially distanced small gatherings, grab-and-go meals and masked faces.  My daughter is thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in (secondhand through the freshmen) the in-person college orientation she never had. Although she admits it’s bittersweet as she now realizes all that she — and all this years sophomores — missed.  (continue reading this blog post from No Sick Days For Mom—Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, Writer:
https://www.collegiateparent.com/student-life/our-sophomores-are-still-new/ )

    Comment on Facebook

    CollegiateParent, thank you so much for this opportunity.

    SUCH good, practical, and wise advice here, Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, for any of our students, really. 💛

    Elizabeth, thank you so much. I appreciate that. ❤️

    Soooo true, all of this. Our sophomores are rediscovering, relearning, renegotiating the whole campus experience. Last year was tough, but I hope that last year's experience has made them stronger and more resilient to anything life throws at them this year. All strength to them! ❤️

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