Like Humans Do

August 1st, 2007

As is usually the case, I’m the last person in the world to read Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, in addition to Winter’s Tale, which oh my God, could I take any longer with this book? I’m enjoying it so much that I’m savoring it like a butterscotch, which is … well, it’s a little ridiculous, is what it is. Anyway, Pledged. Honestly, I’ve written about my sorority experience briefly before, and I guess what shocks me about this book is that really, the “secret” life of sororities? What, exactly, is she exposing here that’s new and unexpected? Girls can be incredibly mean — crueler than cruel, actually, in very subtle, destructive ways — and peer pressure is an unparalleled bitch, especially in such a creepy, self-contained environment where mere adolescents are given far too much power over one another. It’s like Lord of the Flies: Collegiate Edition. We know.

But is this honestly new? The way the writer presents it as investigative journalism really burns my buns, because anyone who’s been a woman knows what girls are like, and if you don’t, well, you were probably too busy playing the oboe in high school AND college (a wise choice, my friends), unlike those of us who gave up the hobby for our post-secondary adventures in order to secure our place in the land of boot-cut pants and Georgia boots (the black oiled leather with the stacked heel was a must-have in 1995). And the promiscuity, drugs and … promiscuity? Well, yeah. It was a free-for-all, and boyfriends were, at least in my albeit limited experience, discouraged, because they took time away from your sisters, unless he was an athlete, because athletes meant you could potentially worm your way into a position as an NBA or NFL wife, and plenty of my contemporaries did (I went to a Division I school). No no, it was much better to have a series of meaningless one-night stands and hook-ups, because then, at least, you could continue to participate in Screw Your Sisters and it left you free to wrangle a date to Paddy Murphy if your sister wants some company.

And public blow jobs weren’t the horror show they should have been back then. I have the distinct recollection of walking in on a particularly blow-job-happy girl I knew– who was, ironically, a virgin and quite proud of it, but … well, oral sex didn’t count, did it? Especially not if you did it everywhere but the bedroom! — having her way with a dude from the fraternity next door in the middle of their living room, and while it raised a few eyebrows, it was nowhere near the over-the-top outrage it would garner today, because, well, that’s generally frowned upon in adulthood, thank God.

(I feel compelled to point out that for the most part, that wasn’t me. I wasn’t particularly slutty, and in fact, I did have steady boyfriends, despite my sisters’ protests, however, I will readily admit, albeit sheepishly, that the boyfriends were in acceptable fraternities, which was the other kind of boyfriend it was okay to have. I don’t know, just in case my male readers erroneously start lining up for free blow jobs or something. Um, what?)

I’ve covered this before, and I don’t mean to go on, it’s just that I feel like calling Alexandra Robbins on the phone and screaming, “NO SHIT. THE SKY IS ALSO BLUE.” I also question her position as an outsider, because it was much, much worse than she could have even seen for those of us who lived it. I realize not everyone had this experience, but for many of us, that’s what it was, but again, this is SO NOT NEW. The sad truth, however, is that I simply wish that I’d written it, because God, if stating the obvious lands you on the top of the NY Times best seller list, I’m all over it.

Breaking news: Florida has good oranges, and sometimes? They’re sweet. I ask you, where’s my Pulitzer?

This reminds me of an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with a friend about alpha females. You know the type. The girl that no one really likes, but everyone claims to like, because she bulldozes over everyone by intimidating the pants off of them. Or the one who’s so confident in her position as Greatest Female Ever that she convinces everyone of this fact by merely playing the part so loudly that you’re afraid to challenge her. One of the greatest things about adulthood is that so many people have finally outgrown this phase, and if they haven’t, fleh, you can avoid them, or at least compartmentalize them into situations where they cannot be avoided. (Work always seems to be flush with alpha females.)

I’m sorry. I don’t know how I got here. The great irony in all of this is that while I’ve just spent the better part of God knows how long discussing the pitfalls of female relationships, the truth is, I like women quite a bit, and am entirely a woman’s woman, through and through. While I treasure my male friends, there’s something so special about a bond between women, provided there’s no competition. Because, as I’ve stated before, the myth that there’s only enough talent, brains and beauty to go around is exactly that: a myth. If you’re pretty, I can be pretty too. Oh my God, you wrote a book? That does not mean that I can’t write one, too, because I can, because the world is remarkably generous that way, Thank God.

Generally speaking, and quite paradoxically, I’m distrustful of women who claim to prefer the company of men, as I assume there’s a fear of competition from other women, or at least complete distrust of other women. I always assume this is the type of woman who could become an alpha female if she cared what other women thought. I am, of course, willing to be proven wrong, and have been on several occasions. God knows that my sorority experience was enough to turn anyone against female friendships, if one never had the experience of decent ones.

I think what made that time of my life so incredibly hard was that I compared myself to everyone else. I cared about my status within the house, and I quite readily sized my life up next to the sisters who were very likely doing the same to me, and I hated what I saw, every time, because it just didn’t fit, and the thing is, I don’t think it fit anyone, which is why it was so miserable. If you’re happy with your life and your choices — truly happy — then you don’t very much care what anyone else is doing, except to be happy for them. God, that was such a hard lesson to learn ; probably the hardest, in fact, and yet it’s been the most important of all.

Should I break into Kumbaya now or later? Jesus, again, I’m really sorry, because wow, I’m just rambling about nothing. Incidentally, I still have my pin, despite deactivating. I’m thinking when I die, they’ll hunt me down for it.

Tomorrow, by the way, is my fourth anniversary — a fact that Adam and I remembered while driving back home from lunch with Lawyerish — which means, ha HA!, we have no gifts, but we are, at least, going out to dinner to a fancypants favorite restaurant. Gifts are in two weeks. Don’t laugh, but we have, thus far, stuck with gifts loosely based on the traditional/modern list, which we’ve surprisingly enjoyed. Thus far, there’s been handbags and Moleskins and beautiful stationary for me, and wallets and briefcases and watches for him. But this year? Fruit and flowers or APPLIANCES? Jesus. I’ve no idea. And while I’m yearning for a Dyson Animal, I’m really not going to be all that thrilled if it arrives with a big bow on it, is what I’m saying.

Happy Thursday!

*David Byrne

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29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jana  |  August 1st, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Jeez, I am so glad I went to a school where hardly anyone went Greek. It sounds like “middle school, version 2.0”. And happy anniversary….hope you get to eat something yummy!

  • 2. Carolyn J.  |  August 1st, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    I’m a woman who prefers the company of men, and I certainly don’t feel like an alpha woman. It was the alphas that tired me of female company and all the bitchiness, gossip and two-facedness (is that a word? I don’t think so) that went with it. I will admit my sample size is depressingly small, and that I’ve met many nice friendly women on the Internet, including yourself.

    Plus, as you’ve said, it’s REALLY hard to make friends after leaving school.

  • 3. jonniker  |  August 1st, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Carolyn: I had a specific type of woman who prefers the company of men in mind — you probably know the type. The girl who is only friends with men because they give her the attention she craves, and God knows, no other women can horn in on that action, because THEY ARE COMPETITION. WE CANNOT ALL BE PRETTY. I AM THE PRETTIEST.

    That’s what I often sense, and what I was thinking. That doesn’t strike me as you, or many of the other women who prefer men. I should have thought of that.

    Oh, and dude, YES. Although did I tell you I’m friends with the girl I asked out? Hooray! But still. That brings my female friends down here to a grand total of two. Stop the presses.

  • 4. Christine  |  August 1st, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    I know the girl who only enjoys the company of men well. Indeed my roommate the first semester of law school was one such woman. The first night we met she told me she only had guy friends. She had only made friends with one female in her entire life. We were close for a while, and then because we had been waiting on apartment building management to move us from a one bedroom to a two for over 3 months I told her I was going to move out. And she stopped speaking to me completely. I moved out the weekend my uncle died. I couldn’t deal with that type of ridiculousness.

    The truth of the matter was that she didn’t like anyone. Men she got along with because she was gorgeous and for a few months she could feel close to someone who would moon over her. Once that moved into real relationship territory that was done too.

    I really wish her well, because man, she made things hard on herself.

    But, I wouldn’t have classified her as an alpha female. Just someone with bad social tendencies who was also beautiful and had figured she could exploit that. Man I ramble. But yeah. She is (in my mind) the typical person who says they don’t get along with members of their own sex. I’d be willing to bet it works this way when men say they don’t get along with other guys too.

  • 5. AndreAnna  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 5:17 am

    Since there was little greek life at my college, I have almost nothing valuable to comment on, except, holy cow, do I love my Dyson Animal. 😉 But, like you said, it’s more of a “Hey, Happy Tuesday” gift, rather than an anniversary gift.

  • 6. p|b  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 5:31 am

    So why then do people still cling to this college experience? I’d rather take a beating. Daily. I remember things the way you described them, and I am so glad that people were wrong when they said college would be the best time of my life. Its now. And I love every minute of it.

    In the mean time, you pointed out the workplace is chalkbfull of alpha females… WHY?? Its no wonder I hide in my cubicle! They arebsp obnoxious!

  • 7. TwoBusy  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 5:59 am

    Happy Anniversary!

  • 8. Lawyerish  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 6:06 am

    I had no idea this was the anniversary for appliances — how fitting, then, that we renovated our kitchen just in time for our fourth. The Dyson Animal counts as romantic if it comes with a pledge by the hubbers to do all the vaccuuming for a year. And honestly, he will want to. That’s how much that thing rules.

    You know my feelings about the Alpha Female. And I totally agree about the girl who only has guy friends. I have male friends, and have gravitated to them at times when I couldn’t deal with the Lord of the Flies female machinations; but ultimately I am always drawn back to girlfriends. The women I know who like to announce to the world that they are only friends with guys tend to be (1) insufferable and (2) extremely attractive (which is why guys don’t find them insufferable). Such a good point.

    Although, of course, I’m not saying if you’re a girl and have guy friends it’s wrong, etc. This is just my experience.

  • 9. Tessie  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 6:08 am

    I loved Greatest Female Ever. Hehe.

    But I agree that I ran into far more Alpha Females at Swank Public Accounting Firm than I ever did at Swank Major Texas University. I think since the Greek system was SO huge there, you actually saw more diversity in the types of people who participated.

  • 10. Jamie  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 6:17 am

    In high school, I was so in awe of girls that were comfortable enough around guys to call them friends. I wanted what they had. Then in college, I realized that all the women I knew* that claimed to only hang out with guys were just wildly insecure, and clung to men for physical affirmation and a steady, WYSIWYG environment. It was easier than befriending women. They were too scared to risk it all on something unpredictable, i.e. relationship with their gendered peers, and really, who can blame them?

    * Just noting what I’ve observed from my own life, not passing judgment on this group universally.

  • 11. Leane  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 6:55 am

    I almost joined a sorority..was close..but backed out. I didn’t like being told what to do and when to do it..and that side of me would never have made it through. One of my college roommates pledged a sorority and would be awakened in the middle of the night etc. which seemed like no fun to me. I guess I had too much rebel in me for that..In highschool I was like Jamie–had a hard time being “friends” with all the guys..especially the cute ones. They made me nervous. Heck when they LIKED me..it made me nervous back then. Thank god for adulthood.

  • 12. claire  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 7:07 am

    well that’s very interesting. i never really examined those friendships that way.
    I used to have a lot of very close male friends – much more so than women friends and i certainly never thought of myself as an alpha female. in fact, far from it.
    I may even have to agree with what Jamie is saying about being ‘wildly insecure’ with myself and finding that the male friends in my life were way less judgmental than the girlfriends i had. I was very sick of the cattiness that seemed to be a part of my female friendships and found the guys to be a lot more supportive. It wasn’t always about the physical affirmation, either, though occasionally, yes, it did help. i’m not above admitting that.
    I suppose everyone is different and has different experiences, but even now, i find that my friendships with men are a lot more secure than the ones with women – because they tend to NEED to be the prettiest, smartest, most accomplished. Also, the men don’t seem to mind if you drop off the face of the planet for months on end and show up out of nowhere wanting to have coffee. The women seem to get offended that you’re not constantly keeping them up to date on what is going on with your life. Just an observation, there.

    Happy Anniversary!

  • 13. karamarie  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 7:08 am

    Are you totally excited for the Tin/Aluminum anniversary? Because I know I am. Think of the possibilities! (All my imagined possibilities have to do with home-made robots.) Exciting!

  • 14. Melis  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 7:23 am

    It’s only in my mid/late twenties that I started really bonding with women. In high school and college I was mostly friends with men, not because I’m insecure or beautiful, but rather because I’m neither of those things. Young women can be particularly vicious, especially to a geeky band/theater-nerd with a physical disability. I was friends with boys because they treated me normally, as one of the guys, despite my bookish nature and the fact that I limped and walked with a cane; these things were never issues for them. I was never a love interest and never expected to be. I was content to be free of the competition and cattiness that my friendships with women involved as a high school and college student.

    Fortunately, as I’m now teetering on the edge of 30, my friendships with women have much improved. I still sometimes feel closer with me, my best friend is a man, but I’ve met some amazing women over the past five or so years and fully expect to meet even more.

  • 15. jonniker  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 8:36 am

    It’s interesting. First of all, to be clear, I don’t mean that women who have male friends are all damaged in some way — no, no, to the contrary, for I have many male friends — I was speaking specifically to the type of woman who publicly, either by actions or words, proclaims a dislike for female friends due to their complications and cattiness. And, as I mentioned, even within this subset, there are variations that are better/worse than others and EVEN THEN, I’m not intending to categorize ALLLLLL women who fit this category.

    However, that being said, I was burned very, very badly by girls when I was younger – terribly in high school, and again in college – but it didn’t turn me off of females altogether, so it’s interesting to me how many people cling to that notion in adulthood. For my part, I eventually learned that those friendships were damaged because of who the people were, not because of their gender.

    This does not, however, relieve me of my pure bald terror of having a daughter, because oh, those periods where girls are jockeying for position and being cruel really stick with you, in one way or another.

  • 16. Artemisia (a.k.a. Sagebrushy)  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Happy Anniversary! I hope you guys have a great evening together!

    I, for one, would do a freakin’ cartwheel if I woke up to find a shiny, purple Dyson Animal vacuum with a bow.

    Do you guys like espresso? It’s ridiculously expensive, but I have been daydreaming about the Francis! Francis! X1 Espresso machine FOR YEARS. It’s a pretty little appliance that is available in lots of colors!!

    Your post about female relationships is really interesting. I have female friends, just not groups of them (no Sex in the City group breakfasts in my world). I think any kind of group setting introduces a different dynamic?

  • 17. Mandee  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Ironically, I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon for my 10 year reunion with my pledge class–a group of very diverse women. I went to a small, liberal arts school and have said a million times I never would have survived Greek life at our Division I state university. It was a totally different experience for me.

    And you hit the nail on the head with the attention seeking of the all-male-friend-female.

    Happy Anniversary!

  • 18. Laurel  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Oh the sorority thing…I guess it depends on what type of greek system was at your school. I was president of my sorority and the reaction I normally get from people is, “Really?! YOU? No way.” Mostly because I happen to look homeless when I’m trying to dress warm, I am incredibly tactless–and oh yeah, once went to work without pants on.

    But I understand what you mean about being friends with women–I went to an all-girl high school, did the sorority thing, and am now working in an office where I am the only girl. I feel completely out of my element even though all the gossipy, passive-agresseive backstabbing is obsolete here. I guess that’s why I feel compelled to watch trash like “Laguna Beach.”

  • 19. guinness girl  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Ha – thanks for writing your review of Pledged, because I’ve been tempted to buy it! I definitely think you should write about Florida’s oranges being juicy and sweet. That’s the sort of expose the world needs, my friend.

    Happy Anniversary!

  • 20. elise  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Hmm, so now I guess I need to read the Pledged book given that we had such similar responses to Prep.

    Or DO I? Now there’s a thought. Happy anniversary!

  • 21. ali  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Funny you should write this – I’ve been considering lately that I always thought of myself as a girl/woman who was better at making guy friends. Even though I’ve maintained close friendships with my closest childhood friends (who are girls) for more than 20 years. After my husband and I got married and started the supper club thing I always dreaded the great divide point of the evening, when I would gaze longingly toward the Y-chromosome-rich side of the room. But lately, and I don’t really know why, maybe it’s the mommy thing but I don’t think that’s all of it, I’ve started to embrace the girl time. A very dear – and relatively new – friend of mine is moving away next week and I think she’s had a lot to do with teaching me that friendships with women don’t have to – and shouldn’t – be about competition. {sigh} I’ll miss her.

  • 22. ali  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    OK – sorry – just read the comments. I am the mother of a daughter and it is scary. She’s not quite three and I can already see the mean girl crap happening. I dread it SO much. Reminds me of all the times the mean/cool girl in my neighborhood would call and invite me to meet her at the tennis courts to play school and not show up. After I dragged my sad ass up there with all my school-playing paraphrenalia. And why did I have so much of it?

  • 23. Mauigirl52  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    I used to have a director at work who was one of those alpha females I guess. She always looked at women up and down as if checking out what they were wearing in order to reassure herself she was much more stylish. And she fawned over the men in our group. She had no real female friends, at least not at work. She was very intimidating to me back then.

    Re: sororities. I was very insecure in high school because I was not one of the “popular” kids, so when I chose a college I purposely looked for one that did not have sororities. I figured if I was going to be rejected, at least I shouldn’t pick a school that already had a system in place to do it. 😉

  • 24. Leah  |  August 2nd, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    I’ve always considered myself a girl who gets along best with guys, but now that I think about it, it’s more likely a case of “I only have two friends and both of them happen to be men.” I just don’t…get along well with most people, I guess. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, considering the reasons why. See, when I’m friends with someone, I need to be REALLY CLOSE friends (hang out all the time, share all our secrets, etc.) and, frankly, that takes up so much time and energy that I can’t afford to have more than just a few friends. Hell, I can’t seem to have a phone conversation that lasts less than two hours, even with the (long-distance) (guy) friend I talk to once a week. Maybe I’m drawn to men because, unlike women, they’re less likely to have competition in the form of a dozen other high-maintenance girlfriends? Hmmm.

  • 25. -R-  |  August 3rd, 2007 at 6:12 am

    I am with you on that certain type of woman who proclaims that she can never be friends with a woman. I am equally annoyed by that certain type of woman who says that a woman can NEVER be “just friends” with a man and forbids her male significant other from having female friends.

  • 26. Suebob  |  August 3rd, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Most of my friends since age 12 or so have been men. It’s not that I need their attention or that there is any sexual attraction. Guys seem more fun and interesting to me. I hate most of the things that many women seem to like to do – shopping, chatting on the phone, talking about clothes/hair/makeup, gossiping, so a lot of the charms of female companionship are lost on me – I feel like an impostor.

    That being said, I do have female friends. But I don’t have those kind of BFF, talk-on-the-phone-everyday and share my deepest secrets with kinds of friends. My sis was always my best pal.

  • 27. Maya  |  August 3rd, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    My friends, by and large, since I was…oh, four – have ALL BEEN GUYS. I didn’t have a real girl friend until I was about ten or twelve, and we are still friends, great friends, up to this day. Perhaps not surprisingly, we have a very boy-like friendship – no calls/emails for months or even years, and than Poof! we get back together and it’s like nothings’ ever happened.

    My preference for guys as friends was well established by the time all the stinky, mean, snarky girl stuff started happening – amazingly enough, I actually made a couple more girl friends at that time as well. Still, my ‘adopted brothers’, as I call them, and now many of their wives, and I, are near and dear to each other to this day. I was lucky in a couple of arenas, though – I played a lot of sports and was pretty used to the mean things that girls do and say by high school that they didn’t bother me too much.

    These days, though my sister and a couple of girl friends do quite nicely for me – I find it more difficult these days to chat with my guy buddies about how crazy the kid/no kid thing is making me, etc. So I guess I’ve come round to some of your views after all.

  • 28. Meg  |  August 6th, 2007 at 9:25 am

    I’ve got a best female friend and a best male friend. Isn’t that egalitarian of me? Thank you, I know.

    I’ve gone through phases where I was closer to my guy friends and closer to my girl friends, and there were so many different factors at work there that I’m pretty sure it was just how things went, and not competitiveness or disdain for either gender or the need to watch football vs. shopping for shoes.

    Because I know some men who love them the shoes!

    When all my girlfriends were getting married, sometimes the single guys I knew were a respite from all the details and stresses of a process I could help the ladies through, but never completely understand because I hadn’t been through it yet.

    They were a bit easier after the news about infertility, too… that information wasn’t so charged or personal for the men, and it didn’t seem to make them feel awkward around me in the same way (literally 90% of my girlfriends had just had kids in the two years prior.) More matter of fact.

    I guess men just cope differently at times, and I need that. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my girls, but my boys bring something special to the table that I am very thankful for.

  • 29. Andrea  |  August 9th, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I’m a little late to this party. I married into a family with two alpha females. One the matriarch of the family and one poised to take her place, as the matriarch is getting on in years. I have learned dealing with them each thusly: ignore them. Their superiority is only true if it is believed. I stopped believing and while it has made me a bit of a black sheep in the matriarch’s eyes, it has upped my value in the future matriarch’s eyes. But by my very own nature of not believing they are superior as they feel they are, I don’t really give a hoot if they like or dislike me. Sure I care about their opinions to an extent; they’re my husband’s family and he cares about them. I try to look beyond the superiority they exude and it mostly works. Sure there are points where I wish they would just shut up and go away, but dealing with them has become easier as I have learned not to get bent out of shape by them. But there were years where I was miserable, comparing myself and coming up short of their expectations. It was only when I realized I wasn’t living up to my own expectations in sacrifice for their expectations that I was able to let go a little bit and breathe. But yeah, I get the alpha female bit. More than I wish I did.

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