friendships – then and now

Ilene’s Story: Friends – Then and Now

Friendship confused me for much of my life. Looking back on my
youth, I realize that I fell deeply in love with my girlfriends.
I took friendship to heart, with unwavering loyalty. When my
best friend in elementary school became seriously ill, I wanted
desperately to visit and comfort her daily – yet she often refused.
She died without my being able to say goodbye.

Other girls had different expectations than mine, and that caused
me a great deal of pain. At camp they rolled their eyes when I
wouldn’t join the gang and “short sheet” the boys’ beds. “It
isn’t right,” I told them. From then on, I was the “goody goody” –
no longer part of the inner circle.

The topic of friendship often brought tears to my eyes. My dream
was to be a “regular girl,” chatting and giggling with friends like
everyone else – to find my way back to the “in” group.

As an adult, this fantasy has become real at times, but I’ve
discovered an understanding of friendship that proves to be much
more rewarding. Only one criterion counts for me in a friendship:
the quality of the woman’s heart. If she is motivated by love, I
welcome her into my heart unabashedly. Our differences intrigue
and delight me; our similarities deepen compatibility and comfort.
The pain I bore for decades no longer plagues me. Concerns about
who calls whom have disappeared. I understand that we may have
different needs, different rhythms, and different demands on our
lives. I can accept these realities easily now. Because acceptance
and closeness eluded me for so long, I cherish my friendships deeply.

To celebrate my sixtieth birthday, I honored my friends with a
gourmet luncheon. I went around the large table acknowledging each
one, sharing how their beautiful hearts have touched my life.
Once again I felt deep love but now with no expectations. What
they are is all I want them to be.


Stepping Stones: Reflecting on Friendships

Ilene has written poignantly about her friendships, as a child,
as a teenager, as an adult and as a woman celebrating mid-life.

** Do you see yourself when you read Ilene’s story? Where? When?

Women’s friendships can be very complicated. Friends, even the
best of friends, are not always all on the same page at the same
time. What we need from each other, and the intensity and
frequency of these needs, may lead to misunderstandings. Sometimes,
depending on what else is going on in our lives, being close to
women friends may have more impact than at other times

** Are your present relationships with women where you want them
to be?
** Do your friends respect your need for closeness or distance as
life’s circumstances change?

Friendships change throughout our lives. When we are young, we
need friends to help us form our identity. As adolescents, who we
are depends a great deal on what we see reflected in our friends’
eyes. We are sensitive to every nuance, every perceived betrayal.
We look at other girls to see if we are enough like them, popular,
in the “cool” crowd. Our author speaks to the insecurities we may
have at that moment in time.

** What were some of the feelings you had when you were younger
that may have shaped your attitude about friendship?

As we mature and develop a stronger sense of self, how others see
us becomes less important. We recognize that no one friend is able
to answer all of our needs. When we come to know and appreciate
ourselves, we focus more on compatibility, trust, empathy, and
respect as characteristics of friends. As we experience life
transitions we still need our friends for support, validation
and comfort.

** In what ways have your experiences changed your ideas about
** How does knowing yourself and what you need impact the quality
of your relationships with women?

Shelley Taylor, Ph.D., a Professor of Psychology at U.C.L.A.,
recently wrote “The Tending Instinct,” a book highlighting the
value of women’s friendships. Her research indicates that women
are biologically programmed to “tend and befriend” each other.
Dr. Taylor found that when women are stressed, they respond with
nurturing behavior – toward their children, their spouse, their
parents, their friends – and with behavior seeking interactions
with other women. Dr. Taylor reminds us to appreciate women’s
friendships as she points out their significance to society, to
the workplace, to good health.

** How do you feel when you reach out to befriend?
When others befriend you?
** What do you experience when you tend?
When others tend to you?

Ilene has found that, for herself, the most valuable quality of a
woman friend is a “beautiful heart.”

** What qualities are important to you in your friendships today:
Sharing feelings about challenges you are facing?
Exchanging practical information?
Enjoying companionship?
Having someone there who truly understands and accepts you as
you are?

Ilene found an occasion to honor her friends and her feelings
about them.

** Is this something you would want to do?
** How do you think that would affect you?
** How do you think your friends would react if you were to tell
them how much they mean to you?


Recommended Resources: Books & Websites to Explore

Your favorite brick and on-line bookstores have many books about
women’s friendships. You may want to browse among the titles to
see what resonates for you. Here are a few titles that we have

Shelley E. Taylor, Ph.D.”The Tending Instinct: How Nurturing
is Essential to Who We Are and How We Live.” This book is a
ground-breaking synthesis of research about females, both human
and animal, and the impact of their caretaking on society.

Terri Apter, Ph.D. and Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D. “Best Friends:
The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships.”
The authors explore the bonds of friendship between women and
the sorrows and joys they experience together.

Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger, “The Botox Diaries.”
This is an entertaining novel about the friendship and adventures
of two women turning forty.

Ilene Val-Essen, Ph.D., the author of the story in this issue of
our newsletter, has developed a website that she is as committed
to as her friendships, .
You may want to visit it to learn more about Ilene, her programs and
her book for parents, “Bring Out the Best – In Your Child and Yourself.”


IV. Our Invitation to You

Do you have your own transition story? We invite you to
share it with our readers for the benefit of women who
themselves may be dealing with similar changes. The skills you
used may be Stepping Stones for others. If you are interested,
please e-mail us at

(c) HerMentorCenter, 2004