Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 11
YOUR OWN FAMILIAR FRIEND
HERE is nothing so beautiful as a faithful friendship between two women. Nothing is quite so unselfish and nothing in life lasts quite so long. This friendship, however, must have the trial-test of years; it does not grow up in a day, or a night, but it is cemented and made perfect by the gradual learning of each to understand the other, by the willingness to help bear each other's burdens, and by that greatest of all virtues in friendship, the never asking a question, but the waiting until the confidence is given. Young girls very seldom form such friendships. They are, as I have said, the outgrowth of years of confidence, and you, who are sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, have not had the time to try, or be tried, to prove your worthiness as a friend. You look at me with a bit of indignation, and you tell me of "the dearest girl that ever lived," who sympathizes with you in everything, to whom you tell all your hopes and ambitions, who loves you dearly, and whom you have known exactly one week. You know it must be a real friendship because you were attracted at once, and because immediately you began to tell one another things that you wouldn't have had the other girls know—not for anything. And you think this friendship is going to last forever. You have planned it all out in your own mind. You two, after you leave school, are going to marry two brothers, the handsomest and best men that ever were born, and you are all going to live in one house, and you will tell each other everything and life will run along as smoothly as possible for both of you. That is what you say this week.
THE WEEK AFTER
Next week I ask after your bosom friend and you don't seem inclined to talk about her. When I insist upon hearing about this feminine Damon I hear that she has rather neglected you; that a new girl has come whom she finds more sympathetic, and you find to your horror that she has told her the secrets which you whispered, believing that they were as sacred as if they had been told in the confessional. But you brighten up a little and tell me that after all you suppose one must make mistakes, but that now you have discovered a real friend, one who loves you simply for yourself. She has such a lovely name, too. You think you never heard a more musical one—Florence. And then you show me the little notes she has written to you, notes that are as sentimental as possible, full of "darling" and "sweetest," and making protestations of love such as Romeo might have made to Juliet. And then you tell me how on your desk you find a rose from her; and you show me the ring you are wearing which is hers, and which she begs you to kiss every day. As a profound secret you hear from another girl that she has sent to the city and is having a locket made in the shape of a heart with her picture inside it, and that this will reach you on Easter Day. And then you look at me and say, "Isn't this beautiful? Isn't this real friendship?"
WHAT I THINK
I don't like to hurt your feelings by laughing at you, and I know, my dear, that you are quite in earnest, but this is all very silly. A veritable friendship between women doesn't express itself in that manner, and you are not old enough yet to have friends. The pleasant acquaintance among the girls will last a thousand times longer than that with the gushing admirer. Florence is as jealous as if she were your sweetheart, and you pride yourself on this. She writes you most despairing notes because some afternoon you take a walk with some other girl, or because you broke an engagement with her to go out with your mother. You think it is very desirable to be known among your girl friends as "Florence's crush," but if you will take a little trouble and inquire, you will find that you are only one among a number for whom Florence has expressed this great admiration at various times, and to whom she has shown this marvellous devotion. This may last three months or even a year, but great emotions have sudden endings, and some day you will be surprised to get a letter from Florence inclosing the photograph which you gave her, and begging you to return the little locket. That poor little locket! If you have the sense I credit you with you will wonder who the girl is who is going to get it next, for you may be very certain that it will answer for several people.
THE DANGER OF IT
The great dangers of such intimacies as I have described are that they wean a girl from her best friend, her mother, and that they induce her to be over-confidential and to tell the affairs of her home to one who is not of her own household. Then, too, by mincing up one's love as if it were a piece of citron, and giving a little of it here and a little of it there, there is left a portion not altogether desirable which is to be given to Prince Charming when he comes to claim his bride. I like a girl to have many girl-friends; I do not like her to have a girl-sweetheart. There are but two people in the world to whom a girl should give her confidence—the first is her mother, the second is her husband. To the first belongs her life while she is unmarried; after that she must find in her husband the one person to whom she can tell everything. And she is a very foolish woman if she ever whispers to either mother or woman-friend the confidential life of her husband and herself.
Many, very many girls may say, "Oh, it is very easy to say tell your mother everything, but suppose she doesn't care to hear it?" Now, I just want to ask you one question: Have you ever tried to make her your confidante? Have you ever tried to tell her how your life goes along, the acquaintances you make at school, what interests you. or even the little compliments that are paid you by young men, and about which you are, properly enough, a little shy? Don't be satisfied with one trial and feel repulsed because she happens to be too busy, or too much troubled about something else to pay strict attention to you, but instead, take another time, and when you try this and keep on trying you will gradually discover that she will grow interested, that you will have no more ardent partisan in your troubles and your happiness than she is, and no one who will give you better advice. If you are unfortunate enough not to be able to gain this consideration from your mother, then, my dear girl, keep your private affairs to yourself. Discuss everything else you want, from gowns to books, from pictures to sweetmeats, but do not tell to the rapturous girl-friend the story of your innermost life, or wear your heart upon your sleeve for every daw to peck at.
THE MANY DISAPPOINTMENTS
They will come surely, and you will be hurt again and again. While you believed-in Louise, or Florence, or Geraldine, you may have whispered how difficult it was for the home-people to save the money to have you take the music-lessons you so much desired. And then when Geraldine, or Louise, or Florence has turned the page that bears your name, you will be horrified to hear that this has been told all over the school. Very young girls seldom remember that there are obligations even after a friendship has ceased to exist, and that the greatest one of these is to force one's self to forget that which was told in confidence when life meant nothing unless you two were together. Too many girls are inclined to think themselves martyrs some time in their lives. The fancy for believing that they are ill-treated and misunderstood at home is a common expression of this martyrdom, and to the girl-friend this story of suffering is told with the keenest sort of pleasure. Now the suffering may consist in the fact that the martyr (?), after lounging all day reading a volume of poetry, was asked to take care of the baby for awhile, as nurse was busy in the kitchen, and mother must go down and see a visitor. And the martyr holds the baby carelessly, and the poor little tot cries because it is uncomfortable, while the happy victim of sixteen, who really enjoys her trouble, thinks what a sorry lot is hers that she should be taken from her beautiful poems and forced to be a slave.
For so she puts it. She never seems to realize that there is a thousand times as much poetry in helping her mother as there ever was in any volume published. Next day her confidante hears in most inflated terms the story of her suffering, and the confidante tells somebody else, and she tells somebody else, and some day—this is not only possible but I have known an actual case—the loving mother of a foolish girl is horrified to hear that she is credited with not treating her child well.
And all of this came through the overwrought imagination of a young girl who didn't know how to hold her tongue. You have said foolish things, and folly too often is really criminal. You have talked without thinking, and thoughtlessness has brought about a sad state of affairs. When will you learn to control your silly talk? When will you learn to be a womanly girl?
WHAT TO DO
Until you are quite old enough to comprehend that friendship is more than a name, and that the real friend is one that is tried and not found wanting, you will probably speak of all the girls you like, as your friends, meaning, of course, your acquaintances. Now, I want you to like each other, to be good comrades, but I think it will be wiser if you make this good-fellowship, in number at least, one of three or five, rather than two or four, for then you will not be so likely to discuss your private affairs, or to reach a state of sickly sentimentality that is as undesirable physically as it is mentally. Where there are three girls or five girls there is certain to be one who, healthy in mind and body, will laugh down any inclination to martyrdom, or any other nonsense that may exhibit itself. Possibly you think I am a little hardhearted. Indeed, my dear girl, I am not. Nobody grieves more sincerely than I do when a young girl loses her belief in her companions, but what I would like to do would be to suggest to her how to thoroughly enjoy these companions, and how to be so careful in her conduct with them that there will be no possibility of her being disillusioned.
When two girls are very intimate, and count out of this intimacy not only their own sisters but all their other friends, they are apt, unconsciously, to cultivate the faults of selfishness, of meanness, and to cause an undesirable morbidness to spring up. You think, perhaps, I shouldn't have used the word meanness, and yet I'll tell you why I say it. You two have a long talk together about everything and everybody, and consequently you do not hesitate to criticise severely every little fault, every little weakness of your neighbors, although you never stop to remember what was said about the mote and the beam. If it were not for this very great intimacy you would not dream of shaking ill of others; if nothing else restrained you the fear that what you say might be repeated would have much to do with making you careful, but this great friendship, so-called, permits you to give license to your tongue, and you do not hesitate to utter before your bosom friend words and opinions which you would be ashamed to have other people know even entered your mind. Too great intimacy begets too great familiarity. Books and stories are often giggled over between two girls, and affairs are discussed that if a third girl were present they would never dream of referring to.
THE RIGHT KIND
I have been talking to you about the foolish and the wrong kind of a friend, but you must not suppose for a minute that there is not a sensible and a right friend. She can be as jolly and as full of fun as possible; you and she can read together, walk together, play on the same side in the out-door games and find much joy in each other's society. But this companion won't show a ridiculous jealousy because you happen to walk to-day with some other girl and to-morrow take tea with another one. No, on the contrary, she will be delighted to hear what a good time you have been having, and if she has been the one to have the good time she will tell you about it, and how she wished, earnestly and honestly, that you were along. She will never tell you of the affairs of her home, and be very certain that she will not write love-letters to you, or make you think yourself a much-abused young woman because you have some duties in life to perform. She will be a pleasant acquaintance, careful never to grow sufficiently familiar to give or accept any rudeness, and quite as careful not to listen or talk about anything that does not concern her. You will find that you can rely upon her, that she will not run to you with every unpleasant thing she hears, and that if the day of sadness comes and she is near you, she will try and console you. As the years go by you will be surprised to discover that the girl you thoroughly liked has become the friend with whom you are on the most affectionate terms, while she who adored you for a day or a year has either entirely forgotten you, or else when you meet her again you are amazed that you could have cared for a woman who seems so foolish.
A good friend is a blessing straight from Heaven, but it is a blessing like a beautiful flower: it does not bloom all at once, but requires continual care. It will not stand rough handling or neglect. You must be gentle and considerate; you must allow to it the same individual life that you have yourself, and while you may differ it must be without the utterance of unkind words. You must never permit anyone to speak ill of your friend to you, and if something should seem to come between you, a coldness for which you can find no cause, then the good friend will seek out the other, discover the reason, and clearly explain away whatever has seemed wrong. Just be a little careful, and in electing who shall be close to you choose that girl whom in the years to come you can still call by that sweet old name, your "own familiar friend."