Some Thoughts About Female Friendship, Courtesy of Balzac


I guess I didn’t need to stress so hard yesterday about paying my dues with a ‘book-related’ post. But I did enjoy revisiting all of the historical fiction I used to read.

Today’s post is kind of random, very vaguely book-adjacent (or more specifically, book-inspired).  There was a line in Balzac’s Cousin Bette that really made me think and reflect on some of my friendships. I’m not going to bother to find it because I know Iw on’t be able to unless I reread the 300-something pages I’ve gotten through so far.

In the novel, there is a friendship between two women, the titular Cousin Bette and a courtesan named Valerie.  The line I was struck by described Cousin Bette as attending an intimate dinner being given by Valerie so as to say all the kind and admiring things about Valerie that Valerie couldn’t say about herself.  So it’s the 19th century and Cousin Bette is essentially acting as a wingman.  The situation echoed so many in my own experience, when I’ve done similar things for my own friends (without really consciously deciding to) and when I’ve noticed them doing the same for (often in spite of not approving of the guy I’ve been interested in).  Some things never change.

It got me started thinking about how I show love for my friends, thinks that I hope I do and things that I appreciate being done for me.

  1. Praising and admiring your friend for all of their accomplishments, their stunning beauty, and faultless character (whether they’re there or not), because no one can decently talk that way about themselves.  Just think, what would Cousin Bette do? (Disclaimer: Cousin Bette is not a nice woman. Consider this question only in very specific circumstances).
  2. When my college roommate Lily was meeting my cousin Megan (who I’ve been very close to, even though we live far apart), I remember her saying “Anyone who is important to you is important to me.”
    This will probably stay with me more than anything Balzac has ever written.  I think there’s some kind of unspoken friendship associative property.  If you have a friend who wants to share something (or someone) with you and it is important to them… then it’s important to you. By definition.
  3. I think there’s also a converse/negative side to the point above. If your friend doesn’t like something or someone, or if someone behaves dishonorably toward your friend (Hello, I’ve been reading too much Balzac), you defend them with your life.  Maybe don’t take my advice on this one, because I have a tendency to take it too far.  I definitely went off on someone in high school because they made a loud and rude comment about forgetting my best friend’s name (It’s Gabriella).
    There are also people who have been terrible to my friends who I’m just waiting for the chance/opportunity to slap. The time will come.  Maybe at the 50th class reunion. Friendship is forever.
  4. Validation. You know how we were just singing our friends’ praises to everyone who would listen (and even some people who wouldn’t) during number one? Well, I think you also have to do it directly to your friend when no one else is around. Having a good friend is a daily affirmation that you are important and loved. So why not make that overt text in your relationship rather than subtext? From “You matter” to “You are enough” to validating your friend’s feelings even when they’re completely ridiculous and out of all proportion (Thanks Gabriella for listening to me sob for half an hour after someone stole the three acorn squash I was growing, you are an angel)- support is important.
  5. Relying on your friend is also a big deal and it’s something I have a harder time with, being a kind of private person (and also too proud for my own good).  I think a lot of people believe that the way to make themselves invaluable and irreplaceable as a friend is to make the other person rely on them.  And I believed this for a really long time and pretty much lived by it. My goal was to be as light a burden as possible on other people and take care of them to the greatest extent possible. And then either my mom or my therapist told me I was being stupid (I don’t remember which- but I think it was Mom).
    People like to feel necessary, helpful, and important.  Asking your friend for support and kindness when you need it is a favor to them as much as it is to you. I know it’s trite, but relationships are a two way street. Refusing to burden your friends with details of your life is actually kind of selfish because it forces them into the position of being the ‘needy one’ in the relationship. And that’s no fun.
    So that’s something I’m working on.
  6. It’s the thought that counts.
    It’s really pleasant to know that someone is thinking of you and actually listens to you. When people send you links or objects that actually coincide with your interest or relate to an experience that you’ve shared together, that’s a really nice feeling.

And if I were an advice columnist/life coach, that would be my two cents.

PS- Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of a pair of lady friends who actually support each other? C’est vraiment difficile!
I ended up going with Picnic at Hanging Rock because- aesthetic. Still annoyed by the lack of diversity, which is not my aesthetic.


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