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Why I’d Be Absolutely Lost Without My Girl Gang

I wouldn’t want to live without them.

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Woman in different scenes (moving, doctor appointment, funeral) with friends showing up to help
Nicole Suk
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It was either the suicide hotline or Lynn. I’d been crying on the bathroom floor for over an hour after a fight with one of my adult children that felt like an endless loop of love, miscommunication, failure and blame.

Lynn answered on the first ring. Thirty minutes of snot, tears and wise counsel later, I picked myself up off the cold tiles and delivered an Instagram Live keynote presentation for my job.

It wasn’t the first time. It was more like the 500th time. Lynn and I met in ninth grade. She was blonde and beautiful, yet so kindly, I couldn’t be jealous, even when she dated the football team captain and got into Stanford. Two decades later, we birthed children 72 hours apart in the same hospital. Hers was the phone number I dialed when the mammogram showed black dots. Here’s my pithiest description: “You know those friends you can ignore for six months and then call sobbing at 5 a.m.? She’s one of those.”

In other words, part of my girl gang. I’m not sure life is survivable without one.

Take Rachel, my closest college friend. Rachel’s eyes grew wide when I confessed my first husband had started beating me — and then she sympathized and kept my secret until I was ready to ask for help. A few years later, once I was safely out, she had trouble getting pregnant; I was the first person she asked to fill out the adoption reference questionnaire. Although my mother’s funeral was a tiny, family-only event, Rachel showed up quietly in the back row of the chapel as I read the eulogy for the most complicated woman I’ve ever known. Years later, once life had returned to mundane issues like cooking nightly for a family of four, I ordered her an air fryer, without mentioning it. 

Weeks later, she was in her kitchen one morning, musing, “I could really use an air fryer to make dinner tonight.” Ten minutes later, her doorbell rang with my unexpected, impossibly huge box.

I met Angie at 13, because we unknowingly shared a boyfriend, which is actually a surefire way to bond with another female. After college, we spent a long, sweaty day moving her out of another cheating boyfriend’s house while he was at work, one of us frantically loading the U-Haul in the alley while the other kept watch out front. Ten years ago, when I was in my physically safer but equally miserable second marriage, she put her hand on my forearm and quietly told me, “You don’t need anyone’s permission to leave him.”

K.C., whom I met in corporate America, reminds me to negotiate for more money every time I sign a contract. Nurse Kay decrypted sexually transmitted diseases and condom brands when I became single at 49. Brooke leaves voicemail messages better than a therapist. And there’s research brainiac Trish, whom we rely upon to recommend the safest minivan, most romantic first-date restaurant, best infertility doctors and most trustworthy divorce lawyers.

The truth is, women are built for sisterhood. Imagine going into childbirth 800 years ago, without an ob-gyn, hope of Pitocin or an epidural. We needed a gang of women who had survived labor to get through ours. We still need each other to learn to care for our uniquely female bodies, to cook, to breastfeed, to outline the pitch for our next raise, pick out a relative’s casket, wrangle unruly teenagers, prepare a résumé when you’ve been a stay-at-home mom for a decade. I can’t imagine reinventing the wheel, alone, with any of these challenges.

At times, I wonder how — and why — men go through life without such easy access to the emotional support and savvy smarts of a girl gang. Maybe that’s why men veer toward ill-conceived decisions like marrying someone 30 years younger or going skydiving at 69. Sometimes it strikes me that, although I’ve spent my life looking for soul mates, the only truly reliable romance has been with my female friends — that indispensable sisterhood.

And what about the piped pipers of the mega girl gangs? The women who founded Ms. magazine in 1972. Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Activist Alyssa Milano. The women who formed domestic violence shelters in nearly every community in our country in the 1960s. The ’70s Boston secretaries who started the nine-to-five lobby for equal pay and protection from gender-based harassment of female office workers. The #MeToo movement that yanked the netting off sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and millions of other men. Annie E. Clarke and Andrea Pino, the 20-year-olds who started End Rape on Campus, providing data, counsel and legal strategies for millions of silenced assault victims.

There are also a few who unknowingly failed the girl gang initiation. The “friend” who observed that if I told the truth about my marriage’s failure, no man would ever date me again. The neighbor who helped my soon-to-be ex furnish his expensive new house, weeks before I knew he’d bought it. The mom who told my 6-year-old daughter that her son had punched her stomach “because he has a crush on you.” Celebrities such as attorney Phyliss Schlafly, evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker and the Women Against Feminism who promulgate sexist tropes. Ah, life. No one is perfect. But there is no point in having a girl gang if they don’t understand you — and the sisterhood.

Of course, I do turn to my actual sister, an occasional therapist, male friends and colleagues, and even romantic partners for emotional support and counsel.  Self-reliance is important, too. But it’s the army of female friends — carefully selected, curated and cherished over decades — that is our wall of support as we face heartbreak, childbirth, abusive relationships, clogged milk ducts, colonoscopies, career conundrums, parenting problems and grief. I couldn’t live without them. I wouldn’t want to live without them. Whether we are scattered by geography, a global pandemic or life, they are always just a phone call and hug away.

Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir Crazy Love.  Her latest memoir (The Naked Truth, Simon & Schuster) explores femininity, aging and sexuality after 50. Visit her via her website, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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