In her classic book, Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh articulates the process of gathering girlfriends. She writes,
“I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest. I find I am shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.”
Girlfriends are as unique as the shells Lindbergh describes in her pages. Some have the gift of empathy and compassion, while others challenge us in ways that lead to growth; some friends listen, while others dole out smart advice. Women need different kinds of friendships at different points in their lives. I have compiled these five types of girlfriends, drawing from the examples in Robert Wick’s book, Bounce: Living the Resilient Life, and Susan Shapiro Barash’s book, Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships.
1. The Cheerleader
Cheerleaders believe in you no matter what stupid thing you have just said or done. They are the presence on the sidelines that you need when you are floundering and unsure of your next step. And they are there to pick you up if that next step was too high or slippery. Without the unconditional support of my cheerleaders, I’m not sure if I would have the strength and courage to do about 75 percent of the things I do in a day.
2. The Confidant
If you don’t have the time or money to go to therapy, you should definitely have a confidant in your life, a person with whom you can confide anything and everything. I think this type of friend is especially important during weighty lifestyle changes – if you are going through a divorce, grieving an significant loss, or have just started a stressful job. Finding someone who is going through the same experience can be extremely helpful and consoling.
3. The Prophet
The prophet can be annoying. You may be tempted to kick her out of your shell—or life—because she raises issues you’d rather not be raised. However, because prophets possess razor-sharp intuition and can usually see the truth a week, a month, or two years before you can, they are important to have in your circle of girlfriends. If your boyfriend or husband is treating you with less respect than you deserve, she is the one keeping track of concrete examples that you can’t deny when you rationalize his behavior. She’s a tough cookie who does not accept excuses of any kind. The prophet may tell you to leave a toxic work environment, even as you don’t yet have a backup. And she is like the angel following you around all day, forcing you to be accountable with yourself and others.
4. The Comedian
The comedian reminds us to not take ourselves so seriously, and to add humor to whatever situation we are fretting about. She provides the much-needed laugh therapy during our stressful hours, and makes our day tolerable during difficult moments, and enjoyable during ordinary time. This type of girlfriend reminds us to always find time to laugh and to play, like we did as kids, because having fun is just as important as solving problems.
5. The Leader
The leader is the kind of girlfriend who gets you to commit to a book club, civic association, or school committee. She somehow persuades you to run a marathon, organize a work event, or coach a swim team, even though you’ve never competed. A social butterfly, this girlfriend knows just about everyone she passes on the street, and is happy to introduce you to the mayor and his wife. She’s an effective networker who can help you navigate your career or social life, but you need to exercise your boundaries because her combustible energy can be exhausting.