I think most women have been here at some point. You fall in love – and fall hard – for the first time when you’re in your teens or early twenties. You adore your new partner. He or she is downright intoxicating. You want to eat, sleep, work, study, and spend every moment – conscious or unconscious – together. It’s heady, disorienting, and magical. And in that initial rush of giddiness, we often drop our sisters like a bad habit – or at the very least relegate them to second best – without thinking twice about it.
And then we grow up. Our first relationship works out or it doesn’t, whatever the case may be. If it doesn’t work out, you tend to learn the importance of your female tribe sooner because their support is typically pivotal when you go through a breakup, even if you didn’t always hold up your end of the friendship bargain while you were a bit delusional with new love. If things do work out with your guy or gal, an appreciation for the support of your sisters simply comes with time and wisdom (minus a handful of nights crying over ice cream while indulging in chick flicks).
So by the time that most women hit their mid or late twenties, they tend to be a bit steadier in their friendships and more likely to maintain their sister tribe even while in the throes of a hot-off-the-press romance. And this is a good thing. Aside from all of the benefits of sisterhood to you as an individual, I’d make the case that having a strong sisterhood network is especially good for your romantic relationships.
Why? Modern romances ask a lot of people, more than they have in previous generations. Two or three generations ago, it was the expectation that in a heteronormative relationship, women would cook, keep the house, and birth and watch over children. Men would spend their lives working to provide a reasonable income. And if you were lucky, the two of you got along well, had similar values, and were (hopefully) in love. But, depending on circumstances, the importance of romantic love probably had varying importance. The emphasis was more on basic compatibility and both of you fulfilling your assigned roles, as determined by gender. Pretty simple.
Nowadays? We have an expectation that your partner is supposed to be everything to you: Best friend, exciting lover, bringer of thoughtful gifts, travel partner, movie/Netflix buddy, workout partner, keeper of confidences, carpenter and general fixer-upper, cook, therapist, birth partner, partner in parenting, financial partner, unconditional listener and sympathizer, etc., etc., etc. We have extremely high standards for all of the roles that modern romantic partners are supposed to fulfill. And any time someone is human and lets the ball drop, we often take it personally, like it’s some sort of sign that they don’t actually love us as much as we thought they did.
Just for the record, this is not some nostalgic oh-the-good-old-days-when-wives-obeyed-their-husbands post. No, no. But I do believe it is vitally important that we step back and really appreciate how profoundly – and rapidly – romantic relationships have evolved. And it’s a process that is still ongoing. This isn’t to say that the old way was better; it’s to say that we’re still transitioning, still trying to figure out what the ideal relationship looks like, and we’re all terribly confused about how to get there.
I wrote previously about my favorite relationship book, Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. At the end of the book Schnarch asks the question, if relationships are no longer about fulfilling our prescribed gender roles – because let’s face it, most women can work and provide for themselves financially and most men can at the very least order in some food – then what purpose do they serve? According to him – and I agree – they are here to help us grow. And Schnarch claims that in order to have real intimacy and growth in a relationship, you also need to be differentiated. You need to acknowledge yourself as an individual and be capable of validating yourself without needing constant approval from your partner.
Hence where sisterhood comes in. When you think about it, don’t the extensive expectations that we put on our partners seem a bit unrealistic? Yes, your spouse will probably be your best friend, but isn’t it nice to have other good, close friends on whom you can rely? Friends who oftentimes will be able to empathize even better because, as women, they have been in similar situations? Wouldn’t it be nice to pick out a show on Netflix and not have to strike the perfect balance that will appease both you and your husband because your friend has the same taste in shows? Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to consult with about a tough parenting situation during the day when you can’t reach your husband? Having a broader network of resources takes pressure off of your partner because it makes you more independent and confident it also leads to less resentment from you because you’re having your needs met even when your partner can’t be there to fulfill them. It’s really a win-win.
Yes, when you’re nineteen years old, it seems oddly romantic to have your boyfriend be the only person you need. And then you live like that for a while and experience how unhealthy and claustrophobic that is. Learning to rely on your sisters – and other friends and family for that matter – does not take away from a romantic relationship; it allows it to breathe. It allows you to maintain your individual identities so that you are both in the strong, stable place you need to be in to do all the hard work that a marriage or long term relationship requires. Having strong relationships with your sisters shouldn’t threaten a healthy romance – it should strengthen it.