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Jewish Journal

What Do Women Owe Each Other?

by Tamara Shayne Kagel

February 1, 2012 | 3:40 pm

I found out through the grapevine, that a boyfriend of a friend of mine recently cheated on my friend (with a hooker in Las Vegas nonetheless!).  After much deliberation, I’ve finally decided I am not going to tell her….

I feel a bit traitorous about it all and I’m left wondering is there some sort of girl code that should compel me to reveal what I’ve heard to her, just because she’s a woman and I am too?  Do I owe all other women this unspoken camaraderie because we all have to deal with men who can sometimes be jerks?  We’ve all heard the refrain “bros before hos” but girls don’t go around saying “shrews before dudes.”  The closest comparison to a girl code I can come up with is I once ran into a friend’s mother, a three-time divorcé, on a date.  After learning I had broken up with my boyfriend, she quickly encouraged me to get back in touch with her daughter saying “don’t worry, girlfriends are like cockroaches.  They were there before the men, they’ll be there after them.”  At the time, I thought this was the most ridiculous and depressing statement I’d ever heard, but now a few boyfriends later, it’s been somewhat true for me.  As much as I love my current boyfriend, I have girlfriends that date back to nursery school and it’s pretty much a sure bet that we’ll be in touch till we’re all in nursing homes.  I hope and believe I will get married and stay married forever, but divorce is a scary threat for anyone contemplating marriage these days.  In contrast, I know I’ll never divorce my girlfriends.  And yet, I’ve never taken any vows to them.  I’ve never clearly delineated a promise to be faithful or forgiving or to sacrifice for them.  So what do we owe each other?  Does it extend beyond just our friends to all women and does it require passing on hearsay about cheating boyfriends?

Years ago, I was cheated on and when my ex told me about it, one of the very first thoughts that ran through my head was how could another woman do this to me.  There was a picture of us that sat prominently on his dresser; it had been a birthday gift the year before.  I asked him if he turned down the picture when she was in his room and he said no.  To me, this meant the girl knew he was in a relationship and she screwed him anyway.  How could some girl, another woman I could have been chatting up at a bar the night before, how could she know that this guy was cheating and go through with it anyway?  How could one woman be cruel enough and selfish enough to do that to another woman? But just because I understand how hard and difficult it is when your boyfriend cheats, does that mean that it is my responsibility to protect all women by exposing all the cheating men I come across?  If I am not friends with the couple at all, do I still have to track down the betrayed woman and introduce myself over Facebook to then spill the dirty details?

It was painful for me to realize that even if there should be a girl code, there are so many women out there who don’t follow it.  So many women willingly sleep with married men, and others who will stab another girl in the back, and other women who take pleasure in another girl’s failure.  So even if we do tacitly owe one another some moral behavior, our gender is violating the code so often, nobody seems to be following it.

So if there isn’t a girl code, shouldn’t there at least be a friend code?  I try to be a good and loyal friend and in return, my life has been enriched by a coterie of incredible women who have added so much to my life.  I want to do what is best for my friend.  But is it best for my friend that I pass on an unsubstantiated rumor to her when she is desperately in love with a man who has continually been in my opinion a bad boyfriend?  On the one hand, she’s put up with such poor behavior in the past, I’m inclined to think she’ll just make excuses for him again and believe whatever lie he tells and continue fooling herself into thinking she’s in a healthy relationship.  On the other hand, this could be the final piece of information she needs to finally break-up with him.  I’m also biased because I’ve thought for years that she should break up with him so maybe I’m giving this rumor more credence than it deserves - it was passed on from a guy who was drunk at a bar with the boyfriend in Vegas to a girlfriend to a friend to me and nobody really knows what happened once the two went upstairs.  I’m also reluctant to put myself in the middle of all the drama – having to figure out how to tell her where I heard the rumor without giving up my source and then possibly being responsible for her heartbreak. 

The most unsettling thing for me is even if it’s best for her that I don’t say anything, by doing nothing, am I just letting another guy get away with blatant cheating?  Have we accepted this behavior to the point that that even if people observe the behavior in public, no one will tell because infidelity is tolerated?  Have I become complicit myself in allowing something that I believe is morally wrong?

I keep playing the game where I ask myself, if I were in her place, wouldn’t I want to know?  And the answer is yes, but it’s also more complicated than that, because I would never be in her place – I would have broken up with this creep a long time ago for things that she knows about and has excused, so how can I really judge how important this piece of information is?

And the truth is, there is so much we don’t tell people.  Who am I to be acting as moral police?  What if I see a friend’s boyfriend just flirting inappropriately?  Do I then have to rat him out to his girlfriend also?  I’m tempted to say yes as women we all owe each other the decency of collectively not tolerating cheating – but there will always be women who break this girl code.  Cheating men have found women to cheat with for thousands of years.  And yet, why did I feel so violated by the “other woman” when it happened to me?  Why did I obsessively want to know who she was, what she looked like, what she wore, and what position she had sex in, if I knew all along that there were girls willing to do this to one another?

Dejectedly, I have to accept that for some women, there is no girl code.  They see a girl at a bar with her boyfriend and they think the guy is fair game.  But I can’t live like that.  You don’t make and keep lifelong friends by thinking you don’t owe other women something.  At the very least, there has to be a friend code.  We have to understand, that by being close friends with another girl, we owe each other acting in their best interest.  To me, being close friends with another girl means that even if we never say anything, we imply certain promises to each other: I promise to not go after a guy I know you like, promise to drop whatever I am doing and be there for you when you are heartbroken, promise to make fun of anyone who is making your life miserable, promise to not be in a private place alone with your boyfriend ever.  I promise to keep your secrets and I promise to tell you mine.  And when in doubt, I promise to do what’s best for you.

Although in most cases, what’s best for my friend would probably be to tell her about the rumor, in this case I have to accept, it is not.  My friend has dealt with cheating rumors with this boy before and chosen to ignore them.  He’s acted incredibly selfishly and she’s found ways to explain it away.  She needs him in her life right now as she deals with a difficult time.  And maybe it’s not the healthiest thing, but it’s also not my decision to make.  She’s the only one that can drag herself out of this relationship and she can only do it when she’s ready.  She’s not ready and so I will put away my own agenda and be there for her while she struggles.  And when she is finally ready to deal with his behavior, I will be there for her during the heartbreak too.  Because as one friend to another, I owe her that.

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