In writing Overlook, I did hours of research on group dynamics and the issues that influence adult female friendships. I found many fascinating academic articles and several excellent books (most notably Queen Bee Moms & King Pin Dads by Rosalind Wiseman) that discussed the underpinnings of friendship. None of them were as candid and truthful as Alana Munro is in Women Behaving Badly – Exposing the Truth about Female Friendship. Her book is both gritty and accessible. I wish I had read it before writing Overlook. It would have been a big help in getting those scenes between Stacia and The Lookers right.
Here is the review I wrote on Goodreads: In Women Behaving Badly, Alana Munro exposes the ugly underbelly of female friendships. In this brave discussion of how women mistreat each other; Munro discusses how jealousy, gossip, and competitiveness erode relationships. She shares her own deeply personal experiences as well as the stories of pain and betrayal she has collected. I found it cathartic to read about how super intense female friendship is not “closeness” but a form of manipulation. The discussion of cliques and exclusive dyads was spot on.
Ms. Munro does not merely debunk the notion of a sisterhood of women. The last section of the book lays out some good tips on what to look for in a healthy friendship and offers support to every woman hurting from the betrayal and pain found in many female friendships.
As we come down to the last few days of the Wordcount blogathon, I thought I would share this quote with you. Nietzsche cut to the heart of what happens in Overlook. Kitty and her husband, Seth, are not friends. They are not honest with each other. They don’t trust each other, and they certainly don’t have each other backs.
This is the second in a short series on competition in middle aged women.
Moms use their children to compete with other moms. I am perpetually surprised by how many moms and dads act like their children’s successes are their own. It’s natural for parents to be proud of their children and live somewhat vicariously through their children but, there are limits. The mom didn’t shoot the winning basket, the kid did. The mom didn’t ace the SAT’s, the kid did. I can’t enumerate how many times I have witnessed a group of moms at a school function or sports game bragging about their kid’s triumphs as if they were their own.
Not only is it unfair to expect a child to fulfill a parent’s need for success, it is misguided. Children grow up and get on with their own lives. If a parent lives vicariously through their child, they are left with nothing but an empty house when the child leaves.
I have been one of those moms. I never intended to get sucked into the gossip swarm but I am far from immune from the lure of the sweet nectar or the venom of its sting. I have a child that people underestimated for a long time. She was never the fastest runner on the team but she ran faster and faster each time. She was an excellent student but never the top student. She’s a charming young woman but she was never considered popular. I think she’s fabulous. I want other people to think she’s fabulous too. When she won the college admission jackpot, it was hard not to see her success as my own.
I firmly believe the universe puts people in our path at the appropriate times for us to learn a lesson from them. One such person came yelling and screaming into my life about five years ago. She taught me to be proud of my children without relying on them for my own self worth. Fay has several children around the same age as my daughters. When I first met her, she told everyone who would listen how sure she was that her eldest child was bound to make it big on Broadway. He never even went to New York. He went off to a nice little school to study religious music and barely speaks to his mother. She picked herself from that “failure” and started telling me how her second son would definitely get a football scholarship to a prestigious school. She usually followed up that boast with a dig about how unfortunate it was that my child didn’t win the most recent race or how much more popular her son was. Those digs got my competitive juices flowing. When my daughter earned high scores on her standardized tests, it was difficult not to brag about it to Fay. When she was accepted into a prestigious school, it was tempting to rub Fay’s nose in it. When her son didn’t get that football scholarship and didn’t get accepted to any good colleges, it was hard not to giggle in delight. It’s hard to be compassionate in that situation; it would have been easy to match ugliness with ugliness. Luckily, I like Fay’s kids and saw how hard it was for them to live under the weight of their “failures”. Fay has taught me to build a life of my own that I can be proud of. My children have their own lives, successful or not.
We are up to day 21 of the Wordcount Blogathon 2013. I am glad I held a few ideas back for the end of the month because I am feeling a bit brain dead these days. One of the topics I’d like to explore over the next few posts is competition. When someone says the word – competition – people tend to picture an athlete, or more specifically, a young male athlete. They don’t normally think about middle aged women. Believe me, middle aged woman are very competitive.
In Overlook, the women are shockingly competitive. Stacia Curran abuses her already broken body to compete in long distance open water swims. She is fueled by guilty and ambitions. Kitty Haskell relentlessly practices her tennis strokes in order to win the neighborhood round-robin every year, she keeps track of who is in or out of The Lookers clique of popular moms, and she makes the most beautiful cupcakes on the bake sale table. Kitty doesn’t have to make cupcakes with fruit leather butterflies or decorated to look like ladybugs. She does it to one up the other women.
When you go to a school or church function, is there one women who always brings beautiful desserts or fancy hors devours? Is she doing so to express her creativity through food, or is she trying to one up everyone else?
When I read Ms. Heffernan’s article I thought about the ladies of Overlook. The two main characters in Overlook are both stay-at-home moms. Stacia Curran chose to stay home with her children while ruling her real estate empire. Kitty stumbled into the role through a series of bad decisions. Kitty regrets being a stay-at-home mom. She had dreams of having a career as a museum curator. She wanted to leave her repressive buttoned up childhood behind and be her own person. Motherhood and marriage short circuited those dreams. No amount of beautifully decorated cupcakes and luxuries could make up for her dashed hopes. She would identify with the statement: “The most expensive decision of my life I made alone.”