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By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL
“Winning has always meant much to me, but winning friends has meant the most.” – Babe Didrikson Zaharias (winner of 10 LPGA major tournaments and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame)
What binds us women together? Motherhood? Anatomy? Society? I’ve been thinking a lot about women lately, mostly because the pandemic has isolated so many of us. In all these months, I began to reflect, that only two “friends” have reached out by phone to chat for a few minutes. I belong to a number of organizations comprised of women, and I thought I might make a few connections there, especially now. But I was wrong. Women are capable of establishing close female relationships, but recently, I haven’t noticed any. How could we be so mistaken?
Thinking about this phenomenon, I contemplated my husband, who is kind of a loner, and yet has a steady stream of men friends that call or invite him to various (weather permitting) activities. He golfs three times a week, and 50 years later, his college friends still gather via Zoom or phone to catch up. I have to admit, I’m a little jealous. I hear him chortling and giggling with his cohorts on the phone, and he gleefully grabs his coat and heads out to golf. I wonder what I am missing.
I remember a few years back, attending the Massachusetts Conference for Women, and admiring the many displays, most of which were mobbed, with one notable exception. A small display for golf lessons went almost totally unnoticed and ignored, while the glamour headshot booths were backed up and jammed. The golf lesson display had panels up with quotes from women who learned to play golf. “I started playing golf and I was promoted two years early”, “I developed more confidence as a result of learning to play golf”, “I learned to trust my judgment by playing golf”. With all these impressive testimonials, you may think women were signing up in droves, but they weren’t.
Then it dawned on me that playing golf involved a lot of socializing, with different people, (maybe some you don’t know), and that when the men planned a golf outing, they usually went in pairs or fours together. In other words, the men didn’t worry about meeting strangers, and they purposely planned to play together as a team. When I reflect on raising boys, I recall how important being on a team was to both of them. They both played high school football, wrestling and lacrosse, all sports where winning relies working as a team. Teams help each other win. They function differently. Each team member relies on the others and supports the guy that runs fastest, catches the best, hits the hardest and throws the quickest.
Ironically, even when women play on teams, later in life that idea of the team dynamic seems to fade. We are content to look after children, whip up a fabulous dinner, or work in the garden, flying solo. No wonder women have never really grasped the universal concept of teamwork. Guys get together and have fun, and even quench their thirst at the 19th hole. What do we do after a workout class or yoga? Mainly, grab our stuff and head home for something more important than gathering for coffee and socializing for an hour. Maybe that’s the hour of “me” time we all are craving but missing out on.
Socializing during or after an activity builds bonds and brings people together. It says, “I want to spend time with you. I like you.” And maybe even builds those all-important ties that help us in every stage of our lives, like promotions, new clients, new careers. Rubbing elbows with new acquaintances and friends can help to get us a good deal on a car or be the first to know about a new home listing, or an opening at a company you’re interested in, or even help you find a new partner in love.
Women tend to join professional or charitable organizations, but once their official work is done, how often do they stay in touch? Are these women available to you if you’re sick, need a ride, a prescription, or just lonely and missing some company? Or when you call, do they act suspicious about what you might want, or too busy to talk, or occupied in some other way. Or maybe they don’t even pick up your call. According to researchers, your “power balance” may have changed, and your status at work or in the community maybe has shifted up, in a more prestigious position than the other women around you.
Research has shown that women who move up the career or social ladder tend to have more “male” traits such as “assertiveness” and are more able to display the quality of “toughness”. Other women tend not to appreciate these traits. But thinking back to sports, aren’t these the very qualities needed to be a winner? When your son has the football, do you want him to “share” or get that ball down the field all by himself? Why can’t we support women who strive to get ahead? Why do we isolate ourselves into “cliques” and leave the “new” girl out if she’s not like us?
Women need teams throughout their lives to have fun with, to share interests with, to chat with. We need a team of other women to bolster our spirits, to get new ideas from, to walk with, to play with. The ladies need their own group of friends that coalesce around something interesting and fun, like the volunteer firefighters do. They’re at the firehouse even when there are no fires! They hang around cleaning and waxing the trucks, getting ready for competitions, and practicing. Then they have a beer.
Way back when I was teaching school, two friends and I had regular dates to the theater every month. It was a sacrosanct day. Nothing got in our way of having fun with the other two. We worked together, and along with other teachers, we played together. And we supported each other.
I’m certain that if we hadn’t felt like a “team”, that relationship would not have blossomed. Now, all these years later one is dead, another moved far away, and I’m not a teacher anymore. Where are the women who want to be on a team? Are you on a team of women who are friends, help each other and have fun together? I’m still looking.
“It’s my women friends that keep starch in my spine and without them, I don’t know where I would be. We have to just hang together and help each other.” — Jane Fonda
Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL, PCC, SHRM-SCP
Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas.
Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society.
Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.
Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.