What Teenage Girls Taught Me About Friendship

“I’d die without my friends.”

“Really? Die?” I respond with a slight arch of my eyebrows. Sixteen-year-old Mira nods calmly as her pensive eyes look up, searching her thoughts. 

For the last 16 years, I’ve had the great honor of being welcomed into a rarefied space—having earned the trust of teenage girls. As a private tutor and mentor, I get hours upon hours of concentrated, intimate, and deep conversation covering the topics on their minds. One of the girls I work with is Mira, who explains to me that her friends are the only people she can be herself around.

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“Do you think dying is a bit dramatic?” I ask without any judgment in my tone.

Mira smiles and nods in agreement.

“It’s all about the drama. My friends can handle the drama.”

When describing teenage girls, adults tend to use the word drama to cast a negative shadow on big feelings. “You’re being dramatic” is a frame that communicates a teenage girl is being irrational and luxuriating in her pain. Essentially, adults who use this term are responding to a girl by judging her pain. But a friend does not judge. A true friend can love and comfort her while she is completely unreasonable, outraged, somber, or grumpy.

I’ve found that grown-up friendships do not have the same reckless abandon of love and support that I see with the ride-or-die friendships of teenage girls. When I asked girls for their thoughts on friendship, it was actually quite amusing how many of them brought up their devotion in terms of death. Driving home the point, 15-year-old Jade texted me:

“My friends are people who make me feel safe and supported so I never feel alone. Teenage girls will literally fight to the death for each other, lol.”

That’s some drama, and I love it. Of course, this language doesn’t indicate any actual, potential death happening; it reveals how hard it is to find language big enough to encompass the love and feelings that girls have for their friends. I see a teenage girl’s “drama” as an expression of passionate feelings mixed with honesty, vulnerability, and courage, giving her inner life a voice.

I want to know what I can learn from this drama. How can I support this passion within myself and others? I’m not talking about a negative reactivity that tries to escape my own pain by creating pain elsewhere. Some people might call that “creating drama,” and I want to be clear that the type of teenage-girl drama I’m discussing never intends harm. I’m talking about dramatic feelings for the people I love. I’m talking about a drama that expresses the innate wisdom of teenage girls: that we all have a deep need to feel loved as our authentic selves, and that friends are a critical channel of that love, especially when we’re feeling our most imperfect and broken.

As much as we can build self-acceptance, it’s also good (and human) to need help and support from other people. I grew up thinking that if I didn’t need anyone else, or ask for help, and just did everything perfectly by myself, then I would be a success. The goal was to never need anyone, and that would be proof that I was doing well in life. Self-sufficiency has been taken to extremes in our modern world—so many of us feel a need to put on an inauthentic show that “everything’s great.”

Everything is not great—not for anyone. Some things can be great. Even a lot of things can be great. But every single person on the planet is currently going through some type of struggle. And we can’t, and shouldn’t, endure it alone. 

What does that support look like for teenage girls? One of the best examples I can give is the devotion of a sleepover or slumber party. Having quality time with even one friend for 24 hours can uplift the soul in dramatic ways. I wish for everyone the joy that teenage girls feel from simply having a friend by their side while eating, laughing, doing their hair and makeup, texting, doing homework, partying, crying, socializing, choosing an outfit, traveling, posting on social media, watching a movie, snacking, venting, sleeping, being silly, and so much more.

It’s a level of quality time and intimacy that’s rarely replicated in adulthood. The only events verging on its specialness are girls’ trips and bachelorette parties, which are special occasions that create memories for a lifetime. We’re lucky if we experience one of those every few years. And why is that? Why do we wait to make this specialness and connectedness happen?

Sleepovers provide the time to let emotional walls collapse, so the mess can be revealed. It takes tons of love and care before we feel like it’s safe enough to be vulnerable. While hanging out on FaceTime together, 17-year-old Madelyn shares her observations with me about why she thinks this level of connectedness is rare among adults: 

“Adults are expected to have it all figured out, but age doesn’t define your struggles. Everyone needs people to lean on. I think the pressures and expectations put on adults makes them less vulnerable and honest with each other.” 

It feels like this 17-year-old has it more figured out than most of the adults I know. Not to underestimate her wisdom, Madelyn goes on to tell me that she feels so authentic with her friends that the type of love they share makes her often feel like she’s “in love” with them. Her tone is so openhearted and at peace when she speaks that it catches me off guard. 

How wonderful to love and feel so loved by a friend, even when you’re a mess.

Excerpted from Underestimated: The Wisdom and Power of Teenage Girls by Chelsey Goodan. Copyright 2024 by Enthousiasmos Productions LLC. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon&Schuster, LLC.

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