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Women, like dolphins, don’t need vocal cords to communicate to other women. Our most articulate moments are often physically inaudible, understood as deafeningly shrill signals of competition. On the whole, we evaluate ourselves and others by the weight of favor assigned to us by the nearest male and our value changes with his whims, internalized quickly and projected back into the world like Batman’s beacon. It’s a terrible sea to navigate when the tides shift as quickly as a wandering man’s eyes. And yet, we engage.

Men are generally unequipped to understand the dialect of women and exchange ideas, values, and judgments using an entirely different currency than women. They evaluate themselves against each other based on externally observable accoutrements such as cars, pectoral muscles, watches, and trophies. Winning in direct competition is a respected way to take one’s rightful position on the highest pedestal, flanked by competitors who justify that gold is more valuable than silver and bronze. It’s as natural as breathing.

Men generally compete face-to-face, eyes locked. Women often compete cheek-to-cheek, eyes fixed on a third party man who is an oblivious rudder, her opponent clear in the periphery. I hate competition — not the kind that makes me better but the kind that makes me smaller — and I particularly dislike women who enjoy it.

This week, I encountered a girl whose tangerine orange satin spike heels and translucent orange top were the beckoning call for attention or, possibly, affection. It may not have been so obvious if not at a hippie-vegan type of joint where worn baggy shorts, tee-shirts, and dreads are commonplace. Her misplaced inquiry, “Do you like my shoes?” to the man she was there to work with was a hallmark cry for attention.  If it wasn’t, the fact that you could see through her shirt clearly enough to count the stitches of thread in her bra would be her ace in the hole. It’s highly unlikely that this woman would ever be a friend of mine and the truth is that I felt terribly sad for her.

The more confident a woman is about herself, the less likely she is to choose the company of female friends who aren’t. Instead, she is likely to surround herself with women who are governed by sense of purpose, worth, and self-respect. The irony of it all is that the most respectable men are often attracted to women who are disinterested in competing for their favor.

The signals of confidence are bright and alluring and
friendship doesn’t grow in the soil of pity or disdain.

I have wonderful women in my life who possess high levels of self-respect which makes for effortless others-respect. They are ready to point out and honor the inherent value and beauty in other women because it doesn’t threaten their own. Like north-south magnetic attraction, the more self-respect one has the more they attract others who have the same. It’s invisible but not without definite force.

Competition is part of life. Some of it is healthy and causes us to learn and grow in  strength and character. Some competitors prefer to limit others in order to rise to the center pedestal instead of elevating themselves to its heights. I prefer to keep competition on ball fields, drag strips, and the trading floor at Wall Street. There is very little room for competition in healthy interpersonal relationships, especially between women. I dream of a world where women use their acute form of communication to encourage, support, love, and teach other women how to navigate our male-dominated society, to gently require and give respect and honor. It needn’t be loud to be heard; it needn’t be competitive to be gainful.

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Author’s Note: I learned about healthy female relationships from my mom. Throughout my life, I witnessed my mom and Aunt Cheryl exchange genuine sisterhood and friendship free of competitive engagement. I’m blessed to have many lovely women in my life who don’t require me to compete with them for the favor of men, but who stand with me to face the world as one. Each of us is stronger hand-in-hand with a sister than we are when at odds with a competitor.

My dear friend and sister, Nerelys, and I singing "Sweet Caroline" at a Red Sox/Yankees game in Boston, 2009

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