08/12/2013 08:00 am ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

Why Women Friends Don't Tell Each Other The Truth

I love my women friends but when I want to hear the truth, I ask a man.

This is only something I've become aware of over the last few years -- which means it took me a long time to come to this realization. It's not that men are more insightful when it comes to relationships, it's that they tend to be less aware of the need to be diplomatic. Part of the reason for this is that most men don't "hang out" with women in groups, where the main goal is to bolster our self-esteem and empower one another. So they don't instinctively know our culture of mutual support. For women, our gift can often be our curse.

No, this doesn't apply to every woman (or every man). But it does apply to a lot of women (and men), at least in regard to friendships -- until much later in life, when women grow weary of being subtle and 100% supportive, or we stop traveling in packs and editing our words as carefully. That's when we're more likely to let it rip.

I'm not a scientist, but I'm pretty sure the tendency for women to want to avoid hurting someone else's feelings is part nature, part crappy experiences that make us more empathetic than the average Joe. So much so, that by the time a woman reaches her mid-twenties, there have been enough emotional blows that our diplomatic skills have become finely tuned. (Some women are flat out bitter by then, but bitter is the stuff of reality TV, not friendships.) When you toss in what happens when a woman becomes a mother, or an aunt -- how we develop a more acute awareness of the power of words -- well, any woman who is tuned-in knows it gets harder to say what you mean for fear of sounding critical, and hurting a sister's feelings. And I don't care how many mean-girl movies you've seen -- those mean girls usually grow up at some point.

It's true that focusing on the positive is a good thing -- but it's not always helpful in the long run. A woman might tell another woman that her hair looks fabulous to avoid saying everything else is a hot mess -- but her friend may show up again somewhere in her hot mess outfit and may be embarrassed when someone less kind points it out.

Of course, not everyone who is diplomatic is doing it for the other person's sake. Sometimes it's just a great way to avoid drama and conflict. And who wants to be in the middle of that? It's easier just to tell a friend she looks wonderful...even if she doesn't.

Most of the time, women want to support one another to such a degree that they will "yes" a friend into doing something brave or bold, something she may not have the nerve to do on her own -- but with a posse of women friends who have her back, she feels as if she can do anything. All that encouragement and support can be intoxicating. The trouble is, sometimes it's not really the best thing to do. Though we want to be supportive and not a Debbie-downer, it can keep friends from facing an important truth -- a truth it's better to know. Maybe a guy doesn't call back for a reason that nobody wants to admit out loud? Maybe getting fired repeatedly is not just bad luck, but something else? Maybe you shouldn't actually "go for it" because everyone but you can see that "it" is not who you are or what you excel at?

Which leads me to the question of the day: Who is the better friend, the person who tells you the truth, not because she is bitter or jealous, but because she wants the best for you? Or the person who withholds the truth to keep you from feeling badly about yourself?

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Things I Know About Women Now That I'm Post50