Girls’ night out

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—Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Nicole’s latest novel, “Stepdog,” has recently been published. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.

Dear Nicole,

I have a girls’-night-out dilemma. One of my dear friends is in a new relationship with a woman. Now whenever our close group of friends gets together for a girls’ night out, she brings her partner. While I am happy that my friend is in a relationship with someone who brings her so much joy, I am not thrilled with this addition to our group. We discuss personal and confidential matters when we get together, and no one else has ever thought to bring a partner. I don’t think it’s right that my friend’s partner should get to join us simply because she is a woman, and I don’t feel comfortable opening up about personal matters in front of her. What do you think should I do?

Sincerely,

Scrooge friend

Dear Scrooge,

Does “no one has ever thought to bring a partner” mean “no one has ever thought to be a lesbian”? If it’s a girls’-night-out group, then statistically, the majority of partners would be left at home — not because they’re partners but because they’re guys. It’s convenient for your friend that her partner is the right gender to be included. But not every female on the Vineyard is part of your girls’-night-out group (or maybe everyone is except me) — the parameters of the group are not “we’re all women,” but rather “we’re all women and … x/y/z,” x/y/z being some particular ineffable blend of qualities that give this one small group of women a sense of communion with one another.

You’re right: Your friend’s new partner shouldn’t join you “just because she is a woman,” but she should be free to join you if she’s a woman with x/y/z, regardless of her partner status. Here’s the important question: If she were not your friend’s new sweetie, would you be comfortable with her joining your group, just as a new face, in the organic way that such groups grow and morph over time?

If you would be comfortable with that — hurrah! You have a new friend! I don’t see a problem, but thanks for writing anyhow.

On the other hand … if you would not be comfortable with her joining your group, what would you do about it? Whatever your answer is, do that thing. Be nice about it, but do it (in a moment — read the rest of this first, please. Thanks). Is there a vetting process for who gets added to the girls’-night-out roster? Is the process formal, or does it work on more of a consensual, intuitive basis? If your discomfort with her is about her, as a freestanding human being, then express that honestly to the rest of the core group, or perhaps one-on-one with your friend. These are the people with whom you share personal and confidential things, so you should be able to speak with them about such personal and confidential matters.

But before you do take that step, do me a favor and ask yourself: Why? Why are you not comfortable with her? Is it simply because you don’t know her yet? There was a time when you didn’t know her partner yet, and a time when you didn’t know any of the other women in this clique (unless one of them is your sister). Then there was a time when you did know them, but not well enough to be confidential with them yet. Then they earned your confidence, and you earned theirs. Society consists of people getting to know one another, to greater or lesser degrees.

I realize it’s not as binary as I might be making it sound. It’s entirely possible that you like her just fine, but are not comfortable having her suddenly in your circle of immediate intimates while you are still getting to know her. Here’s the best workaround for that problem: Get to know her! I know these things cannot be rushed, but they can be nurtured. Friendships are organic and spontaneous, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require mindfulness.

That’s my take.

Nicole