Novelist Frank Portman discovered a phenomenon of female existence called the Female Troika. This is a rule that girls who travel in threes usually fall into three specific roles: the hot girl, the semi-hot girl and the less attractive sidekick. This, Portman describes, is a recipe for heartbreak—well, at least for the sidekick. The female troika can affect teen and tween girls tremendously and is therefore an important phenomenon to be aware of for parents.
Stage One: The three girlfriends or girl colleagues unite in easy-going camaraderie.
Stage Two: The two more attractive females (A and B) lovingly dote on the less attractive one (C) by giving her makeovers, setting her up with friends, and mostly trying to make C more like them. At this stage, this makes C feel better—she is being supported and has a great new wardrobe. A and B also feel great because they are reminded of how attractive they are, and feel their helping C is a ‘good deed.’
Stage Three: A and B’s doting care turns more into loving disdain. A and B begin to feel bitterness towards C because ‘she repels guys at bars,’ is ‘needy’ and ‘requires so much of our valuable tutelage.’ It becomes known to C that she is, and always will be, less hot. This makes C less willing to suck-up to A and B, to fawn over how wonderful they are.
Stage Four: A and B become so fed up that they decide to replace C with a new sidekick who will make them felt good about themselves.
Not all female groups of three follow Portman’s Troika pattern—but don’t we all know some? We see this Troika play out in the workplace (cubicles are often full of displaced C’s), with friends, in book clubs, and even in families with sisters, moms and daughters. It is a terrible pattern—C’s get hurt, A’s and B’s have a false sense of reality, and this phenomenon discourages genuine friendship.
What to Do About Female Troika’s?
If You Are A or B:
Stop it! Ok, I know it is not that easy. It is time to get really honest with yourself. Do you have a C in your life? This is someone you are trying to ‘fix.’ This might also be someone who you hang out with to feel better about yourself. Helping a friend get out of a slump, or try out a new haircut is fine, but be careful not to make another feel bad or less than. Also remember that feeling better about yourself because someone is in some way less than you is not a way to build fulfilling relationships, nor will the ego boost last very long—in the end it will make you have less friends and feel worse about yourself.
If You Are C:
Take a deep breath. You deserve to have friends who treat you like an equal—because you are an equal! If you are in relationships or have A’s or B’s in your life in the form of unavoidable colleagues or family members, it is time to stand up for yourself and find people who support you for who you are.
If You Are A Parent of A, B or C:
If you have a Female Troika in your life that makes you uncomfortable—because it should, I recommend approaching the C girl. A’s and B’s have trouble recognizing their behavior and will make excuses like, “I am helping her!” or “She loves it!” Without knowledge of what is to come. Approach the C and show her what a real relationship is. Help her find friends and colleagues who are loving and supportive, not condescending.
If You Are a Recovering C:
We have all been there. Many A’s and B’s are actually recovering C’s from High School or College who have lost weight or climbed the ranks in their careers. They believes this gives them the right to do what was once done to them—they are just bullies. As a recovering C, I implore you to stop the cycle. Rely on one or two healthy relationships and find activities that make you feel good about yourself so you do not fall into another Female Troika.
Again, there are absolutely groups of three women that do not have the Troika pattern—amen! But it is a troublingly common phenomenon. As women we need to support each other, not diminish or use each other to get ego boosts. I encourage all who are reading to talk about this phenomenon with friends and join together as equals so we are all A’s.