Friends should talk — about their own relationship
today at 1:27 pm
Interviewing singer/songwriter Wafia Al-Rikabi on NPR’s Weekend Edition last Saturday morning, Scott Simon asked about “Lose a Friend,” a song on her new EP Good Things.
“My best friend didn’t want to be my friend anymore,” Wafia said. “One day I just was unfriended . . . I’m still here trying to figure it out. . . . I think when you go into a friendship, you never think that you’re going to not be friends one day.”
I too have been ghosted by a close friend. She wouldn’t respond to phone calls, emails, or text messages, and when we finally ran into one another offered only “We should go our separate ways” as an explanation. Four years later, I still haven’t figured it out. It’s hard to process what you don’t understand.
I’ve written about the split before so won’t repeat myself. What interests me now is a growing attention to the notion that friends, who rely on one another as a sounding board for outside relationships, should discuss their own interaction. Although there are volumes advising lovers and family members how to talk about their problems, the need had been less recognized for critical talks between friends.
“With friendship, there is this expectation that it’s supposed to be easy, which . . . is not an honest assessment of what any long-term, intimate bond looks like,” said Aminatou Sow, coauthor of the recent book Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, in an interview with The Atlantic’s Julie Beck.
From the book’s opening pages, Sow and coauthor Ann Friedman (who happens to be the niece of a friend of mine) admit their challenges. The hosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend even went to therapy together to repair their friendship.
In The Atlantic interview, Friedman explained that they hadn’t experienced a giant misunderstanding but “those little communication things that slowly started to break down.”
“Going to therapy with a friend is out there,” Sow conceded. “But I’m so happy that we did it. . . . I have a renewed understanding of the amount of work that it really takes to talk to someone and tell them what you are feeling and for them to do the same for you.”
Friedman and Sow were interviewed for The Friendship Files, a weekly interview series that Beck launched on The Atlantic website in February 2019. Beck said then that with “no shared cultural script for how a friendship should progress like the one that exists for romantic relationships, friends have to figure it out for themselves.”
“Figure it out” may be too active a description of typical friendship behavior. Since we spend limited, discrete chunks of time with friends, we can put annoyances out of mind the rest of the time. It doesn’t feel as urgent to tackle problems as with live-ins.
The times are few that a friend and I discussed tension between us. I don’t know that I have the courage to hear a friend’s complaints about me and to speak my complaints about her. Letting problems go undiscussed, however, runs the risk of “friendship breakup,” the term Wafia used for lack of an accepted word.
“That was very rough on me because she was my person,” Wafia told Scott Simon. “It actually hurt more than my [romantic breakup] did.”
I empathize. I still wonder what I should have brought up during the two decades my former friend and I were close. Judging by her behavior at the end, however, she may not have wanted to talk about us.
As Sow and Friedman wrote, “big” friendships are complicated. My takeaway from their book is that we should shed our expectation that a close friendship is unchanging and lasting and persists without work.
ANTI-TRUMP COMMENTS: 132ND IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“He did not just downplay the virus, he paraded around like a peacock, making fun of those who took it seriously.”
— Presidential historian David Brinkley