Women know that losing a best friend can feel like the worst break-up ever, even more devastating than the loss of a spouse or boyfriend. We may think, hope, even assume that our best female friends are there for life. But they’re not.
I “lost” G a few years ago and I still mourn the loss of someone who once marked every event in my life with a hand-written card, whose apartment I helped re-decorate, with whom I shared adventures in Jamaica and Venezuela. I looked forward to many decades of good times-to-come, maybe even cackling over G & Ts in the nursing home. We’re both boarding-school veterans, world travelers, loudly laughing blonds who were frequently mistaken for sisters. We’re also sufficiently competitive we’d reply, joking: “Yeah, but I’m the smarter/prettier one!” She has a younger sister but I have none, so I especially treasured this aspect of our relationship.
Instead, she dumped me a few years back, and has since refused to answer any attempt to find out what I’ve done so wrong. While I have some lovely female friends, and have since made some new ones, I’ve not yet found another BF, so I was intrigued by this new book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, written by a colleague, Irene S. Levine PhD, who is also a therapist. She’s also The Friendship Doctor on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-s-levine.
What made you want to write the book?
I was always very curious how my own friendships compared to those of other women. I realized that many close and wonderful friendships, that I thought would last forever, had drifted apart over time. I was never really clear about why this happened to me—or if it happened all the time. As a psychologist, journalist, and woman, I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about these complicated relationships.
Why now? What new or different is there to say?
After I started doing research on the topic, I realized that there are still many taboos about female friendship that make young girls and women reluctant to talk about their friendship problems. For example, women are often judged by their ability to make and keep friends. People look askance when they see a woman sitting alone in a restaurant or a theater.
A spate of recent books, movies, and TV shows has romanticized the myth of “best friends forever.” While the acronym BFF is overused on greeting cards and t-shirts, in real life, friendships are far more nuanced and those that last forever are the exception rather than the rule. Yet women are made to feel guilty and ashamed if they are dumped or end a relationship because it no longer is satisfying.
Do you think women see friendships differently now than, say 10 or 20 or even 50 years ago?
Of course, all relationships are affected by their social context but the desire to be a best friend, the chosen one, and have close friendships hasn’t really changed. Every woman wants to have at least one best friend and be a best friend!
There have been changes, however. Fifty years ago, women (as well as men) were less mobile so their friendships tended to be closer at home. Also, women were less involved in the workplace so the majority of their close friendships were with schoolmates and neighbors—as opposed to colleagues. The growth of the Internet has enabled asynchronous communication among women 24/7 across the miles.
If you’re married and your husband/partner is your “best friend” what role does a female BF play?
By virtue of their common experiences, women can share things with each other that they can never share with a man. What husband wants to hear his wife ruminate about her frustration in finding a great bathing suit or hear about her bodily secretions, or can truly understand the acrimony between a mother and her adolescent daughter? Discussing marital problems with a girlfriend can help a women put these things in perspective and solve problems, and make her a better wife/partner/mother. Finally, it is unrealistic to think that any one person, male or female, can meet all of a woman’s needs for intimacy and affiliation.
When you lost your BF, which you refer to in the book, how did you feel and what, if anything helped you make sense of it?
Especially when it’s one-sided, losing a BF can be as painful as losing a husband or partner. When I lost mine, I was young and had no frame of reference. I don’t think the adults around me truly understood the loss and tended to minimize it. I felt sad and misunderstood until I found a replacement!
In an age of text, IM, constant virtual contact, how, if at all, has this BF relationship changed?
Technology can enhance friendships, (it’s a great way to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones), but it can’t substitute for the face time that two friends need to maintain a truly close and intimate relationship.
When a friendship is meaningful and important, women need to create real-time rituals to get together and create new memories of shared experiences. It can be a weekly girls’ night in or girls’ night out — or an annual girlfriends’ getaway with a friend who lives far away. Technology has hastened the pace of life, but even if you are extremely busy, it is important to schedule time for female friendships. The health and emotional benefits of these relationships cannot be overstated.
It seems as though the BF is always female, at least in this book. Are women never BFs with men (without it turning to romance?) How about BFs who are gay?
My book focuses primarily on same-sex friendships, whether they are platonic or gay. Many of the women I interviewed said that their best friend was a guy. Some said that they had lost their patience with women because of a history of disappointments with female friendships. Women can be quite competitive with each other — and women too often forsake their female friends for what turns out to be a short-term relationship with a guy.
What surprised you most when you started surveying women for this book?
I was shocked by the volume of responses I received to my online survey — more than 1,500 in just a few months. There was an outpouring of anecdotes and stories that women were willing to tell as long as I promised them anonymity. I also received hundreds of comments on my blog. While many women are seeking help in repairing their friendships or advice on how to let go of those that are toxic, many others said that just thinking and writing about their friendships provided them with valuable insights they never had before.
Women need close friendships. These relationships are scrapbooks of our past and help us define the person we want to become. By the same token, it’s clear that every woman changes over the course of her lifetime and no two people follow the same trajectory. The person you were in high school may be far different than the person you are at mid-life.
Because there are no legal or blood ties among friends, women need to periodically assess their friendships, work actively to nurture good friendships, let go of those that are toxic, and continue to build their inventory of new ones.