When you hit a rough spot with a good friend, what do you do about it?
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman are longtime friends and business partners. Their fans also know them as the hosts and creators of Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast “for long-distance besties everywhere.”
When they recently hit a rough patch, the pair took what might be considered an unusual step to save a friendship: they went to therapy together.
“Friendship is amazing,” Sow said this week on Nerdette. “It’s beautiful, it is life-enriching, it will make your whole life. But it is also work and it is also hard.”
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close is their new book. They talked with Nerdette about writing it together, where their relationship is today and what they learned about the scholarship of friendship. Below are highlights from the conversation.
On the lack of studies about friendship, especially compared to romantic or familial relationships
Aminatou Sow: As a society we do not take friendship very seriously. We pay a lot of lip service to it. Or we celebrate it as very cute and fun — like it’s always additive to your life. It’s like there are all these other things that are markers of how you are an adult in the world, but friendship is just like cake at the end of the day.
And I think that really is because we have this really stubborn refusal to accept that for some people — and for a lot of people — friendship is at the center of what makes them tick as a human being, and that is a relationship that is just as valid as other societal bonds that we have decided are very important.
Why friendship can be just as important as romantic relationships
Ann Friedman: I think that is another stereotype, which is if you are not in a long term romantic relationship, it somehow means you don’t know how to invest in someone for the long term. Or you don’t know how to sacrifice yourself to be in a relationship. And that is just … so wrong. You know? We do this in our friendships all the time.
How their professional relationship helped save their personal one
Sow: The thing with friendship is that you can have this really deeply meaningful relationship with someone, but nothing is tethering you to each other. And you can just walk away. Like someone can walk away from you knowing your deepest secrets and so many things about your life and never be accountable to you again in a way that, unlike in a breakup or a divorce, you kind of have to sit down to parse it all out even if it’s not pleasant. There’s just no script for how you break up with a friend.
So I think that having those things to consider for us ended up being a net-benefit. It was like, “Oh yeah, the paperwork that this involves is very annoying but it also means that neither of us is just going to up and disappear the next day.” Because we actually have things that we share.
On seeking therapy with a friend
Friedman: The act of therapy in and of itself was a way of assuring each other that we were, at the very least, interested in figuring out what went wrong, which felt really good. That’s not something that people always get in friendship. It’s something that is assumed, like Aminatou was saying, in other types of relationships. And one reason why it can be so hard to address the difficulties that inevitably crop up in friendship is that we often don’t have this assurance that the friend wants to work on it with us.
This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.