“Big Friendship”: Therapy Helps Rough Patches

A new book getting lots of media attention is Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. In addition to its quality, another probable explanation is their already popular podcast, Call Your Girlfriend.

Sow and Friedman’s “big friendship,” which happens to be long-term, long-distance, and interracial, has hit some rough patches along the way. What is their definition of a big friendship? Friedman, responding to interviewer Lily Herman, Shondaland:

A Big Friendship is a long-term, intimate, committed friendship between two adults. We’re not talking about BFFs on the playground; we’re talking about a long-running relationship that is mutually supportive and is not exclusive. We wanted a term that also didn’t have the superlative word ‘best’ in it because for us, yes, we have this Big Friendship with each other, but we also have Big Friendships individually with other people. We wanted a term that would allow for the reality that we’ve experienced, which is that one of the great things about a friendship like this is that it is not exclusive. And that’s what makes it different from the rather fixed relationships of family or a romantic partner or spouse.

Regarding their decision to seek therapy, Sow states:

We write that it feels extravagant and weird in the book, and I still feel that way about it. I have been in my own individual therapy for over a decade, and I have no problems talking about that. But the experience of going with someone who is not a romantic partner or my family member to therapy is something that we, frankly, just don’t have a lot of models for. I was really made aware that so much of the stigma around therapy is still really prevalent….

It felt weird to them to consider couples therapy—and it wasn’t at all easy to conduct a search or find the right match. As stated to Julie Beck, The Atlantic, “If you do a Google search for therapists for my friendship, it’s not well populated.” Adds Friedman, “There’s no Psychology Today directory for that.”

Although they feel fortunate to have experienced therapy together, they acknowledge that not everyone is able to use this modality. Sow: “We were really privileged to be able to afford it—therapy is expensive and not available to most people in this country, and that is a huge shame. It was a literal financial investment in the well-being of our relationship.”

The authors also interviewed two therapists for the book. Each “felt it was strange that more friends didn’t come to therapy together, given that most of their clients wanted to talk about friendship in some way” (The Guardian).

I can attest to that—while also understanding that most friends don’t even think it’s a thing, this way of attending therapy, friend and friend. But it is, and maybe Big Friendship will help turn a tide. Because for Sow and Friedman, had they not done their joint therapy there could’ve been a dramatically different outcome: Big Friendship Breakup, in other words. (See previous posts on friendship breakups and ex-friends.)

Read an excerpt of the widely acclaimed Big Friendship at this New York Times link.

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