Female Friendships: Seven Helpful Books

Below are seven books that address the bonds of female friendships, both intact and broken.

I. Friendfluence: The Surprising Way Friends Make Us Who We Are (2013) by Carlin Flora

Publishers Weekly explains:

…Flora coined the term ‘friendfluence’ to suggest that friends provide us with more than just social recreation; with successful friendship comes a range of physical, emotional, and professional benefits…Flora shows that friendships are often formed through unconscious strategies (such as the evolutionary impulse to cooperate), and tend to bind individuals together in ways that are in some sense more resilient than marital or familial ties. Yet friendfluence is not without its darker counterpart, and Flora does not shy away from issues like teasing, lying, and betrayal, topics that—perhaps tellingly—segue into a discussion of friendship in the age of Facebook…

II. The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship (2015) by Marilyn Yalom and Theresa Donovan Brown.

A few sample quotes:

Social media provides critical tools for women who manage the domestic front and the job front but who still wish to maintain important friendships. As Facebook honcho Sheryl Sandberg notes, women do the majority of the sharing on Facebook. Whereas men generally use social media for research and status boosting, “the social world is led by women,” according to Sandberg.

Friendship matters, especially in old age, when death reduces the number of one’s friends.

Our history suggests that women will continue to show the world how to be friends.

III. Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship (2018) by Kayleen Schaefer

From the book blurb: “‘Text me when you get home.’ After joyful nights out together, female friends say this to one another as a way of cementing their love. It’s about safety; but more than that, it’s about solidarity.”

Kirkus Reviews:Society traditionally views female friendships as competitive and transitory. Schaefer argues that more women than ever are actively working to reclaim their relationships with each other from negative stereotyping.”

IV. You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships (2017) by Deborah Tannen.

“Tannen’s book comes at a time when [female] friendships are challenged daily in new and ghastly ways, thanks in large part to the use of various social media and texting,” Julie Klam (Washington Post) points out. “At a time when the messages we give and get have so many more ways to be misconstrued and potentially damaging, a book that takes apart our language becomes almost vital to our survival as friends.”

V. My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends (2014) by Stephanie Sprenger and Jessica A. Smock.

On the endings of female friendships: “During the first days and weeks following the loss of a friendship, when the fact of it is so raw and sharp, we’ve learned from women that it’s typical to feel most alone, to feel embarrassed, depressed, shocked, and obsessed with why and how it happened. You often feel heartbroken, as if you’ve lost a great love. And you have. Not a romantic partner but a trusted holder of your secrets and truths.”

VI. Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend (2009) by Irene S. Levine.

Sample quotes:

Your best friend is the person who not only knows all the important stories and events in your life, but has lived through them with you. Your best friend isn’t the person you call when you are in jail; mostly likely, she is sitting in the cell beside you.

Feminist psychologists have suggested that a toxic friendship is often one in which a women’s own personal growth and individuation is sacrificed at the expense of the demands of the other person. Sometimes choosing oneself rather than the friendship is important for future personal growth and individuation. But women have a difficult time separating from each other because emotional connection is so highly valued and broken friendships are seen as failures.

VII. Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close (2020) by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

Sow and Friedman’s “big friendship,” which happens to be long-term, long-distance, and interracial, hit some rough patches along the way. Friedman (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….

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