You’ve Got a Friend

Jan 22

2633725699_0bebca52a0_bAs you might have noticed, the growth and evolution of friendships is a topic that obsesses me. I’ve written before about losing a friend, and not really knowing why. I’ve written about the way in which making mom friends online helped me embrace the moms I met locally. I’ve written too about the process of making friends in our new town. So it was with great enthusiasm that I read The HerStories Project, a collection of essays edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger about the joy, pain, and power of female friendship.

In addition to the terrific writing and the contributions from several of my favorite bloggers, what I liked best about the book was its organization into four sections centered around the life cycle of friendships – and the recognition that we seek different types of relationships at different stages in our lives. In “What’s New,” writers examine adult friendships, both online and off. Galit Breen shares her project of writing good, old-fashioned letters to five women in order to celebrate the light they share with others. Liz Aguerre admits that the way her quest for a “One True Best Friend” made her miss out on other friendships along the way; she realizes that she’s not a one Best Friend kind of girl. (Neither am I!)

In “What’s Old,” essayists consider childhood friendships and those born in the family unit. Carinn Jade’s best friend is her mother (I can relate!) and she writes about the intricacies of a friendship where the two parties share little in common other than a shared history. I was intrigued by Shannon Lell’s essay, “Why I Told My Best Friend Not to Have Kids,” in which she reflects on how motherhood has transformed her and what she suspects it will do to one of her oldest friends. It’s a complex piece, unflinching about the way a woman must contort her priorities and her self when she becomes a mother.

In “What’s Changed,” writers examine the way motherhood affects friendship. In the essay, “To My Best Friend On the Occasion of Her First Pregnancy,” Allison Slater Tate celebrates the unflappable persistence of close friendship, even in the wake of the changes of motherhood. As she says, “The best part is, everything is about to change for you, and yet nothing need change at all for us. Best friends can work that kind of magic.” While Allison writes about an old friendship, in her essay, Lindsey Mead reflects on a newer one, “forged in the crucible of bewilderment, fear, and wonder known as postpartum depression.” I suspect that many of us can relate to the singularity of a friend who – by virtue of not only shared interests, but more formidably the dizzying, edifying experience of first-time motherhood – vaults into our hearts and minds.

In the final section of the book, “What’s Lost,” essayists tackle the thorny topic of friendship break-ups and loss. In “My Grief Twin,” collection editor Jessica Smock writes about a brief, but powerful friendship born in the wake of her father’s early death. The two women bond over their shared losses of their fathers (not to mention their shared break-ups with their boyfriends), offer each other an ear specifically attuned to the other’s plights, and then drift apart naturally as each begins to chart the next stage of her life. In “The Case for a Friendship Break,” Nina Badzin writes about her best college friend, Becky. The two women “claimed each other in that unspoken way that girls (and women) do when they become close quickly” (I imagine most of us know exactly what she means?), but then grew apart in a way that “felt like a deep judgment on the people we were each trying to become.” Despite years apart, Nina and her friend find a way back to each other in a story that gives me hope for my own friendships that have eroded with time.

In these essays and others, the writers anthologized in The HerStories Project pull back the curtain on their friendships, offering us an opportunity both to connect to their experiences and to reflect on our own. Looking for the perfect gift for a special friend? The HerStories Project may just be it.

Do you have a best friend? Have you ever lost a close friend? How has the type of friendship you seek changed over time?

Disclosure: The editors of The HerStories Project provided me with a digital review copy of their book. The opinions expressed here are my own; Image: I must be one of the luckiest people alive by Casey Geib via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Nina January 22, 2014 at 9:38 am

Thank you for sharing a well-written review of this series. Like you, I’m not a “one best friend” type of person (and for the longest time felt less than normal for being so). But I do have four very good friends in my life that I’ve unknowingly whittled down over the years (you always start out with a zillion friends then after a while you have the few who are most compatible with you).

I didn’t see this mentioned in the review, but in my case, two of those are long-distance, so that does put a bit of a challenge, yet somehow we’ve managed to remain very good friends. And what makes them excellent friends? I can be 100% myself with them and know they’ll still be there :)

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Having moved frequently since college, I can relate well to the long-distance friend phenomenon. I’ve found moving to be a real friendship crucible: because it takes a lot more effort from both parties to keep a long-distance friendship going, I’ve found it clear pretty quickly which friendships will survive the test. The best thing about those relationships is being able to pick right up where you left off once you’re together again.

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Lisa January 22, 2014 at 10:51 am

My BFF moved to Colorado last year and keeping up with each other is a bit of a challenge. But when she’s back in town, we pick up right where we left off! The last time we got together for lunch and ended with nightcaps of wine! Friendships are hard…and messy…and complicated…and wonderful! No matter what they look like. xoxo

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Agreed! :)

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Lindsey January 22, 2014 at 11:17 am

Kristen, what a marvelous review. Thank you. You’ve touched on so many things that I love about this book, which addresses a topic that I, like you, find fascinating, complicated, multi-faceted, and permanent. My female friendships matter more to me as I get older, not less, which isn’t necessarily something I could have predicted. xoxo

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 1:46 pm

As you so eloquently wrote about in your essay, I found early motherhood to be a litmus test for so many of my friendships: new ones were born in the crucible (love that word!) of sleepless nights and leaking breasts and others were put under pressure when the realities of our lives departed for awhile. What a ripe topic for a book! xo

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Dana January 22, 2014 at 11:36 am

I loved the way the book was divided into four parts as well. Friendships do have a life cycle, and I found myself working my way through each one and finding my own experiences in many stories. Thank you for such a thoughtful review, Kristen.

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Thank you, Dana! It sounds like the structure of the book was one of each of our favorite qualities. Interesting how something so potentially subtle can have such a big impact on the experience of the reader. Well done, editors!

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Nina January 22, 2014 at 12:40 pm

What a beautiful review, Kristen. Thank you so much for reading the book and for taking the time to share your thoughts.

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm

And thank YOU for making such a terrific contribution to the collection! xo

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Kathy Radigan January 22, 2014 at 12:47 pm

What a wonderful review of a book that means so much to me! Thank you. Jessica and Stephanie did such a beautiful job organizing the chapters to really reflect so many of the facets of female friendship. The chapter about friendship lost has really stayed with me and for the first time made me feel less alone in the experience of losing the friendship of someone I cared about. Thanks again.

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 1:51 pm

That section really resonated with me as well, Kathy. And I’m glad to see that Jessica and Stephanie are devoting their next anthology to that very topic (Please see: http://www.herstoriesproject.com/call-submissions/) – one that I find both painful and fascinating.

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Elizabeth Grant Thomas January 22, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Great review! I am really excited about their upcoming anthology on friendship break-ups. I have two stories I’d like to share/submit, but haven’t figured out which one is worth delving into yet.

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 8:30 pm

I’m planning to submit too! Can’t wait to hear which one you decide to share. I always love your stories! xo

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Carinn Jade January 22, 2014 at 5:29 pm

I am honored to have a mention among such an amazing group of writers. What a beautifully written review – thanks Kristen!

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 8:32 pm

You’re very welcome! I found your essay to be one of the ones in the book that resonated most closely with my own experience. (Aren’t moms the best? I’m with mine right now on a family trip during which all three of my kids and I got sick. Guess who’s taking care of all of us? That would be my mom!)

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Galit Breen January 22, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Oh Kristen, this is such a thoughtful and thorough review! Thank you a million — and one! — times over! Your sweet heart and smart mind shine right through these words! Thank you, SisterHeart of mine!

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 8:33 pm

A big hug to you, my dear. Your essay inspired me to send a hand written letter to one of my nearest and dearest. Let’s not let that tradition go out of style! xo

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Liz January 22, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Kristen! What a flattering, lovely review! And what a cool surprise to find out about it. Thanks so much. I consider you one of my “first blog-world friends,” and one that inspired me so much when I started. I can’t tell you how honored I am that you are reading, reviewing, and enjoying the anthology.
And P.S. It’s always nice to have a “me too”…so it’s nice to know that I am not the only one out there who is not a best-friend-kinda-girl! :)

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Kristen January 22, 2014 at 8:35 pm

I was so excited to see your name in the table of contents and then to see your awesome post about the book’s release and the way your boys celebrated your success. I know you’re a published author many times over, but I bet the feeling of seeing your name in print never gets old, huh? :)

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C. Troubadour January 24, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Thanks for pointing me toward so much good reading — it’s well-timed. The first year with O. has been marvelous and difficult at the same time, and there are few friends in this corner of the country that I can lean on, despite a lot of stepping into the uncertain currents that carry us toward and away from the possibilities of connection. I needed the reminder that sometimes it’s just hard and there’s nothing else to do but keep trying.

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Kristen January 27, 2014 at 3:27 pm

I feel like I could have written these very words when my oldest was O’s age. Despite the fact that I had very good friends at a distance and a handful of friends nearby, I felt very much alone. Oddly, it was getting into blogging – and connecting with women online – that helped me start to make connections locally. Doesn’t seem to make total sense in retrospect, but I think that opening myself up online helped me learn how to do it in person too.

All that being said, I’d also argue that the first year (not to mention the transition from child-free to mother) is the hardest. Maybe it’s the time that helps more than anything. xo

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Privilege of Parenting January 26, 2014 at 8:01 pm

I’ve had best friends and lost best friends, ruptures, deaths… bewilderment. I so want to BE a good friend, but often I retreat into my mind when friends are the place to seek transformation. Having you as a virtual friend truly enriches my life—I can only hope to be a good virtual friend. Hugs

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Kristen January 27, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I suspect you know how deeply these words resonate with me. For me it’s often “tunnel in” when “only connect” is the only thing that will do. Thanks for being one of those who helps remind me of that. xo

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Justine February 5, 2014 at 7:40 am

What a great project! And I loved your review of it. Friendships can be bewildering – how some things draw people together and what drives us apart. Even when I think I’m “old enough” to know how to navigate these tricky waters, I’m often confounded by what it takes to forge a new bond, especially with a best friend who’s far away and others I’ve never even met in real life but feel so dear to me, it seems odd that some nearby friendships take so much work.

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Kristen February 5, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say that this book will give you a road map (or a star chart!) to help you navigate, but I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel like you fit right in among this group of women, many of whom find friendships just as tricky as we do. Can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

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