with Julie Klam:
…Friendships, to many of us, are part of the fundamental infrastructure of our emotional lives, and when Klam and I spoke about the book, she made exactly this comparison when she explained why she wanted to write about friendship in the first place. Her inspiration wasn’t gang lunches or slumber parties — it was urban decay.
She came up with the idea for Friendkeeping, she says, while sitting on the George Washington Bridge contemplating the fact that she keeps hearing that the New York City bridges are all going to collapse because they’re not being cared for.
“That’s kind of the same thing with a lot of friendships,” she says, “where you don’t really put that effort in until either you’re celebrating something or something awful happens.” Friendships, like bridges, need upkeep, and as with bridges, sometimes it doesn’t happen and then you’re looking at something that can’t hold you up when you need it to. She realized, too, that it wasn’t an area that was being written about very much in a way that spoke to her experiences. She found a lot of clichés, but not a lot of insight. “Everything that I had read about friendships was always … platitudes about, you know, ‘friends are like flowers and you have to water them’ or whatever. Or the T-shirts with the koala bear and the flower and the ‘Friends are…’.”
So I put the question to her: Why is there so much writing about so many aspects of our lives — love, sex, money, family, careers — and so little about the inner workings of friendships that are so central to so many people’s lives? Maybe, Klam theorizes, it’s because friendships seem disposable and interchangeable when you look at them like an efficiency expert. “There’s some sort of thing about, like, ‘Well, if you don’t like the friend, just don’t be friends with them.’ Rather than the idea of working things out.” Working things out, as you know if you read other kinds of relationship books, is the usual ideal outcome, rather than bolting when trouble strikes.
In a way, this theory reminds me of what we talked about here earlier this week: that the very compelling fragility of friendships comes from the fact that there’s such a low barrier to exit. You don’t have to work on anything if you don’t want to. Indeed, Klam says when she wrote the book proposal, she realized that in theory, there were easy answers to all the hard questions she had about friends. “You could possibly write every question that I posed and answer it: ‘Well, just don’t be friends with them anymore.’ ‘If you don’t like their spouse, don’t hang out with them.’ So there was less of a sort of [concern for] how to work through things … just because you know you really can walk away.”
And of course, that’s what makes keeping up with your friends complicated. When I ask her what she considers the big challenge of adult friendships, she emphasizes that it’s legitimately hard to make time for them, because they’re not, you know, mandatory. And the older you get, the more things in your life are mandatory.