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Marie Forleo: What’s up party people? I’m Marie Forleo and for over 20 years I have been obsessed with learning. What it takes to turn dreams into reality. You know I started my company back in the day with no clue, no connections, no money and over time grew it into something spectacular. I created the award-winning show Marie TV. Was named by Oprah as a thought-leader for the next generation. And wrote the instant number one New York Times bestseller Everything is Figureoutable.
I’ve helped millions of people, transformed their businesses and lives and guess what? Every week I’m going to help you take acton and make the difference you were born to make. But please do not expect anything about this podcast to be traditional. We’ve got songs, weird sound effects, the occasional F-bombs, maybe some fart jokes if you’re lucky, and anything else that makes me laugh. It’s all fair game because this is The Marie Forleo podcast.
Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and welcome to the Marie Forleo podcast. Today we are talking with two powerhouses: Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, who you might know from their very popular podcast, Call Your Girlfriend. So they are here on the Marie Forleo podcast today to talk about their incredible new book called Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. I think you’re going to love it. Enjoy.
Aminatou, Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to today. We went around a few technical difficulties but here we are and we’re together. First, congratulations on your book Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close. It is phenomenal. I’ve read it cover-to-cover, so congrats on that.
Ann Friedman: Thank you.
Aminatou Sow: Thank you so much for having us.
Marie Forleo: It’s such a joy. And you should also know that our team here at Team Forleo, big fans of both of you, and so when this started to come together everyone was clapping and cheering and I know folks are going to be excited.
And to set even further context, friendship is an area that our audience thinks about and asks about a lot and some of the questions that they’ve written in are things like is so-and-so a true friend? How do I know if I can trust them? How do I know if I’m in a toxic friendship? Do I either fix this one or know when to end it? So I feel like this is the perfect conversation to dive into with you both.
Let’s start at the top, tell me about the inspiration for the book and why you wanted to write it?
Ann Friedman: Well, I mean I guess the inspiration is our own friendship, is that fair to say?
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Aminatou Sow: It’s fair.
Ann Friedman: It seems weird to say we’re inspired by ourselves but that’s kind of the truth. And just more specifically, I think that our experience of friendship and of our friendship is really a lot deeper and more complex and challenging and wonderful and any adjective you want to throw in there, than a lot of the conventional narratives about friendship.
And so I think we wanted to talk about this kind of a close friendship in a way that really elevated it to the kind of positions it’s at for us in a bigger sense. To be able to say actually this is really a central relationship and with that comes all the great things of an intimate relationship. All the support and love and also the difficulties that you’re going to have to work through. Is that a fair description, Amina?
Aminatou Sow: Yeah, that is a really fair description. I also think that a lot of what’s going on is the age that we are. You and I are both in our mid- to late 30s. And in elementary school and in high school I was so happy to call someone my BFF or my best friend and that continues to be the case.
But I think we’re also just recognizing that friendship is a bond that is really deep and lasting and we wanted to find a way to talk about it that was not infantilizing and really elevated it to the same energy and level that we give to romantic relationships or to parent-children relationships because it’s a really complex relationship that brings out the best and the worst in everyone.
As you said, Marie, these are questions that all of us are asking each other. I wonder this all the time and I think that there is a belief that once you age out of high school or college you kind of get your shit together and that’s true for all your relationships.
But the truth is that I’m pretty confident that even as I get older and older and live to be a 100 years old, the question of is so-and-so my friend? Am I showing up in this friendship in a real way? Was that a good or positive interaction? Those are things that are never going to go away and so they’re things that we should talk about.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. Tell us about how you met for those who may not be familiar with Call Your Girlfriend or they’re not fans yet.
Aminatou Sow: We met through a mutual friend who we are both still friends, which is always very exciting. She invited us both to come watch Gossip Girl at her house. That really gives you a carbon dating on how old we are and what time in life it was a thing that was appointment television. Do people still have this? Yeah, you had to show up on time to watch cable TV. This was an era. The kids today they don’t know.
We showed up to watch Gossip Girl together so that’s the superficial story of how we met. But we really explore this question a lot in the book. It’s like how do you actually meet people and once we thought about it a little bit, it was, well, it probably was a little inevitable that we would have met each other because we actually share a huge group of friends. We worked in industries that are kind of proximate. Ann and I lived a 15 minute walk from each other in D.C., we were in our 20s.
There’s this idea of talking about how you met someone that you give this really cute, meet-cute kind of story and I love telling our meet-cute because it’s so us. I’m yes, I will rep my love of Gossip Girl until my dying breath.
Ann Friedman: We put the cute in meet-cute for sure. We do. I was wearing like a Chuck hearts Blair t-shirt, it was the whole scene.
Aminatou Sow: Yes.
Ann Friedman: But it’s also true that a lot of different circumstances brought us together. We are two people who are really different. We grew up on two different continents, we are different races, we have different interests. How does anyone meet anyone? It’s a little bit of luck and a lot of persistence and perseverance.
There was an earlier version of this book that, I don’t know, spent a lot more words on this question of how did we meet and how did we get close? While that is still a part of Big Friendship, we really kind of shifted the focus to be more about how do we stay close? Because to us that has been the greater challenge and growth area.
Look, all kinds of people struggle to make friends. Almost everyone will struggle at some point in their life. After a move or after all kinds of other big shifts. But I think when we really took a look at our friendship we were like actually the beginning felt like the fun and easy part, and it was what came later that we really felt we wanted to explore and that we really felt not seen in terms of the pop culture about friendship and the existing books about friendship.
While it is so fun to answer those questions about how we met, truly I think the heart of this book is about what comes later and just staying in it.
Marie Forleo: Yes. Thank you for a perfect segue because I wanted to go next to not long after you found each other, you stopped living near each other. I think that this notion of long distance and cross-country or cross-continent friendships, I think this is so fascinating. And especially right now because we’re in a global pandemic and our entire structure, even if people are relatively close in the same geographical location, everything has changed.
I’m wondering if you can speak more into just the discoveries and the perspectives of staying close over distance?
Aminatou Sow: Yeah. Living in a pandemic is not ideal and it’s really disrupted so many ways of life. Queen of understatements. Can you tell I had therapy this morning and I’m feeling zen about…
Marie Forleo: I love that.
Aminatou Sow: I can only control what I can control.
Ann Friedman: She’s so calm.
Aminatou Sow: Talk to me in five minutes when I’m back under the pillow screaming. It’s true, the pandemic has disrupted a lot of ways of life, but it’s not true that the pandemic has disrupted my relationship with Ann in a huge way because we already don’t live in the same city and we really had to figure out how to navigate distance, right? Whether it’s emotional distance or it’s physical distance.
I think that if you’re someone like us who you went to college not in the town that you grew up with, and then you left the town that you went to college in, chances are that you have long distance friends. This idea that everyone that you know and love lives in the same place, that’s true for some people, but it’s certainly not true for me.
I think that a thing that’s been really good at giving me some perspective is that it doesn’t take a global pandemic to disrupt closeness and life with people. It can happen that you’re really close to someone and then they start dating someone or they marry someone or they have a baby or they take a job in a different city. Or just that you both start having completely different interests and you grow apart essentially.
It doesn’t take a really big shift for that to happen. It’s given me a lot of perspective to think about, okay, right now it’s COVID, but there have been other disruptions in life and how do you think about staying close to people? Because physical distance is not the only kind of distance that’s possible in a friendship.
Ann Friedman: Yeah, and the metaphor we kind of hit on for this in the book, we call it The Stretch, which is to say how are you extending yourself to stay in the friendship and to stay close? Something like being far apart in a pandemic is going to require a stretch, probably from both people. It might look different or feel different to both of them, but sacrifice is required because you have to figure out if you want to stay friends. And the circumstances surrounding your friendship have changed, how are you going to change individually and together to adapt to that, to stay friends?
All of those scenarios that Aminatou that just mentioned in terms of big life changes, anything that really disrupts the way you’re living, are going to probably require some stretching in your friendship. Granted some life changes might bring you closer together. You might actually find yourselves going through something at the same time and it feels effortless.
But nine times out of ten, something like getting through distance is going to necessitate both of you saying, okay, well, this means I have to make time at an inconvenient hour in my schedule to connect with this person. Or I need to really remind myself to check-in in a way I didn’t have to when we were in person. Or we need to find a new routine together because we can’t show up at the same exercise class or show up to do our normal after work cocktail, or whatever your normal thing was.
It requires a certain level of creativity, a certain level of sacrifice, but then also just some openness about discussing the fact that, hey, the terms of this friendship have changed.
Marie Forleo: Love that. My best friend and I don’t live in the same geographical place and I’ve run my business online for 20 years now, which makes my head spin. So I’m so used to virtual connections.
Aminatou Sow: Congrats.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. And my best friend Kris, we live hours and hours apart and at some times of the year we’re across the country from each other. I often marvel myself because we are so close. It’s incredible just between texts and Zooms or Skypes or whatever, little voice memos, it’s that level of intimacy that can be created. So I really appreciate everything that you guys shared and that’s why I think I just relate to the book so much.
I want to talk about your podcast so Call Your Girlfriend. Okay, so let me know what was it like thinking about starting a business together? Were there nerves or fear, did you guys do a business prenup? Or were you like, no, we’re just going to do this and dive in?
Aminatou Sow: Well, here’s the truth, Marie. When we started a podcast, podcasts were not like they are today. It’s a professional media property. And so when we sat down to think about a podcast the question wasn’t like do you want to start a business together? The question was really, oh, do you want to spend some time figuring out how to use a microphone? Our podcast is six years old this month or last month.
Marie Forleo: Amazing, amazing.
Aminatou Sow: That’s a pretty vast change that happened. And the podcast was really a collaboration between Ann and Gina Delvac, our amazing producer and friend and me. I always say this on every interview, I think people are sick of hearing me say it, but if we had sat down to say, hey, do you want to start a podcast business together and run a small media company? I don’t know that we would have done it.
Ann Friedman: We would have run screaming.
Aminatou Sow: We would have run screaming. We don’t like paperwork, we don’t like business plans. No, we just would never, it would never happen. But I think that a thing that was true for us, which we explore in the book, is that my relationship with Ann, and ultimately our relationship with Gina, our producer, is the same way, that we are people who really enjoy work and our work identities are really important to us. We really use work as a way of getting to know ourselves and getting to know other people.
Part of really doing the podcast, speaking just for myself, was, oh, I get to spend structured time with Ann and Gina, I don’t care what we’re doing. I’ll do it.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Aminatou Sow: That’s not true for everyone, but I know that certainly in my friendship with Ann and in a lot of my other friendship, it really manifests this way. And we have the benefit of we had done a lot of other collaborations before. Ann and I used to have this blog and we had a 100 Tumblrs together. We had always had a little bit of work structure and because we’re also people who are really transparent about the way that we work, whether we were on staff in an office, or when we started working for ourselves as entrepreneurs.
We definitely had norms around how we established a business relationship because the thing that happened is that we started making this podcast and then people were like, we want to cut you a check for advertising and then checks were piling up and we didn’t have a bank account to put them in.
So we really accidentally found ourselves into a business. But I think that I went into that relationship being I trusted these women, we talk about money and business and power all the time. There wasn’t an official ceremony, but I do remember being really excited when we went to the bank and when our LLC paperwork showed up even before. So I was like I am business married, I love this. Not going to make a big deal out of it, but I love this and I trusted these people and the core of our work really is explaining that to each other.
Marie Forleo: So great. I got chills just listening to that. So for anyone listening right now, I’m going to dive around to a lot of different places just so you know. One of the other questions that I hear a lot from our audience, is people considering starting their own podcast and whether it’s solo or they want to do it with a colleague or a friend.
Is there any insight now that you guys have done this, congratulations for six years. Anything that you would offer to someone who is feeling that pang that they want to start their own?
Ann Friedman: The world of podcasts is so different than when we started in almost every single way. I mean what Aminatou was saying about the fact that it is now very much something people go into knowing that it can be a business, right?
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Ann Friedman: They’re thinking about a factor that really wasn’t present for us in the same way. I think that in some ways that’s great because it means that there can be some more intentionality around how you structure what goes in the podcast and how you structure your agreements about what you’re actually getting into together that we didn’t have. We literally were just like we’re going to call each other and chat, you know what I mean?
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Ann Friedman: So that is sort of a positive. I mean I think what’s difficult is that there are just so many shows now, right?
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Ann Friedman: I see it in myself of, I mean I subscribe to 10 things a week and I’m just like fingers crossed that I remember to listen to this. There’s so many good things happening in the world of audio, so I think the flip side of that is they’re more challenges to getting people to listen to it, right? The sheer kind of push that you have to do to make people aware that this is a podcast that exists. We really benefited from being early, frankly.
So there are pros and there are cons. I mean I think that if someone were going into it with the same intention that we had, which was we want to learn how to use this equipment, we want to learn this format. We’re excited to learn how to get good at having conversations this way or interviewing people this way, and we want to collaborate with friends. If those are still your goals, great. There are way more resources now than when we started.
But if your goal is I want to a podcast mogul and have a really successful business podcasting where I don’t do anything else, I think that’s harder now. It’s sort of a mixed bag and it really depends on what your goals are.
But I do think a joint commitment, the fact that we were all we want to commit to doing this every other week and then eventually every week, is really one thing that saw us through.
Marie Forleo: Is that your cadence now? Just out of curiosity, are you guys weekly with no break?
Aminatou Sow: Yeah. I mean for all intents and purposes, we are weekly with no break. Thank you for reminding us that this is an issue I will raise with my collaborator soon.
Ann Friedman: Can you tell that landed in a devastating way when you said weekly with no break?
Marie Forleo: I’ll tell you why. Because I have been creating content for close to two decades, right, when there was just email. I was doing the email marketing and just doing my content and net. Then it was blogs and then it’s YouTube and now it’s podcast and it’s all the things. There’s a gazillion channels.
So I’m just asking creator-to-creator, because a few years ago I had a PMS carb craving and I walked to a local bakery and the sign on the door was “We’re Closed Two Weeks for Vacation,” which for me as someone who really, really loves work and I love my work and I love my audience, and I love what I do, it was like this lightbulb moment. I was wait, people can close down for multiple weeks?
We have this thing in our company now where we take two weeks off in the summer and two weeks off in the winter. It was a really big leap for me. So I’m just always fascinated when I talk to other content creators and people that create and have great shows, of just their perspective. Because I feel for myself doing it for two decades, it’s like I don’t actually want to necessarily create content every single week. I need to deepen my own understanding. I need to step back and gain perspective.
I just wanted to share that really transparently just to see what your reflections are because I’m curious.
Ann Friedman: We deliver an episode every week on our show. It is not true that we record every week of our show.
Marie Forleo: Yes, yes.
Aminatou Sow: I’m really resonating with what you’re saying because the way that I work is that I need to take really long breaks. I grew up in a very, you take the summer off, European lifestyle, and I had really forgotten that part. Last year or two years ago, I did that for myself again where I was like I am taking all of August off and it is now a bylaw in my personal company that I just do that.
Marie Forleo: Yes, yes.
Aminatou Sow: I’m really lucky to work with people who can honor that commitment. And I know that building in flexibility for how you create is so, so, so, it’s important for your own brand, but I think it’s really good to model also for each other that you can take some time for yourself and the world is not going to fall apart.
When I worked in PR, we would always tell each other it’s PR not the ER, we don’t save lives.
Marie Forleo: I love it.
Aminatou Sow: I think everyone who makes content should just know that. The world doesn’t depend on the thing that you make. Like truly, your own world depends on it, but the world doesn’t care and that shouldn’t make you feel bad it should actually give you some perspective about the fact that life is really important.
And I will say that at Call Your Girlfriend, I have had the disruption of being sick also a lot and we write about this in the book. One way that both my professional community and my personal community has been really, really, really generous with me is people understanding that because of chronic illness I can’t show up in the way that capitalism says I need to show up. It’s not been disruptive to the work that I produce in so many ways because people understand that. You don’t have to be sick for people to give you that kind of allowance.
I think that if we live in a world where it’s okay for someone to go have a baby and come back to work in a year. It’s okay for someone to say I’m running a marathon and my evenings or my mornings are for running. Or someone else to say, hey, my health means that I can’t do this 24/7 all the time. Or someone else just says, hey, I like to take a nap at 3:00 p.m. every day. All of those things are equally valid and we need to be able to work in a way where everyone is happy and your needs are met.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Ann Friedman: Right. I think one way that we are able to do that is the three of us that work on Call Your Girlfriend have truly great work ethics. I feel comfortable saying that all of us are really hard workers and one of the benefits of showing up consistently for each other and for our listeners every week means that we also earn the right to publish an evergreen episode now and again. Or take the time off privately. It’s because you’ve built up that trust of we are showing up consistently. This is a conscientious break, it’s very different than just deciding to publish whenever you feel like it or something.
I think it’s often easy in our brains to conflate those things, right? People will think I’m just gone forever and the truth is, if you’ve built up some consistency, people know you’re coming back.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. For us, for the past years that we’ve been doing our two week summer shutdown and our holiday summer shutdown, I kind of just prep people, both on the podcast or on the show, or an email broadcast. Hey’s it’s coming up, you don’t have to worry, we didn’t fall off the earth. This is just our practice that we do.
Let’s talk about Shine Theory. I know you all have talked about this for so long, but for those who may not be aware, what is it, how did it come about? And I got to tell you, we must talk about your FAQ page because it’s brilliant. Oh my goodness, when I was reading it, it was so good.
Ann Friedman: The FAQ page on the Shine Theory website?
Marie Forleo: Yes, yes and more yes. I’m cheering. I’m like doing standing ovations of your clarity and just can I do this, can I do… and you’re nope, nope, and here’s why.
Ann Friedman: Well, Shine Theory was born of an idea that we shared privately for a long time, which is that whenever one of us was really extending herself to support the other and really taking a lot of time to talk her through a problem or help her strategize through something that was blocking her in her career or in her life, we would always reassure each other, I don’t shine if you don’t shine.
The idea that this is not just some kind of selfless extension of myself for you. I feel a benefit when you are your best self. And that is really at the heart of what Shine Theory is all about. It’s the idea of committing to each other for the long term to help each other be our best selves individually.
Marie Forleo: That’s beautiful.
Ann Friedman: It’s actually kind of simple, you know what I mean?
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Ann Friedman: We talk about it a lot.
Aminatou Sow: It’s really simple and to tie it back to friendship, I think that part of what we are trying to establish in the work that we do on the podcast, and what we are trying to say in the FAQ of the Shine Theory website, and what we talk about in this book, is that friendship really is, it’s a relationship that has a lot of dimensions. It’s like if you take friendship for all that it is, what you’re essentially saying is that you are building a community.
In the way that we try to live our lives and the way that we, Ann and I, try to be friends to each other and I believe friends to other people, we also think that there’s actually a huge political aspect to that. Where you are really saying, your well being and you being a good community member of our friend group is something that’s important.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing my friends win. And if they are not winning and they would like to, it is really important for me to bring my skill set and my cheerleading and my everything to that goal for them. Because ultimately anything that Ann does well is something that, one, selfishly, I just want to be a part of. This is not selfless work. I was like I love it for myself because it means that I have chosen someone who is amazing and also, two, it’s just a way of reassuring each other that you’re not alone in life. People really are invested in you.
We’re not inventing anything new here. I think that we are just giving a vocabulary and a framework to a lot of things that people have done historically in that people are doing even currently right now. But I think that it’s really, really, really important for friends to say that to each other because it’s just one way of reassuring each other.
And one way that you do keep each other close is that you show up and you are constantly reassuring each other that you are in it for the long haul and Shine Theory is one way of doing that.
Ann Friedman: And I really feel compelled to also note that one reason that FAQ on the Shine Theory website exists is because there is a temptation to turn everything into a kind of networking thing, or something that has to do with professional advancement only. Hey, can our HR department talk about Shine Theory?
While we’re not opposed to that, I think for us it really is situated within friendship. That long term investment that Aminatou is talking about is something that is really rare in a pure colleague relationship. So I think while we have both practiced Shine Theory with people who fall more on the colleague side of the spectrum than the friend side of the spectrum, ultimately this idea for us is really rooted in this kind of multi-faceted exploration of friendship is not something that you could just do a quick corporate presentation about for a networking event. It really is a deeper, long term practice.
We debated a little bit about how and whether it belonged within the friendship book and ultimately decided absolutely, yes, that is the number one place it belongs.
Marie Forleo: For anyone who is curious, you can go to Shinetheory.com/FAQ if you want to see why I was so delighted about the clarity, the boundaries, the kindness. There’s just so much in there and so I just want to thank you both for that because it was really inspiring to me.
Let’s talk about the difference that can arise between the public story and the personal reality, meaning what it was like to start feeling those times of disconnect in your friendship while still needing to show up for the podcast?
Aminatou Sow: Well, one, I want to say thanks to everyone for being flexible with me because there are definitely children in my quarantine pod and I’m sure that you can hear them through this recording. So I just want to note that because we are all living in a new way.
It’s interesting to hear you say that because there’s a part of me that’s very much like, well, that’s really normal. But there’s a disconnect between private and public stories and I think that there is another part of me that is really tender about how hard that was to navigate.
I think there’s so many layers to why I feel this way. I think that we are women who make a podcast that is ostensibly about friendship, but we’re also just women in the world. There’s always an expectation that everyone just knows you and knows your business because you do a podcast. Actually if you’re listening closely, you actually don’t know anything about us. We’re editing this conversation and it’s not about our relationship, it’s about the ideas that we care about, but I completely understand how that happens. And I think that’s true of every creator that is a woman and ultimately actually all creators.
Because the medium of podcast is very intimate so people think that they know you and that you’re talking to them. I think for us it was really, a lot of things happened, it was really hard and it was really intense because we like to say everything that we think out loud, to each other at least. I mean we are genuinely usually very fully self-expressed with each other. And for the first time in our friendship, we were holding back with each other.
And at the same time, we are two people who are complete professionals. So it meant that we would, even on the days I was like I don’t want to show up or I don’t want to be here, I had made a business commitment to Ann and Gina that I was going to record the show and so I showed up and I did my job.
That’s the thing too about it, that now I can laugh about because it’s so funny to think, oh, I’m not good at sharing my emotions, but I’m very good at doing my job. That doesn’t surprise me at all in hindsight. And it doesn’t surprise me that I am really good friends with someone else who feels that way.
I think that, honestly, it’s a product of modern life, where there is this public story that you are constantly telling the world. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t do a podcast, if you have social media, for example. The way that you share your photos or you share your anecdotes or whatever, is a thing that a lot of people will take to mean that that’s the full story of what’s going on with you.
Whereas I certainly don’t share anything that’s hard on social media, because I share that with my friends, I don’t need to share that with strangers. But it’s true that for us our show is predicated on our relationship and we were having this huge disconnect between how we felt privately about each other and at the same time our show is becoming really successful.
It just means that there is more work to do together and it wasn’t that we were avoiding the question at all. I think that we were really struggling with how do we talk to each other about it? Because I know that for myself it was hard to even say out loud to myself like, oh, I think I feel weird about my relationship with Ann today. It took me many months and probably over a year to really understand what that meant. Then it took just as long to really start to discuss that together.
And we write a lot about it because we really believe that that is not a problem that is unique to us. Like sure, we do a podcast and many, many, many more strangers are a part of our relationship, but I think that a lot of people in your audience would really relate to having a disconnect with how other people perceive your friendship to be and how it actually is within the friendship.
Ann Friedman: And I think that that is not necessarily the result of a personal failing. That’s a flaw with social media or this feeling of needing to also have an outward face. Whether it’s even just in person to your other friends. I think if you are experiencing a disconnect personally, often I experience that as, oh, is she going through what I’m going through? Are we both feeling the same thing?
Then there is some level of emotional risk involved in even having the conversation. If you can’t have that conversation privately, it’s hard to fault yourself for also not having it publicly. Especially when so much of social media is really about either outrage or joy. These kind of two very polar ends.
And a lot of what I felt in that time when we were not close didn’t really fit either of those emotions. I mean it wasn’t like I’m outraged at some great global injustice, it wasn’t that I was only feeling joyful about our friendship. I had a complicated stew of feelings that those formats are not designed to help us work through. They’re not designed to let us model what it’s like to muddle through. You know what is good for that, is a book.
Marie Forleo: Yes, yes.
Ann Friedman: That’s one reason why we’re talking about this in this space where we could both be considered about, hey, what were we really going through? And what were we really saying publicly and why did that disconnect emerge? It feels really good to be able to give that story the space it deserves.
Aminatou Sow: I think that the by-design nature also of not discussing these things sometimes has nothing to do with social media. Ann and I both share a value that we talk about in the book, or shared a value in the book, where we called ourselves “low drama mamas.” There was just this belief, and now I really want to identify it as shame and stigma, about being women who talk about difficult things. Because there’s just this idea that the only people who have “drama,” and I’m making the biggest air quotes, which you cannot see on a podcast, that drama is really just the province of 16-year-old girls.
And I realize now that I had really internalized that even as a 20-something-year-old and even as a 30-something-year-old, I’m really trying to work through those feelings. Actually it’s not drama to say if something is not working for you and also all of your relationships require that you be really honest so that was one problem.
Another problem too is that when you are friends with a lot of people like we are, there’s no outlet to talk about it. I couldn’t tell our other friends that I was going through problems with Ann because it felt gossipy, it felt awkward. I just didn’t know what to do with it.
So I would sit with the feelings by myself all the time. Or my poor therapist, who has to deal with every feeling that I don’t know what to do with, and in writing the book with Ann, that was something that I was able to say out loud to her. I didn’t know how to tell myself this, I didn’t know how to tell you this, but I also didn’t really have anywhere else to talk about it. I think that that’s true for a lot of friends.
And hearing that she had a very similar experience, it was such a sigh of relief. Like, okay, great, I’m not losing my mind here. It’s actually…
Ann Friedman: We were both miserable.
Aminatou Sow: Both miserable. Yeah, we were both miserable and we were not talking to each other about it. The problem of both being miserable and not talking about it means that you’re just stewing in your separate corners about something that even though it’s really painful, you can actually start to fix together.
I’m not telling anyone that some friendship rifts are not hard and just devastating. I just know that for myself, the prospect of not being friends with Ann anymore was something, I was like that will devastate me. That would have been a defining life moment for me and I was really, really, really struggling with that.
Marie Forleo: Which brings me to something you wrote on page 122, the Trap Door chapter.
Aminatou Sow: So someone else has read this book, I love it.
Ann Friedman: 122.
Marie Forleo: Listen, I’m a woman who prepares, that is part of my nature. The Trap Door chapter, which was so moving and I feel is so incredibly timely. We’re recording this a few weeks before your book’s release, right now we’re having a global conversation about race. On 122, it says: “Race is bigger than our friendship. We and all of our dynamics live within it. And so we can’t reduce our difficulties in navigating racial difference to a single before and after teachable moment.”
I don’t know if there’s anything you want to share because I feel like these conversations are so important in talking about the power of having the bravery to have these difficult conversations. Especially with our friends and especially with our colleagues, right? And in all of our spaces.
I just want to open it up if there’s anything that you guys want to share about that particular chapter or its relevance especially given the context that we’re in right now?
Ann Friedman: It’s interesting that you zeroed in on that quote because I think that part of the process of writing this book and articulating some ideas like the Stretch, was realizing that not everything, when it comes to big differences within a friendship, not everything is within your control to account for. And I think that line about our friendship living within race and within racism and within anti-black racism, specifically in our case, it’s just impossible to say… We’re never going to get to a place where that’s not the case.
In our lifetime I’m fairly certain that those are going to be factors that always affect our dynamic. And that was a big reason why that is its own chapter. It’s really given its own treatment because it is different than other kinds of challenges faced within friendship.
It’s interesting. I was just having a conversation yesterday with a woman I know who is white and was talking about a friendship, an interracial friendship that she is in, and she said something along the lines of, “I just want us to be able to deal with each other as individuals. Or can’t we just discuss our problems as the problems between the two of us? And why does it always have to be bigger?” And I was sort of like, “It just is.” You know what I mean?
When it comes to an issue like race, it is really impossible to remove the fact that, Aminatou and I are fundamentally positioned differently in the world because of our race. And the question is not how do we ignore that or how do we create a space within our friendship where that isn’t true? The question is, how do we continually make space in our friendship to address that fact?
Aminatou Sow: Yeah. I think too that it’s interesting that you framed the question in terms of it’s a brave conversation to be had because I think that construct to me is… I understand that for white people it’s really difficult to talk about race. And that difficulty is actually part of what the problem is in a lot of relationships between people of different races. And in our case, it is the friendship of a white person and a black person so we’re talking specifically about anti-black racism.
I think that a thing that I always want white people to remember whenever this crops up, is remembering that the difficulty really is because they are not adept at talking about race. But black people talk about race all of the time because we do not have a choice to.
I think that if you’re thinking of that purely on the level of, like Ann, to the construct of the white person that you were talking about, on the level just to me purely of okay, great, we live in a world that it’s… forget the structural issues for a moment and just think about the personal issues.
Even there for me I find it really hard to deal with the fact that you can be friends with someone who is different from you in a really, really, really fundamental way and emphatic response is not to say how do I meet you halfway, no matter how hard the thing is?
It goes back to that thing about Stretching. We are really lucky that we have a lot of people in our lives that are very different from us. Whether it’s race or it’s gender or sexuality or whatever. We have friends that cut across a lot of different identity lines. And I know that for me the question that I’m always asking myself is how am I being good to my friend in a way that they need even when it is difficult for me? And how do I not make the conversation about the difficulty of talking to them about it at all? Is one thing.
I also think that having difficult conversations is something that people have to do in all sorts of scenarios. And there is one way in which race is obviously very specific and it has its own vocabularies and it has its own rules and obviously is ruled by the fact that we live in a society that is racist.
But I do think that the empathy muscle that people can have for each other when they love each other, is actually the place to lean into a lot. Because even if you’re taking the most basic of, I don’t know, heterosexual, white lady, married to a heterosexual white man, I know that even in that relationship there are ways in which you would like to be heard and you want to be approached.
What I hope that that chapter is really doing for people is showing that structural issues are structural issues and they’re never going to go away. Ann and I will always live in a world that is racist. And even if tomorrow the world stops being racist, we had lived in a world that was racist, which means that we have to contend with that, and that we have hard conversations about all sorts of things.
And saying that a conversation is hard because someone is different is actually really painful for that person because you are saying that they are a problem, even if that is not what you mean. I think that within the bounds of friendship, I’m not talking about people who are talking to each other on Twitter or people like your colleagues or whatever, but within the bounds of friendship there is an intimacy and there is a love, I think, that is really helpful for getting through the world.
Because ultimately going back to what we want of our friends, my friends are my community. I want to grow with this community, I want to be safe in my community, I want to be someone who makes the other people feel safe in the community. Our freedom is all tied into each other and what are we going to do about it?
Ann Friedman: Yeah. And I often think back to the writer and cultural critic Wesley Morris who we quote in this chapter. Who talks about the fact that in a lot of interracial friendships, there is sort of subject matter or an area where the friendship tacitly knows not to go. That kind of like, maybe it’s a third rail, I don’t know what you want to call it, it’s like a closet or something. It’s a room that the friendship just doesn’t walk into.
I think really understanding that if you are someone in the friendship who has more privilege when it comes to something like race. In our friendship specifically, between a white person and a black person, I’m the white person in that friendship and if I am tiptoeing around the door, it doesn’t mean that Aminatou doesn’t know the door is there or the room is there. It doesn’t mean that she’s not thinking about it all the time and probably processing and talking about it with other people in her life.
It’s me ignoring the existence of that space does not actually bring us any closer together or allow us to live closer in community. There’s something about that very visual metaphor that he used that also that really resonated with me emotionally too. That sense of, okay, we can both know it’s there and we don’t have to go there and that being a really destructive pattern that I’ve had in my own friendships.
Marie Forleo: I’ve enjoyed the whole book. I mean I loved so much of what you guys shared. I want to wrap us up today, if it’s okay, we have so many aspiring writers and existing writers in our audience. And as a writer myself, I sometimes also like to talk about process. What was the process like of writing this book together? Was it Google Docs upon Google Docs? Was it getting on calls like this?
I think so much of what you did so brilliantly is this joint story and then going back and forth with different perspectives. It felt so intimate and it felt so real and I just felt like I was just sitting with you both on, I don’t know, on a couch or something. I’m curious if you can tell us more about the process and how that unfolded for you?
Ann Friedman: How did you know about all the Google Docs? Like hundreds. Who leaked the Google Docs?
Marie Forleo: My company we are literally Google Doc obsessed. There are so many Google Docs upon Google Docs so that was just a little bit of an assumption.
Aminatou Sow: It was not easier, but I think that because we work on the podcast already, we had tiny systems that we had been doing. We didn’t have to start from scratch. It’s not to say that it wasn’t daunting or terrifying. I am really lucky that in this collaboration to share Ann’s organizational and process-oriented brain. Because everything that I was afraid of was something that she already kind of either had a system for, or had a way of addressing.
This is why collaboration is really important, y’all. The thing you’re the most afraid of, someone else might have the answer to and it’s lovely to be in business with them. There were different kinds of processes, but at it’s base, yes, we worked a lot in Google Docs, even though we had a lot of Drive problems.
For writing the book specifically, a lot of it, honestly, had just to be talked out and hashed out. We would outline together extensively and really talk through what we were trying to say. Because there’s a world in which this book could have been, Ann writes a chapter and I write a chapter, we go back and forth. Or we meet somewhere in the middle and we trade-off in the writing, but what we were really trying to say is that this is a joint story that we are telling. So we have to have the same conclusion and we have to share the same truths, we have to share the same pain. And we really have to do that together.
We wrote every sentence of this book together. In some ways, that was the hardest thing to do, but I’m glad that we did it this way. Because we have read a lot of fiction about two people in a friendship, and we love that stuff, it’s so good. Please, please, please more books about friendship. We’ve read a lot of nonfiction about people talking about a particular friendship that they’re in, and we also love those.
What we had never seen was a book where two people are writing about the same experience that they are having together. So that’s kind of what we were trying to contribute to the friendship canon of writing.
So back to your question, we talked through it a lot, we outlined it together, we would go separately, but usually together in the same room, write the sections that we had assigned ourselves to write. Then come back and try to meld that into one common narrative. And I think that the process of outlining and reverse outlining is really how we get to this spot. Ann, what do you think?
Ann Friedman: I mean, yes, that is all true, that is all definitely true. And I also think that when I hear you walk through it like that, I think about how at the stage where we would, after having been separate, working on our separate laptops, when we would come together and read aloud to each other the parts we had written individually, I was consistently delighted by both when we would land on the same idea about something.
It was really uncanny sometimes where we might get at with a couple of different words, but the truth being we both felt that a certain conclusion was the right conclusion for that paragraph. Or we would really land on the heart of an idea together. That felt great.
But what also felt great is when we would be like, oh, you got into this with a totally different example. And I hadn’t even remembered that and that’s perfect for talking about this really big abstract problem. Or one thing that happened over and over, is I’m someone who will kind of make the skeleton and then put on the flesh and cute outfit, you know what I mean?
And Amina is someone who doesn’t have this locked-in process about that and would come out with the most beautiful things or the most perfect anecdote in draft one. Where I’m just trying to be how does the knee bone connect to the shin bone, you know what I mean?
I think it was really, really wonderful to be a part of her process where I could be, oh, actually this beautiful poetic idea at this stage in the process feels great and is going to determine the course of this chapter as opposed to my more rigid, locked-in process. I don’t know.
There is so much of this book that is just impossible to identify in words how it came from both of us. It’s not just two perspectives, it’s two processes, it’s two skill sets. I feel really grateful, especially now as we start to talk about it, that we both get to take credit for all of it. It feels amazing.
Marie Forleo: I love that. You guys are just both… thank you. Thank you for taking the time. Thank you for writing it. I want to go back through it sincerely. It’s sitting on my desk right now right next to me as we’re recording this. But I’ve had it on my nightstand for the past few nights as I’ve been going through it.
Is there anything else that you want our audience to hear or anything else that you want to share before we wrap up?
Ann Friedman: I’m sort of tempted to give a pep talk about how a lot of friendships are fixable. Not every friendship…
Marie Forleo: Do it! Do it! Do it, go for it.
Ann Friedman: But I do think one thing that’s become true for me, and I’m sure the same is true for you, Aminatou, as my personal friends read this book, I’m really hearing a lot of stories about small and big regrets that people have with friendships that they let go. That they let go or decided not to keep investing in or that they wrote off. I don’t think that every friendship is worth saving, I don’t think that every single friendship is healthy and wonderful and serves you at all points of your life.
But I do think that there is a strong case in our book for re-evaluating the choice to walk away from certain friendships and seeing what might happen if you just expressed some of those feelings directly to the person who you keep thinking about.
Aminatou Sow: I love that, Ann, and I think that it really ties back into what Marie was saying at the beginning of the episode. When you invoked the toxic friendships that so many of us… the minute you say toxic friendship I think everyone has an image in their head of exactly what that is. It is true that some relationships are really toxic.
But in writing this book, and in talking to all the experts that we’ve talked to, and really just in examining myself, I have been really challenged and pushed to examine whether some relationships that I had labeled as toxic were toxic. Or whether I just didn’t have the stomach to have a grown up talk with someone that I wanted to move away from.
It’s really hard, it is really painful, but ultimately it’s really worth being something to think about because everyone… I wrote a book with someone who is one of my closest friends and someone that I want to be there on the last day that I have on this earth. I know how hard and difficult it is to preserve relationships like this, but it’s so worth it.
I think that examining my own patterns and my own thought process and the ways in which I either run away from conversation or I decide to double down, is work that has been beneficial to me in so many other areas of my life. Whether the friendships survive or not, I think if you do that work you will still come out a better person than you were the day before and it’s really worth it.
Marie Forleo: Aminatou, Ann, thank you both so much for the work that you do in the world. Thank you for your podcast, and thank you for the gift of Big Friendship. Everyone listening, get yourself a copy, get your friends a copy. Big Friendship is out now. How We Keep Each Other Close.
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