favorite passages from big friendship.

aminatou sow and ann friedman’s book big friendship: how we keep each other close was a very moving read for me. i’m in a season of doing some deep thinking about the friendships and relationships in my life and how they have shaped me throughout the years, so this was particularly timely for me. i underlined long passages and am sharing them below for any who are interested. but more than anything, i recommend getting a copy for yourself and sharing it with the important people in your life.

big friendship is a bond of great strength, force, and significance that transcends life phases, geography, and emotional shifts. it is large in dimension, affecting most aspects of each person’s life. it is full of meaning and resonance. a big friendship is reciprocal, with both parties feeling worthy of each other and willing to give of themselves in generous ways. a big friendship is active. hearty. and almost always, a big friendship is mature. its advanced age commands respect and predicts its ability to last far into the future. [epigraph]

we now call it a big friendship, because it’s one of the most affirming – and most complicated – relationships that a human life can hold. [xvii]

at a cultural level, there is a lot of lip service about friendship being wonderful and important, but not a lot of social support for protecting what’s precious about it. even deep, lasting friendships like ours need protection -and, sometimes, repair. [xviii]

this feeling of being inextricable is a hallmark of big friendship. as humans, we are all thoroughly shaped by the people we know and love. day to day, our friends influence our tastes and our moods. long term, they can also affect how we feel about our bodies, how we spend our money, and the political views we hold. we grow in response to each other, in ways both intentional and subconscious. [5]

it’s funny that high school, college, and the first years of adulthood are all identified as being formational years. because for us, our late 20s and early 30s also represented a pretty radical amount of growth into our adult selves. we had achieved escape velocity from our upbringings and established a toehold in our careers, and we were starting to figure out adulthood. how do you want to live? who do you want to be? these were questions we were answering together. [29]

we hung on to each other’s every word. but we didn’t realize that we were doing more than telling the stories of ourselves. we were starting to tell a joint story about who we were together. [40-1]

we shared a desire to be women who take up a lot of space and refuse to apologize for it. [41]

‘thankyouthankyouthankyou for being such forces of hope and light and love and joy in my life’. [49]

on a personal level, the two of us have always wanted to be independent women who don’t center our conversations on men. we want people of every gender to be free to feel the expansive joy of intimate friendships. we want to have a supportive network of friends, fulfilling romantic relationships, and strong family bonds – while still charting our own course in the world. [57]

it wasn’t that we made a conscious pledge to be friends forever. it’s that we accepted a truth deep within ourselves that our lives, from that point forward, would always include each other. anything else was unimaginable. [57]

aminatou often jokes that we have steamrolled each other to success, but really, it’s simple: we love and admire our friends so much, we want the world to respect and reward them for their efforts. we want our friends to demand more for themselves. and get it. [61]

even before we used the words ‘shine theory,’ it was an operating principle of our friendship. we came to define shine theory as an investment, over the long term, in helping a friend be their best – and relying on their help in return. it is a conscious decision to bring our full selves to our friendships and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them. it’s a practice of cultivating a spirit of genuine happiness and excitement when our friends are doing well, and being there for them when they aren’t. [70]

and often, wanting the best for our friends has prompted us to seek better things for ourselves too. [70]

shine theory asks that we replace that impulse of competition with one of collaboration. [71]

the researcher adam grant has found that the people who are unafraid to share their knowledge and resources with others in their community are the most likely to succeed over the long haul. [74]

one of the most helpful things we can do for someone is connect them to someone else. [76]

sometimes shine theory looks like helping each other be heard. [79]

…shine theory is intentional. it is accountable. it is personal. and you have to actually put in the work. [82]

the same principle applies to friendship. stretching is the best metaphor we’ve come up with to describe all the ways our friends expand our world, challenge us, and inspire us to change. this give-and-take is necessary from the very beginning because no two people are exactly alike. life inevitably brings changes. and those changes often shift the foundation on which the friendship was built. that’s just how it is. you are not the person you were 10 years ago, and you won’t be the exact same person in the next decade. for a big friendship to survive, it has to adapt. [90]

a healthy friendship involves stretches in both directions. when you’re stretching, you’re both making an effort to figure out how to adapt to your differences and to the shifting shape of your bond. just like exercise, some of this emotional stretching feels good, and some of it will make you feel like you can’t take it anymore. stretching is being challenged, in a way that is both difficult and rewarding at the same time. the amount of stretching doesn’t have to feel equal in every single moment – sometimes one person will require more from the friendship than the other – but over time, the give has to even out with the take. [91]

when you’re not the one who’s feeling stretched, it can be hard to notice all the effort your friend is putting in to sustain the friendship. [97]

it’s only through deciding to stretch that we become stronger and grow. there is really no way around that. when we have stretched ourselves, it’s not always fun in real time. but when we look back, we can see that it was our challenges, not our comforts, that have made us stronger, wiser, and more resilient. [98]

it’s not something that’s easily captured in a photo, but the friendweb is a helpful visual representation of the complex ways that the people we love connect and relate to each other. [102]

and just because two people are connected does not mean they view their connection the same way. [103]

people hurt and misunderstand each other all the time – it’s inevitable, even between two people who know each other very well. [114]

‘for people of color, some aspect of friendship with white people involves an awareness that you could be dropped through a trapdoor of racism at any moment, by a slip of the tongue, or at a campus party, or in a legislative campaign.’ [118]

it’s worth pointing out that people of different races may have different motivations for self-segregating. researchers have found that black children segregate as a self-protective measure. ‘what we find is that in spaces where there is racial inequity, that is a protective response,’ cinzia pica-smith, associate professor at assumption college, told npr. ‘white children, however, self-segregate because of prejudice against kids of different races.’ and white people are responsible for the institutional reasons the racial divide is so gaping in the first place. black people aren’t the ones who redlined neighborhoods and perpetuated hiring discrimination and decided they were super into school segregation. it’s white people who have been disproportionately in power for centuries, or, more accurately, running a system designed to reward whiteness, that has ensured that race plays a role in where people live and work and go to school. all while continually voicing the idea that race shouldn’t matter and everything is a meritocracy. [136]

saying over and over that race shouldn’t matter distracts from the fact that it still does. especially to people in intimate interracial relationships. [136]

if big friendship is built on trust, can it even exist if the trapdoor is always threatening to swing open? [137]

…it’s not just what you say or what you purport to believe. it’s something you have to constantly reinforce with your actions. [137]

there is a strong case for aminatou’s rule about never being anyone’s starter black friend. researchers have found that interracial relationships tend to end sooner than same-race relationships if it’s the only interracial relationship for one or both parties. in other words, being in an intimate relationship with someone of another race is a particular type of stretch, and you’re likely to be better at it if you are doing it in more than one relationship. unlike other stretches, it will nevr stop being a challenge. but you can improve. get stronger. [138]

the real danger doesn’t lie in telling a public story about your friendship. it lies in losing your ability to tell the private one. [162]

you’re allowed to rewrite the rules of a friendship and shift categories at any time. [190]

there is no autopilot mode for a big friendship. you just have to keep showing up. active friendships require active maintenance. you don’t get to sit back, do nothing, and enjoy the benefits of a meaningful relationship – any relationship. but action is especially important to friendship, which carries no familial expectations or marriage license. if you don’t take action to mark it as important and keep it alive, a friendship will not survive. [192]

…staying attached to a close friend can be boiled down to three main things: ritual, assurances, and openness. [193]

even the closest of friends need to assure each other that the friendship is important. [195]

langan adds that being transparent also means opening up about how important someone is to you as a friend – making sure you are saying to them that you value their presence in your life. don’t just occasionally think of your friend fondly. tell them that your life would lose meaning if they disappeared from it. tell them you love them. tell them exactly why you want to hold on to this friendship and make it last for the long haul. [197]

you don’t want a friendship to be resilient just so it endures. you want a big, resilient friendship so you, as a human, can be resilient when you’re presented with the horrible shit that life will most definitely throw your way. [197]

we give relationships meaning by the amount of attention and work we put into them. [198]

‘there were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. everyone misses their friends when they are dying.’ [199]

a big friendship can hold you when you’re worried that everything else is falling apart. it can be a space of validation when you feel alone in the world. it can provide the relief of feeling seen without having to explain yourself in too many words. and it offers the security of knowing that you won’t have to go through life’s inevitable challenges alone. [201]

once you’ve seen yourself in a mirror of friendship – in both positive and challenging ways – the reflection cannot be unseen. [202]

most of us are going to have to work to stay in a big friendship. we’re going to have periods of stretching to the point of strain, and periods when we really need our friend to do the stretching. we’re going to have moments when we feel out of sync. times when we don’t feel understood and seen. situations in which we feel failed by our friend, and other situations in which we are doing the failing. all the rituals and assurances and openness in the world can’t make a big friendship feel easy all the time. and when it’s hard, the only way for a big friendship to survive is for both people to decide it’s going to. showing up, in good times and in bad, is the only way to stay in it. [204]


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