Letters

"Men suffer as deeply at the loss of male friendships." Readers sound off on Rebecca Traister's story about the breakup of female friendships.


Salon Staff
May 25, 2005 3:48PM (UTC)

[Read "Friend Fatale," by Rebecca Traister.]

I could not agree more with Rebecca Traister in "Friend Fatale." I "lost" a female friend of mine several years ago and was completely devastated. I had been with her through grad school, the death of her mother, a bad marriage, a good divorce. We had more detailed retirement plans than my husband and I did. Then she found a new guy -- who didn't like me for ridiculous reasons. She cried, saying that she knew that dumping me was wrong, that she should stand up to him. We lived in different states; it's not like he had to see me every day, yet he didn't want her calling me when he was home. Neither my husband nor a good male friend of mine understood, which was a further insult.

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For years, I didn't acknowledge her existence. I can say her name now, but I still prefer not to.

-- Lesley Bingham

Rebecca Traister's essay about female friendships is timely and passionate. My life partner is going through an upheaval over a friendship with a woman she's known 10 years. The signs were there years before, but turning 50 has sharpened the differences between them, as my partner has blossomed and her friend has become bitter over kids growing up and leaving the nest and a host of other things. It's an incredibly hard thing watching this friendship disintegrate. As a man -- as her man -- I watch, and I mourn with her. Thanks to Rebecca, this kind of love may now begin to have a language to express itself with.

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I also wondered as I read this essay, if there will ever come a time when platonic male-female relationships will find expression in print. I am a man who has had many deep friendships with women that were not sexual and didn't need to be. And the women involved were not "wannabe men." They were women. In most cases, very attractive "girly girls" and "tough chicks" and whatever's in between. I have known and loved them and they have loved me.

If there's anything I've learned, it's that every relationship has its own depth and character, and this culture's puritanical heritage continues to force us to find a box to fit these kinds of loving bonds in and then scolds us for not finding the "appropriate" category. Love is a much wider and grander experience than the narrow definitions we have, and it's time we began to find a vocabulary for what we live and the many ways that we love.

-- Ken Dyier

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I loved Rebecca Traister's article from start to finish. It was smart and compelling, and I related to it wholeheartedly. That being said, I felt a little like a voyeur every time she mentioned "female friendships." I wonder if Ms. Traister knows that men suffer as deeply at the loss of male friendships.

-- Jason Carter

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More than anything else, Ms. Traister's article left me yearning for a major publication or two about the deterioration of male friendships. Men of course go through the same cycles of friendships beginning and ending -- and we're often less equipped with heartfelt or vulnerable language to get us out of the quicksand. And what about the too-common pain of male-female friendships ending in the face of romantic relationships? It seems the topic of friendship is quite ripe for formal exploration.

-- Eric Shapiro

Ms. Traister wonders why. "Why do we have such a hard time ending things, and why, when we finally cast each other out, do we feel such guilt, sorrow and self-hatred afterward, when tossing boyfriends to the curb is considered a rite of emotional development?"

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Perhaps it's because men's feelings don't have to be considered -- they deserve it, after all. They don't feel things the same way we do; they don't deserve the same consideration as women. Just chuck them on the curb; they'll get over it.

If I had a dime for every woman that complained of men's lack of emotions while expecting them to tough it out and be "real men"...

-- Lindsay

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I've read, with a fair bit of interest, Rebecca Traister's recent series of articles on friendships between women. I'm admittedly a fairly young guy (23), but it strikes me that a similar modern shift is taking place in platonic friendships between men and women. I say this because I find that my parents (my mother in particular) can't seem to wrap her head around the fact that several of my dearest and closest friendships are with women. Women that I've never slept with, kissed or cuddled significantly ... because we simply don't want to. Women with whom I can talk freely about the intricacies of my romantic and sexual relationships, without needing to edit myself for a girlish audience.

And these women can, and do, make use of me the same way. My parents, both enthusiastic products of '60s-style sexual liberation, prod me about where these friendships might lead. And don't seem to get why I haven't considered marrying any of them! And it is plain from their choices in friends that they have a number of thoughts on what can be discussed with and expected of male friendships vs. females friendships; and these are not entirely overlapping sets.

-- Seamus

I have struggled to understand why a "breakup" with a girlfriend is not a simple shrugging off of old clothes but instead a very real and painful event, even when you are both not gay.

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Calling it a piece of glass in your heart is an absolutely correct description; the experience is like the death of a part of you. The end of one of my friendships was made even more difficult because I worked with her fiancé and all I heard about was her life and how perfect she was, and yet I knew that if she were as good as others perceived, she would not have been so cruel to me or to others in a similar way before and after me.

I also wonder about whether anyone has encountered a scenario since the last election, as I have, where I truly question my friends who switched and voted for Bush but whom until that point I had considered sane and logical, believing in the theory of evolution and birth control along with every other modern belief of diplomacy and humanity.

I suppose you can say the meaning or reason for our having female relationships is to realize the meaning of life or at least karma. What I wish your article discussed more was how even though this is painful, it can be liberating to be rid of a toxic friendship. Most of the time we realize only after we finish mourning and find new friends that perhaps friendships should not be toxic and should not end on such low notes. I tread lighter with quasi-friendships now, to see if they become toxic, and I try to spend time with friends who are more reliable or emotionally stable rather than latch on to emotional vampires. Still, I am a better woman and friend because of those toxic women. At least I know this is a more common female experience than I realized.

-- Christina Steven

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While I find much in Rebecca Traister's article to agree with, I'm annoyed by the assumption running through her piece (and many other discussions of the subject) that it applies only to women -- that female friendship is inherently deeper, more meaningful, and more important than the male equivalent. Men also form friendships that reach the level of family, and it's just as painful for us when we or our friends screw it up.

-- Daniel Dvorkin

I found Rebecca Traister's "Friend Fatale" rather creepy to read. The first example of a friendship gone south -- the friend who slept with a romantic obsession -- reeks of a "Psycho"-type confusion between reality and fantasy. Later on, she writes about good friends confusing identities and "becoming each other." And while I recall my friends from when I was 7, claiming that they've shaped my life to any measurable degree is a bit much.

Sure, female friendship is complicated, nuanced territory, but the aborted friendships Traister's article chronicles read like a Psychology primer. This is the kind of outlook that makes people bestow the "crazy" label on all women.

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-- Margaret Weigel

Rebecca Traister's essay was a real eye-opener for me. I've lost several important female friendships over the years, and each one of them still resonates with guilt and regret, even though in most cases I had grown apart from the women involved. I just didn't realize that my feelings weren't so strange after all.

I recently returned from an overseas trip in which I traveled with a fairly new but potentially intimate friend. We quarreled twice during the two-week holiday -- both times over misunderstandings that sprang from different attitudes about what we wanted from the trip and how we preferred to plan our days and activities. I said something to her that I considered "harmless" and she interpreted as condescending. The tension remained a thread throughout the rest of the trip and reemerged later, cementing the damage.

In retrospect, though the quarrels seem trivial, they shattered my "myths" about her, and I'm sure the reverse must be equally true, though I haven't spoken to her in the week since our return. I feel now as if perhaps I never want to see her again -- that the work of repairing the rift is just too difficult and painful, exposing me in a way I don't want to be exposed -- and I'm in mourning.

At least now I realize that what I've experienced is not unique, and that brings its own bitter comfort.

-- Sue Krinard

This piece reminded me of the saying "No one hates you like your friends," a saying I've heard muttered cynically by men. That thought made me wonder if Salon is trying to be Cosmopolitan. Half the potential readership is alienated by focusing on female friendships, when it should be obvious that male friendships are not at all different. Men are equally derailed when their friendships rupture, perhaps simply because no one knows you like your friends.

-- Dennis Riches


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