• Keeping Friends

Exurb Magazine: 5 Questions with The Friendship Doctor

Published: December 2, 2009 | Last Updated: February 11, 2024 By | Reply Continue Reading

The Friendship Doctor was recently interviewed by Victoria Clayton-Alexander, editor of Exurb Magazine. Before I answered 5 questions from her, I asked what an “exurb” was.

Victoria responded: “The good people at the Brookings Institute define “exurb” this way: exurban census tracts send at least 20 percent of their workers to urbanized areas in large metropolitan areas.

For our purposes, it’s a a state of mind (and, okay, place). A lot of people say a lot of things about the exurbs and
much of it isn’t so flattering. We’re in the LA/Ventura County area and we care about the environment, education, city planning, music, good food, wine, books and more. If you live outside of a major city and you care about these issues, you’re here too.”

So with that in mind, here is the interview:

Exurbanite Irene Levine is a clinical psychologist and blogs about friendship at The Friendship Blog and The Huffington Post. If you’ve ever lost touch with a supposedly good friend, been dumped or dumped a friend, you need Levine’s new book Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. Contrary to what daytime television or Bravo might depict, Levine tells us that friends fall by the wayside not because one steals another one’s husband or anything that outrageous. Check out what she has to say about the lifespan of friendships, her book and her famous neighbors….

1. When I described Best Friends Forever to various people almost everyone told me a story about a breakup with a good friend. Did you also find in your research that breaking up with a friend is nearly a universal experience? Why does this happen and who seems to be most plagued with friendship problems?

I’ve had the same experience and have gotten emails and survey responses from people all over the world, as far away as Nigeria and the South Pacific, expressing their pain about failed friendships. Regardless of language or lifestyle, the feelings were pretty universal. Most people can resonate to the experience of losing a friend-either because they were jilted, dumped someone else, or because two friends simply drifted apart.

As people grow and change, their lives don’t necessarily follow the same trajectories so it’s completely natural that many friendships would fall apart over time. Most friendships, even very close ones, don’t last forever; on average, a friendship lasts about seven years. The more changes that take place in your life (e.g. geographic moves, graduations, changes in marital or parental status, career changes, and personal ones, etc.), the more fragile your friendships become.

Yet, I wouldn’t really characterize it as a friendship problem. It’s only a problem if you don’t understand that friendships have their ups and downs and not all of them last forever.

2. I’ve also found that many people are loathe to talk about it…it almost seems a source of shame or as if they’re afraid the breakup will reflect poorly on them. In Best Friends Forever, you talk about the embarrassment and shame. Why do you think we tend to have such shame over these types of breakups?

Women are often judged by their ability to make and maintain friendships so it’s natural that it would be embarrassing to talk about it when someone suddenly loses a close friend. The subject is so taboo, in fact, that there is often no one to talk to about it.

You can’t tell your mother because she’ll likely ask what you did to provoke the breakup. You can’t talk about it to your partner, husband or lover, because he’ll never understand the depth of female friendships. And women hesitate to tell other friends because they think they’ll be looked down upon. There are really no protocol or rules for handling a breakup and that’s one of the reasons why I wrote my book.

3. What’s your best advice on dealing with the loss of a friendship? Do you think people always need to reconnect with the estranged friend and hash it out or do you think it’s usually best to move on and somehow get over it? If the answer is “get over it,” how do people do that?

Getting over the pain of a lost friendship takes time. In the book, I discuss the predictable stages that women go through in reaching a state of acceptance.

One mistake people sometimes make is thinking that they need to interact with their ex-friend in order to reach closure. This isn’t the case. Often, we don’t get that opportunity. Getting over it means learning from the experience so that you are a better friend and make wiser friendship choices in the future.

4. Is there one or two things people do that typically contribute to friendship breakups? Is there a better way to live to prevent this?

Some friendship breakups are precipitated by disappointments (e.g. failing to acknowledge special days in your friend life) and misunderstandings; these types of breakups can often be prevented with better communication between two friends. If you are a Birthday Princess, your birthday is coming up, and you want to celebrate with your friend, don’t count on her having a crystal ball. Mention it so she knows. Or if you felt hurt by something your friend said, let her know so it doesn’t happen again and you don’t build up ill feelings.

The large majority of friendships, however, break up because neither person cares enough about the friendship to make it work. If you are invested in a friendship, you need to make it a priority and devote time and attention to the relationship.

5. You live in an area that’s become quite well known. Can you tell us a little about Chappaqua and the Washington Post article you wrote for your famous neighbors when they were about to move there?

Chappaqua is a small hamlet in Westchester County, New York, that is part of the town of New Castle (along with Millwood). It is about 50 minutes from NYC on Metro North. When I first moved here from the DC area, I was struck by the sense of intimacy and the deeply rooted community that I found. Compared to how transient I found the DC metro area, the shopkeepers and many of my neighbors had lived and worked here for multiple generations.

When the Clintons bought their home here, I knew that Hillary Clinton would have to make a big adjustment so I decided to write her a briefing memo that was published in The Washington Post. It was filled with the type of humor and gossip that one woman might share with another female friend. Not only was I delighted when it was published but I treasure the hand-written note I received from the First Lady and Mrs. Gore acknowledging they had read it.


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