Sally Koslow’s latest novel, With Friends Like These, tackles one of our favorite topics: the challenges of female friendships, especially as we grow up and grow older. We talked to Koslow(who graciously read at our recent Readings & Rubdowns series) about how men, marriage, and real estate can come between even the best of pals — and she gave us some very wise advice about nurturing our girl-on-girl friendships. (She is a very smart lady.)
You’ve said you wanted to show female friends growing apart over issues other than the traditional ones (i.e. men!). Can you talk about some of these other issues and why you chose them instead?
Whenever a commodity is scare, people will compete for it. In today’s world
where jobs are hard to come by, it’s not uncommon for friends to covet the same
position, especially since many of us met one another through our work. One of
the situations in With Friends like These focuses on a professional opportunity.
A second situation connects to kids: one spot at an excellent kindergarten that
two sets of parents would jump over a desk to get for their child. Again, with American schools not as strong as they once were, it’s a sign of the times that parents may come to blows over who gets into an excellent school. I know parents of high school seniors who refuse to divulge where their child has applied to college for fear that their friend’s kid will apply to the same school and be the stronger candidate. The third conflict in the novel arises over real estate. This may strike you as odd, but talk to any residential broker and you’ll discover it isn’t unusual for people who know one another to secretly chase the same appealing, well-priced house or condo.
Why is it so hard for women to remain friends over the years?
Women are pulled in more opposing directions than are men. We all simply have too many obligations and not enough time for ourselves. If something’s going to give, it will be friendship. Women also often have conflicted loyalties. There’s pressure for us to tell one another everything. We may want hold back if we feel that revealing intimacies would hurt our romantic partner, but some women get testy if they sense that girlfriends aren’t spilling their guts.
Did writing about evolving friendships give you any insights into how to handle your own?
Writing With Friends like These made me think about friendship almost obsessively. Some of the rules I developed along the way:
1) If a friend goes passive-aggressive on you, work things out. If necessary, impersonate grownups.
2) If you’re upset by something a friend does/says, react ASAP. The longer you ruminate, the more likely you’ll explode, which will lead So-So Friend to think you are the creep while she steeps in denial about her questionable
3) The ability to show compassion is possibly the best trait of all in friendship. If coupled with humor, nurture that friendship with profound care.
4) Show up. Show up again. Sometimes tit for consistent .75 tat is good enough.
5). Think before you gift. Don’t be the kind of person who buys a pregnant woman a belt.
6) Offer to accompany your friend to the biopsy and when asked to donate to her worthy cause, cough up.
7) Give advice and opinions in the sweet spot between innocuous and judgmental.
Any advice on dealing with a, let’s say, less-than-perfect friend?
Not every friendship is meant to last forever. The purpose of some is to teach a lesson. When a friendship starts to crumble, learn your lesson, and then think hard about putting the friendship on life support. Prolonging may ultimately cause hurt, while a gentle fade-out can be an act of kindness or at least relief.
Marriage and kids can often force friends to grow apart, even when they don’t want to. How do your characters deal with this? Is there any way to avoid it?
This is a toughie and my characters react to such obstacles with variable success. We all have to be extra generous when it comes to assessing our friends’ children and partners. Keep your observations to yourself.
Do you think real friendship can survive over decades? How?
You have to be smart about selecting the friends in which you invest emotions and time. After that, you have to be lucky, and hope you and your friends grow in the same direction and continue to respect one another and find each other interesting as the years pass. If you pick the right friends, relationships can last forever. I look at my mother-in-law. She’s had many of her friends since they were in their 20’s and when they’re together, they giggle like they’re 17, not 87.