Published February 16, 2018.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend. Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere. Aminatou: I'm Oprah Winfrey. Ann: And I'm Gayle King. Aminatou: [Laughs] I'm so glad we finally sorted that out. Ann: I feel a new sense of serenity with our Oprah/Gayle -- like having fully locked down our Oprah/Gayle role dynamic. Aminatou: Gayle, am I running for office? Ann: You know, I think that's up to you but knowing you intimately as I do I think what you really want is to stay home and supervise other people tending your garden. (1:55) Aminatou: Honeygram, hold on please. [Laughter] Ann: Oh my god, this just becomes an Oprah/Gayle cosplay show. Aminatou: I know! Anyway, hi Ann. How's it going? Ann: Hi Amina. What are we talking about today? Aminatou: Today we are going to talk about what we affectionately refer to as our ladyweb and friendship. Ann: Is this a very special episode? Aminatou: This is a very, very special episodes of -- very, very special episode of Call Your Girlfriend. Don't do drugs, kids. Ann: Don't do drugs. Go through with the abortion. We support you. Definitely leave your abusive household. Like all the very special episode tropes apply. [Theme Song] (3:12) Aminatou: A little bit lady in the episode we are going to talk to Kayleen Schaefer about her book Text Me When You Get Home but first, Ann, can you explain what the ladyweb is? Ann: Ugh, okay. So the ladyweb is -- it's sort of like Shine Theory in that it is a word that we have used among ourselves for quite some time to describe a phenomenon that we experience in friendship but as far as I'm aware it is not a commonly-held -- I don't know, I should do a Google for ladyweb. But basically we're now in the realm of vocabulary used by us personally. That's the important thing to know upfront. Aminatou: [Laughs] Right. Us and seven people. Ann: It's not like us explaining an Internet trend. Like no, this is legit just a personal concept in our friendship. Aminatou: This is a Gchat trend. [Laughs] (4:00) Ann: It's a Gchat trend of the past like eight years in our friendship. Yeah, essentially it's a way of thinking about the ways our sprawling friendship social network functions in reality. So like a lot of times when you see social media or outward representations of what women's group friendship dynamics look like it looks like squad goals or it looks like a set group of people or like the Sex and the City model of a fixed group of friends. I'm trying to think of other examples, but essentially you could easily photograph it and hashtag it and it is pretty fixed. Aminatou: And it has a fixed group of members. Ann: Right. Aminatou: And yeah, it fits in like an Instagram caption post. Ann: Right. The ladyweb is none of those things. [Laughs] It is our way of sort of acknowledging that, just to use us as an example, before we became friends we each had this kind of dynamic network of friends on our own and when you and I became very close and started introducing all of those friends to each other the way that that network looked for us individually changed. So we had this overlapped network of people who are kind of equally mutual friends, like you have people who are kind of primarily your people but I know them and care about them because they're still connected to me and my web and vice-versa. It's basically big and sprawling. Aminatou: Yes. Ann: And interconnected. Aminatou: And it's also in a dumb way an acknowledgment that your people have their people and that those friendships are just as important as your friendships, but also the selfish way to look at it is it's basically like looking at all the potential ways that you are connected to all these other great women. (5:50) Ann: Yeah. So I remember when I was moving away from D.C. which is the city where we met and where we had forged a common node of our web. I was moving away and it was like I'm moving to a different corner of my web/our shared web. It's not this idea of I'm dipping out of the squad or I'm gone forever because that is not an operable metaphor in our lives. It's like I'm sort of strengthening the overall web because I'm moving to a different part of it and our bond is going to remain strong anyway. This is kind of hard to talk about without actually literally visualizing a web and drawing it out, you know? It's like if you see those conspiracy theory art things that show how all corporations are connected and stuff that's kind of how I picture it, only with humans we love. Aminatou: [Laughs] I mean there is a data vis tool that we're obsessed with that actually did this for us. Ann: Oh my god, talk about it. Aminatou: It's called the MIT Immersion tool. Am I saying it right? Ann: Yep, that's the one. Aminatou: Where basically you can plug in your Gmail -- LOL, you're definitely giving your data to somebody, that's a different problem . . . Ann: How do you learn about yourself without giving your data to someone? Let's be real. Aminatou: I know. But anyway, so you plug in your Gmail and it tells you who are the people you email with the most but also breaks it down in a way that is mind-blowing. It's like who introduced you to that person? And then you can also see that through time. And so it's really interesting. We're the center of each other's Venns. [Laughs] Ann: We are the giant glowing sun at the center of each other's networks. [Laughs] Aminatou: I know. But the thing that has been really fascinating to me is how true it is because of the digital ways that we all communicate that it's been fairly accurate about who is the person who introduced you to this person? When was the first time you emailed with them? How much has that changed over time? And for us at least has been a really accurate representation of how our friendships have ebbed and flowed. It's like you can see every time you start a new job or if you start dating a new person or you make a new friend or whatever and see how everybody's connected. Even the people who you feel are not connected at all, like I definitely have some lonely constellations of oh, this is a friend that I know through this very specific way or whatever. It's so fascinating to see how it all plays with each other. (8:24) Ann: Yeah, you know the way your email will be like when you email two friends who you always see movies with and it just suggests a third friend you always see movies with and it just knows, like "Would you like to also add this person?" It's sort of like that principle but times a million and you can slide -- yeah, the fact that you can slide a bar across the bottom and move through time and see your network change. It's not -- again as you say it's not 100% accurate but it is pretty revealing. And I think we had . . . I can't remember, I think we had been using this ladyweb term before this MIT thing popped up which would've been in like 2011 or 2012, something like that. Aminatou: Mm-hmm. Ann: But it really . . . once you can see it it becomes real. It becomes a thing to talk about as you discuss friends and friendships and challenges, that sort of thing. Aminatou: The reason I like the illustration is that . . . [Laughs] You know, it just really pushes against what the popular narrative of female friendship is. Like I'm so glad that you brought up Sex and the City because yeah, I'm like four friends. Every once in a while you meet some of their other friends -- a lot of times they're gay men -- but they never really brought in who are the other people that these people are interacting with that they're just as intimate with. Ann: No, they would do them as negative foils. It was always like their friends who were making life choices that they disagreed with. Aminatou: Exactly, and I find that so hard to believe. I'm just like it is not possible that you have three friends that are your like this is your squad and then you are in this weirdo cocoon. Maybe it's true but that's not true. That's technically what a sorority sells you but at the end of the day the sorority is actually the best illustration of the ladyweb. I'm like no, you have one million sorority sisters if you look at the entire Panhellenic spectrum. Ann: [Laughs] (10:15) Aminatou: Then they all go on to be important women. You know what I mean? I'm like even this is not accurate. Ann: Yeah. I mean it is an interesting thing too because what does social media hate? What does popular television narrative hate? Complexity. Like this is the sort of thing where if you were to make a movie or TV show that accurately reflected how diverse and ever-changing and all the different types of friendships that most people have it would be kind of impossible. You're like wait, who is that one person? You know how when you're getting to know a friend and every time they mention someone they know from another part of their life they're like "Yeah, like Jane, my friend who did that one thing on the camping trip that time" or whatever, you know? Like . . . Aminatou: [Laughs] Right. It's like my version of Girls would have 37 women in it. Ann: Right. And I think the last episode where we were talking about that we move a lot I think both of our webs are bigger and more complex because of that. Like I think people who have been in one place longer naturally tend -- not always, but tend to have slightly smaller or less-complicated dynamics in this way because they haven't moved and reestablished their social world enough times or as many times, right? It's harder to make art that distills this reality I guess. So you don't see it as often. (11:42) Aminatou: Right. But it's also like part of the reason that people don't make art that distills this reality is it just means that women are complicated, very reasonable people. Ann: Wait, they're what? Aminatou: They're actually -- you know, who are not in competition with all the women in their lives. It's like no, no, it's possible to root for all of your girlfriends. Ann: Right. Oof, yeah. And especially early on when we talked about this we felt that the metaphor was kind of only upsides. At least that's definitely how I felt, your friends are my friends too. I through each of my friends get to tap into other interesting groups of people or women. And I think that we've been talking about this quite a bit lately that it actually is really complicated and difficult when you introduce your friends to each other or when your third parties in both of your lives are interacting with you and each other. Aminatou: Right. Ann: And that is another thing, the basic depiction of squad goals, infighting, or Mean Girls style stuff, it's not false that women have conflict with each other and women's friendships involve conflict and difficulty. It's just it often looks a lot different than it is depicted. Aminatou: It's true. It's like what do you do with your friends' friends? Like I definitely feel that they're cool in-laws, you know what I'm saying? [Laughs] Ann: Oh yeah, like it's totally fine to have favorites of your friends' friends. Aminatou: Totally. I'm like they're like cool in-laws. They're the in-laws that you can smoke pot with for sure but they're still your in-laws so you've got to respect them. [Laughs] So those dynamics get really complicated and also they're complicated by the fact that we suck at communicating and talking about what actually we need to be talking about. Ann: Yeah. I mean it's not like it's the sort of thing that happens in real-time where it's not socially acceptable to just offer commentary on your friends' friends, right? I have never been in a situation where I'm like guess what? This person who is your bestie from college is someone whose values I don't like or whose style of hanging out I don't like. That's not a thing that feels appropriate to bring up, and often probably it isn't if there isn't a conflict. And then when there is a conflict with that person where you're like wow, I actually don't want to go to this thing because this person that I don't like is going to be there but I don't know how to tell our mutual friend, you know, then it's harder to talk about because you haven't brought it up before. It's a very weird thing, especially when your politics are like ours are, like default to non-catty, non-gossip as much as possible. (14:20) Aminatou: Totally. It's like very waspy in a sense. [Laughter] It really is, right? We take a lot of pride in being low-drama mamas but I'm like hmm, part of that is also that we're cowards. Ann: Right, and that we bury a lot of our conflicts with each other and mutual friends. Yeah. Aminatou: Exactly. I'm like this seems fine. If everybody is nominally happy am I really going to dig in here? Not really. And also the other thing is that sometimes it is just context, right? It's almost like when your friends are dating and they just only tell you the great things about their boyfriend or the person that they're dating I guess and then all of a sudden something catastrophically bad happens and you're like this great guy? What do you mean? [Laughs] You know, sometimes it's just the lack of information. But it is challenging. It's also challenging in the sense that it can perpetually make you feel like you are 15. I feel like most friendship fights are -- none of it is sophisticated. It all goes back to the same fights you were having in high school. Ann: I'm so relieved that when I was in high school no one told me all of life was basically high school because I would've dropped out, like of life. [Laughs] Aminatou: I know. I know. My god, I know. It is. You're just like a lot of this mirrors high school in a way that -- I don't even think that should be insulting to anyone. It's just like no, we're just not that complicated. These things are the same things that you will have conflict about. They just take different dimensions. Ann: Right, and you can . . . Aminatou: Right. It's like now you're not upset about not being invited to the sleepover; you'll be upset about not being invited to the champagne brunch. It's the same thing. (16:00) Ann: Yeah. And also I think there's an assumption that you'll get better at dealing with that or talking about it and it's like oh, actually you have to practice conflict in order to get better at dealing with it. It's like you don't just get older and then therefore are better at dealing with the complexities of interconnected friend groups. It's like no, no. Aminatou: Yeah. Ann: You have to learn that the hard way. Aminatou: I know. You know, recently you and I had a really real talk about something and I remember my overwhelming sense of leaving that talk was wow, I thought I've had a lot of real talk in my life but this is actually the first time I've had real talk in my life. [Laughs] And just realizing how conflict-adverse I am and just completely run away from all sorts of friendship conflict responsibility. That was a thing that was very humbling. I was like wow, I knew that I did this but hearing it was a different story. Ann: Oh my god, and I think that . . . so the point about that, the only way it was possible for us to have a real talk conversation about difficulties we've had with each other when it comes to friends on both sides, like third parties -- third parties in this friendship I will refer to them as. [Laughs] Aminatou: I know. I'm like I'm just the platform. Why is this my problem? [Laughs] Ann: Right. But I think the only reason we were able to have that conversation is because it was damage from years ago, you know? I mean speaking for myself I felt like I could be more real with you because it felt like we were through those woods a little bit. But when you're in it and feeling like oh, the wound is fresh, I was just hurt or confused in real-time about that and other things, I'm confident that we are going to be better in the future because we had that conversation. But it also wasn't even possible when there was drama in real time. Like we hate drama so much. (17:50) Aminatou: No. No way. You know, and yeah, we're both babies when it comes to that stuff so it was clearly like are you kidding me? But at the same time I'm just like but how much grief would we have saved ourselves if we had just removed the band-aid in real time, you know? Ann: Right. Aminatou: Like hindsight, 20/20 vision for sure but I'm really glad we're over a lot of that stuff or whatever. But at the same time I'm just like wow, it really didn't need to go on for that long. Ann: Yeah. And I think what's hard about it is when -- in my head I don't really have a hierarchy of friends in the sense of here's my number one friend, here's my number two friend, here's my number three friends. Aminatou: [Laughs] Ann: I mean there are obviously some friends who are closer. Aminatou: Who is number 19? Who is 19? Ann: Oh my god, I know. It's why I will never have a wedding because I feel like weddings are -- whatever, sidebar. But, you know, there is a sense of when you talk about different corners of the ladyweb of okay, frankly there are some really old, really close friends. The Mindy Kaling bestie as a tier philosophy is one I subscribe to. But once I'm outside of that tier of okay, you're in it for life, like you would probably have to murder someone else close to me for me to truly cut you off forever . . . like everyone else is kind of complicated and sometimes you're still in the process of figuring out what your process means to someone and if they have a problem with a different friend it's like okay, wait, how do I begin to sort out these varying corners of my web that are in conflict? Aminatou: Totally. Totally. You know, and I think that that's a place where we are very different because I definitely subscribe to a tiers of friendship kind of model which I couldn't even articulate to you what those tiers are, I just know them in my gut, you know? So it's not to say this is a scientific method by any means. But I know that for me I just . . . it's like you would have to do very little to somebody that I love for me to want to murder you. Like it's not about killing someone, I'm just like no. (20:00) Ann: This is the general you, not me, right? [Laughs] Aminatou: Yeah, yeah, like the general you. Like you don't do any of that stuff, Ann Friedman. But you know what I mean? Going back to the thing about all of life is high school this is a learned behavior, you know? Ann: Right. Aminatou: It's like surprise. [Laughs] Early friendship patterns determine later friendship patterns. Ann: Right. Aminatou: And I was like no, I was definitely that way. I was a kid that was bullied and then I got bigger than the bullies and I hated them and I will protect my people until the end of time, you know? And that's a thing that I didn't realize was something that had cropped up. For me the easiest way to make me not like somebody is if they say something remotely negative about somebody I like. I'm like nope, sorry, you're done. And it's like that's kind of an unreasonable standard to have I reckon. [Laughs] I fully recognize that but also I'm like I'm sorry, everybody has their thing. That is my thing. Ann: Right, and I admire that. Aminatou: Like nobody comes for my people. Ann: I admire that and I am also working with some ingrained Midwest nice which is not always what the title implies which is to say okay, I want to be right with everybody in my world personally and it takes me a long time to see first but second address the depth of problems between people who I care about. And I think that is like 100% conflict aversion partially due to cultural stuff about the way I was raised and partially due to like cowardice. It's like a lot of different . . . I don't know. One of the reasons why metaphors like squad girls are so -- squad girls, listen to me -- squad goals are so inaccurate is they do not really get at the kind of complexity of the problems that crop up with people who are outside your friendship directly. (21:50) Aminatou: [Laughs] 100%. And the other thing about this conversation that it's making me think is 90% of the battle honestly is just having the talk about it. It's like it's totally okay to have different values from your other close friends. I mean values as it pertains to this stuff. Don't go crazy making friends with people who don't share your politics left and right. But it's totally okay and I think a lot of times where the wound comes from, it's literally from lack of communication. Ann: Right, or expectations. Aminatou: Yeah, or from not being heard, right? And it's like wow, friendship, like all relationships, something you have to work at. Because that's the other thing about squad goals I think that really drives me nuts is everybody makes it look really easy and seamless and that's something that we have to contend with a lot of times because we have had a public friendship where people just think it's wonderful and glorious and whatever, which it is actually. I'm like it is wonderful and glorious and all those things. [Laughs] Ann: But it's also maddening and difficult and sad and frustrating sometimes. Aminatou: I know! Any time you say anything about Assad Khaled I'm like is this the last day that we're going to be friends? [Laughs] Ann: Oh my god. You've had a lot of questions about whether it's the last day we're going to be friends. Aminatou: You know, is this it? But you know what I mean? It's just like no, we're like everybody else. We have strife. We have a complicated relationship, right? I really resent presentations of friendship that are just like oh my god, everything they do is amazing even though everything we do do is amazing. Ann: I'm hearing the contradictory messages you are putting out right now. [Laughs] Aminatou: No, you know, I don't want to make it seem . . . I think I'm tinder about it because clearly I think we have a very healthy friendship but I think where it makes me uncomfortable is when people . . . when they just make assumptions or what's that psychological thing? Like when you put your own expectations on someone. (23:50) Ann: Transference? Is that what that is? I don't know. Aminatou: I don't think it's that one. It's another one of those. Ann: Okay. Aminatou: You know, ultimately all of those presentations all go back to just making people feel inadequate and that's garbage. Ann: And some of this is just like . . . Aminatou: Projection. Projection. Ann: Projection, there you go. Well yeah, speaking of projections it's hard to put up an Instagram post that's like "I just had a really difficult real talk with my friend" versus a photo of the two of you being cute and having a great time. Aminatou: [Laughs] Ann: There's a reason why narratives about the ease of friendship get perpetuated because it is like, without selling out your friendship, it's difficult to talk about the vulnerabilities and difficulties that you have worked through. And I think another thing that we've talked about a lot is actually if we'd started this podcast at a different phase of our friendship, like let's say when we were deep honeymoon period one year in if we had started this podcast, maybe some of those perceptions about how our friendship has not at all ever experienced or been through a conflict would be accurate because sometimes it takes a while especially when you're very compatible friends in a lot of other ways. It takes a while for the complications of your various ladywebs and the depths of the issues that you're facing to reveal to you the ways in which you are different and the ways in which you are going to have conflict. And so I think a lot of friendships die on the shoals of the first big fight. Aminatou: Right. And I mean it did take us a long time to have first conflict and that's okay too. Friendship is hard. That's what I'm learning, it is not all amazingness all the time. It's like you have to work at it. Ann: Right. [Music and Ads] (28:44) Aminatou: Okay, so you know how I told you earlier I talked to this awesome lady Kayleen Schaefer about a book she has out called Text Me When You Get Home. Ann: The subtitle is The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship so you know we're interested. Aminatou: Ann, this book is so good. First of all Text Me When You Get Home, is that not the most genius title for a book about modern woman friendship? Ann: I won't lie to you, I did have the thought Text Me While You're Getting Home, Text Me When You Get Home, Text Me After You Get Home. Like maybe I would have a wordier title if it were me but I hear you. [Laughs] Aminatou: Yeah, and you'll basically hear Kayleen talk about all it is, right? One part of it is about like safety. Which one of us is not worried about the other when we walk home? You know, but also really on the flip side it's just an invitation to keep talking more with someone. That feels deeply romantic tome. So Kayleen's book, duh, is about women's friendships and there is a lot of really good historical research and sociological observations that I think anybody who listens to this podcast will really enjoy and she talks about her own journey too and her own friendships which were really eye-opening to me. Like she grew up with someone who was definitely not like a "I love having women friends. I have many women friends" type of person. We went to the same college which makes me very happy, hook'em horns. But in college she joined a sorority which she then quit. So it's like she was always around women and was very aware of this narrative of competition that she was supposed to have with other women and then in adulthood a lot of that changed. You know, surprise, surprise it was on the heels of a big breakup which is usually a good transition time for you. One of the monumental friendships that she discusses with her friend Ruthie who is awesome -- shout out Ruthie -- is somebody that she worked with and then got closer to. But I just loved that it's like a narrative of making friends a little later in life, you know? They're not in high school. They're not in college. They're not like new coworkers. It's like yes, these are ladies in their 30s becoming friends and everything that they mean to each other. Watching Kayleen's eyes open to the fact that somebody who is her friend can also be her person in the world. Ann: Yes, I love that. Aminatou: And what are the many ways that you signal this, right? And all the ways that policy essentially fails us. The most important person in my life is my friend, not my romantic partner or the person I sign taxes with. And I talked to her for the book and that's something that we talked about a lot because that's a thing that I think about a lot, a lot, a lot. Ann: Wait, you're in this book? Oh my god. Aminatou: I am in this book girl! Ann: Oh, rushing. Rushing to a bookseller. Aminatou: That's why I picked it! Just kidding. It's just very eye-opening in a lot of ways and it's also very tinder. You know, and it reminded me a lot of our own trajectory, this like late-20s, early-30s. I have made room for women in my life, you know? And everything from the woman-only trip that you take and the conspiring that you do together and all that stuff. It's just so heartening that that's a very universal experience, I love that, and I'm like yes, there are covens everywhere. Ann: [Laughs] Covens, covens everywhere. (32:10) Aminatou: I know, covens, covens, covens. And also women have been doing this shit since time immemorial, you know? Like oh, surprise. Ann: Yes. Aminatou: Growing up I always craved -- I wanted more female friendship and never had it but it's always surprising to me the women who are like "Oh, I'm a reformed mean girl essentially." Ann: [Laughs] Aminatou: But also it makes me deeply happy because I think in this new moment of the friendship reawakening or whatever, the golden age of woman friendship maybe . . . Ann: Let's be real, every age has been a golden age of woman friendship but I hear you. Aminatou: It's true. No, it's true. Ann: You're air quoting. Aminatou: I'm saying like the Gchat golden age. The moment that we're in. It's that I think even about that movie Mean Girls and how much we all enjoy it but there is this sense of oh, we are so much woker now. Nobody would do this or whatever. And I'm like that's not true. This is such an experience for so many of us. Like these stories don't come out of nowhere, right? But knowing that those girls are not completely hopeless. People change. Ann: [Laughs] [Interview Starts] Aminatou: Hi Kayleen. Kayleen: Hi Amina. Aminatou: Thanks for joining us today on Call Your Girlfriend. Kayleen: Thank you for having me. Aminatou: I'm super excited to talk to you because I was lucky enough to get to talk to you while you were writing your book. Kayleen: Yeah, it was amazing that you were in this book. You are such a great part of it. Aminatou: Thank you. I want to talk about everything including the title [Laughs] because which woman does not understand the ten million meanings of Text Me When You Get Home? Kayleen: It's true. It's absolutely true. The title, full disclosure, was not my idea. It was my editor's idea. She had, before I even sent her my book proposal, she had tweeted "Text me when you get home a story of female friendship" basically. And so when she saw my proposal she was like yes, absolutely I want this but we have to call it Text Me When You Get Home. And I was like absolutely. Then I kept thinking about the layers of the meaning of that. It's not just about safety, it's about I will be there for you. It's about solidarity. And it's also like let's just keep talking. We're home but we might as well just keep talking. (34:22) Aminatou: I know. Honestly I hadn't thought about that until you wrote that in the book because I'm like yes, I understand the safety implications of it, the solidarity implications. Kayleen: Yes. I mean that's the obvious. Aminatou: But I was like you know, so much of modern friendship I feel like is built around text messaging and Gchat. Kayleen: Totally. Aminatou: And I was like yes, such a great excuse to keep the conversation going. Kayleen: Right. Aminatou: And there's just this sense of intimacy also that is really built in. Can you talk a little bit about kind of your journey through getting to this understanding that female friendship, it's the main dish really? Kayleen: Yeah. I mean for me it was a long journey honestly. I was raised in Texas where men are your heroes and your protectors and you're supposed to look to them and that's just what I thought I would do and that's who I was told to rely on. And along with that I think comes the idea that you're supposed to compete with other women because these men are limited that you can rely on, and so I did that. I did. I thought other women were my enemy. I thought I had to be prettier and smarter than them and that I couldn't bond with them, that I really had to separate myself from other women. And that continued. I did that in high school and that continued in my early 20s working in New York in the office. I just thought to stand out and be promoted I work at a men's magazine with mostly men so I thought okay, I can't associate with other women. I have to stand out because only one woman can be promoted or get to the top. (35:58) And then I had a significant breakup and I started to look around and realized I just didn't want to look to men anymore. I looked around and the people around me who were doing amazing things were the women I knew and I just started to turn to them and found a support system that I just never really thought was there and was so surprised and delighted to be a part of that, to be a part of these strong groups of women. Aminatou: Yeah. It's like surprise, surprise right? Yeah. It was really funny reading you because I definitely had women friends when I was growing up. I never felt that sense of competition or whatever. But I also never -- I just never understood female solidarity in a way that made sense. Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: I think for me it was because I went to a high school that had more boys. Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: It was just naturally there were way more men, and when I started encountering women friends was in college and I think there's something about that age too. There's something about making friends in your 20s and maybe even into your 30s where you are a little more formed as a person and you're looking for . . . you're looking I guess for a different kind of affirmation. Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: I think that opens up this possibility of this can be a really lasting relationship in my life. Kayleen: Right, exactly. Yeah, because before your friends are sort of transitory and you're looking and that one relationship that I was told was going to be lasting was the relationship with my romantic partner but it's not always the case and it doesn't have to be. And I don't think there's any reason to put that relationship on a higher level than any relationship with your friends which is the point of the book, that we're raising these friendships up to the level of our other more legal or blood or even work relationships. (37:52) Aminatou: Yeah. Another thing that I found really interesting was that even though you came from this background of women are -- you know, not having these strong I guess connections with them is you still joined a sorority. Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: Even though you quit. Kayleen: No, it's true. [Laughs] Aminatou: And I was like this is my favorite thing, it's like joining and quitting. That just made me think through how some forms of female friendship are codified, you know? Where you're like okay these women are my competition. Kayleen: It's true. That's what I was supposed to do. Aminatou: But I'm supposed to be in a group with them and we do . . . and this is not to say sororities don't do great things. Kayleen: It's true. Aminatou: I went to a Texas university. I know. [Laughs] So it's fine, but I think that that -- it's like the pressure that that puts on you is so . . . it sometimes feels so insurmountable because there are just these roles that you're supposed to play. Kayleen: Yeah. I mean I watched the girls in my high school who were going to the same college as me, and we went to the same college, they were going to join a sorority so I thought okay, I have to do that too. But when I joined the sorority it is about female bonding to an extent, and you know this is my particular experience. I interviewed women in the book who made lifelong friends in their sorority and continued to be very close with their sorority systems. Aminatou: Yep. Kayleen: But my experience with my sorority was more oriented around still finding a guy. There were all these rituals and date parties. Aminatou: Formals and crushes. [Laughs] Kayleen: It was just all -- the social scene was mostly around men. Aminatou: Yeah. Which is, you know . . . and the thing is there are some men in your book, not that they're fully-formed characters, but that are part of your conscious awakening like the story you tell about the guy who's basically like "Hey, you're being mean to this woman." Kayleen: Yeah, it's true. Aminatou: And that was something I was really struck by because I think that . . . I have always thought of myself as like oh, I've been a little more progressive about this. But this feeling of when you think that other women are basic, you know? Kayleen: Yeah. (39:50) Aminatou: Whether you really formalize that thought out or you keep it to yourself is -- I don't know, I thought it was really important that you put that point in and that we kind of unpack that. Kayleen: It's true because it's somewhere deep inside that we're -- or I thought at least, not everyone thinks that -- but I did. I would sort of just be really passive-aggressive with other women that I thought were my competition and my friend in the book called that out. He would say "Kayleen doesn't like other women." But what I heard in my dumb, addled brain is "Kayleen is not like other women." Aminatou: [Laughs] Kayleen: Which is not what he was saying and not the right thing. It was true, I wasn't wanting to or willing to be friends with these women at that point. Aminatou: Yeah, and there are so many examples in pop culture I feel that affirm that kind of narrative, the mean girls narrative. Kayleen: Totally. Aminatou: And I don't know, nobody really talks about the fact that yes, you can have mean girl tendencies but you can change that -- that can actually change -- because it comes from a place of, I don't know, having a scarcity mentality, you know? Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: Where you're like there can only be one Highlander. Kayleen: Exactly. Aminatou: You know, and actually it's okay that people go through that because if we talk about the narrative of oh, here's a different possibility of how you can interact with women in your life actually you can get there. Kayleen: Yeah. I mean even when I started writing this book I am embarrassed to say that I truly thought there was something in women that made them mean as a young age. Aminatou: Really? Kayleen: I did not see it as a stereotype which it absolutely is. There is nothing -- there's no gene. There's nothing that makes girls mean. Aminatou: [Laughs] Kayleen: That's so ridiculous and yet it was just so hammered into me that girls are mean which is just the hallmark of prejudice. Aminatou: That's crazy. One very significant relationship that you have is with your friend Ruthie -- our friend Ruthie. [Laughs] Kayleen: Yeah, true. Aminatou: Who is great. Kayleen: She is great. (42:00) Aminatou: And yeah, can you talk about your friendship with Ruthie more and how that informs the book and kind of the journey that you guys go through together? Kayleen: Yeah, Ruthie is . . . I mean I call her my soulmate and she does the same but that's just a way of sort of differentiating that this person is so important to me. Initially she was not in the book as much, and after I turned in the first draft my editor was like "I'd like to see Ruthie be more of a character." Aminatou: [Laughs] Kayleen: And I sort of . . . and she is, she's just like everything she says in the book is so funny and she's so funny and I loved adding her in more but I also -- it was a little hard for me because I didn't want to just reveal too much about our friendship. Aminatou: Yeah. Kayleen: You know, you kind of want to keep those things to yourself. But basically I felt Ruthie at work and for the first time I felt like here is a woman who I really would like to get to know, and I found myself like oh, I want to impress her and I want to hang out with her. And it just has become just this -- she's become just such a rock in my life and I in hers in a way that it's so much beyond just meeting for drinks or whatever. I know that I can literally count on her for anything and she feels the same about me. Aminatou: I mean and I think that's a thing that so many people can relate to, right? That you can make women friends who you have relationships that are to the level of, you know, mirrored romantic relationships in your life. Kayleen: Yes. Aminatou: Because when you talk about Ruthie you talk about kind of the seduction rituals that you went through which everybody knows how that goes. Kayleen: It's true. I wanted her to like me. Yeah. Aminatou: You're like "I want to be your friend. I want to court you." You do that. You have your honeymoon period. You have your ups and your downs. Kayleen: Yeah, got lots of nail art. Aminatou: Right, you know? But really also, you know, that person becomes somebody that you can count on but there is no legal framework or cultural framework for saying this person is more than my friend, you know? (43:55) Kayleen: Right. And actually that is the point that you make in the book which is incredible the way you make it because it's really disappointing that we don't have that kind of model really in society. I mean it's starting to emerge and a big part of the book is the pop culture duos and best friendships that we're seeing on-screen and so us telling those stories I think is an important part about getting this out there. It may not be legal. It may not be the norm. But still this is something we're starting to see Aminatou: Yeah. Kayleen: But it's tenuous. It's obviously tenuous. There's no protection. Aminatou: Yeah. And, you know, obviously Ann and I are . . . we're a public friendship. [Laughs] Kayleen: Yeah, no kidding. Right. Aminatou: We're a public friendship duo. Kayleen: You're like as close as you can get to . . . [Laughs] Aminatou: And I identify with so much of that. You know, there's so much of ourselves that we share but you're right about there are things that you want to keep for yourself. Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: And there's something kind of romantic about it. I'm like Ann is so going to call me out on this. Kayleen: [Laughs] Aminatou: But I'm just like your relationship is important. It's really important, it's very intimate, and it ultimately belongs to the two of you and the ways that you shape it. But the thing that's interesting now is that in the background of all of these conversations and I guess a different kind of feminist awakening is you also have so many conversations about girl squads and BFF forever and that is becoming commodified in a way that is . . . it's just very jarring to see, right? Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: Where you're like wow, we can take this very intimate thing that we have and cheapen it so much or talk about it in a way that has become like everything is empowered and all women love each other. Kayleen: Yeah, right. Aminatou: And it's like actually this is not what we're trying to do here. Kayleen: Yeah, it's hard because female friendship -- in another way it's always presented as this real cutesy thing like the high heel or the wine glass or the girls walking down the street with linked arms. Aminatou: [Laughs] (45:55) Kayleen: And sure, that's absolutely part of female friendships. But if we just are like these are cute then they just feel so disposable too, you know? I think the stuff like girl squad and that is an important step in showing that women really do like each other and that we want to be proud of these friendships. Aminatou: Yes. Kayleen: But if we just stop there we're never going to get anywhere. Aminatou: There's something just very political about women who spend time together and I think that we're seeing it so much in the response to the Me Too movement. Kayleen: Mm-hmm. Aminatou: Where you realize that actually one thing that makes a lot of people uncomfortable is that women talk to each other, you know? Kayleen: Yeah. I've been thinking about that a lot. Aminatou: And just yeah, we talk to each other about the creeps in our lives. We talk to each other about work. We do that, and when we live in a culture that basically tells us that we shouldn't know other women I'm like oh, maybe that was the design all along. Kayleen: Yes. Aminatou: That they don't want us, whoever they is -- the DJ Khaled they -- doesn't want us sharing information and sharing our politics and sharing our power. There's something just so explosive about that. Kayleen: It's true because the ways that we've been told to feel about other women with the competition and just looking to men, that's designed to keep us apart. And it's interesting because text me when you get home is a very quiet thing to say. It's sort of something women say to themselves and I don't know if men say it -- I don't think many of them do -- and it's just a way that we quietly say we're here together. And now I think it's getting louder, like what you're saying with the Me Too. And it's saying no, women really are talking to each other. And in many of the stories with the whole reckoning and the reporting I was always struck by how the reporter would confirm the woman's allegations with her friend who she told right away obviously. Aminatou: Right. Like you did a lot of research in the book. It's not just telling your own stories or reporting. There was actually a lot of research around the rise of female friendship I guess. What were some surprising things that you found? (48:05) Ann: I found that this goes back a long way, like . . . Aminatou: [Laughs] Women have been friends forever. Kayleen: Well they've been friends forever, yes, but they've also been told they couldn't be friends forever. Aminatou: Yeah. Kayleen: You know, it's interesting. In the early middle ages women were told that they did not have the moral fiber to be friends. Aminatou: Whoa. Kayleen: They just weren't pure of spirit enough and they just couldn't have the kind of pure, selfless relationship that men could have with each other. They were literally told they couldn't be someone's friend. Aminatou: [Laughs] Kayleen: But you do then -- there's this blip which was a golden age of female friendship in the early 19th century where society said in order to be a proper woman you should have female friends, which is interesting that that period happened. But again it was society saying to women this makes you a proper woman, being a friend. But that quickly shifted as those relationships became suspect and then women were told to focus on their husband and their children. Aminatou: Yeah. Kayleen: In the 1950s. Aminatou: So many conflicting messages. [Laughs] Kayleen: It's true. It's like this whiplash of what am I supposed to feel about other women now? Aminatou: Do you feel like that is -- that whatever is happening now is something that has potential to last and that it won't be a blip? It won't be this weird women in the 20th and 21st century texted each other. [Laughs] Kayleen: I do because for the first time what I'm seeing is this is women finally telling their own story, because up until now it's women have gone or accepted what other people told them they were supposed to feel about each other. Like even if you go to the glory phase of romcoms when it was like oh, your best friend is there to help you find the guy then she disappears when you find the guy. That was the story. But now the story -- and we have so many more female creators of all kinds of stories on television, movies, and so we're actually telling the truth about these relationships. And so I feel if we're taking that back that that's something that can last. (50:15) Aminatou: Yeah. One of the questions that we get a lot in the CYG inbox even though I don't think we've done a great job of talking about it is we get so much mail from women who have had really big friendship breakups. And the language completely mirrors language of breaking up with your significant other. Kayleen: Yeah, of course. Aminatou: And there's -- there's usually so much shame there because there's no vocabulary kind of to talk about it. Kayleen: Totally. Aminatou: You know, so the questions are almost uniformly the same like "My friend and I broke up. I can't talk to my other friends about it but also am I crazy because she's just my friend and I feel all of this." Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: We don't really have a frame or a model for talking about that stuff, like when you lose significant female friendships in your life or when there is strife in your relationship. Kayleen: You don't. There's no grief ritual. You know, when you break up in a romantic relationship people expect you to be sad. You're supposed to eat your pint of ice cream or lay on the floor in a ball. Aminatou: [Laughs] Kayleen: But when you break up with a friend because we haven't done such a good job of saying these are such important relationships, you just expect well, you can find a new friend, you know? But women don't feel that way obviously. It's devastating to lose a friend. Aminatou: I know. For me at least it has felt more devastating than losing a partner. [Laughs] Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: It's like well . . . one of the other things you write about that is so recognizable is that for your birthday recently you went on a trip with all women. Kayleen: Uh-huh. (51:52) Aminatou: And I was like my god, I've been doing this a lot. And a lot of . . . it has not been a point of strife with the men in my life, but it's definitely been a thing where they're like you . . . Kayleen: Yeah, it's confusing. Aminatou: We feel excluded from events that you plan. [Laughs] And I'm like well, tough shit first of all. If you want to go somewhere with me you should plan it. But there's just something really sweet and pure about that where honestly at any age hanging out with all women is radical. Kayleen: It is. The vibe is just different. Aminatou: Yeah, but the thing is the older you get kind of the better it is too, you know? Where I want to go back to my high school self and say "You think the sleepover is rad? Just wait until you're 32. That sleepover is amazing." Kayleen: It's true. It's very true. Aminatou: What would you say to women who -- which I hope there are very few women who do this now as a point of pride, but what would you say to those women who are like "I don't have women friends?" Like what are they missing out on? Kayleen: Yeah. I mean I thought I was a guy's girl forever. I did. I thought nope, this is who I am. And I think you really have to look at that and think what are you afraid of? Why do you want to position yourself as a guy's girl? Like what are you looking to do here? Because all women are not alike. You know, there's no . . . all women aren't lipstick and high heels, and there's nothing wrong with lipstick and high heels but why do you want to differentiate yourself from that basically? Aminatou: One of the things that you explore too is the panic that it creates when women are friends in the sense that you automatically get accused of being lesbians. Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: One, like being a lesbian is a bad thing which is so ludicrous. Kayleen: Right. Aminatou: But also affirming that actually in some friendships that is true, and I'm of a firm belief that queer people have had it right forever and ever. But can we unpack that a little bit? (53:48) Kayleen: It's an automatic go-to which I really tried not to talk about that much in the book because people can think what they want. Just the idea that all women friends just really are in love with each other is crazy and men don't have to deal with that at all, and it's just something about . . . I think it's just another way of dismissing the closeness. Aminatou: Yeah. Kayleen: And making it like oh, no, this isn't scary at all just because they're secretly in love with each other. Aminatou: Right, and we are in love with each other. It's just . . . Kayleen: Sure, it's just platonic. Exactly. Aminatou: It's platonic and sometimes it's not. There's just such a fear about the power of the possibilities that are there. Yeah. Kayleen: Groups, yeah. Aminatou: Yeah, women in groups. They talk and devastating things happen. [Laughs] Kayleen: Right. Aminatou: What are other points that you really make across here? Like lasting cultural points. Kayleen: At the end of the book, the conclusion -- just to go back a little bit to the friend breakup -- I have a lot of anxiety over how can I hold on to these friendships? How can they stay? Because lives change. You do find romantic partners. You have kids. You move. You change jobs. Aminatou: Your time is limited. Kayleen: Exactly. And so I want to hold on to these people forever and have these relationships be the same, like have them love me as much as I love them and be as important to each other but they can't stay static. It's just part of it. No relationship can stay static. But it doesn't mean -- or I think it meant in the past you just had to go your separate ways. Like my friends that I've been learning from forever, even as their life changes, I still want to keep learning from them as I watch them get married and become moms. It's like I love seeing this new version of her too. Aminatou: Yeah. Kayleen: So it's just I just don't think it's a matter of you always have to be in the same life stage to keep these relationships close also. Aminatou: It's like now that we're not in competition with other women you're just in competition with the other relationships they have. [Laughs] Kayleen: Yeah. Aminatou: So it's like making time for your friends that are moms. I think a lot about what it can look like to be really close friends with someone who is in a relationship and you're both fighting for the same amount of I guess attention and time that you can have, like what that means kind of for our community. And just like all relationships I guess communication is really what it is. Kayleen: Totally, yes. Aminatou: It's you have to talk about it and unpack all of it. Kayleen: And you want your friends to have everything too so it's not like anyone wants to limit their friends and just be like "No, you can only be friends with me and that's who we are." We're so many things. Aminatou: I know. This is going to end with all of us living on a compound. Kayleen: [Laughs] Aminatou: To me this is the only way I see this working. We all live on a compound. The men and the children live on one side and we all share an accessories closet. That's my dream. [Laughs] Kayleen, thank you so much for coming today. The book is called Text Me When You Get Home. It's out, so you know what to get your Galentines. [Laughs] That's awesome. Thank you so much. Kayleen: Thank you. [Interview Ends] Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, you can download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcast, or on Apple Podcasts where we'd love it if you left us a review. You can email us at email@example.com. We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at callyrgf. You can subscribe to our monthly newsletter The Bleed on the Call Your Girlfriend website. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All original music is composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. Our logos are by Kenesha Sneed and this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac. Thanks so much for talking to us Kayleen. Text me when you get home. I will see you on the Internet, boo-boo. Ann: See you on the world wide web and the ladyweb. Aminatou: [Laughs]