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BOOK REVIEW: ‘I Know How You Feel,’ the psychology of women’s friendships

A look at the complicated psychology of women's friendships.

I Know How You Feel

By F. Diane Barth

2018, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

288 pages, $27

 

F. Diane Barth is a psychotherapist,part-time, long-time, Berkshire resident, known nationally for her writing and presentations on women’s issues.

Her newest book, “I Know How You Feel,” is a thorough-going look at the complicated psychology of women’s friendships – the good, the bad and the ugly. With reports from countless interviews, she takes up the multi-faceted issues of kinship, BFF’s, competition, betrayal, compromise, anger, support and empathy in an accessible, readable text, offering highly reliable resources to more complex analysis should the reader choose to look further.

It would be hard not to find yourself in this book. It is a great guide to weather the storms and obstacles to friendships. But it’s not a rule book, and this is its grace. Barth offers many possible options for interpreting behavior in friendships. She offers choice rather than dictating protocol. She allows for the possibility that some friendships are limited or unworkable, and that this is not necessarily a failure, but an evolution. The nature of friendships can change with age, change of status, varying needs of each friend, desire for solitude, desire for belonging and many other changing conditions of everyday life. She makes it clear that there is always more than one way to skin a cat, offers ideas we may never have considered and does not judge our choices but offers ways in which the women she interviewed have come to judge their own. She gives no advice other than to think about the options and “give it a try.”

Author F. Diane Barth

The reader will find wonderful examples of women struggling o calibrate closeness and distance, empathy vs. competition, adoration vs. clinging. She notes that many of our responses to difficult situations with friends are reflective of our previous experiences, sometimes in childhood, and encourages us to look at ourselves in these transactions, not just at the other, in assessing the meaning of complicated friendship dynamics.

Barth allows us to open our minds to friendships in a post-racial, post-heterosexual normative writing style that serves to expand the ways we think about each other, even if these new paradigms do not touch our everyday lives. In this respect, I can also recommend this book to men who want to understand women better, or who may be looking at their own longing for connection or avoidance of it.

This easy-to-read, yet scholarly, narrative of the many vicissitudes of women’s friendships is worth your time. Inevitably, somewhere along the line you’ll think, “She knows how I feel.”

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