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On this episode of Unlocking Us

I’m talking with first-time authors and longtime podcasters — and even longer-time friends — Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. We’re talking about their book, Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, and why the lack of meaningful, intimate, vulnerable friendships is almost a crisis right now. One key learning for me is how many of us believe that friendships should be easy and require little effort, when, in reality, we can’t have any meaningful relationships without putting in meaningful work. And that’s not always easy.

About the guests

Aminatou Sow

Aminatou Sow is a writer, an interviewer, and a cultural commentator. She is a frequent public speaker whose talks and interviews lead to candid conversations about ambition, money, and power. Aminatou lives in Brooklyn.

Ann Friedman

Ann Friedman is a journalist, an essayist, and a media entrepreneur. She is a contributing editor to The Gentlewoman. Every Friday, she sends a popular email newsletter. Ann lives in Los Angeles.

Together, Aminatou and Ann host the long-running podcast Call Your Girlfriend. Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close is both Aminatou’s and Ann’s first book.

Show notes

Big Friendship How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

Aminatou and Ann define Big Friendship as a strong, significant bond that transcends life phases, geographical locations, and emotional shifts. And they should know: The two have had moments of charmed bliss and deep frustration, of profound connection and gut-wrenching alienation. They have weathered life-threatening health scares, getting fired from their dream jobs, and one unfortunate Thanksgiving dinner eaten in a car in a parking lot in Rancho Cucamonga. Through interviews with friends and experts, they have come to understand that their struggles are not unique. And that the most important part of a Big Friendship is making the decision to invest in each other again and again.

Call Your Girlfriend podcast with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

“These are all feelings you can dance to…. There’s emotion happening, but they’re all very fun and danceable.”


Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us.


BB: This week, I’m talking to Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman about their book, Big Friendship. And oh my God, I love this conversation. I’m going to tell you why.


BB: I think we are so desperate for intimate connection with friends. I know I am, I know my family members are, and one of the big mythologies that I think just kind of floats in the ether is that friendship should be easy and casual and not a lot of work, but Aminatou and Ann approach friendship in such an intentional way. They teach us that meaningful connection requires meaningful work. There has to be effort, we have to show up, we have to lean in, we have to be vulnerable, we have to work out hard things when it’s easier just to take off and shut down. I love this conversation, I love the fact that we’re talking about friendship, because I think we’re desperate for it right now across the culture, and I can’t imagine two better people to talk about it than these two. So if you’re walking, you’re going to want to take some notes on this. I took three pages of notes while they were talking. If you’re hanging out at home working or… I clean a lot while I’m listening to podcasts. Just stick a pad and a pen in your back pocket. I’m glad you’re here.


BB: Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about our guests on Unlocking Us today. Aminatou Sow is a writer, interviewer, and cultural commentator. She is a frequent public speaker who’s talks and interviews lead to candid conversations about ambition, money, and power. She lives in Brooklyn. Ann Friedman is a journalist, essayist, and media entrepreneur. She’s a contributing editor to The Gentlewoman every Friday, and she sends a popular email newsletter and lives in Los Angeles. Together, Aminatou and Ann host the long running podcast, Call Your Girlfriend. Oh, it’s so good y’all. It’s so just wholehearted. Their first book is titled Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, and it’s a gorgeous read. Let’s jump in.

BB: So let me just first start by saying welcome, and I have to say I’m a little nervous because I feel like y’all are podcasting kind of legends and veterans. Welcome to Unlocking Us.

Aminatou Sow: Wow!

Ann Friedman: Hi.

AS: From the vulnerability legend herself.


AS: Okay. Game recognize game. That’s good.


AS: Also, you can be a podcasting legend and still have almost no skills, and so I really just want to put forth that that what’s going on with us. [laughter]

AF: That’s literally what is going on with us.


AF: This is perfect. [laughter]

BB: You know what? I don’t buy it, because y’all are veterans at doing this, y’all helped create the genre, you’ve been doing it for going on, I guess, eight years, and there is some genius in your casual approach to this. Would you not agree? There’s some intention?

AS: You know? I will say that there’s definitely some intention, but I think that more than intention, there is a lot of perseverance and there is a lot of just endurance, and that’s, I think, a quality that Ann and I have shared for a long time. I think I recognized that really early on. We’re not interested in the shiny new thing, we like difficult things, we like things that take a long time and we want to be here for a long time, so definitely get into podcast if you want some lessons in endurance. This was not an exciting place to be. [laughter] Until very recently.

AF: Well, it was because we were there together. I hear everything you’re saying and I also appreciate you saying, “Yes, we’re being flip about our technical skills,” but the conversational part of it and the interviewing part of it, I do feel like we have really built some muscle there and yeah, and there is a bit of long game, but it’s more like the two of us in a really long three-legged race up a hill, with our producer Gina on the other side.


AF: Now this metaphor is out of control, but we’re doing it together, I think is kind of my point that…

AS: Oh man. I love hearing you say that. When you were like, “We’re doing it together,” and the bad sports metaphor, because…

AF: Yes. [chuckle] Only bad sports metaphors.

AS: But that’s actually what’s really fun about it, right? It’s that, I think that when I find myself being self-effacing or self-deprecating about this stuff, it’s not because I don’t think I’m good at what I do, I’m not… That’s not the point, it’s just that the other people’s criteria is not what interests me. And that’s usually…

BB: Interesting.

AS: I don’t know. It’s like people who don’t know how to do what you do, can’t really judge success for you, I guess. And for me, success looks like, “I work with my friends, I get to have fun doing it, and we figure it out together every day and they’re just tiny spaces to redeem ourselves, every single day, at what we do” and to me, that’s worth it.

BB: I have a starter question, but I can’t let some of this stuff go because I’m so interested in this. It’s interesting that y’all bring up this idea of endurance because I remember, maybe it was Tim Ferris when I first started my podcast, who said that there is a podcast elephant graveyard of people who think this is going to be fun and easy, and maybe the mean number of episodes of a new podcaster is three, and then people go, “Oh shit, but I’m busy this week and I’m busy.” I want to hear more about the tenacity piece, but I also want to know if the word discipline resonates for y’all when it comes to your podcast and your work together.

AF: Well, that “showing up every week,” part of it, you’re right is kind of the hard part. In some ways, the only part, because our show was never conceived of as a really slick editorial product. Early on, it really was just us recording our phone calls. It was really that simple and so the part that required commitment was showing up to actually do it, and we have an incredible third partner, friend, producer, who makes us sound good. [chuckle]

BB: Yeah.

AF: But it is true. And also, I really think about it in later years especially, as something that was hard because we would be really beaten down by the news or really feeling burnt out on what was happening in our personal lives or dealing with things, and it’s like the show still has to come out every Friday. I think by that point, we were committed, and I think that aspect of it, Aminatou always says, “If you told us on day one that we would be starting a business and doing this for eight years, we both would have been like, ‘No, that’s okay’ and maybe not done it.”


BB: Yeah.

AF: We thought we were just doing a fun thing for ourselves and some friends, and so yeah. The transition to, “Actually, we are going to show up every week,” and the fact that we have done that for so many years is, you’re right, something that we are proud of, that I am certainly proud of.

AS: Yeah. And I don’t know, the word discipline for me, it resonates a lot with the work that we do together, Ann. Because I think that the way that so many things are talked about, I think publicly, when other people talk about other people’s work, it’s always about enthusiasm, it’s like, “Oh, are you motivated? Are you enthusiastic? Are you happy? Are you… ” All of those things. And all of those things are really good to keep in mind, but I think that I have a sense of myself and I’ve had it for a long time that there are just things that I am never going to be motivated to do, like I don’t like to exercise, I’m not… Never going to be motivated to do it. It doesn’t matter how good it makes me feel, I will not have that motivation, I’m not motivated to do work all of the time. Can I be disciplined to do that? Absolutely. And in that discipline, can I learn some rigor? Can I learn to meet my goals? Can I learn how to prioritize? Can I learn how to ask my friends to hold me accountable? Can I learn about my weaknesses? All of those things are there in discipline, but I think that it’s a really hard tension because it’s such a hard word, it’s such a…

BB: It is.

AS: It feels like such a punishment, and I think that that’s true for anyone who grew up with religion or who grew up with too much just like work-ism. But I am really trying to reclaim the meaning of discipline and making it as value-neutral as possible and really saying that to me, it means showing up all the time, no matter what the amount of effort is, it just means consistency and showing up.

BB: I love that. I have a… I don’t know if it’s a love-hate relationship with the word discipline, but I certainly… As someone who came from a very kind of overly disciplining family, I recoil a little bit when I hear it. But at the same time, I think one of the things I’ve learned in my research and also just as a leader is that, is the paradox of discipline and routine really cultivating creativity and freedom? That there is no creativity and freedom without discipline and routine. So when people say… No one uses the term showing up more than me, let me just go on the record to say that I’ve got people…


BB: People are like, “Shut the fuck up, alright? What does that mean to show up?” But I think showing up is just this… I love the term, how we show up with each other, we need to show up. But I think inside the guts of that word is a lot of discipline and maybe commitment to ourselves, to each other, to what we’re trying to do. I mean, I have to say that… Have we been podcasting a year, Barrett?

Barrett Guillen: Mm-hmm.

BB: We have? I don’t even know. It just… It feels like I can’t remember not doing it. But I remember in month six, crying to my sister Barrett, and to Laura, who produces and just being like, “I don’t want to talk to anybody this week.” And Laura said this, and we use this all the time now, “The train will leave the station at 12:01, Monday and 12:01 Wednesday. Whether we put together a great train or not, it’s leaving the station.” And so I just have to say to y’all that, whatever we want to call it, showing up, discipline, commitment, I see what you’ve accomplished and it’s a big deal.

AF: Thank you.

AS: Hey, thank you.

BB: Yeah, it’s not easy. Alright, I want to go back for the first question we normally ask, which is understanding people’s story, but I would love to hear you tell together the story of your friendship.

AF: My God, how many hours do you have?


BB: Go.

AS: Are you laughing because we derailed the first question of the Brené Brown podcast?


BB: No. I had no assumptions that I would have any control of this conversation at all.


BB: I was going to put on my good social worker hat and follow y’all.


AF: Okay, let me see. The very beginning, we met in Washington, DC in 2009 through a mutual friend who remains a good friend to both of us. Shout out to Dayo Olopade. And she really engineered our meeting, it was like a blind friend date in a way, where I had known her for maybe a year or more, she’d just met Aminatou. And when she met Aminatou, she was like, “Oh my God, you need to meet Ann. Like really, the two of you would be… ” So she engineered a television watching night, the pre-streaming years when there was like appointment television.

BB: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

AF: And it was very deftly done, it was the two of us, but a few other friends, and so we met at her house, and I think we were both primed also to… Not just primed in the sense of being in a phase of our lives when we had a lot of space for and interest in building this kind of big sustaining friendship, but also just primed in a very literal sense. Like Dayo had talked us up to each other. So that was the very, very beginning. That was… Yeah, DC 2009.

BB: So can I ask, how old are you at this point? Do y’all talk about your ages?

AS: Sure, yeah.

AF: I’m 39.

AS: I’m 36. I don’t know the last time someone asked me my age, this is thrilling.

BB: It is thrilling, isn’t it?

AS: It just feels illegal. I was like, “I love it.”

BB: It does feel illegal, doesn’t it? It’s like I’m violating all HR code here. Now, I’m just trying to figure out. So that was… How many years ago was that? 12 years ago?

AF: Right. So we were basically in our 20s. Mid-20s, I think is a fair… Yeah.

AS: Mid-20s. Yeah.

AF: Mm-hmm.

BB: Okay. I think that’s helpful to know, just because mid-20s is a real time and space in our lives, I think.

AS: It really is. I think it’s helpful to know and we’re really honest about… I think when we share this story too, about every part of our lives that we were at. Like for me, I had just moved to this brand new town where I knew not a single person, so anybody who invited me to anything I would just go to and I had no friends, so I only had time. And at the same time, we would live in the city that is very transient and everyone travels in a pack and making time for work and friends are the only things. I don’t think this was the time in life for me where people were really super focused on partners or super focused on like anything beyond, maybe people were going to grad school, but I don’t remember having big conversations about, “Oh, how are we going to pay the mortgage one day?” And so I think that everyone has kind of a context like that for how their friendship is forged. But that said, I do think that a hallmark of any kind of meeting is, the circumstances kind of have to line up for the both of you. And for me and Ann we had room. We had room for the kind of friend that we needed at the time that we met each other.

BB: Were you both interested in developing friendships when you met? Were you hungry for friendships? Were you open to them? Were you like, “eh”?


AF: No, very hungry. Yeah.

AS: Yeah. I’m like, “I’ve always had good friendships.” I was also like, “More friends.” Of course, you need friends. I was also a new in town, so I needed… [chuckle] I aggressively needed friends. I think it was the time in my life where I had the least friends, perhaps.

AF: Yeah. And also, we were both in DC for professional reasons, it was a place we had both chosen to really build what we thought was going to be our career. [chuckle] And there’s something about making a choice about where to live that’s based on work that can, I think lead to loneliness sometimes, you know? We weren’t…

BB: Oh yeah.

AF: Neither of us move there because we had a community, I guess, is what I’m saying.

BB: Yes.

AF: And I think by the time I moved away, I had several people who felt like true, deep, real wonderful connections, like Aminatou among them. But my early years they were really marked by this feeling of, “Okay, am I supposed to be hanging out with these people? This seems like it’s a default social group for me,” and that is a feeling that I think comes up later in life. I hear my friends who are parents talk about that like, “Oh, is this now just my social group because this is connected to my kids?” Or other people experiencing that through work at other points in life. When I think about what makes our friendship different at that time in my life, there was this real sense of having chosen each other, like I pick you, not just because we’re in the same circumstance, but because there is just some real natural, delightful connection happening between us.

BB: I want to keep going with the story, but I do want to pause here for a second to talk about something that I think is rather extraordinary, even going back to how you met, which is… In all the research I’ve done, when we talk about connection, when we talk about loneliness, when we talk about building relationships, I never… Rarely. Just as a researcher, I need to be careful about those big swoopy words, but it is actually very rare for me to hear the level of intention that you had about finding a friend, being open to being set up almost on a friend blind date and making it a priority. And the same people that I hear dismiss that as over the top, gratuitous, unnecessary, also often talk about being the most lonely people. And so I want to pause for a second and talk about the vulnerability and courage it takes to identify the need for friendship and the openness to that. Can y’all talk to me about that a little bit?

AS: I feel like in hindsight now it’s going to sound so good, but I’m sure everyone has a version of this, like when you were a kid, when you imagine what your life is going to be like. You’re the surly teenager and you’re like, “When I leave here, what is my life going to be?”

BB: Yeah.

AS: My fantasy of my life never did not involve a dinner party with fabulous friends. I did not grow up dreaming about a wedding, I did not grow up dreaming about a career, I did not grow up dreaming about a family I wanted to have or the clothes I wanted to wear. All of those things, I am not knocking, they are wonderful, everyone has their own thing. My central driving, wanting to leave… the Hero’s Journey story… [chuckle] was to find those people I would be at the dinner party with. And I don’t know where that comes from, maybe it is because my parents were very communal-oriented people. I grew up with my parents having deep friendships, not as expansive as the ones I have maybe, but definitely they have their own versions of that. I grew up seeing them model a lot of that stuff, I was always… I don’t know, even in storytelling settings, my heart and my brain would get lit up way more by the friendship stories than the romantic stories, and a little bit of luck went along the way and I ended up finding my people and finding people who are the same. But hearing you’ll talk about loneliness, I think, reminds me also that as I say all of that, I was someone who grew up in these very big rambunctious kind of situations but I often did feel very lonely.

AS: I did feel lonely and sometimes I felt alone, and I could tell the distinction between those two things, and I also knew to resist to them, to know, okay, these are all circumstantial and they can change, and what is the place that makes you feel best. And for me, that has always been at the center of friendship, and so it’s hard now for me to go back and say like, “Okay, there’s all this intention and this whatever,” I cannot tell you the difference between nature and nurture here, but I know that my earliest desire was always that. And so maybe that is what I ended up seeking out in life and it totally worked out.

BB: Thank you for sharing that, that’s… I just hung on every word because every part of it, I feel like is a piece of it from knowing the difference between lonely and alone, seeing the story telling and the friendships, seeing community. It’s beautiful.

AF: I really relate to a lot of that despite having different circumstances of my upbringing, but hearing you talk, Aminatou, I was just thinking about how… I don’t know that I really had the full dinner party vision as a child, but I also know that when I was feeling like, “I don’t want to live in this town and I don’t want my community to revolve around the Catholic church the way my parents’ does, or I don’t want… ” I kind of had a big sense of what I didn’t want from my upbringing, but the other thing that strikes me is that so much messaging is about find your romantic partner, and then the rest of your life will snap into place, and I really like the feeling or the desire I associate with that time is I want to find my people not like I want to find my person.

AF: And I still really love and admire my parents for their investment in their community, a community that really fits and makes sense for them, and I think that is the piece that I have taken from my upbringing and just maybe composed or found those people differently than maybe my family did when I was growing up.

BB: I want to share a sentence that I hear a lot in my research, and then I would like your commentary, both of yours on it, please. Is that okay?

AF: Let’s do it.

BB: Good friendships just happen. If you have to work to find them or work to stay in them, they’re probably not good friendships.


BB: Uproarious laughter breaks out.


BB: Oh. And a snort. I love a good snort.

AF: Who gets anything nice without working?

AS: It’s like replace friendship with marriage, or replace it with family, or replace it with job, or replace it with religious discipline or whatever, just pick the word and put it there. That is so asinine. That is just not how it works. I will say that the reason I think friendship gets such a bad rap here is that from the time that you are small, if you are lucky, at least, this is not everyone’s experience of friendship. But if you grew up in any kind of communal setting or you are privileged enough to go through the educational system, you will be put into collision with other people, that sometimes might become your friends. And I think that we have a way of really infantilizing that bond of just like, okay, like the two of you together, or two moms meet and then they force you into a play date, or you have very little control over choosing, I think some early friends. It does not mean that the bond is not real.

BB: That’s right.

AS: I think that for a lot of people, a lot of friendship happens very accidentally and no one lucks into a marriage, but chances are, you might luck into a friend. But I think that because it is a relationship that we take for granted from such an early age from such a such an early age, there is such a sense of skepticism about how deep it can be and about how life-forming and just affirming and devastating of a force it is in someone’s life.

AS: We told you the story of meeting when we were in our 20s. If we were telling that story in a different decade in our lives, it would be completely different, and in fact, we tell that story because we want to know each other through multiple decades of life. And every day of life is different, like we are different people than the people who met in 2009, we are different people, and our friendship is different. And I cherish that and I value that, but I used to get so reflexively annoyed at people who were just like the friendship trash talkers, and now I just look at them and I’m like, “Good luck to you.” Life as a very hard journey. I hope everyone finds their people, but friendship is serious work, it is hard work, it is rewarding work. Easy is nowhere near a top 20 word I would use for it.

BB: That’s fair. Ann, what’s your thought on, Friendships are easy, you don’t have to work at them, they just happen.

AF: Well, I know we broke out laughing and that’s just partly because we have so reflected on the parts of our friendship that have been hard. I think it’s like that. But I don’t want the laughter to be misinterpreted because I also realize that this point of view is cultural. We are all kind of taught that family and maybe a romantic relationship are kind of like the foundation. Once you’re an adult, these are the things that are supposed to be a foundational, grounding, rooting, main focus of your attention and therefore the main focus of your work and yeah, maybe that’s friends when you’re younger, but we grow out of that and then we become adults, and that’s just a dominant narrative about coming of age stories or the fairy tale doesn’t end with finding a lifelong friend. These are deep old tropes about what we’re supposed to be aspiring to in this life.

AF: And so I think when friendship is maybe culturally coded in a different way, the kind of superficial seeing four friends at brunch, it does not come with the work that is required of intimacy. People are messy, whether they’re your family, your romantic partner or your friend. And once you peel back enough layers, you’re going to see the mess. And so really the question is not, “How can all friendships be easy? Or should all friendships be easy?,” but it’s if all your friendships are easy, they’re probably superficial or they’re probably not actually seeing you through changes in your life because those are the things that tend to expose what’s underneath it all. And I don’t know, I don’t want to say I’m sorry for laughing, but I want to explain that I understand where those ideas come from, and at the same time, it just does not logically hold that you can have anything meaningful without putting work into it and without having things go wrong sometimes, and without having to patch over misunderstandings.

BB: So, I spent the last three years developing a theory on meaningful connection, what does it take to be meaningfully connected to each other? And it’s something I’ve worked on for 21 years, and it wasn’t until I got into this research that I found this missing piece, and I want to run this idea by you to see if it resonates or it fits, because I think what you’re talking about and what you’re writing about, and we’ll get into some of the terms from Big Friendship, your book that you did together, you talk about friendship as intentional. I think the fear-based take on it is friendship is circumstantial, not intentional. You talk about there being discipline, while we all have mixed feelings about the word, we’ll just use discipline for continuing to show up, leaning into hard conversations, reciprocal vulnerability, those kind of things. If on the other side, when we talk about friendship, if on the other side of intentional is circumstantial, what do we think the other side of disciplined is, that this mythology that friendship is easy. Would that be the other side?

AF: Yeah, like set it and forget it.

BB: Yeah.

AS: It’s prompting so much, I don’t know, I’m feeling a sense of agitation about why even the distinction matters. Maybe this is a better way of putting it. I was like, something circumstantial can become intentional and something set it and forget it can become something that you keep your eye on, and not everything has to be static all the time. I think that there is such a reflexive binary about how are you in the world, how are you in relation to people and always trying to juggle a perfect balance. There are no balances. Or maybe this is for me, I’m speaking for myself only. I was like, I don’t really believe in balance. I believe that I can try to make choices every day that clearly explain what I am trying to do and course-correct. I don’t know, I don’t feel a sense of something being terribly bad if a friendship is circumstantial, for example, for a while.

BB: No. I don’t think so either, because I think like my closest, longest friendship was circumstantial. We went to Holy Name of Jesus together 40 years ago. But what I’m trying to figure out is, I would say the lack of meaningful, intimate, vulnerable friendships is almost a crisis right now. And I’ve been interviewing for a long time, I’ve had my kind of finger on the pulse of what’s going on for people since I became a researcher 20-something years ago. And of course, there’s a lot of research supporting levels of loneliness right now, but I guess what I’m trying to figure out is, I’m not trying to figure out a binary, a judgment or label. What I’m trying to figure out is what is the mythology that leads people to literally feel shame when they have to work at a friendship because it should be easy and just right in front of them.

BB: I’m just trying to figure out what is… What is it that we hear culturally that tells us… It’s the same thing when I interview marriage and family therapists, there’s two flags that they tell me in the first session, whether they’re like, “Oh yes, it’s going to be hard work, but let’s try.” Or, “Here’s your money back. I don’t think this is going to work.” The one thing that they hear between people is contempt, when they hear contempt, like really that swirl of anger, but also disgust, that’s tough to overcome. The other thing is when people say, “This is romantic partnerships. I don’t think this should be work. If it’s not easy, I’m with the wrong person.” And so what I guess I’m trying to figure out is… Let’s go to this. Can I read something from your book?

AF: Please.

BB: And can we maybe use this as a jumping off point?

AF: Let’s do it.

BB: Okay, this is from your book, Big Friendship. So this is your definition of big friendship, “Big friendship is a bond of great strength, force and significance that transcends life phases, geography and emotional shifts. It is large in dimension affecting most aspects of each person’s life. It is full of meaning and resonance. A big friendship is reciprocal, with those parties feeling worthy of each other and willing to give of themselves in generous ways. A big friendship is active, hearty, and almost always a big friendship is mature. Its advanced age commands respect and predicts its ability to last far into the future.” And God, this is beautiful.

AF: I smile hearing you read it, I feel good when I think about it. I think about the people who meet that definition for me when I hear it, when I hear you read that.

AS: Yeah.

BB: But I want to tell you that this is hard. A big friendship as you all define it, is difficult. And there is something in the culture, and this is what I guess I’m trying to pinpoint or at least try to get your opinions on. There’s something in the culture that I see all the time in people that makes them feel ashamed if they have to work on it.

AF: I mean, there’s a couple of things going on. I think culture, meaning what are the stories we ingest, what are the expectations we have for what a good life looks like? I think that friendship is often treated as secondary in those narratives and easy as well. So that’s one facet. I also think looking at the economic situation that we live in, in the US right now, people do not have time and space because they are not supported through caregiving or through their health needs… Literally everything in this country is, “Hey, you’re on your own.” If you are not doing something independently or with the people who are defined as your nuclear family, then it’s a failure, that’s baked into the policies of this country. And I think that while there is a nebulous idea of, it’s good to have community, at the end of the day, there’s this expectation that being a functional adult means being independent, either you, yourself or like you and your really traditional nuclear family unit.

AF: And we interviewed a therapist who works on friendship issues with a lot of her clients, Jordan Pickell, and she made a comment to us that was just like, “Actually, people who are thriving, resilient, adults are dependent, they are interdependent.” And that is the hallmark of having built a really fulfilling adult life. And so maybe that is a clearer or attempting to get closer to why these ideas exist is like this idea of independence, this idea of how adulthood is defined, and if friendship is not central to those things, then why would you be working for it? It’s sort of like having a cute wardrobe or maintaining your hot bod or whatever else is kind of superficial, but we’re told we should want. It falls into that superficial category rather than this must have in order to have a supported and fulfilled and thriving life.

BB: I think there’s something here that could possibly save some people.

AS: I agree with that a lot Ann. I think that on a big macro level, we are all ingesting all of that messaging all of the time. I think that on a smaller level, that shame, a lot of times… Again, I will only speak for myself, it comes from such a very visceral place of… The shame is either, “I don’t deserve it, that’s for someone else.” Or “Other people do it differently,” or “Why do you even want that?” These questions are so clunky, because what I’m really trying to get to is that, I don’t know, humans are so bad about defining and talking about their relationships. We’re so bad, at just modeling for each other what it is that we’re doing. Like no two relationships are the same, whether they are a mother-daughter relationship or they are an employee-employer relationship or a friend-friend or a marriage. None of these relationships are the same, and yet we have these broad terms that we use for all of them, like two people define whatever relationship they are at the center of, and we are very good at talking in general terms and very good at conveying these big images, but when you were talking about something that is as just precarious and as dangerous as intimacy, it’s terrifying. There was the intimacy warriors out there who they’re just… They’re on the floor all the time and they can do it. I need two hours for every minute of therapy that I have to just recover.

BB: Oh God, me too.

AS: I’m not that person. I cannot live, confronted with myself and my own… What is in my insides all the time. It’s literally, I’m shaking just thinking about it.

BB: Same. Yeah.

AS: I don’t know, I think that so much of the work of doing this book, even just uncovering this tiny part of this tiny friendship that I have with Ann was such a eye-opening moment. And oh, we were both inside of the same friendship, having two completely different experiences, like that’s literally insane. We are in the same friendship and we cannot explain it the same. We are having two experiences of having it and I just… It’s like then you do that times 6 billion combinations of people that you can have… Of course, it’s scary and it’s painful because we don’t know what the thing is, we don’t know how to ask for it, we don’t know how to want it. And I don’t know, for me at least, so much of every fear is at it’s most base cause is about rejection, like nobody wants to be rejected. And that is, I don’t know how I or so many people have ingested that that is the scariest thing that can happen to you, but like here we are.

BB: This is so helpful. Is this what y’all thought we’ll talk about?

AS: Honestly…

AF: I had no expectations.

AS: I don’t know. I had no expectations. It’s true. I show up with no expectations, I had no clue.

BB: I always show up with a shit ton of expectations. Y’all are missing out. Y’all are missing out on great levels of resentment and disappointment. Okay. I want to stay in this for a minute because a couple of things. Ann you talked about the cultural devaluation of community, that we value other things. But there’s a paradox here too around friendship, I think, because I think in the media saturated world, and this is for both of y’all, I think friendship is commodified and used to sell more things than maybe even romantic relationship. So it is, wear this pair of jeans and it comes with this whole crew of friends. Drink this beer and it comes with a squad of people wearing color-coordinated sweaters and matching scarfs at the football game. The two things I’m wondering, one about this paradox of in many ways, we devalue friendships and community, but in another way, we also use the innate yearning for that to move shit, to move products. Do you all agree? Disagree.

AS: I medium agree. I agree with you that it definitely feels that way. I think that from an advertising standpoint, you’re definitely going to sell more beer to friends than you are to a family of two people, so the inventory better match up to that. But I do think that that iconography and that imagery and even that marketing comes from a place of understanding that friendship is devalued, and that is what makes it feel provocative.

BB: Wait a second, let me think about that for a second.

AS: The people who are selling us the television shows that are all about friendship right now, the one million percent, the Instagram wall-to-wall like have your girl squad, have your thing, it is because we culturally are moving to this place where more people are saying, “My friendships are important to me. They were not, and now they are.” And the capitalism will always do what capitalism does.

BB: Yeah, yeah. Do you think it’s also about commodifying belonging?

AS: I do think that there is a commodification of our relationships being leveraged here, I agree with you, but I think that what is more dangerous than that is we live in a society where people are still not happy with the level of relationship that they have, and it is a crisis. I don’t mean a crisis in the sense of people don’t have enough friends, but I mean a crisis in the sense where culturally, we are completely un-moored and completely disconnected from the fact that this connection is what would allow us to have revolutionary change in this country.

BB: God. Yeah, beautifully said. Ann, thoughts?

AF: It is absolutely true, as Aminatou says is like, commodified relationships is the nature of the capitalist beast, and at the same time, I think that is what contributes to this idea that it should be easy. In the same way that it contributes to ideas that it shouldn’t be a problem to be a parent in this country. It shouldn’t be a problem to have a body that looks a certain way, it shouldn’t be… All these messages that we get about what should be easy, and I think friendship falls into that same trope, like those same narratives get applied to friendship. I think the difference is that when it comes to other stuff, there’s maybe more of a body of work. There’s journalism about the childcare crisis, and there are TV shows about couples in marriage counseling. There is not a lot of cultural narrative saying, “Look, here are people who care for each other deeply, who are super invested in each other and part of the same community, and things are bad for them right now, and they’re working on it as friends,” and…

BB: God, that’s true.

AF: Right? And not to like… This is truly not just like a pivot to like, “And buy our book,” but truly this is why we wrote a book about this, is because we’re like, “Yes, friendship is, air quotes, everywhere.” But it also this idea of what does it look like to work for a friendship?” Not just like, “Do I feel ashamed that it seems like I might have to work for my friendships?” But what does that actually look like in practice is something that is very scarce in the media and in the news.

BB: It’s funny because one of the big shame triggers that we all experience, and I’m sure the three of us could go on for hours about where this comes from, the birth of this shame trigger. But one of the big shame triggers we have is around effort. That if you have to work for something, you must not be very good at it. Y’all might be too young for this, I’m not sure, but there was a Secret, a deodorant for women commercial that says, “Never let them see you sweat.” You know, this idea that you can achieve great things, but don’t ever look like you’re working for them, which is such a terrible set up of…

AF: I woke up like this, yeah.

BB: Yeah, I woke up like this, and, you know, yeah. I love that y’all talk about fearless ambition, which I think is amazing. I wonder if some of the shame around the friendship stuff is around, “Is something wrong with me because I have to work so hard at it? Is something wrong with me because my friend and I are bumping up into really hard things around a new relationship. She’s in an intimate relationship. Or race or class, or… If I have to work at it. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.”


BB: I want to read something that you all wrote that while I agree, Aminatou, around generalizations are generally bad, which I know is kind of meta and ironic, but there’s a generalization in your book that I think is actually really true and important. Maybe it’s not a generalization, maybe it’s just an observation, but you write, “There is no auto-pilot for big friendship, you just have to keep showing up.” And this is a quote that I have underlined, highlighted, and starred. “Active friendships require active maintenance. You don’t get to sit back, do nothing, and enjoy the benefits of a meaningful relationship, any relationship.” Do y’all maintain that that is true?

AS: Hard agree. Hard agree. Yeah, work… Everything is work, everything is like a… It’s however the government keeps all the planes in the sky is how you need to be living your life like that. That is just… That it’s just how it works.

AF: The air traffic control approach to relationships.

AS: Whatever they’re doing, do that. Maintenance. Important.

BB: So, okay, you just made a terrible mistake if you walked into a metaphor, that I can… That I will be able to… I’ll be able to work this shit until you all hang up on me. But I’ve listened to y’all, y’all can work a metaphor for a long time, too, so I’m in good company. Okay. But let me tell you about air traffic control. First of all, you just happened to hit on an area where I’ve done some interviewing and some focus groups.

AS: Or the worst job anybody can ever have, trust me, I know.

BB: But it is a job of absolute discipline and rigor and routine, but I want to tell you something interesting, why I researched air traffic control… Because in the International Association of Air Traffic Control or some big oversight committee. It’s one of the only career oversight organizations that have universally adopted a no shame management policy, which is how I got there because I’m a shame researcher. But they say, because shame leads people to hide and keep secrets, and their jobs are life and death, that if you make a mistake, they don’t allow leaders who shame in those situations because people will die. And so I just think it’s so interesting that we’re talking about effort and shame and friendship and discipline, and then… We didn’t script this, y’all, this is too good. Brought up this air… Because I do think life is like air traffic control, like there’s got to be some discipline, there’s got to be art and craft that you can’t define or distinguish or write a formula on, and there’s got to be some discipline and some forgiveness and grace, right?

AS: I mean, forgiveness and grace. Say that again.

AF: Right. And also, I don’t know, I do think… What am I trying to say? I guess I’m trying to fit this into air traffic metaphors, and it’s not going to work, so I’ll just make up…

BB: I release thee from the metaphor.

AF: I know. Really, you set a trap for us there, is really what happened. But I do think that that feeling of shame when our friendship was at its worst, really manifested in terms of like, “Am I the only one who feels bad in this? Is this working for the other person, and if it is what’s wrong with me?” Or the shame that comes with the assumption that everyone else deals with problems or hardship the same way you do. And so when someone else has a different reaction, even though they might be in the same type of pain, it’s really tempted to feel some shame there and be like, “Well, actually it’s not as important to them because of where they wouldn’t have reacted that way.” And I think that’s where that quote you read about this being true of all relationships taking work, that’s what some of that work starts to look like is how do you overcome this feeling of isolation to actually talk about it in a friendship?

AF: It is really risky in a relationship that is solely defined by the people who show up in it, that is fully at will, there’s no blood bond or marriage contract or anything like that. Yeah, so that there’s a real pervasive sense of, “If I raise this problem, this other person will walk away, they’re not really tied to me.” To invoke it is to, in fact, sever the friendship, and in reality, it’s like you can’t fix it without invoking it. It’s this horrible trap that I think these expectations about friendship set for us.

AS: Right, and then we’re all made up of all of the garbage parts of the world that we’re from because so much of that shame… For me, at least also manifests as being someone who is not someone who is in conflict with other people, you know what I mean? I think that links like a… Ask women, what it’s like to be thought of someone who is like high conflict, and then ask a Black woman what it’s like to be thought of as someone who is high conflict, and all of that just adds up. When I think about that part of the book, it really is a reminder to myself of like, “Okay, actually, it is true, it does takes work.” And if you know that it takes work for everyone, then maybe you can have a little bit of grace for yourself about the work that it is taking you to get there. But I think that again, in the absence of some transparency and some modeling and some just being candid for each other, it’s hard to tell because even going back to that, when you were talking about our relationships being commodified earlier, what always strikes me is how everyone is so willing to talk about the good parts of friendship, it’s the same thing with everything. Everybody will talk about how good it is.

BB: Oh God, yeah.

AS: No one… Until we wrote this book, I was not aware of some of the hardest parts of friendship in some of my other intimate friendships, in the other friendships that they were facing, I didn’t know that like people that I talk to every day. Or challenges that they were facing, and that was a real eye-opener for me. I’m just like, “Okay, even in my own ecosystem where I am, more than most, transparent about what is tough for me every day. There are just secrets everywhere, secrets and dragons everywhere.” And it’s just been very sobering to know that.

BB: Yeah, I think about it in my own life. I think about watching my 22-year-old daughter navigating it and watching my 16-year-old son navigate it, watching my husband who’s my age… I think this conversation, I think y’alls work is so important. I want to ask… Man, this pissed me off when I came across this in the book, I mean… Pissed me off. Tell me about the pushback that Emily… Is it Langan? The professor, the communications professor? I thought her premise and her theory, just even as a social scientist, was really valid. Tell me about the work that she did and the pushback she received, she studies attachment theory.

AF: It’s been a while since we talked to her, but my recollection is that she wrote her graduate thesis about the ways that attachment theory applies to friendships, not just to family or romantic relationships, and her colleagues were essentially like, “No, that doesn’t work. It’s not transferable. This is… ” Essentially told her in whatever polite academic way they say it, “This is bullshit.” And it’s funny because it’s like something that was so instantly resonant to us. Of course, attachment affects, not every friendship of circumstance, but big friendships, the kind of friendships that we’re writing about. Like 100%, it affects how you do intimacy and how you show up within the private space of the friendship. Are you laughing at “do intimacy?”

AS: No please, you know I love to do intimacy. It’s just making me laugh so much because this is the problem of all human beings, we need a model and something that makes sense, and so we follow each other. It’s like attachment theory is the mommy chimpanzee and the baby chimpanzee, but it can’t be the two friend chimpanzees. The work of like… Nobody has that ideal family. We are so attached to an idea of friendship and an idea of intimacy, and an idea of love, and an idea of family, name whatever the concept is, that is imaginary, that does not exist at all, and we drive ourselves crazy trying to refine that instead of working with what we have in front of us, and so, when I think…

BB: Yeah, that’s true.

AS: Yeah, so when I think about so much of this friendship stuff, for so many of us, it is replacing the gaps that we feel in other parts of life, it’s like, great, you don’t have a fulfilling family life? Amazing. Build a fulfilling friend life. You don’t have a fulfilling job? Find the other leg of the stool every place that you can and be a whole person. And somehow, we are so resistant to the idea of just straying away from whatever the biology or the… Whatever the larger disciplines tell us that we’re supposed to do, but the truth is that whatever that original intimate family unit is that we thought we were supposed to have, that thing does not exist. People have that in all sorts of ways, and it’s okay to let each other explore that.

BB: Yeah, I mean, this could be a whole different podcast the three of us could do together. Okay, I’ve gone through question number one in my notes, seriously, but I’m going to be meaningful because y’all need to read the book and listen to the podcast because there’s a lot more… Would y’all ever be willing to come back again and drill into some other things together?

AF: Always.

AS: Always, question two, next week, we’ll be back.

AF: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, because I would like to talk…

AF: We’ll do one question per episode.

BB: Yeah, at this point, that’s where we are. Okay. Who wants to go first on the rapid fire?

AS: I’ll do it, I’ll do it.

AF: Oh, do it. Great. Aminatou.

BB: Aminatou, are you ready?

AS: Yes.

BB: Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…

AS: Ahhh!

AF: Oh my God, realest blank-filling of all time.

BB: That was perfect.

AF: It’s my Cathy, it’s my Cathy act.

BB: Okay, vulnerability is Ahhh. For the transcripts, we’ll just do A-A-A-A-G-G-G-G-G-H-H-H-H. Okay, Ann…

AF: The first thing that came to my mind was, “vulnerability is necessary,” which sounds so like… I don’t know, but yeah, kind of don’t love it, but going to the dentist or something… Yeah, like necessary.

BB: If we want to have big friendships as you define them, I would say probably necessary, right? Okay, Aminatou, you are called to be very brave, but your fear is real, you can feel it and taste it in your throat. What is the very first thing you do?

AS: I still do the thing.

BB: Still just do the damn thing. Okay. Ann?

AF: I spend a lot of time constructing stories about why I really should do the thing logically. I really search for a narrative that will make it feel like the thing that makes sense for me is to do the scary thing. I think the self-storytelling is really my approach.

BB: That’s awesome. Okay, number three. Ann, you can go first this time, what is something people often get wrong about you?

AF: Oh God, I don’t know. I feel like Aminatou should answer this, I mean, maybe because I appear very decisive, that I never have doubts or quibbles about the choices I make, particularly professionally. I think that is a misconception. I have lots of doubts and quibbles always.

BB: Yeah. Okay. Aminatou?

AS: That’s a good one, Ann. I kinda want to steal it… Yes. I don’t know what… I don’t know. Do people think about me? I would like to not be perceived. I would say the same, honestly, that because I can make decisive choices, that they are not hard or that they don’t cost me something.

BB: Okay. Ann. Last TV show that you binged and loved?

AF: Oh my God. Real listeners to the podcast will know that I’m bad at TV. The last thing I watched was the HBO show “The Other Two” and I liked it, but it’s also the things I binge, I binge like while I’m sewing or half paying attention and so that’s the caveat that applies to all binged television is like half a brain on it.

BB: Half binge. Full binge, half pay attention.

AF: Yeah, if I’m really paying attention, it takes me a long time to get through something and I’m not generally meeting the definition of binge.

BB: Perfect. Aminatou?

AS: I just housed in a day and a half the Caribbean spin-off edition of 90-Day Fiancé, and it is so dark, I cannot recommend it in good faith, but if you want to learn anything about how messed up our immigration system is, please invest in five minutes of “90-Day Fiancé.”

BB: Okay, wow, that is an ominous recommendation.

AS: Dark.

BB: I may watch it sewing so that I can pull out if I need to. I’m going to combine answers.

AF: There you go. Just mentally check out. Yeah.

BB: Yeah. Okay, Aminatou, favorite movie or one of your favorite movies?

AS: Man, this is so hard, but I’m going to say, because I’m re-watching it this afternoon, the Olsen twins, Kirsty Alley movie “It Takes Two.” That is one of my ultimate…

BB: Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding!

AS: It’s one of my ultimate comfort films, and I am in a place of needing deep comfort, so that will be coming on today, and I would like to go on the record as saying that that is an almost near perfect movie.

BB: Okay, I respect you in your movie choice. Okay, Ann?

AF: Well, I’m going to go with a deep fave that I also recently re-watched, which is “The Philadelphia Story.” I feel like favorite movie is like, I’ve seen it so many times, I know every single line, and lines from it occur to me, like when I’m out in the world or as a reaction to something someone else is saying, but I can’t quote it because it’s not like a popularly quoted movie, but it becomes like an inside joke with myself, and so “The Philadelphia Story” is one of those.

BB: Wow! Okay. You guys are just killing this. Okay. We’ll start with you this time, Ann. A concert you’ll never forget.

AF: Oh my God. Actually, this is featuring one, Aminatou Sow, is I was recently post break up, and we saw Robyn and Kelis at a very intimate, sweaty venue in DC, and it was like a real dancing, sweating, crying, like every… [chuckle] All of the things in one. It was a real… Yeah. Very memorable. Personally, musically, everything.

AS: That was a fun show.

BB: What about for you? Favorite concert you’ll never forget or a concert you’ll never forget.

AS: I mean, not a favorite concert, but a concert I will never forget is, I went to see the Foo Fighters at Madison Square Garden recently, when we could all go vaccinated and I had never seen them live. I think for anyone who knows me, they might not say that that would be the first band I would go see, and I’d had a lot of hesitations about going to live music again, and I have to say that Dave Grohl sang “One Note” and I burst into tears. It was so nice to be singing with people again. There was such a comfort about hearing a band whose music has always been in the background of my life, even though they have not been a fave band. That was so comforting and I just want to touch back on that thing that we had said about endurance earlier. I have just been housing every Dave Grohl interview in the last [chuckle], probably like weeks since that… Like months since that show because he talks about this so much. So much about how he is someone who has been disciplined and he’s here and I think about all of the rock stars of his era, and he is the one who is still alive and he gets to do the work that he wants to do, and I find a lot of comfort and peace to that. So yes to enduring and not to burning out.

BB: I just have to add, have you seen his videos where they cover the Bee Gees?

AS: Oh, I mean, they did the Bee Gee covers at the show. Sorry, that’s what I meant to say.

BB: Shut up!

AS: That was the best part of the show.


AS: It was like, “The Bee Gee Covers. Sorry. Wow. Aminatou, go back. Yes.” Then like his falsetto? He’s like, his falsetto is out of control. [chuckle] And yes.


BB: Yeah.


AS: A real pandemic highlight. A thing I did not know I would experience in life. Thank you.

BB: Beautiful. Okay, both of you favorite meal. Ann, go first.

AF: Someone actually recently asked me about this, I don’t think it’s my favorite meal, but it would be like my answer to a last meal on earth, would be the perfect French fries. Honestly, a generous portion of the deeply crispy, but still some potato feel inside, not crisp all the way through, well seasoned, very salty French fries and a large, made from scratch, Caesar salad with some large and in-charge croutons and really good cheese and a glass of crisp white wine. It’s like my business travel meal and also would be my last meal on earth, which make of that what you will. [chuckle] But it’s French fries, salad and wine is my answer. [laughter]

BB: God, it sounds really… I’m starving so it sounds so good.


BB: Aminatou.

AS: Wow, Ann it’s almost like we’re best friends.


AS: I’m sitting across the table, eating this from you.

AF: Is that your answer? Plus oysters?


AS: Yeah. I mean, that’s obviously my answer. It’s maybe I’ll give a better scene. It’s a Steak Frite at Justine’s in Austin, a very crisp white wine and maybe some really decadent dessert that I don’t want, but ends up being the perfect bite later. But yeah, Steak Frite always.

BB: Wow! Okay.

AS: French fries are a real love language in this relationship. [chuckle]

BB: I was going to say French fries, do y’all do a lot of stuff over French fries?

AS: My entire restaurant experience is planned around… The entire meal is derailed for me if French fries are available with one thing and not another thing. I am on the record as this, if I ever get married, I’m not having a cake, I am having a tower of French fries, just so everyone knows.

BB: Oh my God, that sounds so good. Okay. Ann first. A snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that gives you true joy.

AF: I love the feeling of closing my laptop and going for a walk, like the feeling of like, I’ve actually made it out the door, the door clicks behind me, I feel all creaky and crone hunched from being at my laptop for probably too many hours, and that moment, of like, the door closes and I crack my spine as I stand up straight to walk, and just that. The idea of being like, “Oh, I’m out in the world without a screen in front of me right now,” is a very… Like an almost daily thing that happens, and every single time, it feels incredible.

BB: God, it is the little moments, isn’t it? That moment resonates with me, yeah. Aminatou.

AS: Man, I feel like life is only ordinary moments right now. I’m home recovering from a little back surgery, so it’s… Things should be bleak, but in fact, I feel very content and happy. And I find that everything right now is making me so happy. My little village has stepped up, all of my friends’ husbands have been on loan and have done so many wonderful things to my apartment, my fridge is stocked, my bathroom is clean. Someone came over this morning and folded my laundry, my life is so small but so good right now, and I just… I want for nothing. I feel very, very, very content in this moment.

BB: I don’t know you, but that makes me so happy for you and for all of us that that’s possible. Last question. Ann, one thing that you’re deeply grateful for right now.

AF: I mean, it’s not one thing, but I really am very grateful for my community. I think… I know this pandemic is ongoing, but my post-vaccination experience of the pandemic has really been a lesson in just how far from myself I was when I had to be far from people who I love and who I know and I feel known by. And so really, since the spring, when I have been able to travel a little bit more and when I’ve been able to see, particularly, my far away people, I really have this strong sense of coming back to myself, and I think I always knew, “I’m a social person and my friends are important to me,” and insert all of these high level things. But it’s something else altogether to really feel like not only am I getting to know them again or getting to be part of their lives in a real way again, but I am coming back to myself because of that connection. So I am… Yeah, so grateful.

BB: Beautiful. Aminatou?

AS: Aww Ann, I’m so happy for you.

BB: Yeah.

AF: I know I’m talking about you.


AF: I know.

AS: Listen, the pandemic was hard for our little extroverted friends, it was really hard for y’all.

AF: I know. I know.

AS: Aww. That makes me really happy. Sorry, I’m getting really emotional.

BB: It’s beautiful.

AS: I too love my friends, but they are not the most grateful thing.


AS: Really ungrateful. No, I don’t. I think I am just in this phase of, I don’t know, I want to stay in that post-vaccine life moment, I think that I have just been so grateful to live in a city. I know that city life is fraught and it’s expensive and it’s not for everyone, and it’s really tough, but I’ve lived in New York City on and off for, I want to say like 12 years now. This is the year that I finally fell in love with New York. I am not one of those people that thinks that it is the moral center of the universe or the most interesting place in the world. It’s a place where I live and I make my money and some of my favorite people live, but these last 17 months have really been magic. And I am so grateful for that kind of city life that forces us to just to see each other and to witness each other and to be un-relentless in our pursuit of what we need and want from each other. I just have been… I felt really invigorated by that, especially in the days where we were able to leave the house, everything just feels brand new and exciting and hopeful, and I want that for everyone.

BB: God, both of y’all’s answers made me really happy. Just, it made me hopeful. That’s not happy, hopeful. Yeah. Alright, last question, and this is going to be really interesting. So I need you together to answer this question, you’ll have to craft together in real time. We asked for five songs for a mini mixtape that we put on Spotify and y’all chose together. You chose your five songs together. So let me go through them. “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn, “Heartbeats” by The Knife, “Losing You” by Solange, “Ego” by Beyoncé and “Pony” by Ginuwine. In one sentence, and I’m going to give you fair warning because you’re writers. So with limited numbers of semi-colons and em dashes, in one sentence, what does this playlist say about your friendship?

AS: An acronym. Acronym. I think the acronym.


BB: No acronyms.




AF: I know. Kind of, yeah. Sorry, I’m now thinking beyond the fact that we mutually love all these songs. What is the theme here?

BB: Yeah, what does it say about your friendship? Just…

AF: These are all feelings you can dance to. That’s true. There’s a real… There’s emotion happening, but they’re all very fun and danceable. That is true.

AS: I know all the words girls, I was always struggling with the words.

AF: Feelings, but make sure you can dance to and ignore the feelings if you need to for a while, it is kind of really the theme of these songs.


AS: Yeah. Honestly, that’s truly what it is. It’s like the feeling will come, the feeling will come later, just dance it out for now. The feeling will come later.

AF: Or like… Yeah. Or like, we can tell there are some real big feelings behind this song, but right now it’s okay, we’re just going to have this moment together, we don’t have to get into it. I feel like that’s the through line. [chuckle]

AS: Yeah but…

BB: I love it.

AS: But that’s kind of special because, I don’t know. I feel like… I really don’t want to go through this whole interview with people thinking that we know what we’re doing. We literally wrote a book because we were literal feelings idiots. We are to this day, like my therapist will stare at me and say, “Hi, that feeling you just explained, that’s called sadness. Why did you use 900 words to say I was sad?” [chuckle] But we truly do not know what we are doing, we try to feel our way through it, there was nothing intuitive in this process of repairing our friendship. In fact, very far from that, and we are both notorious delayed feelings processors. But I think that just having a little bit of hope and having a little bit of silliness and hanging on and trying to feel your way through the words or through the feeling, it is worth the pain.

AF: Yeah. Maybe the sentence is, “Oh, I think I had a feeling three weeks ago when we were dancing together,” that’s where we were at.


AS: That’s the sentence!

AF: That’s how delayed we are. We can’t name the feeling yet, but we can say we had a feeling, that’s really the theme of this collection of songs. [chuckle]

BB: Y’all are awesome. Ya’ll, you really are. And I’d love to have you back on because I want to talk about Shine and I want to talk about a whole bunch of other things with you, so can we do a part two sometime?

AS: Listen.

AF: Yes.

AS: All any time. Thank you so much for having us. This was really lovely.

AF: Can’t wait to come back and tell you what we were feeling this time. Like with like months of distance.


BB: Yeah, we’ll dance a little bit between now and then, and then we’ll come back and share feelings.

AF: Perfect, perfect.


BB: Thank y’all very much.


BB: Again, I just loved this conversation, I love this quote from Ann. “People are messy, whether they’re your family, your romantic partner, or your friend.” Just this whole idea that we just can’t have meaningful relationships without putting meaningful work into them, because that’s what it takes. You can find their book, Big Friendships, wherever you buy books. We love our Indie bookstores. You can go to the episode page for this podcast on We have episode pages for all of the episodes for Dare to Lead and for Unlocking Us, where you’ve got social media links, book links, quotes, bios, all of the information you could ever want or need on our guests, Call Your Girlfriend. You can listen to this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, their websites are at and, and Ann’s website is and you can find Aminatou online on Instagram and Twitter at @Aminatou. It’s A-M-I-N-A-T-O-U. Ann is also on Instagram and Twitter at @AnnFriedman. Alright, thank you all.

BB: Reach out to a friend. I feel like… Who’s that? Didn’t that sound stupid? What did it sound like? It sounded like Frazier.


BB: It sounded like Frazier, “Reach out to a friend today and tell that friend… ” And you’re like, “No, but do… call your girlfriend.” I like that, ba-dum-bum-tss.


BB: No matter what you do and no matter how hard you’re laughing at me, stay awkward, brave, and kind. I am modeling the awkward for you today.


BB: Bye y’all.


BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.


© 2021 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, October 6). Brené with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman on Big Friendship. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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