The Atlantic

The Romance of Women's Friendships

Deborah Tannen’s new book explores the idea that platonic relationships can be as fulfilling—and as fraught—as their romantic counterparts.
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These are, in some ways, very good times for the Bechdel test. Recent movies have offered up nuanced, celebratory portrayals of women’s friendship. Recent TV shows have provided pairings of friends—Abbi and Ilana, Meredith and Cristina, Lucca and Maia, Leslie and Ann, Hannah and Jessa, Pennsatucky and Big Boo—whose friendships have taken on the tensions that Hollywood has traditionally reserved for romantic couplings. Books, too, in both fiction and nonfiction, have considered—and in many ways re-considered—the female friendship. Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies, Kate Bolick’s Spinster, and Jill Filipovic’s The H-Spot have all made cases that American culture, and indeed American politics, should find ways to institutionalize the female friendship, giving good friends the same kinds of benefits that have traditionally come with marriage.

Their arguments are politically complicated, but otherwise extremely elegant. After all, as Deborah Tannen puts it in her new book You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships, “Having a friend means

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