I bought this book a few months ago and finally carved out some time to devour it. Deborah Tannen is a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and has written several books on communication. Whether it's between men and women, mothers and daughters, and, here, communication between women, she breaks down the positives and negatives of different styles and approaches. Her case-study methodology is interesting, she uses many real life examples, from her students, colleagues, and her own life. A great, well-researched read, it opened my eyes to a lot of the ways friendships can work or fail miserably and how intimate these relationships truly are. I've been curious about female friendships and communication for a while and honestly feel adrift from a lot of women because I don't feel like I mesh in a lot of social situations. I'm very direct, don't like cliques, and have a tendency to attract raging narcissists into my life. (Fun times!) As a result, it's taken me decades to figure out how to maintain healthy female friendships. This book has opened up another avenue of understanding for me.
For example, Tannen explains how the role of secrets plays large in the formation of female friendships. It also explains why "girls are so cliquey: you can't tell secrets in front of a girl who isn't a friend." Female social hierarchy is cemented early on, even in primate groups. In humans, secrets help cement the order of things between women. Another thing that struck me was how women use "troubles talk" to vent about problems they're having, and how matching trouble to trouble is a way women feel understood and on even ground with each other. Where this becomes tricky is when troubles don't match. After my husband died, I would vent to a woman (that I eventually severed ties with) and she would say, "I know, I know" to every single thing I said to her. She didn't know, she had no way of knowing, she'd never been through anything close to what I endured and her saying she did basically shut my end of the conversation down. There was no encouragement, no questions, no offers to help in any way, just "I know, I know". It was frustrating and hurtful. I did not feel heard and by not being heard, I felt alone. From her end, she probably thought she was being helpful but that tiny exchange created an impasse which the relationship never recovered from. This is one of many examples from my own life that jumped to mind while I was reading the book. I am looking forward to reading more from Ms. Tannen.