I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives

I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives

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by Ellen Goodman, Patricia O'Brien
     
 

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About the Authors

Ellen Goodman's insight, common sense, and verbal flair have attracted a fervent national following since 1976, when her Boston Globe column was first syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group.
Today, her column appears on op-ed pages in over 440 newspapers across the country. Goodman has been with the Boston Globe, where

Overview

About the Authors

Ellen Goodman's insight, common sense, and verbal flair have attracted a fervent national following since 1976, when her Boston Globe column was first syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group.
Today, her column appears on op-ed pages in over 440 newspapers across the country. Goodman has been with the Boston Globe, where she is an associate editor as well as a columnist, since 1967.
She was graduated from Radcliffe College, cum laude, in 1963, and spent 1973-1974 at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow.
In 1980, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary.
Her book on social change, Turning Points, was published in 1979. Five collections of her columns have also been published: Close to Home (1979), At Large (1981), Keeping in Touch (1985), Making Sense (1989), and Value Judgments (1993). A new book, written with Patricia O'Brien, titled "I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives," will be published by Simon & Schuster in Spring, 2000.
Goodman's reporting has earned her numerous awards, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in 1980. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights awarded her the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award in 1988 for her dedication to the cause of equality. In 1993, she received the President's Award from the National Women's Political Caucus at its Seventh Annual Exceptional Merit Media Award Ceremony. The Women's Research & Education Institute presented her with their American Woman Award in 1994. She was awarded the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for journalism at Colby College in 1998. In 1999 she received the International Matrix Award from the Association for Women in Communications.
In 1996, Ellen Goodman was the first Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor in Professional Journalism at Stanford University.

Born in 1941, she lives with her husband in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Patricia O'Brien is an award-winning journalist, novelist and author of five books.

For ten years she worked as political correspondent and columnist in the Washington Bureau of the Knight-Ridder Newspapers. She covered the Reagan White House, Congress and the 1984 national political campaigns of Gary Hart and Geraldine Ferraro.

She went on to become press secretary for Michael Dukakis' Presidential nomination campaign in 1987-88 and then was awarded a Freedom Forum Fellowship at Columbia University.

O'Brien began her career as a journalist in 1966 at The South Bend Tribune. She went on to the Chicago Sun Times as a reporter, editorial writer, and columnist. In 1973 she became a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard.

She has been a commentator for CBS-TV's Morning Show, CBS-Radio's Spectrum series, and hosted a local Chicago television public affairs program. She has written for a number of magazines, from Harper's Bazaar to Esquire, including reviews for the New York Times Sunday book section.

Her books include the non-fiction works, "The Woman Alone" and "Staying Together," and novels including "The Candidate's Wife," "The Ladies' Lunch" (currently optioned for a movie), and most recently "Good Intentions."

Together with friend and co-author columnist Ellen Goodman, she has written I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in May 2000.

She has four grown daughters and is now married to Frank Mankiewicz.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
Our Review
When was the last time you read a book that made you do something really important? Like picking up the phone to call an old friend? Warning: This book made me do that -- not once but four times. I Know Just What You Mean will appeal to any woman who has ever had a close friend, which is most of us. Starting from childhood, females have been drawn to other females. And, as we all know, it's not just a matter of having someone to go shopping with. I Know Just What You Mean digs deep into the reason for this.

Our best women friends are able to make us laugh and, also, allow us to cry. They can make us feel great about ourselves in a way that no one else can. The authors write, "A new friend can reintroduce a women to herself, allowing her to look at herself with a new pair of eyes and a different mind-set. The younger sister cast as 'daffy' by the family, is seen as 'funny' -- and fun -- by a friend. The melodramatic wife is welcomed as a rich storyteller. More often than not, through close friendships, women see themselves through another lens.... Flaws can be recast as strengths, self-doubts lifted by acceptance. Friends help define and motivate each other."

Too often, the value of women's friendships is put on the back burner. In I Know Just What You Mean, the authors have moved the subject to the front of the stove. Speaking of the authors, we can't go much further without mentioning them, because they are the reason this book sings. Ellen Goodman and Pat O'Brien have been friends for 25 years and are "fluent in the language of female friendship." Ellen and Pat, Pat and Ellen. A few pages into the book, they're old friends of ours, too. It's always a treat when famous women share the intimate details of their lives, and they do it with generosity and wisdom.

Both women are seasoned journalists. We're treated not only to their expert organization and their easy storytelling style, but also to their strict standards about what makes a really good read. Goodman told me they wrote the first 100 pages of the book, printed them out, and sat down to discuss. "We looked at each other, and we threw the 100 pages into the trash can," she said. Not good enough. "We realized that what we had to do was tell our story. That had to be the spine of the narrative. Why should anybody trust us if we couldn't tell our own story?"

If Ellen and Pat's friendship is the spine, then current events are the rib cage. They met at Harvard in 1973, and the book is colored by the exploding backdrop of the women's movement -- the surge into the workplace, the mommy track, the glass ceiling, and, in short, the complete overhaul of women's roles in America.

The subject of women's friendships is sliced and diced from a dozen interesting angles: the importance of "talk" (the telephone and now email); the difference between men's and women's friendships; schoolgirl friends; elderly friends; how women's friendships are affected by major life changes, such as a move, professional success, a new husband, a baby.

Each chapter -- there are 12 -- begins with a nugget told first by Pat and then by Ellen, or vice versa. They're ordinary women who have kids and husbands and divorces and job problems. Occasionally they have extraordinary experiences: covering the inaugural balls, for instance. Witnessing vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro's acceptance speech. We get to know the Indigo Girls one moment and Lesley Stahl the next. It's a colorful salon that includes Oprah, former Texas governor Ann Richards, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, Eleanor Roosevelt. Rich, poor. Gay, straight. Famous, not. Politicians, doctors, poets, athletes.

"We're both seasoned journalists, and we thought these were the richest interviews we'd ever had," Goodman says. "We felt like we were invited into something special -- and they felt like they were invited into something special."

I Know Just What You Mean is a chatty girl's night out that you don't want to end. Treat yourself to it. And don't be surprised if you think of giving the book to four friends -- or at least calling them to talk because of it.

Sarah Finnie Cabot lives in Vermont with her husband and their four school-aged children.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684842875
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
05/10/2000
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.01(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Beginnings

The sun was setting when I pulled my battered red Chevy Vega station wagon out of the driveway of the brown shingle house that I had just bought with every last nickel to my name, and headed off for Cambridge. The hands on the steering wheel were still speckled with the red paint that I had been rolling onto the living room walls that day, paint financed by the sale of an engagement ring from a former marriage and life.

I was thirty-two years old, a single mother, with a five-year-old daughter and a brand new puppy, living less than a mile from the house in which I had grown up, and I was going back to Harvard ten years after graduation. An adult now, a journalist, a reporter for The Boston Globe, I had hustled and won a prize -- a mid-career Nieman Fellowship in journalism -- and I was off to meet the other members of my "class" for the first time.

In those days, I was breathless. Coping with work and family and love -- what Zorba the Greek would call the whole catastrophe. I was not at all sure how the pieces of my life fit together. At work, I had learned to say what I thought and to write about ideas. I was by no means as confident when it came to the messy business of feelings.

But this September of 1973, I knew, in some inchoate way, that I was on the edge of something more than a year "off." Perhaps a year "on."


Pat

While Ellen was driving from Brookline, I was on the bus coming from my rented house in Belmont, marveling at the fact that I had landed in this place, at this time, in this way. Harvard was only a few miles south of the working-class town of Somerville (known locally, I learned later, as "Slumerville"), where I had been born -- geographically close, but in the days when my Irish immigrant mother and father lived there, Harvard might as well have been on the moon.

That was the past, this was now. I was thirty-seven, a newly divorced mother of four children working as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times with a year ahead of me as a Nieman Fellow. For a woman who had not graduated from college until she was thirty, this new venture felt like a huge leap across a class divide. Getting here had taken a certain amount of audacity, and even though I had an officially punched ticket of admission, I half expected someone to snatch it away at the last moment.

I also had two teenage daughters living for the year with their father back home in Evanston, Illinois, and two younger girls nervously tiptoeing through a strange house, wondering what the year ahead would hold for them. This was by no means a carefree venture. But as I walked down those narrow streets toward the home of Jim Thomson, the head of the Nieman program -- the brick sidewalks scraping the backs of my high-heeled shoes -- I also knew there was nowhere else I wanted to be. I was literally walking into a major life-changing experience, not knowing what would come next. I knew that from here on, everything would be different. I just didn't know how different.


Ellen

I remember when I first spotted Pat. She was wearing some kind of full skirt, heels, and bright lipstick; her long, wavy brown hair was parted in the middle. This was Harvard Square in the black-turtleneck, ripped-jeans, straight hair, early-'70s era. She was ironed and starched.

I added it all together and, in the way women will sum up the totality of someone's personality through their shoes and suit jacket, I came up with this: perky California cheerleader. Suburban mom. Smiling, pretty, very Little League, station wagon driving. Verrrrry straight.

Yet I knew she had to be a good reporter in the competitive atmosphere of Chicago to have made it through this process. And from the bios we'd been sent, I also knew that Pat was the only other woman in the class with children. We were both divorced. Cheerleader or not, we had these things in common.

I wasn't looking for or expecting a friend, just a classmate, but I was curious. Maybe there was something below that conventional surface. She had four children to my one and, as if my life were not overloaded enough, had just published her first book. There was a long year ahead of us, so who knew what I'd find out.


Pat

I first saw Ellen as I stood in the front hallway of the house, exchanging stiff little pleasantries with a few people whose names I hadn't absorbed. She was tall, with long straight hair and blue aviator glasses, dressed in some kind of loose pants, clearly not wearing a girdle. (I was only weeks away from shedding mine.) I knew there were three other women in my class, but she certainly didn't look as nervous or uptight as I felt. Craftsy orange earrings; no makeup. An in-charge, what's-it-to-you type. I fingered the piece of paper in my pocket that listed all the class members, and glanced around for a bathroom so I could duck in and check them out. But the minute Ellen opened her mouth, there was no question -- she stood out from the crowd.

"Well," she said in an easy, cheery voice, "I wonder what bullshit everybody threw to get here?"

How blunt were you allowed to be at Harvard? Not that I wasn't wondering myself how the others had parlayed their credentials into this prize. But here was somebody who actually said it out loud. The thought crossed my mind: How can she be so irreverent in this rarefied environment? But still she had an engaging air that relaxed me, that made me listen for what she would say next. When I learned she was the Nieman who had gone to Radcliffe, I thought, well, no wonder she's so casual. This is her turf. It must all be easy for her.


* * *

This is how we met, but it's not how or certainly why we became friends. Pat saw a confident, breezy insider, but she couldn't see the missteps or wrenching changes. Ellen saw Pat's conventional surface, but not the rebellious soul, and certainly not the pulls of tradition and independence that had defined so much of her adult life and that would be a running dialogue of our twenty-six-year conversation.

Would we ever have sought each other out after a chance meeting at some ordinary cocktail party? We doubt it. But we had the gift of time to discover and to get to know -- that oddly flat statement -- each other. We had a chance to become friends.

Friends? What's a friend? If the Eskimos have twenty-six different words for snow, Americans have only one word commonly used to describe everyone from acquaintances to intimates. It is a word we have to qualify with adjectives: school friends, work friends, old friends, casual friends, good friends.

But this catch-all word doesn't catch everything, especially how we describe a truly intimate friend. A chosen relative? Bonded, but not by blood? When we asked women how they define what a close friend is, they leaped past such qualifiers to describe the impact: being known and accepted, understood to the core; feeling you can count on trust and loyalty, having someone on your side; having someone to share worries and secrets as well as the good stuff of life, someone who needs you in return.

This special person is not always easy to find. "Every so often you run into someone from your tribe, a magic person," said actress Carrie Fisher. "People who give without keeping lists and receive with gratitude." These "magic people," these close friends, she said, become like family.

The longing for close friendship begins early and goes deep. In the much-loved children's classic Anne of Green Gables, the young heroine is newly transplanted to Avonlea and pining for a "bosom friend." With a yearning that has resonated through several generations of young readers, Anne confides her hope of finding "a kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I've dreamed of meeting her all my life."

The most famous young diarist of the twentieth century, Anne Frank, herself yearned for a close girlfriend with whom to share her feelings when she and her family went into hiding to escape the Nazis. Deprived of that intimacy, she turned to her diary, making up imaginary friends and writing them letters chronicling life in the claustrophobic, secret annex. "With them, she could laugh, cry, forget her isolation," writes biographer Melissa Muller.

The desire for love, trust, and intimacy is at the center of all close relationships, and friendship is no exception. But because friendship has no biological purpose, no economic status, no evolutionary meaning to examine or explore, sometimes we see a curious vanishing act.

A friend who might have been privy to every nuance in a courting relationship is not in the receiving line at the wedding; the friend who delivers a heartfelt eulogy may have been banned from the hospital room because she wasn't "family." We have many ways of celebrating family milestones, but not the milestones of friendship. "It's your silver anniversary? Let's make the toasts and get out the presents!" Nobody does that for friends.

We wanted to. We found ourselves walking away from interview after interview, feeling we'd just had some of the best conversations of our lives with women telling us the stories of how they met, joking and laughing with each other, thoroughly enjoying the pleasure of sharing their histories together.


  • Boston publicist Sally Jackson first laid eyes on Melanie L'Ecuyer when, as a scared five-year-old, she came into her mother's hospital room and saw two-year-old Melanie, dressed in a camel-hair coat and leggings, throwing a tantrum under her mother's bed. The howling child, she was told, was the daughter of her mother's nurse.
  • Nadia Shamsuddin and Maddie Hammond met as two women glaring at each other on an elevator, wondering who would be able to write a check faster to snare the choice apartment they were about to see.
  • Mary Landrieu was boarding a bus with a group of strangers heading for a high school leadership conference when, drawn by a friendly face, she sat down next to Norma Jane Sabiston, the girl who would become her lifelong friend and, eventually -- when Mary became a U.S. senator from Louisiana -- her chief of staff.
  • Author Mary Gordon took one look at Maureen Strafford when she met her in grammar school and made a firm, instant decision to ignore her totally. Why? Because Mary was wearing a mohair sweater and Maureen was wearing plaid.
  • Eileen Fennelly and Jenn MacDonough, now college students, were five-year-olds wearing party hats when Jenn mistakenly called Eileen "Elaine." Eileen decided right there that she hated her. By the time they graduated from high school, the longest period of time that went by without their talking to each other was exactly, by their actual count, seventy-two hours.


Some of these women felt an initial spark of connection, and for some it was just a spark, but it's with great relish that they remember these stories of meeting each other. They were not so different in their exuberance from a young child recounting the thrilling fact of what she has in common with a friend -- "Do you know we were born on the same day?" "I can't believe she uses ketchup on her hot dog, too!"

Certainly the two of us were very different; in an earlier era we might never have met. We grew up a continent away, Ellen on the older, colder side, Pat in the sunny California world of shallow roots that had drawn her parents west when she was a child. If we had followed the prepared scripts, we each would have stayed in our place. We might have remained in our circumscribed ethnic groups, our neighborhoods and family circles, holding little in common. Pat was, after all, expected to stay in Catholic schools, and when Ellen went to college, she was assigned a roommate with whom she had only one thing in common: they were both Jewish.

Looking back at the trajectory we were on, it was Pat who made the moves. She was the one who moved in great upheavals from one place to the next. Ellen stayed put, spending all but four years of her life in her hometown. Pat's life was charted by its uprootings, willful and imposed. Ellen had traveled intellectually, but her feet remained on the same, familiar ground.

It wasn't just ethnicity or geography that made for some of the degrees of separation between us. In our early twenties, we had nothing in common. When Ellen was starting college at Radcliffe in September of 1959, Pat was changing diapers for two small babies. Pat cannot imagine what she would have had to say to the young college freshman from Brookline as she stood at a changing table in Eugene, Oregon, with a wiggling baby in front of her and diaper pins in her mouth.

At twenty-seven, Pat was a full-time mom with four kids, learning the wonders of Hamburger Helper and Simplicity sewing patterns. Ellen had started working in the early '60s, and had one child at twenty-seven. She stayed home after Katie's birth for a total of six weeks; Pat was at home for nine years. Pat had the Feminine Mystique, while Ellen had a ticket on the first anxious flight of Superwoman before the myth came crashing to earth.

By the time Pat ventured back to school, juggling those four children and final exams, Ellen was married to a medical resident, living in Ann Arbor, and commuting to her job as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press -- never quite accepted as one of the doctors' wives raising babies at one end of I-94, and never quite accepted as one of the boys covering fires at the other.

By 1968, we would at least have understood each other's language. We were both working mothers, trying to do what we wanted to do: work and keep our families intact in an atmosphere still hostile to the effort. Pat had broken from the Catholic Church with a prescription for birth control pills -- and deep ambivalence. For Ellen, Judaism had become more a celebration of family and food than formal ritual.

By 1971, the women's movement was changing both of our lives, and -- even before we met -- we already had more in common than liking ketchup. Each of us in our own city was covering the first "happenings." Pat wrote an article on being ejected from a Chicago church because she was wearing a "Women's Strike Day" button, and Ellen also visited a church, to write a piece for the Globe about radical feminists teaching sexual politics and karate.

You could say we had the classic first day of school meeting. We were starting something entirely new, with hors d'oeuvres rather than shiny lunchboxes in our hands. It's the familiar story of friendships that emerge as natural by-products of a new venture, antidotes to the fear of being alone in an uncertain if not totally unfamiliar environment. We've seen this happen with small children, even our own. Recently Pat's granddaughter Charlotte, at the end of her first day of school, tugged her mother, Marianna, by the hand and pulled her into the classroom. "Come meet my new best friend," she implored. "What's her name?" Marianna asked. "I don't know, let's go ask her," Charlotte replied. The connection was made; details to come later.

As grown-ups we were not afraid of starting school alone, but we did realize we were in a privileged, special moment of our lives. We had come to Harvard well aware that the changes in our own lives reflected larger changes taking place in the society; certainly as women we already had more choices and more freedom than any other women in history. As proof, we only had to look at the photographs of earlier Nieman classes on the wall of the Nieman House: up until our year, in the entire history of the Nieman Fellowship program, there had been only ten women -- and ours was the only class since 1947 to have more than one. In all those years, there wouldn't have been another woman with whom to share the experience. In our class, there were four.

We met in a landmark year. Richard Nixon had been elected to a second term, and the first of the Watergate conspirators -- the tip of the iceberg ahead -- were found guilty. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that women had a legal right to an abortion. The divorce rate had soared 8 percent from the year before. The most popular television shows in a changing America included The Waltons and All in the Family, while on the big screen, Ingmar Bergman's stark Scenes from a Marriage was making people uneasy with hard truths of this rapidly evolving age.

Against this backdrop of change, women were going through a major cultural transition. It wasn't just laws and political sensibilities that were changing. So were ideas about human development. The view that women had grown up with -- based on a male model -- had taught them that humans mature to sturdy, independent adulthood by growing away -- from family, from friends, from connections.

But most women didn't experience life that starkly. They didn't one day arrive at a static state of adulthood and say to themselves, "Well, that's that," and they certainly didn't want to be "grown-ups" alone. In the 1970s, women like psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller first challenged the idea that women grow up by separating. Carol Gilligan, charting the moral development of girls, began to hear "a different voice."

It's been easier since then to see the female reality, that women develop in relationship, through connection. Women don't "find" themselves or "understand" themselves all alone but by interacting with others. They forge and reforge their own identity in concert with others, engaged in a long dance of mutuality.

Sociologist Lillian Rubin argues in her book Just Friends that friends are central actors in the continuing development drama of adulthood. Women are born daughters, they recite vows that make them wives, become mothers through giving birth -- but they choose friends. They aren't just picked out of a line-up or sought through the personals column -- wanted: a friend. Women become friends.

Is there a moment between that first meeting and the time when you become a friend? Is there a dot on the time line that says, right here and now, from this point on, we are friends?

Psychologist Judith Jordan has what she describes her "crazy fantasy" about the moment of becoming friends. "I think we're going to be able someday to do CAT scans of people when they're connecting...you know, where you can actually get imaging of different things that go on in the brain and they can say this person's in a good alpha place!"


Ellen

A good alpha place? The stage setting for our very first alpha lunch was the much too tweedy and wood-paneled Harvard Faculty Club. It was no more than two weeks after we had met.

We had planned this lunch as no big deal, a quick salad before a two o'clock class. It lasted until four -- the first of a dozen times when I remember being delighted that this time in college, I wouldn't be penalized for cutting class.

In my journal I report with little detail the "highlights" Pat told me about that day, but I remember them vividly. She talked about motherhood, how as a young Catholic mother she finally got contraceptives from the doctor "for regulating her period," and for the first time realized with a lifesaving, emancipating joy that she wouldn't be the mother of nine after all.

We shared the war stories of our divorces, in which neither of us was entirely innocent. She confided that she still loved her just-ex-husband and showed me the locket around her neck that carried his photo. I told her about the end of my marriage and the lingering, troubled relationship that followed, one that I was neither in nor out of.

I would date the real beginning of our friendship from that lunch. No, she was not the cheerleader I had expected, not so verrry straight. We became friends the way adult women do, telling the stories of our lives. Pat had no idea how unusual it was for me to share those experiences or how vulnerable I felt that autumn afternoon revealing things I had never said out loud to any but family or my closest friends. And certainly not to a stranger from Chicago.

I didn't make friends quickly or confide easily -- chalk it up to Boston conservatism. Or to family. My sister, Jane, and I were so close as kids, I didn't feel the need of another friend. They used to say that Boston women didn't buy hats, they had hats. So it was with friends. I made friends slowly and carefully. But virtually from the outset, I felt absolutely certain I could trust Pat.

In many ways, that first lunch set the tone of our friendship: vulnerability and trust. The mutual baring -- slowly -- of darkest secrets seemed lightened by the knowledge that they had been accepted. Pat had a way of taking a thought and running with it that I found delightful. She was a natural storyteller, dramatic, even melodramatic. I didn't do melodrama. I did wry. But Pat saw through wry.

I had the first intimations Pat would give me something I could not give myself when I cautiously shared with her the grand finale to a marriage that was already dying from lack of attention. I shared it in the spare and tamped-down emotional detail I often used, but she got to the dark heart of it instantly. She gave me the acknowledgment of the pain from the ending of my marriage that I had put aside in a need to get on with life, to put one foot in front of another, holding a small child by the hand.

In that first lunch, Pat offered up an expression that dotted so many of our early years. It's one of those ordinary phrases that takes on a new truth when repeated much as one would a motto. "Life," she says to this day, when describing something that can be amusing, bizarre, or even deeply troubling, "is so interesting."

We were each bold and timid in different ways. But her adventurousness, her lust for experience, her energy, and a love life that was a soap opera without the tragedy all appealed to my cautious soul. She offered both courage and consolation, as each was needed.

Somehow my journal that year was filled with other relationships, especially with men who swiftly became incidental. But scattered throughout are the words, "Pat said," or "Pat thought." We began to explore the world through each other's eyes and minds. We were becoming part of each other's DNA.


Pat

It was late one afternoon in that same first couple of weeks when I walked up the stairs to the second floor of the Nieman House and saw Ellen curled up in a chair, seemingly absorbed in a book. I recognized the book jacket immediately -- I would have known it from a mile away. What if she hated it? Writing The Woman Alone had been my first tentative effort to understand the changes taking place in women's lives -- including my own -- and for all I knew, the breezy blonde from Radcliffe was groaning at its naïveté, even as my sudden, unexpected appearance demanded some response on her part. I also knew I cared what she thought -- a lot.

"This is good," she said simply, and then asked a question that got right to the heart of the issues I had tried to raise. I knew instinctively she would not stick to polite comments. I had my first glimpse that afternoon into a wonderful, ruminating mind that took other perspectives seriously; a woman who was on a learning curve, as I was. The confident Radcliffe insider who had loomed in my first impression was not an intellectual know-it-all. She was willing to explore a topic on terms other than her own.

I think this open-mindedness is one of Ellen's great gifts, and it comes from more than intellectual curiosity. It comes from a deep charitable core. I felt almost right away there was a level at which I could trust her, which meant there was a level at which I could be myself without softenings or embellishment. As a child, I was too awkward, too bookish, too different to attract many friends. Home, not school, was my refuge. It was with my younger sister, Mary, that I played, rode tricycles, baked chocolate chip cookies. She was my first friend. As I grew, I expanded the circle, but it was never large. Feeling accepted didn't come easily.

With Ellen, I could talk about family and politics and change and loss and get back much more than supportive echoes. More than that, she needed me, which is no small thing. When she broke up with her boyfriend a few months after we met, I was home for the holidays in Chicago. She called and we talked for hours.

In all our conversations, she would offer a thought or point of view, often unexpected. I would ruminate, take the idea further down the road, hand it back to her like a baton in a relay race, and then she would juggle it for a moment before taking it further herself. This was fun, but fun of a different kind. We were exploring our minds as well as our hearts

Meet the Author

Ellen Goodman is an Associate Editor at The Boston Globe and writes a syndicated column that appears in more than 400 newspapers. Author of several books, including Turning Points and Close to Home, she lives in Boston.

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I Know Just What You Mean: The Power of Friendship in Women's Lives 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have purchased this book for my closest friends. What a terrific insight into relationships between women. This book took me back through years of memories of friends, both past and present. It made me realize how those relationships have shaped and enhanced my life. If you are a woman, this is a MUST read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a true winner. Well-written and insightful, the authors have woven the stories of many kinds of women's friendships. This book is well worth reading and sharing with your best friend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book made me call all my old highschool and college friends. It was a wonderful reunion. Inspiring book.