You're the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships

You're the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships

by Deborah Tannen


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This warm, wise exploration of female friendship from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of You Just Don’t Understand will help women lean into these powerful relationships.


Best friend, old friend, good friend, bff, college roommate, neighbor, workplace confidante: Women’s friendships are a lifeline in times of trouble and a support system for daily life. A friend can be like a sister, daughter, mother, mentor, therapist, or confessor—or she can be all of these at once. She’s seen you at your worst and celebrates you at your best. Figuring out what it means to be friends is, in the end, no less than figuring out how we connect to other people.

In this illuminating and validating new book, #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Tannen deconstructs the ways women friends talk and how those ways can bring friends closer or pull them apart. From casual chatting to intimate confiding, from talking about problems to telling what you had for dinner, Tannen uncovers the patterns of communication and miscommunication that affect friendships at different points in our lives. She shows how even the best of friends—with the best intentions—can say the wrong thing, and how words can repair the damage done by words. Through Tannen’s signature insight, humor, and ability to present pitch-perfect real-life dialogue, readers will see themselves and their friendships on every page. The book explains

• the power of women friends who show empathy, give advice—or just listen
• how women use talk to connect to friends—and to subtly compete
• how “Fear of Being Left Out” and “Fear of Getting Kicked Out” can haunt women’s friendships
• how social media is reshaping communication and relationships

Drawing on interviews with eighty women of diverse backgrounds, ranging in age from nine to ninety-seven, You’re the Only One I Can Tell gets to the heart of women’s friendships—how they work or fail, how they help or hurt, and how we can make them better.

“Celebrates friendship in its frustrations and its rewards and, above all, its wonderful complexity.”—The Atlantic

“At a time when the messages we give and get have so many more ways to be misconstrued and potentially damaging, a book that takes apart our language becomes almost vital to our survival as friends.”—The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101885826
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 254,410
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Deborah Tannen is the acclaimed author of You Just Don’t Understand, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly four years, the New York Times bestsellers You’re Wearing THAT? on mother-daughter communication and You Were Always Mom’s Favorite! about sisters, and many other books. A professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, she appears frequently on national television and radio. She lives with her husband in the Washington, D.C., area.


Washington, D.C. metro area

Date of Birth:

June 7, 1945

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York


B.A., Harpur College, 1966, Wayne State University, 1970; M.A. in Linguistics, UC Berkeley, 1976; Ph.D., 1979

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

Excerpted from "You're the Only One I Can Tell"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Deborah Tannen.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

1 Women Friends Talking 3

2 That's Not What I Meant!: The Invisible Influence of Conversational Style 39

3 "We're a Lot Alike," "We're Very Different": The Importance of Being-or Not Being-the Same 77

4 The Same-or Better?: Connection and Competition 101

5 FOBLO, FOGKO, and the Safe Embrace of Women in Groups 122

6 Too Close for Comfort: Cutoffs, Poaching, Drama! 147

7 "Like" It or Not; Women, Friendship, and Social Media 182

8 My Friend, My Sister, My Self: What It Means to Be Close 219

Epilogue 247

Acknowledgments 251

Notes 257

Index 265

Reading Group Guide

1. Were there parts of the book, or points made in the book, that particularly struck a chord with you? Which were they, and why?

2. Were there parts of the book, or points made in the book, that shed new light on an experience with a friend you had in the past? Which were they, and how?

3. Have you ever experienced FOBLO (Fear Of Being Left Out) or FOGKO (Fear of Getting Kicked Out)? Does having a word for it change how you think or feel about it?

4. Did the concept and examples of conversational style shed light on any conversations you’ve had, with friends—or with anyone else?

5. Do you engage in troubles talk with friends? Is troubles talk different with different friends? What do you value most about troubles talk? Can you think of a time that you were sorry you engaged in troubles talk?

6. Has your sense of friendship changed over time? Have friends filled different roles or different needs at different stages of your life?

7. Did you recognize the concept of poaching? Does having a name for it affect how you think about it?

8. Have you ever experienced a cutoff? Did the friends tell you why they were cutting you off? Have you ever cut friends off? Did you tell them why you were cutting them off? If not, why not? If you did, how did that play out?

9. Have you ever been a member of a trio? Did you recognize any of the challenges about this constellation, such as FOBLO, shifting alignments, or any other?

10. Do you have both women and men friends? Are there differences between these friendships?

11. How much time that you spend with friends is devoted to doing things and how much to talking? Does this differ with different friends?

12. Which social media do you use to communicate with friends? How does this affect your friendships?

13. When you say someone is or isn’t a close friend, what do you mean by “close”? Do you have different ways of being close to different friends?

14. Do you have close friends who you feel are very much like you? Some you feel are very different from you? How does their similarity or difference affect your friendship?

15. Do you feel that competition is a factor in any of your friendships? Are there ways this has been helpful or hurtful? Were your thoughts about this affected by Tannen’s take on how connection and competition can be confused, or inseparable?

16. How many friends do you have or want to have? Has this changed at different times in your life?

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