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July 30, 2018 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

The Friendship Cure

Friendship is one of those essential things that is easy to take for granted. In The Friendship Cure, Kate Leaver tries to examine friendship, and look deeper into the role it plays in society . She interviews lots of people about their friendships and why they’re important, and attaches that to broader conclusions about (middle-and-upper class Western) society.
Leaver is a particularly strong advocate of “the university friends we actually consciously select using our almost fully developed frontal lobe[s]”. I found her meditations on bonding over alcohol and assignments and independence particularly poignant, especially when she spoke of how the friends she made at university wound their way into her life. In this book, Leaver’s life is frequent source material, and as she is young (like thirty or so) she is particularly interested in modern friendship.
That means social media, of course. You’ve probably heard old people whinge about how social media is ruining people’s abilities to create genuine relationships. There is certainly a “loneliness epidemic”, and Leaver provides anecdotal and scientific evidence to back this up, but she doesn’t blame social media. Instead, she acknowledges that “it’s not about youth or technology; it’s about evolution, science, health […] honesty, and priorities”. She writes of how, on days when she is depressed and angry, the ability to access her friends through her phone has been a gift, and I have seen that in my own life too. In a world where friends become scattered, Leaver’s willingness to embrace new forms of friendship is encouraging.
Friendship shouldn’t be a static thing, either. That’s perhaps the biggest message of this book: friendship can look like a lot of things, and if you impose only one idea of the “perfect friendship” on all your relationships, you’ll be doing yourself, and your friends, a disservice. Maybe you know this already; I’d like to think I do. But friendship is difficult and messy. After all, “when it comes to friendship, we’re using all our faculties,” and Leaver is all too willing to embrace the glorious complexities of friendship.
Something else I really appreciated about The Friendship Cure is Leaver’s examination of friendship as it interacts with other parts of your life. What should friendship look like at work? How do you be a friend to someone with mental illness? How does friendship vary by gender? What does friendship look like after you get married? After you have children?
Each chapter sort of picks a topic like this, and then Leaver talks about her own experience and thoughts on this, consults maybe one expert, quotes from one pertinent study, interviews someone about it. Each chapter is pulled together fairly well, but while they do build on each other to some extent, I found that the book covers so much that a central coherency was often missing.
While the content of this book was fully interesting and engaging, I struggled a little with the tone. Leaver describes people as “darling” or “sweet” and is prone to using phrases like “oh boy” (and in one memorable instance, “boy oh boy, oh boy, oh boy”). I like it when writing is accessible, but the conversational style of the book seemed a bit try hard to me. Like a new friend, Leaver works a little too hard to please you. The Friendship Cure is profoundly accessible, but that distracts from the excellent content.
The Friendship Cure will not teach you how to be a friend; you’re a human being and you know that already. But it will teach you to be a better friend, and remind you of the many reasons to connect with the people in the empty universe which surrounds you.


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