Friends Try Friendship Therapy with Esther Perel : Invisibilia Would you ever consider going to therapy with a friend?Two best friends who call themselves brothers were drifting apart, so they asked psychotherapist Esther Perel to help — and we listened in. This episode was recorded in collaboration with Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel and a companion episode can be heard on her podcast.

Therapy, with Friends

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YOWEI SHAW, HOST:

From NPR, this is INVISIBILIA. I'm Yowei Shaw.

KIA MIAKKA NATISSE, HOST:

And I'm Kia Miakka Natisse.

SHAW: OK. So Kia, a couple years ago, I was talking to my therapist, having kind of a boring session, when she told me something that pushed a button I did not know even existed inside me. She just casually suggested the idea of friend therapy.

NATISSE: OK. What does she mean by that?

SHAW: So I think she meant, like, group therapy or couples therapy but, like, between friends. But in that moment, all I remember is my blood running cold, my entire body recoiling and saying F that very loudly in my head.

NATISSE: (Laughter) Why? That is quite the reaction.

SHAW: I think it was because I never heard those words uttered before - friend therapy. It also just seemed mad awkward. Like, you know me. Like, I don't have the practice of dealing with conflict in the most head-on way. I already have trouble asking my friends to return clothes that they've borrowed.

NATISSE: I mean, I feel you though. That is a hard thing.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAW: So because of this friendship season we're working on, I've been replaying that moment in my head, wondering why I had such an extreme reaction. So I talked to someone about it.

ESTHER PEREL: Because when you bring somebody else into your individual therapy, you lose the hegemony of the narrative. And so I wonder if part of your no was no to losing that ownership.

SHAW: This is of course none other than the Esther Perel, one of the most famous relationship therapists out there.

NATISSE: It's like such a voice of authority, where I'm just like, I believe you. Yes, Esther.

SHAW: Totally. Esther is a psychotherapist and the host of two podcasts, "Where Should We Begin?" and "How's Work?" which are fascinating because you get to sit in the room and hear Esther help real-life couples and co-workers work through their issues. I actually have a friend who every time she gets on a plane, she listens to Esther's podcast to help soothe her plane anxiety.

PEREL: Instead of her fear of crashing, she sees other people crash. It's the perfect deflection (laughter).

SHAW: So Esther was not surprised that friend therapy was a new idea to me. In fact, she told me that back when she was in school, there was no specific training for friend therapy. And actually, she was taught to avoid treating friends in the same circles.

PEREL: I was trained in this notion that a therapist should not see friends. If you work with somebody, you don't want to work with that somebody's friends or things should be really separate - kind of not contaminated therapy type thing. And once I started to work with different kinds of population, especially at the time when I began to work more with queer couple, especially women couples, where there is much more of a fluidity of boundaries between the exes and the present one - and I just thought, that doesn't make sense, this thing. These are just imposed lines that don't address the reality of our social living today.

SHAW: Can I ask, have you ever been to friend therapy?

NATISSE: So no one's ever asked me to go to friend therapy, thank God. But after hearing this I'm like, no, there is a particular friend - one of my best friends from college who - our friendship just ended for lots of complex reasons and we probably really could have used a third objective party. Because I think towards the end of it, it's like, we both wanted to be friends, but we had kind of, like, lost our friend connection. And without, like, some support, it was just easier to walk away from it than it was to try to patch it up and reconnect. It's a little sad.

SHAW: And I know it's just, like, your story makes me think about all of the friendships out there that could have been saved. Do you know what I mean? Like, if friend therapy were more of a thing perhaps.

NATISSE: Theoretically, I love it. But in practice, I feel like I would probably be really scared to ask a friend to do this with me. And, like, it could go a million different ways, and it's a lot of pressure.

SHAW: I mean, you might also just have trouble getting access, you know? The vast majority of relationship therapists primarily focus on couples or family counseling. And, you know, we weren't able to find any accreditation or training programs specializing in friend therapy.

PEREL: Part of it is a kind of a bias that commitment, love and intimacy belong in the realm of family and belong in the romantic sphere, that they don't necessarily apply to friendships.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: And part of it, Esther thinks, has to do with the kinds of friendships our current culture prioritizes. She says basically, we used to live in a very different kind of society where most people were born, they grew up, they worked, they died pretty much in the same place. She says that's a structure society.

PEREL: It values the roots. It values the consistency, the continuity, the reliability across time, across borders and geography. You don't make friends so quickly, but once they are your friends, they are your friends for life.

SHAW: But as we've become more and more mobile, moving around for school, for jobs, she says we've shifted to something called a network society.

PEREL: Network comes in the - this part of the society that Zygmunt Bauman calls liquid life. It's where change, you know, dizzying change is what really kind of stands out. And that demands adaptation all the time. That demands that you can make new friends that will be there for circumstances, for a certain period, for a certain aspect of your life. And then there will be others. This society praises your ability to just kind of make friends quick, but it doesn't necessarily talk about the longevity, the depth, the complexity.

SHAW: So yeah. Today when we're moving around more, you know, it makes sense that being able to make new friends is useful.

NATISSE: Yeah.

SHAW: But what about the friends we make but want to keep long term, the friendships that need a little bit of help? So far in this season, I feel like we've done a lot of talking about friendship problems. But I wanted to know, what does it sound like for friends to work through their problems in real time? It just so happened that when we reached out, Esther and her podcast team were also thinking about friendship. So today on the show, we are taking a trip to friend therapy with the one and only Esther Perel.

NATISSE: Sounds juicy.

SHAW: These are not her patients. These are people who signed up for a one-time counseling session and agreed to be recorded. And it's going to be a conversation we don't normally get to hear - two friends who see themselves as brothers who have never talked intimately about their feelings and their friendship in this way.

S: I saw it on Esther's Instagram that, like, she was doing a series on friendship. I was like, oh.

A: He said, first, have you heard of Esther Perel? And then he said, if so, do you want to go on an adventure? I said absolutely to the adventure. Let me check out Esther Perel.

NATISSE: Oh, that's, like, so sweet. But it's like, no, he set you up.

(LAUGHTER)

NATISSE: Do you want to go on an adventure? And he's like, who's Esther Perel? Yeah. Does she do tours? Yeah, that sounds fun. And it's like, no, we're about to rehash all of our shit.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAW: Well, we will see how the rehashing goes after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: Part of what's so relatable about the two friends who signed up is there wasn't a big blowup - no can't believe he did that betrayal, no problem with a capital P to point to. What happened was much more ordinary and mysterious. Over the last few years, they've just slowly drifted apart.

A: Without even wanting it to happen, without even really trying for it to happen...

S: Neither of us had really been prioritizing the friendship anymore.

SHAW: This is A and S. We're using their first initials to help make clear who is who - and because Esther's show doesn't use the names of session participants. And here are the basic facts of their friendship. They're in their mid-20s and went to preschool together, but they didn't become best friends until high school when they randomly ran into each other again at a tutoring center.

A: I saw someone that looked familiar, and we made eye contact.

S: And I was like, oh, I remember this guy. And then we just, like, hit it off again.

A: It was crazy. We hadn't seen each other for years, but there was clearly, you know, some sort of kind of chemistry, some sort of spark there.

SHAW: The spark would erupt into full-on raging bromance - partly because of a shared thirst for adventure and partly because they were both outsiders in a very white, rural Baptist town.

S: Not a lot of other - I'm South Asian. I'm Bangladeshi - not a lot of South Asian people there.

SHAW: That's S. He was raised Muslim, went to public school. And his family owned the first Indian restaurant in town, while A was raised Catholic, went to private school and ate at S's restaurant growing up. His parents even designed their website.

A: My family is Indian. We would go to that restaurant all the time. That was my favorite restaurant growing up.

SHAW: The two were so in sync, they even came up with guiding imagery for their friendship - two parallel lines.

S: These two parallel, like, souls who are, like, navigating this world.

SHAW: But as what happens with friends, A and S's parallel lines eventually diverged through different cities, different life circumstances, different priorities. To be reductive about it, S is the connected one, the one who puts relationships and family obligations first. For instance, he helps support his parents, the ones that own the restaurant - while A is the achiever, the one who launched his first startup in college and dreams of one day paying off all his parents' debts. Today, A and S are confused why they don't talk as much and why, when they do hang out, the vibe is off. There's even flashes of competitiveness.

S: Maybe we're just trying to grasp onto a friendship that isn't necessarily the best thing for us right now.

SHAW: Or maybe they can work through it with a little help. Either way, they have lots of questions.

S: We were super close when we were younger. And now it's like, are you my best friend still?

A: How are we going to continue to grow this relationship?

S: Is there something I'm doing wrong?

A: What do we both want here?

S: Is it, like, my buddy not really being a good friend?

A: You know, are we OK with that?

SHAW: OK, so that's where the two friends were walking in. And listening to the session, what I love is how gentle Esther is with them. It's like she's holding their hand, leading them down a new trail in the dark, sometimes pulling in one direction, sometimes just squeezing lightly for reassurance.

PEREL: And I realized very quickly, this is a couple where I don't need to do much. Actually, the art of my work in this session is to say less, to just give the container and to give them the permission and push them every time a step further because it's all inside of them.

SHAW: I talked to Esther about what happened in the session. And what you're about to hear reminds me of one of those post-game interviews on ESPN. But instead of asking the star quarterback to break down the game, I'm asking Esther about the intricacies of the moves she's making and what the friends are experiencing.

S: Nice to meet you.

SHAW: We're going to start with one of the first revelations of the session - how even though A and S believe they only recently started having problems, the roots of their issues actually go all the way back to high school.

S: He's Catholic - was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school. I'm Muslim. And so I always felt a little bit more of an outsider in that way.

PEREL: A little?

S: Oh, yeah - I mean, big time in that town. I used to - you know, I remember when Osama bin Laden was killed, and people were like, oh, yo, sorry to hear about your uncle - like, really intense Islamophobia growing up. It would just make me wonder.

PEREL: Did you know all that?

A: Yeah. This is all - I mean, yeah, no, not really. I mean, some stuff I was obviously aware of.

S: Yeah.

A: Just knowing that he's Muslim and...

PEREL: It's not that he is. It's what that experience...

A: Yeah - means to...

PEREL: Yeah.

A: I really wish we...

PEREL: And then he says a little.

A: Yeah.

PEREL: And you know that is...

A: It means it's a lot. Yeah.

S: I try to downplay it, but...

PEREL: Don't.

S: OK.

PEREL: At least not here.

S: OK, OK.

PEREL: We will take it as it was, not as you've tried to make it.

S: Yeah. I mean, it was shitty. It was definitely shitty.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A: Yeah. I mean, I think there is nothing in your story that I didn't know.

S: Right.

A: But in terms of how that story made you feel different from me, I guess it just makes me sad that you've, like, gone so much of your life feeling like there was much of a gap and not sharing that because I would have loved to have stepped in more there or...

S: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A: Just to add a little bit of color here, like, you know - I mean, I got Islamophobia, too.

S: Yeah.

A: I was in an all-white space in school my entire life, which was, like, a space where I envied you.

S: Yeah.

A: Like, you got to grow up with diversity.

S: Yeah.

A: And, like, I always wished I went to public school because of that and, like, did not enjoy going to a school where I didn't have that kind of experience.

S: Yeah.

A: And I think part of the reason I didn't share at all is because I didn't feel like it was my space to share because...

S: Yeah.

A: ...You know, that you had more that you were dealing with.

S: Yeah.

A: So I didn't want to take away from that.

S: That's tough.

PEREL: So it's very interesting, right? Some of the things that you don't address - your intention is to protect the other.

(LAUGHTER)

A: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PEREL: I don't hear it as, who had it worse? I hear it as, oh, my God, all these pieces of our reality that we actually never knew about each other. So it's really actually quite interesting how much a friendship is woven around shared experience. But the shared experience doesn't always include internal experiences to the degree that we think it does.

SHAW: That's so interesting. And when you don't share, like, the nuances of your internal experiences, it seems like then it's easier for jealousy to crop up, right?

PEREL: Yes.

SHAW: Yeah. And I noticed that in the session. S talks about being jealous of A for launching his own company and pursuing his dreams.

S: So, like, I always really admired that, like - and envious, too - I think, like, envious, too, of just being like, man, like, it's so cool that he got to take that step. I always feel like I have to play it more carefully. Like, I don't have a safety net. Like, as soon as I stop making money, that's an income source that's lost to the family.

SHAW: And then A talks about being jealous of S for being this really open person who's able to develop deep connections easily.

A: ...Admiration. How can someone be like this? How can someone go through this world that I feel like I'm also going through and be so comfortable sharing about themselves? And it's been - I think the part that has been both I want to emulate and that I've been - if we're talking about jealousy, envy or, like - you know, that's something that I absolutely don't feel like I have and is always something I felt like you were just a master at.

PEREL: What's fascinating about this episode is that each one envies the other for a part that is inside themselves that they struggle with and that is also really reflective in our society. So one of them wants to achieve and understands that in order to do that, he may need to sever his connection with his family in order to pursue his professional aspirations and his autonomy. But the price he pays is the price of disconnection.

A: I will say it hasn't been a light, easy path with my...

S: Right.

A: ...Parents and all, like, going through that. I had to...

PEREL: And the other one feels that he can't go nearly as fast as his friend because he's much more anchored in relatedness and in the network of connections and in his obligations to his family. And therefore, he's going to think about them before he thinks about himself.

S: Like, I've tried to live that way, too. Like, I've tried to push my family. And it's just caused me insane distress.

PEREL: And each one says to the other, man, I wish I was able to be like you.

A: When you've been talking about it that way, it's like, wow. How can you look up to me, you know? Like, we're - I look up to you.

PEREL: It's easy to idealize the other with envy rather than to see that each one has consequences to the choices that they make. And part of the distance that I think has been created between the two of you is because each one has become a representation of the part of you that you struggle with.

S: Yeah.

A: Yeah, a hundred percent.

S: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: To become a representation of what your friend is jealous of rather than, you know, a complex person with many facets - you know, I've experienced that before. And I was just wondering...

PEREL: What did you become?

SHAW: Well, I think I was - I represented focus on work and achievement, I think, for a friend. And when she told me that, I understood. I felt compassion. And it was, you know, a very useful conversation. But I also remember feeling dehumanized. And I was just - I'm curious. Like, why does this happen all the time, you know, where we kind of abstract the people in our lives?

PEREL: I don't think it's unique to friendship. I think it's unique to the nature of some complex dilemmas. Here is a thing that we do often. It's not because somebody is more of something that it means that they are only that something. It's not because work matters more to you that all that matters to you is work. And what happens when we polarize inside a relationship is that we tend to take something that is often and becomes an always. It becomes personified. This is something that people do in relationship. They kind of be - sometimes end up creating a bit of a caricature of the difference.

SHAW: Coming up, A and S break past the caricatures and finally open up about the real reasons they haven't reached out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: So in this friendship, you know, A and S, they're not talking as much. There's been growing tension. And at one point in the session, I notice you start to gather facts like you're, like, a detective or something; you know, who's reaching out to who more, who's putting in the work to maintain the friendship.

PEREL: He's the one who reaches out?

A: I think we both do every once in a while. I think it's changed recently.

S: I've pulled back...

A: He's pulled back.

S: ...In the past couple years, yeah.

A: Yeah. Yeah.

S: Because I - yeah.

PEREL: What you have in the beginning here is a pursuer and a distancer. That's one frame you can use, you know, for tracking this, right? You've got one who's constantly saying, I'm calling you. How are you? And, you know, when you have that kind of imbalance, it looks like one wants and one wants less. And the person who is more manifest about a certain need isn't necessarily the one for whom this need is the biggest.

A: I feel comfortable doing things on my own just because I know I have such profound connections with people like him, where...

PEREL: As long as he makes sure that the connection is preserved. But if he steps back like he did in the last two years, do you notice it?

A: I definitely have, yeah.

PEREL: After how long?

A: No, well, throughout - it's - definitely have recognized it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONNOR LAFITTE'S "DOESN'T SEEM TO PHASE ME ANYMORE")

SHAW: And then I notice you make room for the other friend, the one who tends to reach out more, to say something that he seems, you know, possibly scared to say to his friend that is really making him feel very insecure about the friendship.

S: I feel like sometimes in our friendship, I, like, hear you make the effort sometimes, but I think sometimes I worry that, like, the growth is more important than the, like, relationship. And...

PEREL: Growth - you mean the achievement.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: Accomplishments.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: Success.

S: Like, your journey that, like, you're on - like, you were doing some amazing things over the years. And, like, like I said, I've looked up to you for so long, but I think for a while I didn't know...

PEREL: If you still need me.

S: Yeah, whether I needed - I had any value.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONNOR LAFITTE'S "DOESN'T SEEM TO PHASE ME ANYMORE")

PEREL: How does that resonate for you? You are more interested in your pursuits than in the importance of your relationships, which includes him.

A: Yeah. I've heard it from every partner I've ever had as well (laughter).

PEREL: He also ends up feeling like, you know, he becomes a deviation from your path.

A: Well, no...

PEREL: That's what he said.

A: I mean, I can understand where that's coming from. And I absolutely think my behavior and where my mind was leading me in places, that's super fair. And I'm sorry.

SHAW: It feels like something shifts when the apology happens.

PEREL: Absolutely.

SHAW: Almost like the lights going off and, like, they get into place and start this slow dance of revealing insecurities about the friendship.

A: Can I also say, I mean, you know, I can see where you're coming from. I also did feel something similar...

S: Yeah.

A: ...Towards you...

S: Yeah.

A: ...You know, because you're a super dynamic person. You make friends super easily.

S: Yeah.

A: And when we went off to college...

S: Yeah.

A: ...I knew you were making really deep friendships with people. And I wasn't. I mean, I was very much - like, I wasn't trying to. And that probably scared me.

S: Yeah.

A: I mean, it did scare me.

S: Yeah, yeah.

A: You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

S: Basically, like, I think I may have been throwing myself and trying to connect...

PEREL: Hey.

S: ...With so many people...

PEREL: Say it.

S: Yeah - because I was also - you know, I didn't think I was important as a best friend to you.

A: Wow.

S: And so I was throwing myself into that because I didn't feel secure enough in our friendship to just trust that, like, that was always there.

A: Yeah.

S: But I will say that for many years in college, like, I avoided calling anyone, like, a best friend...

A: Yeah.

S: ...Because that was - I was always like, yeah, my...

A: Sacred space.

S: You know, yeah, I was like, you know, my best friend is...

A: Yeah.

S: ...Is you. And so, like...

PEREL: Hold on.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: Take a breath.

(LAUGHTER)

S: Yeah, yeah. Lot coming out (laughter).

A: Yeah. Yeah.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: Just take a moment.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

A: I remember...

PEREL: Hold on.

A: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

PEREL: Just take it in, people. You're sharing so much.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: We can be quiet for a moment. Sometimes, it's about what needs to be said. And then after that, it's about sitting quietly with what has just been said.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PEREL: Each of them thinks the other one doesn't care. See, they want to divest because they think the other one is over me. I no longer am important to you. You have made so many new friends in college. You have made so many new friends in your entrepreneurship life.

A: I remember, I mean, so many occasions where you would tell me something really important in your life during that, you know, last few years. And then you would follow it up with talking about how other people that you've shared this with have responded in different ways. And maybe that was you trying to, like, protect yourself.

S: For sure.

A: It's always been hard for me to know...

S: Yeah.

A: Like, is there anything that's just preserved for me?

PEREL: So I tell you about my other friends so that you don't think that I am putting all my weight on you and that I'm too needy.

A: Exactly.

PEREL: And then I hear you tell me about the other friends. And so then I think I'm not that important after all.

A: Yeah.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: And so each of you, who are so important to each other, leave these conversations thinking you're not that important after all. How ironic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PEREL: Once they understand how important they are to each other, there's not a split second of them thinking that they should part. It's really more, I want you in my life, dude, you know. Whoa, I want you in my life, too, you know?

S: You're my favorite person to, like - and like...

A: Yeah.

S: ...You know, take on the world with. Like...

A: Yeah.

S: You know, there's no - like, I realize and recognize it now. Like, when I said I want us to be lifelong friends - and, like, that's my thing. It's just like - because I want you to be in my life - like, in my life. Not like, you know, checking in here and there, but like - literally, like, be best friends.

A: Yeah.

S: And...

A: It's just like - it's just - I mean, I love you, man.

S: I love you, too, man.

A: You were - it's just like - I want you to know how much, like, you really do mean to me, too.

SHAW: I've heard friendship researchers talk about the importance of affirming our friendships. And, you know, it seems so basic and obvious, but I can totally see why it doesn't happen. Do you think that has to do with, you know, the fact that our culture doesn't have these systems and practices for affirming our friendships - like, validating them? You know, like, we don't celebrate friendship anniversaries the same way we celebrate wedding anniversaries.

PEREL: That's right.

SHAW: We don't have legal documents to bind us to each other.

PEREL: You know, it's very interesting what you asked because I had this very conversation last night about an event we just attended two days ago with one of my closest friends who is leaving, going to work abroad. And at one point, she made a little speech. And I thought, is somebody going to respond to this? But instead, everybody just kind of disassembled. And I was discussing it with another friend who was there. And I said, I feel like we missed it. We - this is a goodbye party. This is not just a get-together.

And nobody stood up and wanted to - as if it would become too self-conscious to just say, you know - yet, if a kid went to college, if a son was getting married, if a daughter - you know, if a them was leaving, if it was in the context of family, people would be making speeches. But because it was this goodbye party, everybody was, oh, we will meet soon. We will come see you. You know, people were diffusing and deflecting. And I thought, what would have happened if we had allowed ourselves to just really live the moment, realize we are all here because we adore this woman who has been important in every single person's life here? And why didn't we acknowledge that?

What do you think has made it so that you've never said any of these things to each other?

A: Being freaking men (laughter).

S: Yeah. I think part, like - I feel the resistance of just, like, our, like, upbringings and just being, like...

A: Yeah.

PEREL: Upbringings or men or men in your upbringing?

S: Men in our specific upbringing.

PEREL: I mean, I don't think that...

S: Yeah.

A: Yeah.

PEREL: ...Other men necessarily would have an easier time.

A: Yeah.

S: Yeah.

A: Yeah.

PEREL: Two straight guys...

A AND S: Yeah.

PEREL: ...Who can admit to the love that they feel for each other...

A AND S: Yeah.

PEREL: Is that what we're talking about?

A: Yeah. I think we don't necessarily share our feelings about each other openly to try to be this masculine, I can do what I need to do. You know, I'm powerful. I don't need anybody else. I don't have vulnerabilities - that aspect.

S: This belief in true independence...

A: Yeah.

S: ...As well. I don't think we've ever, like, talked about actually, like, needing one another.

A: Yeah.

S: There is a power, I think, element to it as well. I don't want to feel ever, like, less in power in relation to you, I think, because it would create some sort of, like, submissive or needy - I think I've - we've used that word a couple times here.

A: Yeah.

PEREL: So fantastic - every time you talk about not wanting to be needy, you cross your arms.

S: Oh, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

S: A little protective mechanism right there (laughter).

PEREL: You know, my friend and colleague Terry Real, he says under patriarchy, men can either feel powerful or connected. But they can't necessarily have both at the same time.

S: That is exactly how I feel.

A: And I feel like I'm on the flip side, you know, wanting the exact - it's like yin and yang a little bit.

S: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PEREL: I can't even tell you how much I work on friendship in my work with men when I do individual work with them or couple work. I mean, you know, I systematically ask them, who are your friends? Do you have close friends? Who knows about this? Who do you discuss that with? When's the last time you saw them? You need to go see your friends because we also know that men more than women in straight relationships will leave their friendships as they enter the dominion of coupledom. And no, that's not enough. You need friends. And I give them very clear directives - how to do it, what to say, what to write, how to invite, you know - and I have rarely had a guy who reached out to someone where the other person didn't jump on the occasion.

What some people do is to have rituals.

S: Yeah.

A: Yeah.

PEREL: Every two months, we take a weekend of - what are the kind of things you enjoy doing when you...

S: So many things.

A: Everything, yeah (laughter).

S: Yeah, it's like we could go to some basketball games together.

A: Yeah.

S: We could go hiking together.

PEREL: So why don't you say, we have a ritual. We meet every eight weeks - one time here, one time at my place. And have it be the ritual you never broke...

S: Yeah.

PEREL: ...So that even when you have families one day, if you do, or partners, there is a pillar. That thing is an immovable.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: It's an ode to us.

S: Wow. All those times when you were like, oh, we can do this without the other, like, I don't actually need you, like, it would be really awesome where I could just do those things with you.

A: Yeah, with each other. Yeah.

S: Yeah. So...

A: Yeah.

PEREL: I may not need you, but I want to be with you...

A: Yes.

S: Yeah.

PEREL: ...Is different.

S: Yeah.

A: Exactly.

PEREL: We have something special, and let's not trash it...

S: Yeah.

A: Yeah.

PEREL: ...By neglect...

S: Exactly.

PEREL: ...Or by misunderstandings and misconceptions.

S: Right.

A: Definitely.

S: Yeah.

A: It's usually something that scares me, the idea of a long-term commitment to something. But this doesn't scare me at all. Like, this is exciting.

S: Let's do it. Let's do it.

A: On the meta level, it's exciting that I'm experiencing something like that.

PEREL: So this is not a long-term commitment. This is a reliable gift.

S: A reliable gift.

A: A reliable gift - I like that.

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SHAW: What do you think the future looks like for them?

PEREL: You know, honestly, I don't know. What I do know is that when I said that, they loved the idea. So an intervention is only worthy of the response that it gets. I think that the conversation that they had was so relieving, it opened up so many knots, that I can really see this becoming, you know, a renewal in which, like, all the tensions that had accumulated - they're not done with the conversation, but they can talk about it now in a way that they couldn't.

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SHAW: That's it. That's our first friend therapy session ever, vicariously.

NATISSE: Exactly. I get the help, minus the vulnerability.

SHAW: Thank you, thank you to A and S for letting us ride along on your friend therapy adventure.

NATISSE: Yes. Good luck on your ritual.

SHAW: We wish you the best.

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SHAW: A huge thank you to Esther Perel, Jesse Baker, Jenn Schraven and Shelby Slaughter for helping to make this special crossover episode happen. You can hear another version of the session on Esther's podcast, "Where Should We Begin." Esther is also the author of two books, "Mating In Captivity" and "The State Of Affairs."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAW: And it seems like friend therapy might be gaining a bit of traction. Shout out to Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman of the podcast "Call Your Girlfriend" who really have been paving the way on friend therapy. They have an excellent new book called "Big Friendship" where they talk about friend therapy and so much more.

Also, thank you to therapists Miriam Kirmayer and Barbie Atkinson who talked to us about their expertise in friend therapy, as well as all the other therapists we talked to - Shontel Cargill, Nicole Sbordone, Nicole O'Brien, Elizabeth Earnshaw, Laura Foster, Ada Rios-Rivera, Jacquelyn Johnson and Kimberly Flemke. And thanks to Sarah Duncan and Annie Gonzalez for sharing with us their experience of going to friend therapy.

NATISSE: This episode was edited by Nicole Beemsterboer and produced by Andrew Mambo, Liza Yeager and Yowei Shaw, with additional reporting by Abby Wendle. Andy Huether mastered this episode. Susie Cummings checked her facts. And thank you to Diba Mohtasham and Hiba Ahmad for listening.

SHAW: This season of INVISIBILIA is also produced by Kia Miakka Natisse, Rhaina Cohen, Justine Yan, Adelina Lancianese, Pablo Arguelles Cattori and Luis Trelles. We also had help from Micah Ratner and Gerry Holmes.

NATISSE: Our supervising producer is Liana Simstrom. Neal Carruth is our senior director of programming. And our senior vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann. Our theme music is by Infinity Knives - additional music for this episode provided by Connor Lafitte, Elizabeth de Lise and William Cashion. To see an original illustration for this episode and the rest of our season by Sonnenzimmer, visit npr.org/invisibilia.

SHAW: And remember - if you are having hard friend feelings and need some help...

NATISSE: Call us. We want to listen (laughter).

SHAW: Talk about it on a podcast because that will solve everything.

NATISSE: Everything.

SHAW: JK, JK (ph).

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