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The Struggle Is Real: Female Friendship In Rich And Pretty

My best friend and I tell the story of how we met whenever we get the chance. Here's how it goes: We were at a party, in the twilight of 2007, and she was on her way out the door to ring in the New Year somewhere considerably more hip. But during our brief overlap, we got to talking and made each other laugh enough to exchange phone numbers. I called her the next day, leaving an awkward will-you-hang-out-with-me voicemail. We had lunch a week later. That was a decade ago. The blond girl from the party has been my closest friend ever since.

For years, we were in perfect sync, which made early-20s life blissfully easy, since we already knew who we would be hanging out with at any given moment of free time. We were (and remain) each other's baselines, well versed in crushes, flaws, personal mythologies, food allergies — you name it. I remember once, late on a cold February night in Chicago, walking home from a club in the sleeting rain together, holding hands and giggling like little girls. Even now, we regularly log an unthinkable number of hours on FaceTime and the telephone. When I need to talk something out, or weep uncontrollably into a receiver, or celebrate some small victory, she is always the first person I turn to, and vice versa.

But I remember reading once that female friendships roll in cycles of near-obsessive closeness followed by emotional drift — and that tends to be true for us. When we're not in sync, though, it's usually hard to pin down exactly what has shifted. And not knowing why we're suddenly not quite as tight can often make it harder to close the gap between us: distance begets distance.

That's where Rumaan Alam's Rich and Pretty begins: with two longtime best friends, Sarah and Lauren, who are having an increasingly tougher time connecting with each other's lives. Lauren is a stunning, single cookbook editor, slightly aloof and a little mysterious. On the surface, Sarah is her opposite in almost every way — nurturing, sentimental, an open book who is content with the man she's been with for years. (Obviously, Lauren secretly finds him boring.)
In the novel's opening pages, the women meet up for dinner, and Sarah reveals that she's engaged. Lauren says all the things you're supposed to say, but fails to work up the kind of enthusiasm she knows is expected in these situations. The truth is that she's not that enthusiastic about helping plan Sarah's nuptials — but she also knows their many years of friendship and closeness mandates that she fulfil this obligation.

Sarah makes note of the slight. But she also knows that she'll sound petty if she gets upset about the way Lauren received her good news. So she lets it go, knowing — after 20 years of friendship — that sometimes it's just easier to glide past a problem and on to the next subject. So that's what she does. The rest of the book continues to alternate between Sarah and Lauren's perspectives, moving back and forth with each chapter, as they edge their way closer to the nuptials. The bride-to-be and her best friend align on bachelorette trips, members of their inner circle, rehearsal dinners, and more — but the truth is that the wedding is just a vehicle for Alam to dissect the relationship between the pair.

Because, first and foremost, Rich and Pretty is a book about the ways in which only women can be close to one another, and what struggles can arise from that closeness. It's a relatable subject if you've ever found a rote check-in with your BFF a little grating without really knowing why. In the friendship between Sarah and Lauren, it becomes ever more clear that what Lauren wants is for Sarah to stop holding her to a version of herself she's trying to leave behind; she is sick of how her longtime friend projects their past onto the present, and wants to be able to act as she pleases. Sarah, on the other hand, finds comfort in the predictability of their friendship. Combined, their perspectives make for a lot of tension.

In one especially telling scene, Sarah and Lauren stay up all night during the bachelorette weekend getaway, slipping into a teenage routine of snuggling up together and breaking into the minibar — content just to be hanging out and laughing. But not so long after that, Lauren has sex with a member of the hotel staff — and Sarah is just appalled. She comes to Lauren's room, furious not just that her friend has done something she considers beneath her, but that she, Sarah, had to find out about it from someone else. It's emblematic of a particular type of jealousy between women: It's not that Sarah has some sexual claim over Lauren, or even that she's prudish. Her frustration stems, she says, from the fact that it was supposed to be a girls' weekend — a time when women focus on each other and leave men out of mind.
Frankly, I get it: When we were young, we could occupy our female friends' attentions almost completely, without mitigation. But as we get older — and fall into serious romantic relationships, professional obligations, and even social circles — it becomes increasingly difficult to spend time together that isn't punctuated by distractions. Sometimes I wish my best friend and I could go back to those early days, when our primary and most important daily relationship was one another. It's bittersweet to think that we'll never quite get to do that in the same way ever again, that it will only get harder with time to maintain the extreme closeness that characterised the early years of our BFF-dom.

Without wanting to give too much away — you should really add this book to your summer reading list — I'll only say that Lauren and Sarah figure out how to find each other again by the end of the book. It's not a perfect, wrapped-up-with-a-bow ending: There's a sad realisation, followed by a recognition that things might never be the same as they once were. Both women will have to reckon with their willingness to make each other a priority as time goes on, even as new responsibilities compete for their attention and time.

But that's life, I suppose: The friendships we keep are the ones we take care of. When I finished the book, I made a mental note to give the blond girl a call later that day. But before I could pick up the phone, she called me first. Often, it's my best friend who knows that I need to talk — that it's time to close the drift — before the thought is even fully formed in my mind.

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam is out June 7, from Ecco.