Nicole Zangara was feeling uneasy about some of her friendships. She went through what many women in their 20’s and 30’s experience — sudden drop-offs in friendships, with little explanation. Inspired to figure out just what makes female friendships so complex, she started writing down her thoughts. Within a few months, she had the beginnings of a book that was published last year by Chandler-based Brighton Publishing, called “Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” The book is a collection of Zangara’s own experiences related to female friendships, as well as vignettes the 29-year-old Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Scottsdale resident gathered from about 25 women of all ages. Read on for how writing the book affects Zangara’s views of friendships today, and keep scrolling to watch a video of her sharing her five favorite things about living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I have lived in a lot of places. I grew up in Massachusetts, went to college in D.C., went to graduate school in St. Louis, and then moved to Houston for a post-graduate fellowship at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. Even though I had a great group of friends in Houston, one day I had this aha moment of, “What am I doing here?” I didn’t live near my family, which is very important to me. One of my brothers lives out here, and over the years, my family would come in November for Thanksgiving. I made the decision to move here and came in 2012.
When did you first conceive the book?
I was living in Houston, and a co-worker of mine had written a book many years ago, and I thought that was quite an accomplishment. After talking with her, I was inspired to fulfill my own desire to write a book. It was like this huge catharsis to write and have my thoughts and feelings pour out. After a while, it started to transform into a manuscript. With the help of my co-worker, she taught me the process and what I needed to put together to send off to publishers.
What inspired the theme?
I was in Houston and had a lot of great friends, but there were instances when a friend and I would just stop talking or something would shift in the friendship, and I’d go, “What is going on?” I knew it wasn’t just me who was going through these experiences, and that’s why I wanted to write about it. There’s nothing shameful or embarrassing about these challenging situations, but no one really talks about it.
What were some of those experiences?
I had one friend, and we worked together, so we saw each other every day. We also spent time together outside of work. It was a very strong bond, yet after I started another job, things changed in the friendship due to us no longer having as much to connect on. We were also at different points in our lives. It was very difficult because we both felt the friendship dissolve, yet tried as best we could to salvage it. Sadly in the end, it didn’t make it.
I also had a friend who I’d spend time with, and then all of a sudden, we stopped making plans. She told me she had a lot going on and was busy. There seemed to be a shift that took place, and I didn’t quite know how to address or manage it. I find these situations happening more and more as I get older. I also hear women talking about these same situations, which is why I felt the need to write about the topic of female friendship.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
Validation. It’s important to me women come away from the book feeling comfort in the fact it’s not just them who have experienced these situations, and that sometimes friendships change, and it’s no one’s fault. I find a lot of women personalize their friendship experiences and feel as though they’ve failed. For that reason, I include other women’s experiences in the book, which I hope will allow the reader to identify with at least one of the stories.
What characterizes female friendships?
Women are emotionally-driven and connect on much deeper levels. They sit down and share things with their close friends. Women create intense bonds with other women, so insecurity or even jealousy are common. Plus, women who have experienced painful past friendships may bring that emotional baggage into current friendships, and may not be as open to new friendships for this reason.
What did you learn from your research about female friendships?
It left me more confused. Because I know the women who I include in the book, I was astounded at their experiences and thoughts. Some of their stories brought tears to my eyes because all of these women are so kind and warm, yet have experienced heartbreaking or challenging female friendships.
What do you think is the key to having great friendships?
Everyone is different. I know people who have lots of friends. Personally, I don’t do well with that. I find I do better one-on-one or in smaller gatherings. I like to get to know people and let the friendship grow through quality time spent together. To have a great friendship, one needs to be patient and understanding of her friends. It’s also a good thing to be aware of your expectations, which is difficult to do. It’s important to be honest with your friends and learn how to have healthy communication. It’s not easy to do, but all friendships go through ups and downs, and it’s helpful to know how to address them.
How can people strengthen existing friendships?
Reach out to your friends, and let them know you’re thinking about them. Also, be honest with them, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re hurt. So many women would rather not tell her friend she’s upset, for fear of losing that friend. I discuss fear in the book. It’s something that is debilitating and can negatively affect the friendship.
When you find yourself in a sticky friendship situation, what is your advice?
Try to talk to the person, and be honest. If she’s not willing to listen, or quickly becomes defensive, I think it’s time to evaluate that friendship. The goal is to approach confrontation in a respectful manner, yet be ready to hear your friends’ side of things. All friendships go through rough patches, which isn’t necessarily a bad sign, it just means you two have to work through it, which will hopefully strengthen the friendship.
What kinds of things could the media do to portray more realistic friendships?
Television shows and movies tend to show unrealistic friendship situations. For example, after two friends have a fight, things just somehow are back to normal, as if nothing happened. I discuss how the media portrays female friendship in the book, especially in television shows such as “Sex and The City.”
What advice do you have as far as the writing process?
If you have an idea for a book, do what my co-worker told me: “Just write it!” Don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard and take a risk. I did!
Do you have any tips for how to get inspired with writing?
If you’re writing about a specific topic, see what others have written on the topic, and try to provide something different and unique.
What are your professional goals?
I’m definitely open to the possibility of writing again. I’m not exactly sure about what, but I’m very interested in relationships — family, personal, romantic, work-related, etc.
Why should people read the book?
If you’ve ever had a friend, you’re going to find something in there you’ll identify with.
What makes your book unique?
I provide a wealth of information on female friendship, as well as focus on how we meet and make friends, how expectations impact friendships, and how to address conflict with our friends. I also discuss complex situations that can arise in female friendships. Furthermore, I focus on social media and technology, as well as include real-life experiences from women ages 20 to 60-plus.
What are your tips for fostering confidence?
Try not to take things personally that happen in your friendships. Some of our friends may be going through something and aren’t ready to let us know. Sometimes, we need to give our friends space and that’s OK. The goal is to be patient with our friends.
What do you think are the best ways to maintain genuine friendships?
If I knew that, I’d be a billionaire. The key is to have friends who make you feel good. When things come up in the friendship, try and address them sooner than later. Every now and then, take a friendship inventory, and evaluate your friendships. However, keep in mind that friendships ebb and flow, so be aware there will always be constant change.
Since it’s challenging to make new friends as an adult, what are your tips for making new friends?
Reach out to people you know, join a club, or take a class. If you enjoy hiking, join a hiking club, or if you love cooking, sign up for a cooking class. Put yourself out there. The goal is to get out of your comfort zone. It’s scary at first, but as long as you keep trying, it’ll feel less scary.
How do you recommend repairing friendships?
If it’s a friend you truly care about, and both of you want the friendship to survive, talk to this friend and be honest about your thoughts and feelings. Some friendships are worth repairing, but both people need to feel that way. Otherwise, the friendship may not be as solid as you thought.