My Other Ex: A Q&A With Jessica Smock

Break ups are hard, no matter who they’re with. Sometimes, a break up with a friend can hurt even harder than with a significant other. A new anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends, delves into the topic of lost friendship. I had the chance to speak with Jessica Smock, one of the book’s editors, to find out more about what prompted them to look at the loss of friendship and why it’s important to give these types of stories a space.
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Your first book, The HerStories Project was on female friendships. What prompted you to go the other way and focus on the loss of friendship this time around? 
The section of the first book about which we received the strongest and most emotional feedback was the section on friendship loss. So many women talked to us about that section and said that it brought up unresolved feelings and questions. So we decided to explore that a bit. We created a survey to understand a little bit more about friendship breakups and their impact on women’s lives. It was clear from the many, many responses that this was a topic that many women wanted to talk about and hear about! So we put out a call for submissions for women’s stories of friendship breakups and received hundreds of responses!

The essays vary between women who were “dumped” as friends, and those who were the ones to break up a friendship. I think for many women, we’ve been on both sides of the situation, so it’s easy to connect with all of the essays in that sense. Were there any essays you read, that you found yourself really strongly relating to? 

The pair of essays about friendships dissolving between women with children and their child-free friends resonated with me a great deal. These were Jen Simon’s essay “Losing Chloe, Losing Jen” and Sue Fagalde Lick’s “From Happy Hour to Happy Meal.” I had kids on the later-ish side. I was 36 when my son was born, and I’m now pregnant with my second at 40. During the past several years, I feel like I’ve been on both sides of this: I felt left behind and sad and lonely when some of my friends began having kids and I wasn’t nearly in the place to do so, and I’ve felt guilty, a bit defensive, and regretful when new motherhood overwhelmed me and impacted my relationships with friends who didn’t have children. Jen and Sue have written beautiful essays with two different perspectives on this topic.

Why was it important for you to give these types of stories a space? 

As a middle school teacher for many years, I was familiar with much of the research on female relationships and friendships during childhood. There’s so much work that has been done around female aggression and bullying in school-age kids. But it was such a wakeup call to me when I started researching it that so many of these patterns of aggression and confusion about how female relationships should be negotiated actually carry over all the way through adulthood. Once we began asking questions and asking women to tell their stories, it was clear that this was a topic — the role of friendship, including its “darker” side — that many women felt that they had never been given the opportunity to talk about or write about in a meaningful way.

Although the book has just come out, what has been the response you’ve received so far?

It’s been fascinating to see the conversations on blogs and websites about women’s own histories with failed friendships. We’ve read countless stories, just in the past two weeks. This is not a book in which women typically read it, enjoy it, and promptly forget about it. It has seemed to stir up deep feelings and unresolved questions. We’re so glad that these stories give women a chance to identify with the range of women’s experiences.
Have you experienced a friendship breakup? I still remember my 1st one. It stings almost as much – if not just a smidge more – than breaking up with a romantic partner. I wonder why that is… 

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