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Dr. Irene S. Levine Headshot

Martha and Her: The Best of Friends?

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Dear Martha Stewart,

After reading Mariana Pasternak's new telltale book, The Best of Friends: Martha and Me (Harper, 2010), I know how betrayed you must feel. You have to be asking yourself: How could Mariana, who I considered one of my closest friends, betray me like this? Granted, I've only read her side of the story, but here are my unsolicited thoughts on the matter:

1) Keep in mind that Mariana's book says more about her than it says about you.

Mariana dishes the dirt on your 20-year friendship, from when you were first neighbors in Westport, to when you became couple-friends with your now ex-husbands, and then became inseparable BFFs -- like Oprah and Gayle, Ethel and Lucy, or Paris and Nicole. At every crook in the road, however, Mariana seemed obsessed with building herself up to tear you down.

Clearly, Mariana felt like she could never measure up to you because she goes to great lengths to make the case that she was more attractive, more desirable to men, a better mother, more grounded, and more cultured. She even uses double superlatives to describe her education at "highly selective" and "extremely competitive schools."

She fills us in on the sybaritic perks she and her daughters enjoyed simply by knowing you. They were given entrée to your world of celebrity, royalty, gardens, yachts, private jets, group vacations, and adventure. They partied with the rich and famous because of their relationship with you.

2) As your success grew, the divide between the two of you grew larger.

Like you, Mariana seems like an ambitious woman by nature. She might have been happier had she been less envious of your wealth, fame, and success. She accuses you of being judgmental and desperate -- yet her use of language is scathing. Two gems, among many, from the book: She compares you to the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction and comments that, "The Turkey Hill paradise became the lair of the dragon lady." If these were her feelings all along, I wonder how the relationship lasted as long as it did.

Mariana has an odd sense of entitlement, thinking that by virtue of being your friend and hanging on to your coattails, she deserved the same lifestyle as you have. Why else would she repeatedly complain that you asked her to pay her portion of the bill for the lavish and memorable trips you took together?

Mariana admits she was ambivalent about her friendship with you for some time. One telling sign: When you separated from your husband, although she didn't tell you, she sided with your ex. When a friend is filled with such ambivalence, she really isn't a true friend; she is a frenemy. Penning the book provided your ex-BFF an opportunity to even the score while making a buck.

3) The ending of your friendship isn't as unusual as it appears to be.

Sadly, the majority of friendships -- even very good ones -- tend to go awry for a variety of reasons. The most common scenario is that two friends just drift apart over time as they grow in different directions. Some friendships are tested by misunderstandings or disappointments, some of which are resolved and others not. But, by far, the most painful kind of breakup is to be betrayed by someone you thought was a close friend. It can be as painful and jolting as being dumped by a boyfriend or lover. The closer the friendship, the harder it is to get over.

Unlike divorces, we don't often hear much talk about acrimonious friendships. Perhaps women have accepted the pop myth that friendships are forever and that being unable to sustain a friendship is a sign of personal weakness. Other women are reticent to tell their stories because they think outsiders can't really understand how a once-impenetrable emotional bond could fracture. If they talk at all about their friendship breakups, they talk to therapists behind closed doors.

The bond between two female friends is complex, powerful and often inexplicable. Women share emotions and feelings with close friends that they may not even be able to share with a husband or sister. You had to be hurt when Mariana testified against you at your trial. But writing this book and exposing the intimacies of your longstanding friendship so publicly, was a particularly bitter form of betrayal.

Mariana suggests the book may be a contribution to the friendship literature. Yet, the book offers few, if any, positive lessons readers can take away about the nuances and strengths of female friendships. Instead, the author provides an excellent case study of betrayal.

Martha, I have no doubt that your wounds will heal over time because you have shown such resilience in the past.

Signed,
The Friendship Doctor

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.