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Friendaholic by Elizabeth Day: Weaning herself off a need for friends

Those who consider this book in good faith might find themselves Marie Kondo-ing their friendship circle

Friendaholic: Confessions of a friendship addict
Friendaholic: Confessions of a friendship addict
Author: Elizabeth Day
ISBN-13: 9780008374891
Publisher: 4th Estate
Guideline Price: £16.99

As I read Elizabeth Day’s latest work of non-fiction, Friendaholic, I found myself texting friends, making plans. We’ll call it guilt. If Day was addicted to friendships, I was ambivalent. I had good friends but had never thought deeply about this social institution we were enacting. Had I been doing it wrong?

Likely, the book exists to provoke this sort of concern – to draw attention to an aspect of life that has gone unexamined because “we’ve spent so much time heroising romantic love”. Whether it’s wise to scrutinise friendship in the way we’ve scrutinised romantic love is debatable but Day does a good job of convincing us the topic is interesting and worthy of at least some analysis.

Day’s own experience provides the scaffolding for the book. A childhood in Northern Ireland, where she was an outsider, had a dearth of friends and suffered bullying, left her with an insatiable need to be liked. So, she began collecting friends. “For me, being bullied made me determined in later life to prove my worth,” she writes. “Becoming successful, having my name in print, being blessed with a wide circle of endless friends: these became inviolable markers of my sense of identity.”

An abundance of friendships may seem a fairly innocuous balm for one’s sense of inadequacy but according to researchers “those with either too large or too small a social network both have higher levels of depressive symptoms”. So, the book logs Day’s attempts to unravel herself from her unhealthy addiction.


“Is this a therapy session,” Bernie Sanders asked on a recent episode of Day’s hit podcast, How to Fail. Regular listeners were muttering, “Of course”. In her other podcast, Best Friend Therapy, Day quite literally speaks to her therapist best friend about issues that might merit analysis. A forthrightness about personal issues and a deep consideration about what’s going on beneath (some might call it overthinking) are Day’s speciality and in this book she sticks with what works.

Chapters confiding incidents of ghosting, friendship breakdowns, the impact of fertility issues on friendship and so on are interspersed with chapters devoted to Day’s five closest friends, as well as short testimonies from an array of individuals. Day’s particular predicaments won’t resonate with everyone but her fluid, conversational style makes for lightly entertaining reading (with darker moments). Those who consider the book in good faith might even find themselves Marie Kondo-ing their friendship circle – holding on to the ones that bring joy and clearing out the rest.

Niamh Donnelly

Niamh Donnelly, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and critic