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I love to do couple sessions or even individual sessions in the Ester calling, but I also like to have conversations about particular aspects of the relational lives of people that I have admired, and I wanted to share a few of these conversations with you. One of them is Neil Patrick Harris, and I am very pleased to be able to offer you listen on our where should we begin? Feed. Enjoy.


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Friendships have always been some of the most important relationships in my life. And I think I learned this from watching my parents, who had a very active circle of friends. And often they would tell me, we survived the jewish holocaust all alone. We have no one, no family left. So we had friends, and I understood this concept of family, of choice as friends, probably before I ever learned that word itself. And recently, I have been very interested in expanding the idea that the word love and commitment are so often only connected to romantic relationships, and that, in fact, love and commitment are deep elements of friendships. So I invited the actor Neil Patrick Harris to speak with me about friendship, and then I found out that he was turning 50, that he was having a major birthday party, and that he felt that he wasn't necessarily always a good friend. And I thought, what an opportunity here to actually bring in the subject of friendship, tie it in with his 50th birthday, and give him a whole different perspective that I thought he could use. Voila.


I'm wildly unprepared for what's about to.


Happen, but, you know, it's like therapy. Sometimes the best sessions are exactly the ones that started the way you just did. They're often the most exciting, rather than, I want to discuss this, and then you kind of stay the course. But I thought one of the subjects that I'm in it at this moment, because I've been dealing with health issues in the family, not mine, and I've really had to rely on my friends and my community, and I thought, I talk so much about romantic relationships and about families, and I'm actually fascinated by friendships. It's probably the first free choice relationship that any child gets to have is to choose their first friend. That's the one they want to play with. That's very, don't choose the siblings. We don't choose the parents. And so I thought I'd love to have a conversation with him about friendship. Does that speak to you?


Yeah, for sure. In interesting ways. Because my life has been lots of interesting chapters in a very dense and thick book. And within those chapters involved meeting new people, becoming very close with them, and then dispersing, like, professionally speaking. Right. And then meeting new people in a new chapter.


Do you remember your first friend?


Yeah, I think my first friend is a guy named Cody Willard, who, strangely, given all that I just said, I'm actually still friends with. He still lives in New Mexico, and he's just been a great friend through thick and thin. We don't talk often, often. But when we catch up, it's really nice to see him again. And there's an unconditional sort of love because we knew each other before.


Know. I remember when I left Belgium and I went to study in Jerusalem, and I thought, how does one make friends with people who've never been in your home, who've never been in your house, who've never met your parents. On what basis does that friendship get created? So much of our childhood friends is about knowing each other's context. Then I came to America, and then I was like, how do you make friends with people who've never heard about where you're. So the context becomes even more removed. And then as foreigners, when your parents come to visit and for the first time they meet your local friends, there's this really sense of, now you know, who I really, not that you didn't know who I am, but you know, the person with this other dimension.




Because you saw them in their family.


Context or to see them later in their family context, you go, oh, that makes a lot more sense now that I see where all of this came.


From, because I've been thinking about friendship in so many different aspects, including the difference between childhood friends and friends that we make as adults. Have you made friends and not just people that you've worked with for an intense project in which there's that creative burst and that's a unique experience of its own, but really, are new people entering your life that become real central pillars of your life and become new friends?


That's an interesting question, because I struggle with bandwidth and I only have so much of it to give, and a lot of it now has to go to the kids, into the family and dinner. We have dinner together every night, whether we're making it together or going to eat it at a restaurant or ordering in, but we do that together. That's an important thing. And that's a couple of hours out of time that you would make friends otherwise. And then is the bedtime routine for the kids, which is anywhere between eight and nine ish. And then unless you have a babysitter or something, that's the night. So starting at 5530, every day is filled up with that. So it's hard to make friends outside of work. We all only have a limited time for contact. I have real friends that I didn't meet through work, and I like to prioritize them. But now I've met these new people who I would consider great friends, but I don't have the time to cultivate the friendship without it being like, let's meet up every ten days, two weeks, and then it feels like we're just. Then we're just catching up.


Like, how's the show? What's been going on? I don't know. It's hard. It's tricky. I don't know.


Part of what friends bring us is that it doesn't have to have a structure, a calendar, a schedule. I mean, I'm sure in your small town, people dropped in, and they still do, and they all work, and they all have kids, and they may not have the kind of career you have, but they may be busy.


I have deep issues about, well, both feeling like I'm doing something good and finding out that it turned out to be bad. I don't know how that would be described in a more clinical way and in disappointing people, like disappointing others. So, in a friend scenario. Well, I'll give you an example. I'm turning 50 years old on June 15, giving you an example by a long winded story. And on April 26, I received an envelope, and the envelope had a clue that I had to solve. And it turns out that April 26 is 50 days until my 50th birthday. My husband has created. Well, he would deny this someone has created some system that every single day I'm receiving envelopes and videos and stories and having to solve things and go do exciting things every single day for 50 days until my 50th birthday, which is spectacular and terrifying and amazing and a whole other conversation. Within that, though, are times where one day I had to show up at a place in the afternoon, and there were 15 friends at a bar, and we all went on a bar crawl for 6 hours until 01:00 in the morning, and I can't remember stumbling home.


And I'm surrounded by friends that I have not seen in a while, and I was not good in this context. I felt fraudulent. As I was talking to one person, I was trying to remember the last time we talked and write, all right, how was your trip to wherever? And then I turn and I see another friend, and I haven't spoken to them in a while. And so then I try to catch up with them, but I don't know. It felt like I was trying to keep all these balls in the air. And I felt like I was disappointing all of them because it was my party and I was, like, the center of it all. But I couldn't really give authentic time to everyone because of the context. And so I felt like I was giving short shrift to all of it. And then at the end, I didn't feel like I really had meaningful conversation with any of my actual friends at that event. Does that make sense?


Yes. This is so fascinating. All right, I'll tell you what I'm using on as I listen. I'm saying this guy, Neil Patrick Harris, he's really loved. And this partner husband of him went ahead or somebody together with his friends, and they created these 50 days to meet your lover.


50 days to 50.


And your friends arrive. And honestly, nobody expects you to have an authentic, in depth conversation at such an opportunity. What people want to know is how happy you are to see them, how much they matter to you, and how honored they feel to be in your inner circle, and how they want to tell you that you matter to them. And for the rest, there's not a single person who wants your one on one attention at that moment. It's the importance of the presence. It's the recognition. And so the more you can receive it, and the more they feel like they did a good thing. And they were so happy to be there to see him take in our friendship, to take in our love, to see him so alive and surrounded. And that is why we were there. And then maybe they connect amongst themselves, too. But every time I've gone to a birthday where a person is cheered, loved by a group of people, and everybody says basically how important it is that they are in his life or in that person's life, which is really what these people were telling you. You don't have to do much else.


You don't have to perform friendship. You just have to receive. Actually, it's an amazing experience. I mean, I almost would like you to go back. Then we do another one on day, whatever, and just go with that mindset.




Savor the fact that these people all cleared their time to just be there for you. And they want to tell you how important you are to them, and they hope that that makes them important to you. Bastard. That's it.


Yeah. I love that. And I am guilty of seeming like I was performing the act of friendship.


No, it's not that you performed the act. It's that you felt you have to give them something.




You have to earn it, actually.




You have to justify that they came when in fact, maybe no words and a real hug that just says, so good to see you is plenty. I think it's more I need to give something back. The friendship has to be mutual. They came, therefore I have to give something back. And what you give back is the fact that they feel important in your life. That is a big gift.


That's interesting. Yeah. The word expectation came into my head when you said that. I felt that they had expectations of me to behave a certain way or recount a certain thing.


It's like when people fly to a wedding for a friend, when they schlep from far to show up for someone. Really, the most important thing to do sometimes is to acknowledge every person by name. Why it matters to you that they are there. And really, a friendship is about knowing that you are important to someone and they are to you in a very special way. My life would not be the same without you in it. I'm so glad you have 50 days so that you can go and take what I'm telling you and try it out for size and let me know.


Well, shit. It's going to culminate in an actual big party that I know about on my actual birthday with a lot of people. So that I'm excited about, but I will put this to use.


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Agreed. I fully do. Because you must have had this experience where you're introduced to someone and you say, nice to meet you, and they say, oh, we've met before. And that is a feeling of disappointment that I don't like giving someone. So now I tend to say, nice to see you, and then they say, nice to meet you. And then it's a sign to me that we haven't met before.


So it's so interesting. I actually had a piece of this last night. I met the friend of a friend. And at first when she came up to me, it took a minute when she said, I'm such and such a friend. And then I couldn't remember her name, but she said it to me. But then she said, we had had this conversation before I was going back to France. And I said, yes, we were walking on Grand street, and I remember your father had just passed away. I was very sick at the time. And actually I didn't remember the name, but I remember the conversation. And I just thought, there's so many other ways to remember someone nice or I don't pretend anymore, but I think people understand it. And there was a professor of mine who used to say, so good to see you again all the time, and he had no idea who he was.


Talking to.


Because what is the issue? You feel that you are recognized, right? I matter. You remember me good, but I think everyone gets the situation you're in. But you know what? I want to stay at a birthday because you are going to turn 50, and it's going to be a big event, and you're going to be celebrated and held by people who really want to be there for whom you've made a difference and your family and your kids and other people. But there is something about friendship at a 50th. So imagine that we were working on together to create your little speech.




What would be important to say.


I suppose, letting everyone know. Yeah. How much it means to me that they're there, that they've taken the time to be at that singular event, but also have chosen to remain in our lives and in my life, as a friend, as a family member. That's so tricky, because I behave differently around different people sometimes. Right.


Say that.


So having all these people, like I remember in the past, yeah, you're all here.


And sometimes I think some of you probably are here, and I'm not sure I really deserve your presence. In the same way, I haven't been present or available or responsive to some of you the way that you may have been to me or the way I wished I had been for you. And yet you're here. And that means friendship sometimes goes beyond grades.


Well, I'm just realizing I was supposed to make a birthday speech now. Oh, shit.


Of course you will.


Yeah. But what is that, though? We've had events at our house before where we were hosting an event, and I don't know how to recover from the feeling that I'm disappointing them in my engagement if I've never met them before. I feel like I'm trying to read their mind on whether they are authentically pleased to be there or whether it was obligatory for them. I know, but this is what I doing. And then when I see an actual friend and I'm so excited that they're at this event as well, then while I'm in the middle of talking to them, someone who I haven't met comes up because they're being bold and want to say hello. I feel like the whole party goes on and I wind up in weird, different levels of disappoint.


But we're not doing an assessment of hosting, and you're hosting. Your whole attention is to them. Am I being kind? Am I not letting them down? Am I not disappointing?




And these people are coming to celebrate.




Of the event. So what they want, you can say. It's very hard for me to. I mean, it can be funny, too. I'm not asking you to do a eulogy and a solemn thing. That can be a lot of humor and it is about how hard it is for you to turn yourself from the host who makes sure that everybody has their drink in hand and everybody has somebody to talk into, the person who is the reason why you're all here. And then from that place, you really talk. It's a very vulnerable place, by the way, because it's the place that says, you all love me and I don't always deserve it or I don't always act accordingly. And yet it means the world to me. I mean, come on. There are people who celebrate their 50th alone. Way too many people. Way too many people do not have the gathering, the surrounding that is going to happen on that day. And that's the piece you want to hone in on. And look, they went out to do 50 days of creative stuff. It tells you how much thinking has gone into you.


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One thing I'm looking forward to at 50, I really don't feel aged, but I feel that 50 is like the second part of the life. Like up until recently, mid forty s, I still felt younger in my skin. And so I didn't feel that I could espouse wisdom or give the things I've learned without it feeling disingenuous in some way. I don't know why that's just me, but at 50, I've sort of drawn a line in my own sand, and I'm ready to start speaking with a bit of authority in things that I know about.


Yeah, I was remembering when I turned 60, my friend Priya Parker, who writes about the art of gathering, did a thing with all the guests that were there, and basically we were all standing in a huge kind of circle. And she just said, people who know Esther between zero and ten years old make a step into the circle. And then everybody just said their name and where they knew me from, because I had people from all my lives, all the various countries. I've lived in phases of my life, like you are going to have and then say one thing about Esther, zero to ten and then 1020, 30, 40. And I had my kids and I had the friends of my kids who know me from some of them since they were born. And it was an amazing way to acknowledge everybody.




And for everybody to realize who was there so that you didn't have to go and introduce anybody. Somebody said, I'm the friend from Paris and I knew Esther then and we did that. Or the image I have of her was. And then everybody could go by themselves and find each other.


I love that.


Take it.


Yeah, I'm going to. That's a great thing to do.


Or build on it. And I didn't have to introduce much of anybody to anybody after that.




To create the kind of career and surround you. Are you the one that people often say, you need to write to him three or four times before he finally returns?


Yeah, probably. My life is busy enough with different spokes of a wheel that I'm inevitably not following through on a few things when I choosing to follow through on a few other things, and so I have to just choose certain things, but inevitably, I didn't do the others. And so with that comes a whole lot of unread emails and flagged emails that haven't been responded to and texts that didn't get acknowledged. But I'm working on that. I wish there was a structure. I'm begging for it. Do you have a structure? I keep hoping the universe says, figure it out so that on Mondays you do this and on Tuesdays you do that hour on that. I don't know.


No, I don't function like that. What I do is sometimes I'm on the bike, I'm on the subway, I'm in the bathroom, and I'm sending. And so I basically send myself texts.


You send yourself texts?


Yes, I send myself texts with the people that I need to connect to. Oh, that's either return an answer and then I just go back. It's not a note, it's the text, because I'm on it and I just see, oh, I have to call. And then I sometimes will get up an hour early on occasion and just say, I'm going to call my brother. I'm going to call this friend. I need to check with that friend. And I think the calling is huge. I think voice messaging is huge for me. The voice is important. And so I say, how is so and so what's going on? And I said, let me just give you a quick snapshot of what we've gone through in the last few weeks, or I want to inquire about somebody's kid. So I send myself chronic reminders, and the list repeats the names I haven't.




So it takes a while, but they stay with me. And sometimes I send a sentence that just says, I haven't forgotten, but I want to answer you more properly than the one line. And so it may take a little while till I get to have the five minutes I want to say what I have to say. So it's not even that long. It just says, I haven't forgotten.


I'm errant in the. Just reaching out to someone to check in on them because they're my friend and I miss them.


So big. That's so big.


It's so big. I know. And I'm feeling bad about it right now because even with my parents or my sibling or there's a list of people, and again, it's like keeping those plates spinning. It's hard.


Can you ask your team to give you in the schedule of all the important things you do, a time every week that is called relationship time. Upkeep. Because in the end, you will find that you're doing everything else that is so important, but not the people.


That's super true.


Tell me something. I know that we have to begin winding down, but I'm just really curious. How is this conversation for you?


It's making me a little sweaty because I'm sort of recognizing the things I need to spend more time focusing on. And I don't know. With those realizations comes sort of nervous excitement, I guess. Beautiful, I suppose. Also a concern that I won't follow through. And so my brain is also firing kind of quickly to think, how can I not be performing this conversation right now, but be mindful of it when it's done and not say, this has been fun, and then what's next? And not marginalize it, but just compartmentalize it in its own way.


I do this with my patients when they have an assignment, and then they just send me a check.




Just to say I did it. But don't make a list of 55 people. Two people is plenty. But just two checks.




And I will never answer, but you will just know that you deposited in the accountability bank.


Okay, but do you have the thing on your text that say that you read it? Well, I know that you read it.


I will send you a semicolon.


I love it. That's the best communication ever.


This is so nice. Thank you so much.


Thank you. I need to call some friends that I haven't spoken to in a bit. I want to call some friends that I haven't spoken. Oh, boy.


Where should we begin? With Esther Perel is produced by magnificent noise. We're part of the Vox media podcast network in partnership with New York magazine and the Cut. Our production staff includes Eric Newsom, Eva Walshover, Destri Sibley Huete, Katana, Sabrina Farhi, Eleanor Kagan, Kristen Mueller, and Julian Hatton. Original music and additional productions by Paul Schneider and the executive producers of where should we begin? Are Esther Perel and Jesse Baker. We'd also like to thank Courtney Hamilton, Mary Alice Miller, Jen Marler and Jacksoll.