Jacqueline Novak and Kate Berlant aren't wellness gurus. They're comedians, best pals, and hosts of the podcast Poog (spell it backwards), which adds hilarious inquiry to talk of squalane oil and hard kombucha. But they are very legitimate experts on at least one topic: how a healthy friendship can lead to a healthier life.
Read on, then listen to an exclusive episode of The Allure Podcast featuring Novak and Berlant in conversation with Senior Writer Brennan Kilbane.
Jacqueline Novak: Our friendship began in the belly of the beast that is stand-up comedy. Stand up is a weird, crass world.
Kate Berlant: Stand-up is different from when we started, honey. Now it's for hot people. When we started, it was for nerds and the hideous. Then one day, it was like Jacqueline and I, seeing one another across the bar. [Berlant acts out a brief moment of recognition.] "Hi!"
Novak: Oh, my God, exactly! "Hello?"
Berlant: "You also do this?"
Novak: There was a bond, or a recognition of qualities. And then the brothers-in-arms bonding of comedy festivals. You and me in those hotel rooms, cackling in the beds at night…
Berlant: Talking shit…
Novak: Sharing a hotel room is pretty significant. And by sharing a hotel room, I mean sharing a bathroom, right? Oh, but here's another stage of our friendship: Me and you sharing a bed at that bed-and-breakfast.
Berlant: That's what I was going to say! We performed at Bard College, my alma mater. And it's before Airbnb — this is a true B&B. Jacqueline and I arrive at 11 p.m., with Chex Mix and Cup Noodles…
Novak: My nightmare. To be clear, I actually adore Cup Noodles, but the only thing open was a 7-Eleven. We get to the place, we open the door, and there are these stairs. And then we see a man… Was he in boxers?
Berlant: I think he was in a bathrobe.
Novak: And he's just like [Novak adopts the expression of a confused uncle], "Girls?" [Novak and Berlant erupt into laughter.] But we shared a bed. And I have restless legs. I kicked through the night, and you suffered that.
Berlant: I have a really strong memory of waking up at 3 a.m., and you were sitting up in bed with your headphones on, just rocking back and forth. And I was like, "This bitch…"
Novak: That sounds deranged. Was I asleep?
Berlant: No, I think you were awake!
Novak: I think the joke of our friendship dynamic is anxious-avoidant. Kate is anxious about getting lunch dates on the books, which makes me avoidant. She feels me resisting and she goes harder to lock down the lunch. [But] Poog has solved any issues around that dynamic because Kate is now built in to my week.
Berlant: Let's just say I text you something and you don't respond. I'm fine.
Novak: You know I love you. You know it's coming.
Berlant: I know if I'm having a breakdown or a full thing, you'll be there. If I text you something and you don’t text back, I'm not like, "Bitch!"
Novak: I try to communicate to people that if it's an emotional emergency, tell me, and then I'll be on instantly. I'll drop everything. It's confusing when it's all mixed together and every text or phone call is given this same weight of obligation. I also keep coming back to, as an adult, if it's not working out naturally with someone, why maintain it? We're not trapped in a school system.
Berlant: The shared understanding of each other's limits and an encouragement not to resist them. I'm not even sure I should be saying this, but…yesterday I was microdosing on mushrooms and was getting very moved by my friendship with Jacqueline.
Novak: She’s lying around being moved.
Berlant: I FaceTimed her being like, "If she doesn't pick up, that's completely fine." When she picked up, I was so overwhelmed with joy.
Novak: I believe you were on the floor, writhing between cat and cow [poses]. I think a friendship is almost like a space that you occupy with someone. We have our room. And we do certain things in our room.
Berlant: That is a fucking genius way to approach all relationships. We need different rooms for different people!
Novak: I guess the podcast is us broadcasting from the room, a room with skin care and books mixed in with equal enthusiasm. If you were just my critical theory friend, that wouldn't be as fun.
Berlant: [Laughs] That’s part of Poog. It allows us to talk about existential crises, while being anchored in the uncomplicated and unintellectual reality of serum.
Novak: And if our "room" is full of products bought in panic and fury, that's okay.
Berlant: Of course, my dream is us, elderly, dying next to each other in twin beds. There's something really comforting about when you feel like you're in a friendship that will endure. It's exciting in a way you don't get with romantic attachment. "Oh, we'll grow old together, but we won't have to sacrifice ourselves." Because of my life, [it's] always suggested I follow these Instagram therapists. I saw this one talking about letting friends go. She said the average friendship lasts a cycle of seven years.
Novak: I never trust wisdom that involves specific numbers.
Berlant: Relationships require maintenance, and sometimes you disengage and come back together. But there’s also something real about what you're describing, Jacqueline, about reaching a certain age and realizing you don't have to maintain a friendship that doesn't actively make you feel good. I'm speaking specifically about relationships between women, where the stakes are so high. Attachment between women is really intense.
Novak: Absolutely. I remember self-help author Deborah King talking about giving yourself permission not to go home around the holidays if your family brings you down. It’s not like obligation equals closeness. My other friend Erica and I are till the end, and we go months without talking, and when we do, we just enjoy it. Shall we spend time assessing whether the friendship is on track or enjoying each other's company when we have it? I just want to feel a sense of relaxation.
Berlant: We assume we're relaxed around our friends, but that's so not the case.
Novak: What does it mean to be relaxed with friends? To not have to hide, to be imperfect, to be comfortable laying out your thoughts and feelings, live, as they're unfolding. And then you have your little roles within a friendship that can be fun. Like, Kate enjoys when I "free" her, okay? I go in with some targeted perspective when I see an area where I think I can free her. [Laughs]
Berlant: Truly. She really does free me. Recently I was spiraling about something, and I kept saying, "Thank God for the friendship. Thank God for the friendship." Friendship is the most important thing in our lives by far, I would argue.
Novak: Maybe that's why I get so annoyed when people use the term "good friend" as if it's a singular definition that applies across all relationships. A romantic relationship, a spouse, comes with fucking thousands of years of associations and expectations cooked into our collective memory. Friendships should look like whatever they naturally look like. It's the wildflower garden instead of the hotel landscape. I love the individuality of a given friendship.
Berlant: My intimate friendships are as valuable to me as my romantic relationships.
Novak: When you fantasize about the [dying in the] twin beds…you said 80s. I prefer to say we're 115.
Berlant: We'll be into our 100s.
Novak: With all these new light therapies, it will be grand. I remember my grandmother and her best friend were ultimately in the same care facility. Both of their husbands were passed on at this point, and we went and visited and asked how it all was. My grandmother's best friend goes, "It's fantastic. We do whatever we damn well please."
Berlant: I take so much comfort in that. If you're a woman who is partnered with a man, he's gonna die first. Then you're finally free to hang out with your best friend.
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