The Friendship Doctor

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Angelina: Is Loneliness the Price of Success?

The challenges of a woman being ahead of the pack are formidable.

By outward appearances, 35-year-old Angelina Jolie seems to have it all: beauty, six incredible kids, and a life partner considered one of the most attractive men in the world. Her career success has also been meteoric; she's won an Oscar, two SAG awards and three Golden Globes. Earnings estimated at more than $20 million per year make her one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood.

Yet, in a satellite interview with CNN's Sanjay Gupta earlier this month, she said, "I don't have a lot of friends I talk to."

Angelina was on the ground in Pakistan, in her role as UN Goodwill Ambassador, to bring international media attention to the plight of families with young children in aid camps whose lives have been torn apart by floods and other disasters.

Her comment came in response to a pointed question from Gupta about whether she could adequately convey the scope of what she witnessed to her friends back home. Angelina responded that she would tell her husband (Brad Pitt) and her older children about her experiences.

So why would this exceptional woman, an accomplished actress and humanitarian, seem to be bereft of close friends? Given the horrors of what she's seen, isn't she dying to call a gal pal each time she returns home to catch up, unload her despair, recharge, and talk about her hopes for the future? Doesn't she feel the need to chat with another working mom about how hard it is to do it all?

In some ways, Angelina may be like the rest of us. We're so busy juggling marriage, career and/or motherhood that close friendships periodically take a back seat to other pressures. Maybe she has some free time but friends or friends-to-be incorrectly presume she's so busy---and her world so full---that there's no space for them. She's likely grown apart and moved away from her childhood and high school friends; most of us have.

The challenges of a woman being ahead of the pack are formidable. It's hard to trust other women when you have so much more and your celebrity makes you appear untouchable. Or, perhaps, Angelina just doesn't feel like she needs girlfriends right now. After all, she's created a supportive "village" of her own.

Depending on the woman and everything else going on in her life, there are times when the need for female friends is more or less important, and when opportunities are more or less available. Yet, a dearth of friendships is often one of the costs that many high-achieving women pay for celebrity and success.

Just between us, what are your thoughts?

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.


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