Elinor Lenz, an educational consultant, and Barbara Myerhoff, an anthropologist, were already friends when they set out to research a book on women's friendships.

It began as a business relationship about 15 years ago. Lenz, then connected with UCLA, invited Myerhoff, 12 years her junior, to sit on a committee with her.

"It started off as a purely professional relationship, but you know how it is with women," says Lenz. "It's hard to restrict it to a purely professional relationship if you have things in common and you like each other."

Myerhoff's death from lung cancer earlier this year put a premature end to a close friendship that in many ways was classic.

"It was fairly typical of women's friendships," says Lenz, "in that it excluded our husbands . . . even though we both had good strong marriages at the time we met. Myerhoff and her husband later divorced. In fact, our husbands never met each other. Both of us women had very demanding kinds of jobs and were writing outside as well. The jobs took up the extra time there might have been, so we didn't socialize as couples.

"We were a support system for each other. We had practically the same set of values. That doesn't always happen . . . We talked at great length. We met for lunch, we talked on the phone when we could . . ."

We became very close . . . We told each other things we never thought of telling our husbands. There were just certain topics we felt were not within their frame of reference."

The book, The Feminization of America, eventually broadened in scope. "We found," says Lenz, "we could not extricate women's friendships from the totality of their lives . . ."

Myerhoff died in January, 10 months before the book's publication.