This weekend I got a bird's-eye view of three "friend duets" that began in high school or before and have continued through college graduations, first jobs in new cities, weddings, and now babies. The six women that comprise these separate sets of solid friendships were each on the wiser and maturer end of the female spectrum, even in the midst of angst-ridden teenage girlhood. So in a way, it's not really remarkable that they've remained the cool, calm and collected people that they were back when the rest of us were crying, as it were, over spilled milk.
Still, it was heartwarming to see these reunions of dear friends whose relationships now largely play out over electronic communication devices.
I have been thinking a lot about women's relationships with other women since we moved back to Maine. I think it is because I have been able to enjoy such a nice network of mostly new friends since that return. Many of these evolved out of my daughter's preschool scene. The mothers I met there have been refreshingly down-to-earth. They take their children and their mothering seriously, but not too seriously. And they don't take themselves very seriously at all. They're warm, engaging, funny and not at all competitive about much of anything. Except about maybe who has the most embarrassing temper tantrum story to share.
The return to Maine also meant leaving behind the job that consumed my life. Not only did that job distract me from my family time, it distracted me from the friendships I had going into the law firm world. When there was hardly time to have a conversation with my husband or put my daughter to bed, you can be darned sure that it was hard to find time for a girls' hour out.
Now, it's not like I'm oozing free time. It's nearly impossible to talk on the phone for more than 5 minutes, and meeting up usually involves children and the activities that entertain them. But I do now have the ability to make plans and know that no "work emergency" is going to force me to cancel. I can join a book club and go to New York City to meet my friend's newborn and host a play-date at my house. And in the process, I can make a new friend out of an old one.
The great thing about making new friends and new-old friends at this stage in my life is that so much of the drama is gone. The women in my circles are mostly settled in to who they are, and they require so much less validation of who that person is. There is far less cattiness, no talking behind backs, no surface-level judgments. In fact, most women I know embrace their quirks, and consider their unique perspectives to be the very things that make them attractive as a friend. Making fun of yourself is basically the lead-in to every conversation I have with a girlfriend these days.
Of course, we're not all solid packages of self-confidence. Everyone probably wishes something about them looked different, or that they made more money, or that their kids were better behaved, or that their husband stopped acquiring livestock. (That last one might just be me.) The great thing is that the degree of those insecurities has been toned way down from the years when saying the "wrong thing" could lead to cruel mockery and burning shame, and when wearing the "wrong thing" could lead to a feigned illness and an afternoon spent home from school.
If you've read about 1 of my previous posts, you can probably imagine that I was slightly off-center when it came to fitting in at school. I was teased for being a bookworm, teased for my frizzy curly hair, teased for not going to parties, teased for not being more like my sisters. While I finally made some friends -- even some great friends -- I never felt settled. Not within myself, and not within my relationships.
Today, there is still a long list of things about myself I wish would improve, but I am basically okay with who I am. And I am more than okay with the friendships I am lucky enough to have. I have friends that I only see during drop-off or pick-up, but who are always good for a quick chat and easy laugh. I have friends I see with somewhat more regularity, friends who I see only randomly but with whom I quickly and easily reconnect, and a small group of friends who are either my biological sisters or my close-enough ones. I am so happy to have them all, and so relieved to have reached the stage of my life where I can peacefully enjoy each of them.
I now understand what Oprah and Today show contributors always love to talk about: the value of female friendships. A grown-up girlfriend listens to your rambling, internal debate on whether you should get a nanny or send your child to daycare. She helps you pick up the casserole you dropped on the floor and make it look presentable to the dinner guests you're about to feed. She disciplines your kid without making it look like she just did that, and she still loves your kid almost as much as you do. She reminds you that you are a fun, intelligent person whose title is not "Mommy." She helps you shop for a dress for your rehearsal dinner because she knows you will otherwise show up in the colorblock shift dress you wore to your high school graduation. She doesn't judge you when you cry for no reason you can identify. She can tell something is off with you just by the state of your housework. She makes you feel somewhat sane by acting somewhat insane, some of the time.
She is awesome. She makes the old struggle to "fit in" worth it.
Unfortunately, that struggle is probably something all girls have to endure.
Fortunately, it's not something most women do.