You’re Thelma and Louise (Susan Sarandon and Gena Rowlands), female buddies and societal outlaws in the movie by the same name; C.C. Bloom (Bette Midler) angling to become BFFs with Hillary Witney (Barbara Hershey) in “Beaches,” or Elise Elliot (Goldie Hawn), Brenda Morelli (Bette Midler), Annie MacDuggan (Diane Keaton), and Cynthia Swann (Stockard Channing) plotting to get back at their husbands who dumped them in another movie, “First Wives Club.”
“Let’s be friends” may be among the three most important monosyllables in our female lives. Of course, you can have good guy friends, but here we’re talking about female bonds, which are different. These typically propel deeper action. Each of us is hard wired to seek and make gal pals. True friendship is something most all of us need. Human contact. Connectedness and understanding. Someone to trust. Someone we are happy for and care about other than ourselves, and who cares about us. We share secrets, gossip, heartaches, and happy times whether shared face to face, on the phone, or online. Truth be told, those who have friends tend to live healthier, longer, and richer lives.
Friendships made in childhood are different than those formed as adults. In school, you and your best friends studied together, shared an interest in science and books, poked fun at a teacher, sang in the chorus, competed in volleyball, shared a table in art class, were part of the school swim team, ate at the same lunch table every day or attended the same summer camp, and had a soul mate to cry with over lost loves and parental disappointments and punishments. Friendships were built on common interests because you both were in the same place at the same time.
In becoming friends early in life, you created a shared history. And, if you were lucky, those friendships endured the test of time. Margaret is still best friends with someone she met in third grade. No one knows her better. They lived at each other’s homes as kids, traveled together at age 19 to Europe for nearly three months, and when they talk today, even if it hasn’t been for months, they can take up where they left off. Author Alice Hoffman’s words from her book, “The Marriage of Opposites,” are so true: “Whoever knows you when you are young can look inside you and see the person you once were and maybe still are at certain times.” Barbara’s longest friendship dates from when she and one neighbor were three years old and had a phone line to each other’s homes made out of tin cans. They experimented in the kitchen with disastrous chocolate chip cookies with far too much salt, went off to summer camp one year together, commiserated about guys in high school, and even spent time at the same women’s college.
As adults, we have to work harder to meet and make new friends—put ourselves in the right place and in the right mindset to invite others into our lives. Invited to a dinner party? It’s a perfect opportunity for you to sit down next to someone and strike up a conversation. Perhaps, join a garden club? Social inhibitions tend to dissolve when a group of strangers enters a new environment. Maybe, you hang out in happy hours, do lunches, work together and chat at the water cooler, attend a class, have children or grandchildren the same ages at the same schools. Margaret was in the same high school class with a person she never befriended until they both had boys who were in kindergarten together. The boys were immediately drawn to each other and consequently the mothers became good friends. When the boys hit high school, they went their separate ways but the two women have remained friends. Barbara made one of her best friends after their 40th high school reunion; they had never talked during those years but instantly connected over being divorced after long-term marriages ended and each having two daughters. And she also gets together every few months for a gals’ weekend with two grade-school buddies—one from kindergarten and one from second grade.
Each of us has different friends for different reasons–friends who make us laugh, with whom we like to cook, discuss books, run or row with, be a friend with on Facebook, meet while rock climbing or under stressful circumstances where the bond is even stronger such as being part of a support group after the loss of a spouse or parent, as Margaret learned. Some are friends simply to relax with because they go down easy like a good cognac.
Friendships evolve differently, too. Some friendships happen like a high speed chase and are short-lived. The person might be fun at first, but it turns out she’s too needy and clingy. Others take time to nurture because they’re shy or reticent to add to their stable yet both discover they want to be in the friendship for the long haul. Barbara and Margaret met through a mutual friend more than 30 years ago and after researching and writing their first book together. They became not only close buddies but great writing companions as well, and neither is now friendly with the woman who introduced them as she pulled away. Even though Barbara moved to a new city to start a new life, with today’s technology old friends can remain friends (and writing partners) through texts, emails and facetime. Barbara also maintains friendships with several couples with whom she was close with in her two former hometowns. Again, social media has made this easier to do.
Many friendships become fixed or, like a mortgage, can be adjusted as behaviors that initially formed a bond, may become less important as lives and values change. One of Margaret’s friends decided that another mutual friend has become so set in her ways and provincial in her thinking that they now have little in common. They still get together but only in groups… and for very short periods of time.
And sometimes friendships are irreparable. They break apart like a priceless antique that can’t be glued together again. The falling out can turn on a nasty comment or unsympathetic, unforgiving response to a personal issue. Barbara “lost” one friend who wouldn’t forgive her when she wouldn’t give her her house to sell since Barbara had worked well with another real estate salesperson, who later became a friend. Did the other person deserve the contract? Barbara and her then-spouse decided definitely not, and the friend promised never to speak to her again. She has kept her word.
And some friendships end, permanently or temporarily, for unknown reasons; what’s now termed “ghosting.” One of the friends simply vanishes into thin air; pouf. Margaret was friendly with a female divorce attorney who suddenly stopped speaking to her or answering emails. Margaret was clueless as to why the break occurred. The attorney eventually moved to a new city. A similar situation happened to Barbara and a high-school buddy, whom she thinks was annoyed at her then-husband. She sent several notes asking if they or she had made some huge faux pas—before email was prevalent. The friend never responded.
So what’s the basis of a good friendship? It’s so different for each person; some need a close intimate connection; others prefer more superficial banter but caring.
And how does one go about making and investing in new friends? What if you’re not good at meeting new people, is there hope? Some people find it difficult. Perhaps they are shy, or feel they lack the social skills to start a conversation. Our suggestions include:
- Join groups. Volunteer with a nonprofit, find a book club at the local library if you’re a reader. If you own an antique Mercedes, join the Mercedes club. Like to bike? There are bike riding groups to join or walking and hiking clubs. And if you’re a college grad, join a club in your area as Barbara did; she also joined the website for her sleepaway camp.
- Ask your family and friends to introduce you to others at events they’re attending. You can also do so with work friends and members of a church or synagogue you belong to.
- Participate in social situations. When friends get together for Friday night drinks or birthday lunch celebrations, ask to be included, even if you’re skeptical. Sometimes, you have to be a bit bolder than you’d like. You can also take the initiative and invite others to your home for cocktails, dinners, or lunches. If a friendship doesn’t develop, so what! It’s only one meal.
- Make a determined effort. When you talk to someone new for the first time, look them in the eye, smile and ask questions about what they do, like to do and their families. You can fill them in later about you. People like when others show interest, particularly now when the age of narcissism is rampant.
- Observe good minglers. Watch and listen to how people who seem to have great social skills and make friends easily interact, or even note friendships from the movies, plays, and books. Yes, social skills can be learned.
Friendships feed on love, time, attention, and trust. Whether in the movies or real life, they ebb and flow and sometimes die when they outlive their connectedness. When they make us feel wounded and not good about ourselves, it might be time to break the bond and move on. But sometimes it’s best not to do so harshly and say unkind words, but instead leave the window or door a bit ajar so you can step back into each other’s lives if situations change again. After all, life is short, so maybe it’s best to take the approach of just in case rather than never again.
To decide how to handle an impasse when friendships hit a real fork in the road, read next week’s blog, Part 2, “Can This Friendship be Saved?”