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Friendships Are to be Cherished

December 16, 2016 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

Bette Midler sang about it: "You got to have friends." They are our lifeline. They are our cheerleaders and our allies. They are the people who, along with family, form the core of our lives and keep us grounded.   

We are nourished by them. We confide in them. We trust them. We turn to them for advice, and they, in turn, turn to us. And we listen rather than judge. We have fun, laugh and analyze with them while engaged in similar pursuits—movies, books, sports, politics, shopping, theater, music, book groups, even gossip. We nibble, schmooze and toast happy events together: marriages, anniversaries, children, grandchildren, and accomplishments. We do for them and cry for them when life throws a curve: divorces, deaths, dealing with aging sick parents, and kids. We apologize when we inadvertently hurt their feelings and vice versa. Once we calm down, things go back to normal because friends are supposed to forgive. 

And like many others, we each have a galaxy of friends with some in closer orbit, some more distant, some more for laughs, and some for serious political discussions. 

And we definitely know what a good friendship is. The two of us have a very close one of more than 31 years. It takes hard work much like preserving a good marriage. Setting boundaries and sticking to them, showing respect and trust. We met as friends and soon thereafter started writing together. As freelance writers in a solitary profession, we quickly learned the value of sharing an idea, sentence or article with someone whom we can count on.

Everyone seemed to want to know how we could possibly work together and make it work. We learned early on, almost instinctively that it was important not to inflict hurt feelings but understand that criticism is constructive if said with compassion and caring. This trust spilled over into our personal lives. After we each endured a major loss of a spouse after long-term marriages—one due to death and the other to divorce--we were there for each other to navigate new lives, including listening to each other’s dating experiences, and sometimes laughing so hard we had to pee. That’s what good friends do. 

In addition, we had our Greek chorus of other friends whose attention and acts of kindness mitigated some of the pain. They circled the wagons and stayed put while we repeated our stories ad nauseum, took us out, held our hands, and listened as we cried. There were some who didn't understand the importance that friends can offer during sad times, and beyond the first year when we suddenly were supposed to be okay. But our closest pals stuck with us as we healed very slowly. When we finally regained our sea legs, we were besieged with questions of how we managed to cope alone so well. We didn't always but knowing we had friends cheering us on kept us afloat.   

Each of us has a successful track record of several long-term relationships and is tenacious about holding on to those friendships. We feel the value of history is priceless in understanding where we came from, who our family members were, and why we sometimes did and do what we do. Three of Margaret’s closest friendships were made in grade school and two others in 8th grade. These relationships have stood the test of time.

Barbara’s longest-term friend dates from age 4, when they lived next door to one another. They’re still good buds, in touch wherever each lives, and Barbara always includes this friend at every family celebration. She also has other childhood friends and the closest version of a sister in a woman she met when she lived in an apartment building in the late 1980s for eight years; they visit each other at least once or twice a year and the husband is almost like a brother. 

Yet, no matter how strong friendships may seem, they fluctuate, evolve and can dissolve for all sorts of reasons. Interests and values change, people move away, marriage to someone we don’t care for can drive a wedge between old friends, cross words left hanging like a chad can undermine a friendship unless discussed, expectations may not be the same, and in some cases, a friendship simply runs its course. We try to find out why, and if we said or did something hurtful, apologize or make up for it, make adjustments, and when none of these works, we try to accept that it’s over and walk away. As difficult as this may be, we have come to terms with some sad endings. 

A former neighbor, with whom Margaret had been friendly for almost 40 years, suddenly stopped speaking to her. When Margaret reached out to find out why, there was no response to emails or phone calls. Another friend, whom she met 15 years ago through her youngest son, was there unconditionally for Margaret when her husband died. She was someone to laugh with, analyze with, sip wine with, just hang out with. She was fun, smart, and caring. And then poof. She stopped responding to Margaret’s emails and calls. Both endings still hurt. 

Barbara can attest to this, too. One friend didn’t feel she was sympathetic to her multiple pets’ losses; Barbara asked to discuss this disagreement calmly in person. The friend insisted there could be no dialogue unless Barbara apologized exactly as she wanted. Another friendship, which involved a couple, who was there for Barbara unconditionally during her divorce proceedings, had begun to lose its vigor once Barbara moved away and became healthier. Barbara found herself always reaching out to them with little reciprocity, and conversations became a monologue when together about their family with little interest in hers or Barbara’s beau of four years. Another friendship became too emotionally draining as the friend relayed the same woes without taking any action. The old Barbara would try and try again to make things right in each case. The new Barbara at 65+ decided she wasn’t going to be the one who makes all the concessions to accommodate others’ needs, particularly as she puts forth more energy for an aging mom, two daughters, and grandson.  

Although we lose friends, we make new ones who fit into our current lives. We meet someone in a class, support group, apartment complex, neighborhood coffee shop, book club, event, grocery store, wine shop, and start chatting. We click. “Let’s have lunch,” we say, and do. There’s a connection. We also have formed some untraditional alliances at 50+. Margaret’s mother is gone, but she still tries to spend time and do lunch with her best friend’s mother who is 94. She sometimes refers to Margaret as her third daughter. And a childhood friend of Margaret’s youngest sister (14 years younger) has reached out to Margaret to be her friend. In another twist, Margaret’s youngest sister has become friendly with Barbara since they live in proximity to each other. It’s great to be able to share friends and siblings and boy, do we have fun when we’re all together.  

Now that Barbara’s mother is 97 years old with dwindling friends, Barbara shares her friends with her mother to keep her involved in conversations and world events. Her mother has become the sage storyteller, the Jewish Scheherazade, and many of Barbara’s friends are quick to invite her mother. Barbara who finds her life increasingly pressure filled still welcomes new friends when she finds a strong connection. She made a much younger friend when each was having a pedicure, connected with a childhood neighbor through a mutual friend, and made friends with a couple when attending various events in her town; they’re now also friends of her beau. 

The danger with any friendship is that it can be quite easy in our busy lives to take it for granted. However, like anything else worth putting time into, we have learned to cherish them (and our partnership). It’s not a matter of adding another friend to your Facebook account, but doing it the old fashioned way with a telephone call and best of all a face-to-face visit. 




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