A Friend in Need?

Soul SistersMany of us can recall the heartbreaking realization that a friend “used” us.

Young girls are capable of very advanced manipulation tactics. Perhaps a grade-school friend came to your house only to play with your “As Seen on TV” toys, or a middle-school girl visited to watch movies her own parents banned. In high school, friends might have feigned closeness just to borrow your cute clothes or to catch a glimpse of your college-age brother.

In elementary school, kids came to my house to meet our family’s pet monkey. Later, it was to “spy” on my older brothers and their friends, or to eat the bountiful, unhealthy snacks my mother stocked. (A wonderful life-long friend recently admitted she stopped by my house after school just for Pop-Tarts.) The fact that I – my parents’ sixth child – didn’t have a curfew made my home a draw for those who were “over-served” and wanted to avoid their own parents.

Adult women “use” their friends, as well.

I recently rekindled a friendship with someone who was going through a painful divorce.  Over the course of a few years, we met every now and then for long walks, during which I listened with interest and sympathy to her personal and legal struggles. The last time we strolled around, some six months ago, she spoke elatedly about her new relationship with a seemingly terrific man. I haven’t heard from her since. Apparently I was just her “rainy day friend,” and that’s okay.

A younger friend calls only when she needs parenting advice. I’m no expert, but with four kids older than hers, I can pass on wisdom gained from a host of experiences. Several acquaintances have contacted me to edit their kids’ college essays or theses.

Most women in long-term relationships discover, at some point, that their spouse or partner isn’t an absolutely perfect companion. For instance, my husband dislikes watching films with subtitles, falls asleep during classical-music concerts, feels ill after Mexican food and definitely detests “chick flicks.” He’d rather read World War II history than Stieg Larssen novels, finds shopping agitating and lacks the knack for foreign languages.

Fortunately, we can appreciate a variety of friends who fill our disparate needs. With limited time for personal entertainment, we give ourselves permission to pigeon-hole our pals, and enjoy their occasional company for specific activities or events without our husbands or kids. When an old friend calls out of the blue with an extra ticket to the ballet, we’re thrilled, and don’t resent the months during which we hadn’t heard from her.

One of my friends is a “culture companion.”  Our social circle suffered a rift a few years ago, but she and I continue to get together to attend literary lectures or museum exhibitions. While we don’t meet often, we always value our time together.

Some of my friends are strictly “bleacher buddies”; we only spend time together during our sons’ sporting events. We feel close while cheering and analyzing strategy, and then, after the season ends, we go months without speaking. I have “pooch pals” who I never see unless we’re walking our dogs.

Several “amiche” (plus one male) and I gather outside of Italian class only to watch foreign films or celebrate occasions as the Romans do. I’m friendly with some very fun “goodtime gals” (see photo) who convene several times a year for GNOs and birthday celebrations; although I adore these ladies, we rarely call each other between outings. Several of my fellow book club members and I don’t converse apart from our literary discussions.

I know several women who have grown close to those who diet, exercise, shoe shop or stop smoking with them, and most of us know an AA member who found friendship in a sponsor or support-group peer.

As I age, I treasure my friends more than ever. Most of all, I appreciate their unique gifts, and the knowledge that no matter what I’m going through personally, or however I want to spend my “spare” time, I can think of someone to call. Many women live their lives with husbands or partners who can’t be all things at all times. Fortunately, we have no legal limit to the number of friends we can keep.

–Linda Williams Rorem, 18 July 2011

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