My best friend Kim dubbed me a film snob years ago, and she’s right. Much as I love movies, I won’t watch just anything; and if I dislike a film, I feel angry while the credits are rolling, because the movie wasted time I could have spent watching something good.So why would such a film snob be planning to dial up pay-per-view and order one of the most abysmally awful-looking, worst-reviewed movies of this past year (“Sex and the City 2”) the next time Joe is out of town for work, or has a nighttime obligation? Because no matter how terrible it is, the movie will allow me to enjoy, vicariously and for a little while, the feeling of being surrounded by girlfriends.
For most of my closest girlfriends are currently scattered across the country – Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota, Ohio – and although we e-mail fabulously dishy updates to each other now and then, the act of visiting each other has grown more difficult (which is to say, nearly impossible) as we’ve started families of our own.
Fortunately, we’re each pretty happy in our lives, and harbor no regrets about our choices; yet we’re all, I think, mourning the inevitable loss of the lovely, warm closeness that results from spending lots and lots of time together sharing meals, watching guilty pleasure TV shows and movies, celebrating accomplishments, and, of course, shopping.
I’ll confess that I was more than fashionably late in coming to the gal pal party. I lost sight of the value of girlfriends in high school while obsessing about my first forays into adolescent romance; and while I had girlfriends in college, I lost touch with many of them shortly after graduation.
Years later, though, when I was in grad school, I enrolled in an evening nonfiction writing workshop with a teacher who was both terrific, in terms of the lessons I retained, and profoundly toxic. She handed out bluntly harsh critiques of not only our essays, but also, oftentimes, the beliefs and confessions espoused within.
There were only seven of us, and many of us went out together after each class meeting to collectively lick our wounds. The ultimate consequence of this ritual was a relationship with three women who became the dearest friends I’d ever had.
I got to bask in the glow and enjoy that for two years, but our time together ended when we all completed the program, and home called two of us back to different parts of the Midwest.
Even so, I considered these women to be a second family – one I’d chosen for myself. And for a while, though scattered, we managed to meet at least once a year at a writing conference that was mostly about sharing a hotel room, gabbing non-stop, going out to quirky local restaurants, and – well – shopping. (Along the way, we were lucky enough to get two fabulous new additions to our pack, too.) We stood up in each other’s weddings; offered words of love and support when one marriage came apart; celebrated engagements, pregnancies, new jobs, and publications; and provided a collective shoulder when bad news arrived.
We still try to do these things for each other, of course. Two of my girlfriends traveled to spend a few days with me when I returned home from my mother’s memorial services in January 2009; another, just a few weeks ago, sent me a card for no other reason than to remind me that she’s thinking of me and loves me. But as several of us venture into parenthood – and thus create yet another chosen family to call our own – we’ve butted up against logistic hurdles that prevent us from even having a nice, long chat by phone (let alone an in-person visit). For even if you clear some time on your end, the likelihood is that the person you want to talk to about nothing in particular can’t spare an hour just then. And at times, I’ve worried that if/when my girlfriends need me in the future, my ability to respond as I’d like to will be severely curtailed.
I suppose this is inevitable, particularly when your friends are geographically scattered. But I still grieve the loss a little. My friends always made me feel like the wittiest, strongest, smartest version of myself, because that’s how they saw me. We took care of each other and, more than anything, we listened. Carefully. And that’s something that’s hard to come by.
After I’d earned my degree and moved back to Michigan, there were many times when I thought, how do adults get to be friends with each other, anyway? The workplace? Common interests? All my life, school had been the conduit for friendship; it was the only gateway I knew of – the only one most of us know. And because, upon reaching adulthood, many of us are consumed by our ever-more demanding jobs, our families, and the general responsibilities that come with being an adult, friendship ends up seeming like a luxury of youth.
For instance, I like many of the people I work with very much. But there’s a difference between breezily chatting with someone over lunch and asking that same person to see a movie with you, or to go on a mall run for some new shoes. Even if you were tempted to try to make that leap, you think, “I can’t squeeze that into my life just now, anyway.”
Which is why I, in this one way, envy young girls walking past me on the sidewalk in a pack. I know better than to envy them too much. Adolescence was hard enough to go through once; I have no desire to do it again. But these girls have time to provide each other with a safe, warm haven. And I know firsthand that that was a wonderful place to be.
So you bet I’ll be watching that crappy “Sex and the City” movie soon. Or maybe I’ll just watch some old episodes of the TV show instead. If it’s the latter, I’ll make sure to take in the one about Miranda’s mother’s death. On the day of the funeral, Carrie holds Miranda’s hand and spontaneously, lovingly kisses it; and although Samantha’s tried to keep her cancer diagnosis a secret for the moment, she’s pressed to reveal it at the end, and her friends instantly rally around her.
Call it girlfriend porn. The pure, unadulterated fantasy that various choices and obligations never intervene to separate you from your friends. And I certainly hold out hope for maintaining the friendships I have, and for making new ones down the road. But it’s hard to cram everything we want into what now seems the too-short days of a too-short life.