Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Joy of Girlfriends


                                               Mary Connolly Breiner (r) and me - 1977      

I was talking recently with a neighbor who told me "I don't like or trust women. The people I preferred to work with and my closest friends are men."

I felt sorry for her. Some of my dearest friends are men, too.  But girlfriends -- women friends -- are more numerous and especially treasured.

Our girlfriends are there in each phase of our life, to share joy and tears and growing, and some of them stay in our hearts forever.

I think of childhood friends like Pat Hill, Mary Laing and Sue Blum with whom I played and dreamed growing up -- and who remain dear to this day.

I think of high school and college friends like Eileen Loubet Adams, Suse Harper-Yates, Jeanne Nishida Yagi, Ruth Woodling, Lorri Scace, Cheryl Rennix and Georgia Watson with whom I shared and share growing experiences and new discoveries.

There have been work friends -- so many wonderful women, including just about everyone I knew at 'TEEN Magazine.

There were the friends from acting  -- Barbara Ferrell, Mura Kievman, Joyce Johnson, Barbara Brownell and Robyn Gerrard -- who commiserated and celebrated all our disappointments and triumphs during those memorable years and who are still close to my heart.

And then there are the new friends of my young old age here at Sun City Anthem: Phyllis Skurda, Kim Tuomi, Louise Putrick, Pat Cosentino, Judith Anderson, Mary Gooday and Linda Kennedy to share this latest passage as a family of friends. And then there are some new and treasured women friends in the blogging community who bring a wonderful new sense of connection.

But most of all, I think of Mary Connolly Breiner, whom I met when she joined the staff of  'TEEN Magazine, and who has been so special throughout the forty years of our friendship.

In some ways, Mary and I grew up worlds apart. She was the youngest daughter of a famous novelist and screenwriter and grew up on the beach in star-studded Malibu Colony. I grew up in decidedly more modest circumstances.

But Mary and I shared some essential experiences. Alcohol had an impact on both our families. And we found solace in faith. At one point, I had dreamed of becoming a nun.  Mary actually was a nun for ten years. Her first job post-convent was at 'TEEN. We all tip-toed around her for a week or so until her wicked, edgy sense of humor became apparent and she was, in an instant, one of the group.  We both dreamed of becoming psychotherapists, but Mary, quite wisely, acted on her dream years before I did. She attended graduate school every weekend for several years while working at 'TEEN. I watched in awe, unwilling to give up weekend fun to create a new career opportunity. Besides, writing was my present and future. But the dream stayed alive and, years later, I enrolled in graduate school at night while working full time. Mary, by that time a seasoned and successful psychotherapist, was there every step of the way with encouragement and guidance.

We supported each other through love relationships that didn't work out -- and also those that did. We stayed close at our weddings and ever after. She was by my side the day I married Bob in 1977 and I was equally present and thrilled when she married John in 1985. He was -- and is -- the love of her life. They met while working at a major corporation - he as an executive in the international division, she as a therapist in EAP. John was Catholic, a widower and had three wonderful children -- Matt and Liz in college and little Katie, 9, who was born less than a year before her mother had died of cancer. Mary embraced her instant family with joy. Even when a corporate merger early in their marriage cost them their jobs and turned their world upside down, Mary and John never wavered in their love for each other. And when he sustained a severe head injury in an accident several years ago, Mary was filled with gratitude that she didn't lose him and she eventually retired from her private practice to care for John and to enjoy the pleasure of his company full-time.

Through the years, I've often thought that our friendship isn't a typical girlfriends' relationship: we've never been shopping together or cried through a chick flick together. We have never lived close to each other and so haven't been in and out of each other's houses on a daily basis. Our friendship isn't based on doing as much as being. We will sit down together in person or on the phone and tell each other what's really happening, what we're truly feeling, memories that linger and dreams that beckon. We laugh a lot. And we're not ashamed to share our less virtuous thoughts and feelings. She knows all my faults and likes me anyway. I don't think she has any faults, but if she did, I'd still like her, too. Her love and acceptance feels unconditional. And I know I'd love her no matter what.

In those ways, I suspect that we are typical: girlfriends listen, girlfriends share feelings.

Girlfriends know when you want to vent and will be there for you without rushing in with a solution.

Girlfriends have the patience to listen to all the details of each other's lives -- and to remember.

Girlfriends are there for you in good times and the devastating times of life. Mary appeared, as if by magic, at my parents' funerals and at Aunt Molly's graveside service. At the latter, I faltered and broke into tears as I tried to read Emerson's definition of success while Aunt Molly's urn was lowered into the grave. Suddenly, there was a supportive arm around me and a voice joined with mine in reading the conclusion.. "to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." I knew it was Mary even before she spoke -- and thought how much those words applied to her as well as to Aunt Molly.

Girlfriends aren't afraid to be vulnerable and to say "I love you!"

One of the few negatives of leaving Los Angeles for Arizona last year was moving 500 miles away from dear friends -- especially Mary, whose husband needs her 24/7 and isn't strong enough to make the trip over to visit. When I visited her on her birthday this year, we hugged and cried and said "I love you!" over and over. And, since my birthday was only a week before, she had a gift for me, too: two wood carved girlfriends holding each other close.

That's what we do with our girlfriends: we hold each other close through all the changes and challenges, storms and sunshine of our lives -- even when miles apart.

                                                          

22 comments:

  1. You are fortunate to have such friends in your life. Do you find that it is more difficult to make meaningful friendships as you get older?

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  2. I really do feel fortunate and, yes, it seems that it's easier to make friends in earlier years. I found it very hard to add to my circle of friends in California and, in fact, as an older person, felt somewhat isolated in my old neighborhood. Since we moved to Arizona and to this brand new community, making friends has been easy and such a blessing. The difference is that we're all new, all from somewhere else and want to make friends. So I think that's what makes the critical difference.

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  3. What a lovely post and what a lovely friend you have kept. So glad you are still in each other's lives.Love the carving.
    I prefer male friends for fun but girl friends for understanding, support and ease. Women will have your back when it isn't convenient to do so.
    Arkansas Patti

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  4. Since I am quite shy and I probably would score high on "Are you an Introvert?" test, it was and is not easy for me to make friends.
    Over the years I have had shopping and going to the movies girlfriends, but those relationships fade away with time, circumstances and distance.
    It is true, at this stage in life, it is more difficult to build the foundation that it takes to have that treasured relationship.
    As I am going through a most difficult time in my life right now, one of my biggest regrets is that I never learned the "art" of friendship.

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  5. I love the women in my life, even more so as I age. Who else can I compare notes with? Who will laugh with me until I cry?

    Great post.

    Pearl

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  6. Thanks so much for your comments, #1 Nana, Patti and lyndagrace. Yes, Patti, I think having both male and female friends is ideal. I treasure both. Lyndagrace, I'm so sorry that you're going through a difficult time in your life right now. Sometimes during such times, it's a temptation to withdraw from the friends we do have, especially if introverted. My heart goes out to you.

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  7. I am blessed with good friends and am very thankful for them. I can´t imagine going through life without friends. They are all that you wrote and you did so beautifully.

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  8. First, Thank you my dear friend. LOL. I can understand your friend's feelings. In the 60's after leaving home and working, I realized I couldn't stand women. Back then, they were petty, gossipy, vindictive, and jealous. I was still essentially a teenager. I'm speaking of older women. Society restricted them so much that they cultivated negative traits out of frustration. Now, however, I treasure my women friends. I've meet very few women who have those traits listed above. Men, on the other hand seem to have cultivated those traits. Some are worse than women ever were. AND, one important thing is with men friends, women can't tell them that they love them without qualifiers. AND, that makes it awkward in the first place. So, genuine friendship between men and women is not as available unless he is a GBFF. I learned that from "Hot in Cleveland". When we tell our women friends that we love them, no sexual connotation is implied or taken. Keep up your great posts!

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  9. It's beautiful to have relationships such as those! What a joy! I too find it hard to make friends in mid life. I have coworkers whom I like very much, but due to family responsibilities we don't socialize as often. DH's work schedule makes it difficult to go to some functions that are couple oriented. How wonderful that you've been able to maintain old friendships while building new ones!

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  10. I am not very sociable, husband and family is enough for me, but in each town I have lived in I have made one friend, but yes, when we moved again, these 'friendships' didn't last. I have about 3 long-standing friends, one of 35 years (the length of my marriage - our husbands were apprentices together), and one since we cycled to High School together (very precious). I have no idea how you can have friends of the opposite sex - both my husband and I are too jealous for that. I have chatted to one or two guys on the Internet who are now grandparents and whom I last saw when they wore short pants, but I don't keep in touch. I loved this post of yours!

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  11. This is so sweet. I love that you have such a friend. Such friendships are quite rare and very precious.

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  12. Thanks so much for your comments, Pearl, Betty, Barbara, Terry, fiftyodd and Sally! I feel very blessed by all my friends -- male and female. But Mary is very special. I agree that it's great to laugh together until you cry, Pearl! And I think, Barbara, that we all grow into our friendships with other women and that our generation has been especially fortunate. Terry, it's so hard -- when you're in the middle of raising a family and working -- to have a lot of time to hang out with friends or expand your circle of friends. But sometimes making a warm connection that fully blossoms later on is possible. Fiftyodd, I think we all have our very own friendship patterns and it may be you're so blessed with your marriage and family that you don't feel the need for outside friends. I think, too, that if the prospect of opposite sex friends is too daunting, there's no reason to go there. I have several male friends I treasure and my husband is fine with them. It probably helps that one is a gay man and the other is a happily married, devoted family man who has been a platonic friend of mine since college days. And Sally, I love that I have a friend like Mary, too! She is truly precious!

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  13. Hi, Kathy -- first of all, thanks for visiting The Marmelade Gypsy when I've been far more absent from visiting blogs than I would like to be. I wanted to email you comment thanks, didn't have your address, so hopefully this belated comment will do.

    Of all the blogs I visit, yours is actually the one where I thought I might find the words I'm looking for to help work through difficult times, so I have much to read down! That said, this post hits the spot and so tracks where I am. I've thought for many moons about writing about the power of girl friends and the strong support and love they bring to our lives. You actually did it.

    I am blessed to have a wonderful group of women I call the GGs -- great gang -- who are there for you no matter what. All of us have closer relationships with some than others, but collectively we are a powerful force! I'm not sure I could live my life without them and a few others who are as stalwart as soldiers in a pinch. You captured this so very perfectly. Every time we part -- whether we are one or six -- we leave knowing our time was well spent and nourishing. Can't beat that.

    I'm still slipping back into blog land. Thanks for sticking with me. I'm missing my bloggies, who are -- in a way -- like the girlfriends you write about, just a little more invisible!

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  14. I think I've now put an email link on my profile, but in case it doesn't work, I can always be reached at drkathymccoy@yahoo.com.

    Thanks so much for your comment -- so appreciated -- and for sharing your experience, Jeanie. I'd love to hear more in your blog about the GGs!

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  15. You cannot have too many friends! So grateful for your recent visits, Kathy.

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  16. So great to hear from you, Rosaria, dear friend.

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  17. Great article. It prompted me to reflect on my 'girl' friends. One of my dearest friends gave me the same Willow Tree collectible that you pictured. It's called Sisters by Heart. I have no sisters and it seems that many of my girlfriends are also sisterless. I suspect that there is nothing that is quite like the love and closeness of sisters, but I do believe that with some of my friends I have the next closest thing.

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  18. You're right that some friends can become family. And not all sisters are close or even friends. The best case scenario, of course, is to be blessed with both!

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  19. I have the most wonderful girlfriends and have had throughout my life. I do believe they are one of the greatest of life's blessings for women. I've even had a few men who were kind of like a girlfriend! And I'm lucky enough that my two sisters are like girlfriends, too. Great post, Kathy, with lovely insights!

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  20. Thanks, Broad! And you've blessed, indeed!

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  21. What a beautiful, heartfelt post, Kathy. I treasure my women friends very deeply indeed and my life would be much poorer without them.

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  22. Kathy in writing this I am apologizing for Larry and my self not recognizing that I was calling the wrong number. I meant to call Kathy at fabric art on Tuesday as we were going on a field trip Wednesday. I called your number after checking with her in stead of hers. Thank you for your care and concern about us. You and Bob are fine people. Louise

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