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.