I've been writing a lot about my own girlfriends lately in connection with my new e-book You Gotta Have Girlfriends: A Post-fifty Posse is Good for Your Health, and each time I sit down to describe my "circle of trust" I wonder what to do with my lifelong guyfriend Nick. Our friendship is as profound and historic as any I have with a woman, but it is also different.
We can tell each other anything, but "anything" is a little more reportage than sharing; our conversations are wide-ranging and satisfying, but not as free-wheeling or feisty or rollicking as the truth among girlfriends. Nothing is quite like that. But nothing is quite like my relationship with Nick either.
One ingredient is gender neutral. We are childhood friends, and as I have found in interviews and from research, these friends play a unique role in our lives. We knew each other's parents and homes and knew each other before we became who we are. We are witnesses to one another's entire lives.
For example, he is the only person in the world who can confirm my vivid recollection of our seventh-grade teacher Miss Landis breaking into tears, much to our horror and scorn, as she read us the last lines ("It's a far better thing I do.....") from A Tale of Two Cities.
As we moved through high school, we became confidantes. We were on the phone most evenings, ostensibly consulting over home work assignments but really sharing the day's experiences and feelings. That was when the differences in our perspectives emerged: he lived in the world of boys and mine was very mysterious to him, and I had the same curiosity about how things registered with him. Our narratives were mutually informative.
Not that we asked specific questions, but as we debriefed about recent events, bits and pieces of the conversation were revelatory to one or both of us. While I had to explain details and observations that would be self-evident among girls, I am sure that describing the obvious helped me clarify my own thinking.
We went on to the same college, and though we rarely saw each other, we kept track of one another's lives, especially our social lives. He was regularly besotted by one woman or another, while I was bewildered by the whole game. Not that we let on, of course; we were too cool. But just knowing that we knew about each other's posturing was a reassuring affirmation of mutual understanding.
We checked in over the years, (by phone and letters -- how quaint), often filling in the blanks of months' worth of daily texture and major events that we had missed in real time, and we were always able to pick up where we had left off. My father died and Nick's mother died around the same time, and later we regretted not promoting a more serious acquaintance between our surviving parents. We would have been quite a family. In many ways we are. It is like the sibling without the rivalry.
I went to his wedding; he came to mine (April 2, 1967, photo with Nick).
Miraculously we connected with each other's partner. I don't know whether either of them wondered whether we had ever been romantically involved. The answer is no. In recent years, we have asked ourselves why. For one thing, during the dating years, I knew his type, and I was not it. Nor was he mine. Curiously, our partners are more like us, and his wife has become a girlfriend of mine in her own right.
I think the real reason is that on some level we knew that we had something precious and didn't want to jeopardize it by venturing into the high drama of romance as we knew it. What I have in Nick's friendship is the antithesis of romance; it is solid, all-accepting, and totally uncomplicated. We share that very rare connection of unconditional love that both transcends and illuminates gender.
What you want is someone to hang with near where you live. Approach this scientifically. Having a friend who lives an hour's drive away will mean you won't see them as much as the person who lives closer. So think global, but stay local. That means your local coffee shop, the local branch of the public library, they local chapter of the Sierra Club, or the local college that offers evening courses.
If you play tennis, join a club or take a few lessons at the community center. If you like to throw parties, volunteer to run the annual fund-raiser at your synagogue or church; when the board thanks you publicly at the dinner, everyone will learn your name. If you hike, join the Sierra Club. If you bicycle, join a biking group or enter a race in your age category. Here's the one caveat about following your interests: Nobody ever met anyone while watching "American Idol" from the couch.
Be open to the idea that it's OK to have friends who are older or younger. The fact that they are in different stages in life just means they bring a different perspective to the table. While a 14-year-old won't be interested in socializing with a toddler, that 10-year age gap dissipates when they get older. Why not say yes to the 30-somethings who invite you to join them for drinks after work? Invite them over for dinner with their families and get to know their kids. Their views on the world may not match yours precisely, but variety is the spice of life.
If you are post 50 and uncoupled, you might find that traveling isn't as much fun. Call it the Noah's Ark theory, but in general, we like to go places paired up. There are services that will help you find a travel room-mate. Not only does this give you someone to talk to over dinner, it cuts down those single supplements that some tours and cruises charge. <a href="http://www.friendlyplanet.com/faqs/find-roommate.html" target="_hplink">Friendly Planet</a> runs one such pairing-up service. <a href="http://www.roadscholar.org/" target="_hplink">Road Scholar</a> offers many active adult adventure vacations here -- offers to find you a roommate if you want. Their programs and generally educationally based and draw a well-heeled and educated crowd. Cruise ships do a pretty good job of making sure solo travelers find people to hang out with; group dining arrangements go a long way toward conversational icebreaking.
Even if you've never been a joiner, now may be the time to get yourself out there. Got a new puppy or an old dog who needs some new tricks? Find a community dog-training class. If you like to cook, take a cooking class. Participate in the 5K run for charity, even if you walk the final three.
Keep your smart phone with you and ask for numbers. Sure it may feel a little awkward to say to someone you just met "Hey, I really enjoyed talking to you on this Sierra Club hike but the next one isn't for two months. Would you like to get together for a hike before that?" Worst they can say is no.
With Skype and apps like FaceTime, it's easier than ever to have face-to-face visits. Don't assume your old friends are too busy to talk to you on the phone. Most cellphone plans include free long-distance calls and for those that don't, there's Skype. Invite friends who live a great distance to come and stay with you. Show them your city. Friendships are like gardens; it's often easier to tend to an existing one than grow a new one from seeds.
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