Friends Made Along the Way

14 Sep

(Illustration by Kim Rosen)

Via Boston Globe:

When one of my female friends got dumped last year by her live-in, heading-for-marriage boyfriend, six of her closest girlfriends took her to Cabo San Lucas to help her get over him. I envy my friend for this. Not for being dumped, but for having at her back a cadre of women who will drop everything for her. In short, I envy her for her girlfriends.

I myself have a girlfriend. Singular. With whom I live and raise our children. And I have friends: separate, individual people, male and female, straight and gay, with whom I swap e-mails, go out to dinner, and, with our kids, hit the soccer fields and playgrounds. But I don’t have real live Sex and the City girlfriends who travel in an amoebalike pack, always checking in, always cheering you on. I don’t have “girlfriends” for the simple reason that I’ve been un- able to bond en masse with my straight female friends over the concerns closest to their hearts: their problems with, and their passions for, their men.

When I say problems, I’m not talking about the big problems. I mean I can’t empathize with my straight female friends when they start complaining about their husbands for lying around watching sports while they tend to the kids/cleaning/cooking/ laundry/grocery shopping/ transportation. My descriptions of my own domestic life are not automatically followed by the universal mental head-slap of wives and girlfriends everywhere: What was he thinking? My only experience of domestic life with a man is picking up the smelly socks that my son strews about the house, which I find eminently forgivable in an 11-year-old.

But thanks to the 2008 election, everything has changed.

Earlier this year, as I drove from Boston to Newburyport with a straight female friend to our monthly writing group, I raised the topic of the Democratic candidates. For the next 60 minutes I was regaled with a rant, which increased exponentially when we met up with the other two members of our group, also straight women. I was amazed to learn that all four of us had the same consuming passion for Hillary Clinton. 

We liked the fact that a woman was running for president, and we liked her policies, but that didn’t explain our passion. Rather, it derived from the fact that Hillary’s problems were ours. As women, we knew exactly what she meant when she said she didn’t get the same respect as the male candidates. We knew exactly how she felt in trying to get ahead in a male-dominated profession, in being slighted because of her gender. As we talked, we held nothing back, and the carefully maintained walls between and among us crumbled. With this conversation, I had entered the warm, cozy, enveloping, and deeply angry world of “girlfriends.”

As the woman who started the rant later e-mailed me: “Until you and I started talking about the campaign, I never recognized our similarities. I think the problem between gay and straight women is that we see our obvious differences, and don’t really understand how alike we are. I am admitting a prejudice, of course, but I couldn’t see how my domestic life and the domestic life of gay women would be similar.”

But that night, while talking about something far larger than our individual lives, these three other women and I connected on a visceral level of shared experience and values. Even though our candidate is no longer in the race, since that night, I have felt an incredibly heightened intensity and empathy in the way our writing group critiques one another’s work and cheers one another on through good news and bad.

I will probably never get to Cabo San Lucas, but I often get to Newburyport, Newton, and Rowley to spend time with my “girlfriends” – women who, separately, have been my friends for five years but who now are, thanks to Hillary Clinton and the 2008 election, my “pack.”

Virginia A. Smith has just completed a novel and is writing a memoir. She lives in Brookline.


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