Does “friending” count?

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A ramada is a good place to forge friendships on the Sonoran Desert. People will travel miles to attend a fiesta.

David Brooks is a man I admire for his rare combination of morality and mental stability.  If you see him on the PBS Newshour, you’ll know he laughs a lot — in spite of all the follies driving our miserable world toward annihilation. In today’s New York Times his column is about friendship.

Friendship, he says, is the “pre-eminent human institution” and “indispensable to life.” He cites Aristotle (friendship is the cornerstone of society) and Montaigne (friendships spreads universal warmth). He also cites the General Social Survey: between 1985 and 2014, the number of its respondents who reported “no close confidants” has tripled.[1]

Note the distinction: friends as confidants. There’s a concept nearly annihilated, too, what with the new ways of gathering “friends” one seldom sees or maybe has never met. The Internet has brought us closer: TRUE or FALSE?

There were certain people I trusted before the World Wide Web: The four young mothers in my apartment court who banded together circa 1960 to create a co-op playgroup, for instance. I trusted them with my children’s lives. A decade later there was a neighbor across the street with whom I drank “Russian tea” many evenings when we both were unhappy as housewives. When I returned to college there was a professor who read all my emotional poems. Also, there were older women whom I at least listened to, and who, I felt, understood me.

Yet, at age 76 I can count true, aka “intimate,” friendships on my fingers. Of course some old “good friends” have died. Many more just fell by the wayside as I charged through my life.  Typically American, I moved several times in the first four decades and changed careers. Interestingly, I have never had a really good friend at work. Whether this is because we did not have time to gossip, or because we were wary of office politics, or because we often changed jobs, positions and clients – probably all of the above — work certainly has inhibited confidentialities.

Is this an unintended consequence of Women’s Liberation? Ironic. Remember when we said we wanted to infiltrate the office with women’s values? Kaffeeklatsch was one of them.

David Brooks has an idea: Create summer camps for adults from diverse backgrounds; share the two-week adventure, the ideas, helping each other out. He says his most abiding friendships were forged at childhood camps. Two lifelong friends of mine are males that I first met in the 1950s at church camp and then again at college. One died recently, the very week the other was with my husband and me and that mutual friend’s granddaughter, at the Courtauld Gallery in London. We knew he was ill, but when we got the news we still grieved.

I worry about my four “best friends” who have stayed in communication since high school. We all went to college and married. At first we wrote letters round robin, but these became infrequent as we swung into the 1960s struggling through motherhood, and then careers. Email opened up the opportunity to renew intimacy. Class reunions spurred gatherings.  It seems not that long ago everyone, including our men, met here just for fun.

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Now one of us has heart disease; another just got a transplant. The third has moved out of her big home that she designed and is living with her son. The fourth just sold her summer residence, but after years of family problems, she and her 93-year-old husband take cruises. And there is moi — about to have my third and fourth spinal fusions.

We oldies-but-goodies are sharing our misadventures by weekly contact – and each of us is making new friends — among young health care workers!

 

[1] Duke University and University of Arizona. See http://guides.library.duke.edu/content.php?pid=380130&sid=3136477

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