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459979351 It seems to me that trying to live without friendship is like milking a bear to get cream for your morning coffee. It’s a whole lot of trouble and then not worth much after you get it.”    Zora Neale Hurston

After the two who conceived you, the one you promised to love, honor and yes, obey, and those you might have created, the number of bare bones authentic relationships in your life depends on how you answer the following two questions. Are you up for a variety of exhausting, delicate, powerful mind melds?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for a relationship not affected by competition, physical pleasure, material profit or sense of duty? Your answers reveal if it’s important to you for someone asking “how are you?’ to hear the real truth. During this month celebrating romance, I’d like to put in a plug for what I regard as “the other white meat” of loving…the delicious, instinctive connection of friendship.

Have you noticed how in recent years the shelf space devoted to Valentine cards geared to friendships has grown? For a bond that has no civil and few emotional rights in our society, its effects on our sense of well being are increasingly being recognized. If my friendships were a drink they’d be one part chicken soup, one part frappachino and one part martini. If they were a thing, they’d be a life preserver, or maybe a security blanket. True friends strengthen each other, rest on each other and minister to each other. And I think that whatever it is that makes us good friends is as chemical, magical, and mysterious as what makes us lovers.

Still in my life are three women with whom I shared Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, Silver Screen magazine and crushes on Davy Crockett and Troy Donahue. We played doctor, traded Archie comic books, and went out for Chinese food, splitting a combination plate, on Saturday afternoons. As the years went on we talked for hours on the one telephone in the house and shopped for prom dresses, wedding gowns and baby clothes. We shaved our legs together standing in the bathtub for the first time…and shared dozens of other firsts, emotional, sexual and gynecological.

Just as it’s true that we can only be as happy as our unhappiest child, so, too, do friends exert a powerful influence over our moods. That’s how you know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance…gym buddies, work buddies, car pool buddies, and book club buddies inquire after our outward life, friends, after our inner life. As with any love supplying us with the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe, friendship can also open our souls to hurt and grief. Struggling with the cancer, divorce, widowhood and death of my friends has challenged me and shaken everything I believe in.

“Female friendships that work,” according to Louise Bernikow in her book Among Women, “are relationships in which women help each other belong to themselves.”  All my sweet soulmate bonds are burnished with use. They shine with hundreds of laughs, and silent we’re-on-the-same-wavelength glances. Without a censor, I can think aloud and be stupid with them. They tell me when there’s lipstick on my teeth, and have been known to surreptitiously rip an errant hair from my chin.

These extraordinary women notice when I’ve lost five pounds…and ignore when I’ve put five on. They have expanded my universe, encouraging me to stretch, take risks and become more flexible. I respect their opinions on books and mothering, on doctors and movies, on fashion and decorating. Their tight hugs revive me.  They really listen when I talk and really read what I write. And I work hard to return the favor. For their nurturing kindness and sense of humor and their role as a safety net in this splintering world, I couldn’t love them more.

 

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