I was about to pass the mid-century mark. My 50th birthday. The Big One, as they say. Increasingly, I found myself watching the gentle gullies at the small of my back disappear. And I was bewildered by how much more attractive I was with mascara and foundation. Birthdays were starting to feel anti-climatic, surprisingly similar to every other day, full of commitments and responsibility. So, rather than risk disappointment or wallow in self-pity, I decided to give myself a birthday celebration I knew would feel spectacular: a weekend away with my twelve best girlfriends.
Planning for my trip was stressful. Where would we go? When? And how would we get there? The stakes were high. I was coordinating for friends who’d be leaving commitments and their families to be with me. It had to be worth it. Where could we go that’d be new, fun and convenient? Who would pay the cost of travel and lodging, food, and entertainment? Perhaps most disconcerting of all, how would I choose the twelve women? Exactly whom, did I consider a “best” friend?
I relaxed a bit after choosing Santa Fe, NM as our destination. It was a reasonable flight from both coasts. And what woman wouldn’t appreciate its culture and shopping? Most friends I knew had never been there, but I had. After several prior trips, I knew the city would delight everyone: zen pampering at Ten Thousand Waves Spa (www.tenthousandwaves.com); hiking the Sangre Mountains and horseback riding at The Broken Saddle (www.brokensaddle.com); grazing art galleries, the Wine & Chile Festival (www.santafewineandchile.org) and restaurants; and schlepping for bargains at any number of flea markets. Fortunately, a local friend offered her hacienda for my four-day celebration so I would not need to ask my friends to pay for lodging.
But how to finalize my guest list? This was the hard part! My initial list included fifteen girlfriends, my mother and three sisters-in-law, but the hacienda could accommodate only twelve women. Even then, some of us needed to share king beds and rooms. Besides, I wanted an intimate gathering, my barometer being that we’d fit at one table for dining. The easiest thing to do would be to eliminate my family, but some of us were extraordinarily close. I counted them as friends, not just relatives. I considered scratching friends that I didn’t see or talk to frequently, but some of them shared such a deep history with me. Whenever we did communicate, it was if “time had stood still”. Perhaps I should eliminate some my newer friends, I thought. After all, how could they qualify as “best” friends when compared to those from high school and college? But these friendships felt dear, more tied to my current concerns about children, marriage and my life’s work.
In the end, my best friends were the ones who affirmed their availability to travel on the chosen weekend; relatives whose presence wouldn’t create any brew-ha-ha in the family (my mother and brother’s wife); and those with similar interests and dispositions. So, should I consider the women who declined my birthday invitation for murky personal reasons less than best friends? I’m not sure but honestly, I was disappointed and felt the absence of only one. Surrounded by many others, it was hard to be greedy. Was anyone angry or hurt at not being invited? I don’t think so. But one of the wonderful things about getting older is becoming less tortured and regretful in making decisions, more comfortable satisfying my own needs.
Santa Fe in late September is beautiful. The weather is temperate and the light and colors, just as Georgia O’Keefe painted them. Our stay at the hacienda was magical. I’d been thoughtful about distributing my guests between the main house and smaller casitas on the property and about pairing friends in rooms together. I took into consideration, who slept late, exercised, talked a lot, or needed to work. I created a well-paced itinerary, with enough group activities for the occasion, enough downtime for more private endeavors, and plenty of access to the city’s points of interest. My friends and I had time to commiserate and bond with open and supportive conversations. And we had time to relax. We slept, swam, told stories and laughed, ate and stargazed. We are rejuvenating, we said, returning home more whole. By everyone’s account when we parted, it’d been perfect.
So, were there any moments of tension? Yes, but minimal. One friend’s directness rubbed others’ sensibilities the wrong way. I chalked it up to faulty social antennae but reminded myself of her caring and intelligence – things I value — and why she is a best friend. Did I spend too much time managing the vacation for friends? Absolutely, not. My best friends made me feel celebrated and free. Helped me turn 50 on my terms. Shared a great memory, making our friendships deeper.