Girlfriends Matter

 

Welcome to Kathleen Pooler, who has joined us today to discuss the nature of friendship.  It is a subject of considerable interest to me, as the protagonist of my novel has never had the kind of girl friends that Kathy describes here and in her novel.

 

Some women pray for their daughters to marry good husbands. I pray that my girls will find girlfriends half as loyal and true as the Ya-Yas.”                               Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

I have plenty of awesome male friends whom I respect and admire but there is something unique and special about girlfriend relationships.

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Carol Bodensteiner, Kathy Pooler, and Mary Gottschalk in Osceola, Iowa

I have always valued my girlfriends from every phase of my life. Together, we have experienced the joys and sorrows, the frustrations and challenges, the ruts and growth spurts of our lives. As I age, I find that I value them even more—both the old and new friends.

In the words of a popular Beatles’ tune: “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”

Martha tried to convince me not to marry when she listened to my doubts. Sharon coaxed me up the stairs and out the door the day I left my first husband because of his drinking. Judy supported me before, during and after both my divorces. Eileen opened my eyes to God’s presence in my life. Mary Sue and her family became my family away from my family. Meredith and Denise rallied around me when I escaped from my second husband for fear of physical abuse…

These are a few of many who stood by me—steady and true—through my life challenges. I had to find my own way in my own time but their presence in my life made a positive difference in helping me move forward.

Therefore, it came to no surprise to me when I read this UCLA Study On Friendship Among Women posted by Gale Berkowitz in 2002:

“This landmark study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage and help us remember who we really are”

And the friendship phenomenon is research-based.

As stated in the article, this study came about when two women scientists, Dr. Laura Klein and fellow researcher Shelley Taylor discovered in a casual conversation over coffee in a lab at UCLA one day that “when men get stressed, they hole up; when women get stressed, they make coffee, clean the office and bond, ‘tend and befriend’.” This spearheaded a movement to include women in stress research and the results confirm what we already know:

 “Women live longer than men and friends help us live longer.”

In the same article, The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that

The more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life.”

I am fascinated by this study even though it confirms what I have already experienced throughout my entire life—girlfriends matter. And the older I get, the more they matter. As we age and face more hardships—physical decline, loss of family and friends—we need each other more than ever.

In my memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, I show how my girlfriends give me strength and help me to move forward in my life. When I sat down to write this story, I had no conscious intent to include them. They showed up in my writing as they had shown up in my life to counsel and guide me.

And the many friends—YOU– (girls and guys) I have had the pleasure of bonding with on my writing journey are on the top of my list of people who matter and have made a positive difference in my life.

I will admit to being partial to girlfriend time—to bond in ways only girlfriends can bond. Who else can I go shopping with, spend hours on the phone or over coffee, get honest opinions about fashion trends, giggle over silly memories or whine over minutia with without getting a glazed-over look?  Just saying….

How about you? How have you experience girlfriend relationships?

KathyPoolerBrighterAbout the Author: Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published on July 28.2014 and work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments:  domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.

She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: http://krpooler.com

You can reach Kathy at:

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Kathleen Pooler/Memoir Writer’s Journey (Facebook)

Are You the Friend I’m Looking For?

 

My guest this week is Jean Balser, a friend and writing colleague from Des Moines. She ponders the wisdom of rekindling lost friendships.

 

“Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other is gold.”                               ~ Girl Scout Song

 

writing to a friendI’ve always thought this was good advice, and am fortunate to number among my adult friends women I first met in grade school.

I correspond regularly with women I knew in New York more than forty years ago when we were all new mothers and far from our own families.  Back then we supported each other, baby sat each others’ children and cried with each other over our husbands’ affairs and subsequent divorces.  Now I enjoy seeing pictures of my friends’ grandchildren as much as I enjoy bragging about and sharing photos of my own beautiful granddaughter.

Recently I learned to play mah jongg and have met many fascinating women through the game; and when I married my husband eight years ago I acquired a whole new set of his friends.

But there is another adage that I wonder if perhaps I should also heed:  Let sleeping dogs lie.

Several years ago, I was reminded of a friend I’d had in Brooklyn. We’d lost contact when I moved back to Iowa some twenty years ago. With the miracles of Facebook and the Internet, I thought it would be fairly simple to find her.

After a bit of electronic sleuthing, I came up with an address for Mary Lynn Cordone (not her real name) in New York.  So I wrote her a chatty little missive: “Hi!  I don’t know if you are the person I am looking for but we lived in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn about twenty years ago.” I made sure to include my return address (but not my phone number.  If my inquiry fell into the wrong hands, I didn’t want some demented spinster calling me in the middle of the night.)

Off my letter went by snail mail to an unknown destiny.

Several weeks went by and then, nestled among the ads for hearing aids and requests for donations, was a plain white envelope with Mary Lynn’s return address and a tiny butterfly sticker in the upper left hand corner.

I opened the letter and began to read.

I was delighted to hear how she had spent some time in Florida but was glad to be back home in the City. I was pleased to learn that her daughter was happily married and living nearby.

Letters from Mary Lynn began arriving almost weekly and were filled with descriptions and photos of places I had loved in Cobble Hill.  The nearby park where my son Mikey and his best friend Alex skate boarded with their long blond hair blowing out behind them as they whizzed down sidewalks and leaped over curbs.  The Almontasser, my favorite Lebanese restaurant, where I had devoured lamb shish kabobs, green beans cooked with tomatoes and oregano, and Greek salads with feta and fresh herbs.

Her letters conjured up happy memories and brought me a certain sense of closure.  I had been so unhappy when I left New York that I couldn’t remember a time when I had enjoyed living in Brooklyn; Mary Lynn reminded me that it hadn’t all been bad.

And so we began to exchange our stories, explaining and describing the last twenty years of our lives.  I wrote about working as a caterer, about my family and about living in Iowa.  She shared her problems with her Tenants’ Association, along with her worries about her mother and about corrupt New York politicians.

Over time, however, her letters became bizarre.  She wrote that she was working on a “data base” and had proof that the US Government was stealing money from a secret trust fund, of the corruption in the Pentagon and of cover-ups and conspiracies by the Secret Service. She wrote of vague illnesses that confined her to her apartment.

I continued to correspond regularly but not as often; sometimes several weeks went by before I wrote back. Her letters also arrived at greater intervals and were more and more filled with angst.

Finally, I got the letter that made me question my decision to kindle our epistolary acquaintance in the first place.  In a letter to her after Mikey, Ann and Baby Sarah’s visit, I had had described how wonderful it had been to see my granddaughter and – well, I probably was a little too gushy.

“Dear Jean,” she replied in the briefest of notes.  “I hope you will forgive me but I just can’t read about your happy family right now.  Maybe sometime when I feel better.  Best to you and the professor.  MLC”

I have heard of schadenfreude, the taking of pleasure in another’s misfortune, but I’m not sure what to call distress at another’s happiness.

I have never broken up with a pen pal before, but I certainly don’t want to make anyone unhappy by my own satisfaction with life.  I guess I will just wait to see if she ever writes to me again.

In the meantime I’m thinking I should have let sleeping dogs lie and never written that note that began, “I don’t know if you’re the person I’m looking for….”

 

Jean Balser friendshipJean was raised on a farm in central Iowa and spent nearly twenty five years in New York before returning to her home in the Midwest.  She belongs to the Ankeny Writers’ Group and has been one of the editors of the last seven editions of the Iowa State Fair Cookbook.  She and her husband, a retired biology professor, are Drake basketball fans and Jean is an avid mah jongg player.  She can be reached at jeanbalser@msn.com.

Standing the Test of Time

 

friendshipSherrey Meyer’s guest blog last week explored the ways in which social media has altered how we think about friendship. This past Sunday, NY Times columnist David Brooks, weighed in on what he saw as the essential and universal aspects of friendship.  Both essays are well worth reading.

But both left me pondering the “why and wherefore” of my own friendships over the years.  Neither essay quite captured my own experience.

As I look back, I have been blessed with many wonderful friends, but only a few who have “stood the test of time,” only a few with whom I can pick up where I left off, no matter how long it has been since I last saw them.

I think it’s because friendships, so often, are situational. You work in the same office or for the same company. You volunteer for the same charity.  You are in same bridge club or book club or investment group. Your kids are on the same team.  But when your world changes—you get a new job or leave town or get a divorce—the friendship begins to fray around the edges. As your immediate interests diverge, you talk less often.  Eventually the relationship devolves to birthday or holiday cards and the occasional lunch when your paths happen to cross.  The emotional memory remains strong, but the “friendship” itself is gone.

Don’t get me wrong.  Friendships are to be treasured, however long they last.  Shared interests and values make such relationships comforting, while educational, political and religious differences make the conversations stimulating.  Such friendships offer critical support to each other during life crises, and as Brooks suggests, provide a powerful motivation for us to live up to what our friends believe to be.

A striking feature of many of these situational friendships, particularly those formed during my working life, is how silo-ed they have been. For many years, my bridge club friends did not know my community service friends. My book club friends did not know my work mates. Each friendship satisfied a genuine aspect of my personality and/or character, but few friends ever saw the “whole” of me.

By contrast, the friends who have stood the test of time are those made when my life was not compartmentalized, in periods when I was not consumed by busy-ness.  A few date back to my youth, when we were still trying to decide who we would be when we grew up. Others appeared during periods of transition in my life.  What these friends share is that we got to see—and all too often had to endure—all the dimensions of each other’s personality and character.  We got the bad along with the good.

Because we have come to know the “whole” of each other, the friendships do not depend on knowing the same people, or working with the same clients.  Having shared our dreams and our aspirations, these friendships have been able to “grow, ” to remain alive and vibrant and mutually supportive, even as friends and spouses and specific life challenges have changed.

How have the important friendships in your life been formed?  I would love to hear your experience.