There is confusion about what friendship is today. I have acquired over 800 facebook “friends” but I know that number is meaningless...Read More
We travel Italy on a boat. Close quarters.
From the moment we step onboard, until the moment we get off eight days later, we are together—morning, noon and night.
We take turns, three years in a row, getting the Master Bedroom. This year was my turn.
For a week straight, we don’t wear shoes. Boat rules.
We dance on deck to Marvin Gaye. We laugh at shrewd one-liners.
Everything we eat is delicious: arugula, pasta pomodoro, figs. All different than in the United States.
One bright morning, Italian men in row boats paddle us inside the Blue Grotto singing, “Volare oh ohhhh, Cantaree, oh oh ohhh.” The light through the cave, glorious. We swim– the sea electric blue.
We know each other: The Control Freak, The Picky Eater, The Electronic Genius, The Bloody Mary Lover.
We share everything. We negotiate and compromise. For this week, we are married to each other.
Late one night, we journey from Ponza to Sardinia, a 16 hour, overnight, expedition.
We sit at the bow and stare at the stars looking for: Orion’s Belt, The Milky Way, The Big Dipper.
I am uneasy because we are alone in the middle of the sea, no land in sight. I think about Columbus, the bravery. No electricity, no radar, no knowledge of what lay ahead.
The night wind blows, the sea waves break against the boat.
Around us, darkness—the only light from the stars above— and the Shabbat candles, four sets, burning bright in the main cabin.
Once I was in a gigantic slump and my friend, Susan, came to my house to comfort me. We laugh now, looking back, that my child’s Magic 8 Ball was the only solution she could offer.
I held the ball in my hands, hopeful.
Q: Will everything work out? A: Hazy, try again later.
“Well, do it again,” Susan said. “Don’t give up.”
Q: Will this misery pass? A: Don’t count on it.
Q: No, I mean will it eventually pass? A: Very doubtful.
But Susan held strong. “Shake it up. Try again.”
Susan is not Kim. Kim is a psychotherapist, and other best friend. Kim believes in talk-therapy. She would’ve listened, less solution focused. Empathetic, she would’ve had tears in her eyes too, and begged for a turn with the 8- Ball. Susan is not Pam. Pam would’ve wanted to get my mind off things. She would’ve wanted me to stay busy. She would’ve suggested a trip into Manhattan, a couple of drinks, shopping.
I shook the ball again and prayed for a proper outcome.
Q: Will I feel better soon? A: Cannot predict now.
Susan sat next to me as I overturned the ball again and again until...
Q: Will I feel better? A: Most likely.
My friendships are dear to me. Essential. And so I was disheartened to read that friendships are fading.
In a Harvard Medical School study, researchers found that not having close friends leads to increased stress hormones and blood pressure; and it could be as detrimental to your health as smoking. Not having close friends leads to feelings of isolation, depression and emptiness.
So it is a shame that we don’t always have the time to nurture these relationships. Or we don’t make the time. (See this article from The New York Times: What My Friends Mean to Me.)
My friends tease me that when they call, I treat them like telemarketers, which of course, I think is totally untrue.
And this is because of what is true, which is that they mean the world to me.
These are friendships that go back decades and whether we are being as adventurous as Thelma and Louise or as kooky as Lucy and Ethel, we have been there for each other through all of life’s challenges: problems with our kids, marital discord, divorce, bouts of cancer, financial issues, and even losing a spouse.
These are things the Magic 8 Ball can’t fix. But a friend sitting next to you on your couch, as you cry, a Magic 8 Ball in your hands, while you make up outrageous questions to ask it—loony enough to make you laugh—even when it was the last thing you could imagine doing.
That could fix things.
Q: Will these friendships last forever? A: It is certain.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
“You’re so honest.”
And, as if I didn’t understand this the first time, I get, “No, but you’re really honest. ”
I interpret this as a warning. And after ten posts, I’m feeling it. Shut down. Censored. And I’m having trouble writing.
I go back. I reread. I don’t know what everyone is talking about. Don’t we all fight with our spouses? Don’t we all have medical concerns? Don’t we all go to the bathroom?
Okay, I’m sorry to bring that up again but I’m fighting against censorship here. I had 3 posts lined up for last Tuesday and according to my friends I couldn’t post any of them.
As I developed the piece, Desire and Marriage: A Parodox, my friend said I could not post anything that had the words stool softener in it. “No guy will ever look at you again!”
When I repeated this to a different friend, also married for over two decades, she said: “No pun intended but who gives a shit.”
Later when I told my husband I was worried about revealing too much, he thought about it and said, “It could come back to bite you in the ass.”
The jokes were endless. Even punctuating with a colon got a laugh.
Then, there was this other piece. I’d written it with passion, okay, I admit it, I was a bit irate but I didn’t think it showed. Just to be safe, I checked with a friend and after reading it, she said, “I agree with you one-hundred percent but you can’t post that. You don’t want to be known as The Angry Blogger.”
All of this to say, I got stuck.
I called Alison #2. I named her Alison #2 because she is the Alison who is teaching me about social media. She is the Alison who is a writer and has her own blog, Very Curious Mind. I named her Alison #2 so as not to confuse my friends who know of the original Alison, Alison #1, the writer and author of The Adults who worked with me for years on my novel. Both Alisons are smart and brazen. Both Alisons have been vital to me: part teacher, part muse, part therapist. They’ve helped me fight through my fear. Alison #2 reminds me that writing what others won’t say is part of what artists do.
And I don’t get it really. What’s the problem? I go back again. I reread. I look at other people’s blogs, and see how bloggers sometimes disclose how much they’d pay for a haircut or purse, there are pictures of their children, the insides of their newly renovated apartment, their perfectly organized closet.
Now, those things seem private. Those are things I wouldn’t share.
So here’s what I’ve come up with. I’m comfortable (mostly) revealing my feelings, sharing my thoughts, but my spending habits and a photo of my headboard are off limits.
Maybe it’s just that I’m willing to look less than perfect. It’s what makes us human. I’m not ashamed to say I fight with my husband, I mess up with my kids, I forget to call my parents. And while all of that is true what is also true is that I would do anything in the world for them.
“I believe we don’t chose our stories. Our stories chose us. And if we don’t tell them, then we are somehow diminished.” (Honor Moore quoted in Dani Shapiro’s book Still Writing.)
I am reminded that I need to work hard to ward off my inner (and outer) censors.
My father says that as a kid, I always had to get the last word. Maybe that’s why I write.
Maybe that’s a flaw I shouldn’t reveal.
And maybe it simply doesn’t matter.
My husband doesn’t look at me like that. We have to discuss this. Why doesn’t my husband look at me like that?
Laughing so hard I thought my stitches would pop, I wrote: I just sent my husband to buy me stool softener. Maybe that’s why.
(In thirty years of marriage I’ve never asked this of my husband but post-surgery...)
Anyway, isn’t that the point? When you live with someone, share a life with someone, a real life, can there be mystery?
My final text before going to sleep was, You can’t compare three months of dating to twenty-five years of marriage.
But I woke thinking about this.
According to Ester Perel, a NYC therapist and best-selling author of Mating in Captivity, “Desire needs distance, freedom, dream, mystery. It is that very freedom that allows us to maintain desire that also has the risk to separate us. The freedom posits risks but without freedom we don’t maintain the intensity of desire.”
It seems impossible to have distance, freedom and mystery in an intimate long-term relationship. But Perel writes, “Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem we can solve; it is a paradox we manage.”
There is a well-known cartoon by Sam Gross that was printed in the New Yorker. Two snails are talking. They are staring at a scotch tape dispenser and one snail says to the other, “ I don’t care if she is a scotch tape dispenser. I love her.”
The shapes of these things appear the same but what else is known? This is what we do in the beginning of a relationship. We see some things and we conjure up the rest; part fantasy, part denial. And the distance and mystery stokes yearning.
Ester Perel asks an important question in regards to her work on desire.
Can we want what we already have?
At lunch the other day my friend sipped a glass of white wine and announced that she’d convinced her daughter’s orthodontist to lie. She’d persuaded him to tell her daughter that her braces wouldn’t come off in June, as he’d promised. They’d need to stay on until September. “She’s going to sleep away camp and I don’t want her kissing any boys,” she explained.
“Genius,” the friend across from me laughed.
“What!” I almost choked on a piece of bread. “You can’t do that to her.”
“I can and I did,” my friend said with assuredness.
“I’m going to write about this,” I said as if the threat would knock some sense into her.
“Go ahead,” she said unfazed.
This is why I don’t go for lunch, I thought.
As I sat there, I remembered the summer of 1976. Camp Blue Star, the year of the bicentennial. I was twelve. I had a boy’s haircut and braces. At camp that summer, I cupped fireflies in my bare hands and roasted marshmallows around campfires. I swam in the lake and did macramé. But what I waited for all season was the dance, The Social.
Two days before camp ended, the night of The Social, I borrowed a new friend’s jeans and wore a bra for the first time. This was not a small leap, this transition felt gigantic, and as anxiety producing as if I were face to face with a hungry lion. At the dance, I was nervous and self-conscious. I stood on the side watching until Roller Coaster of Love played and a really cute boy asked me to dance.
My parents were somewhat conservative (although at the time my father drove a red motorcycle; and my mother, a petite Jewish woman, grew an afro) and so in a way sending me to camp that summer was an act of faith. In me. I had to take care of myself. I had freedom.
After the dance, that boy walked me back to my cabin. And behind a bush, the most exciting thing happened. We kissed.
I experienced a lot of new things that summer. On a hike, I saw a snake for the first time and near a blackberry bush, a bee stung me. I got a high fever, and in the infirmary, alone, I missed my mother.
Wanting my friends to know that controlling their children wasn’t a good idea, I said, “You can still make out with braces.”
But they wouldn’t relent. To them, kissing was a gateway drug. They had their beliefs and I had mine. I wouldn’t trade my experiences at sleep away camp for anything in the world, not even the moment I found out my trunk didn’t arrive, and amongst strangers, I had no clothes. I built muscle. I figured it out.
There are times you have to let go: with your children and with your friends.