Friendships: some true, some toxic

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THE BREAKFAST CLUB, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, 1985. ©Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

From the smart digital publisher Aeon:

But even our easiest and richest friendships can be laced with tensions and conflicts, as are most human relationships. They can lose a bit of their magic and fail to regain it, or even fade out altogether for tragic reasons, or no reason at all. Then there are the not-so-easy friendships; increasingly difficult friendships; and bad, gut-wrenching, toxic friendships. The pleasures and benefits of good friends are abundant, but they come with a price. Friendship, looked at through a clear and wide lens, is far messier and more lopsided than it is often portrayed.

The first cold splash on an idealised notion of friendship is the data showing that only about half of friendships are reciprocal. This is shocking to people, since research confirms that we actually assume nearly all our friendships are reciprocal. Can you guess who on your list of friends wouldn’t list you?

As longtime readers here know, I’ve often blogged about friendship.

Like here, here and and here.

One reason friendship is so compelling to me is coming from a family that’s always riddled with anger and estrangements that go on for years, sometimes permanent. That’s deeply painful.

We all need love. We all need intimacy. We all need people willing to listen to our woes, cheer our triumphs, attend our graduations and bar/bat miztvahs, our kids’ weddings, to visit us in hospital or hospice — and someone, finally, to attend our funeral or memorial service.

A woman in our apartment building, (which is only made up of owners, some here for decades), recently died of cancer. She was prickly and cantankerous and had no family.

A note recently went up from friend of hers in a public space here to thank every single neighbor who showed up for her, took her meals, drove her to medical appointments — proxies for a loving family when she needed it most.

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Jose…

Another reason I so value friendship is having lost a few, and mourning the memories and histories now lost to me, shared with those women, like a New Year’s party in Jamaica with (!) live shots fired into the air around us or the day her friend let me helm his yacht — running it aground in Kingston harbor.

Like you, I treasure my friends and feel bereft when I lose one, although time and hindsight has helped me see that losing three of them has not inflicted long-term damage and, in fact, freed me to find much healthier, more egalitarian relationships.

I discovered that one of them had been lying a lot. That was enough for me.

Some of the friends I’m so grateful for:

Jose. My husband. We’ve been together 16 years and it’s the deepest and best friendship of my life. Even when I’m ready to change the locks, furious, I’ve never lost my respect or admiration for him.

N. She’s been through a hell of a lot, including early widowhood and a trans-national move. Her sweetness and optimism are refreshing, and consistent. My blood pressure drops when I’m around her.

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S. Who else would give me a stuffed octopus?! A fellow journalist and college teacher of journalism, her calm, wise advice helped me through some of my toughest classroom moments.

P. I haven’t had an adult pal-across-the-street since the mid-1980s when I lived on the top two floors of a Toronto house and made a friend living in a communal house across the street. Proximity makes it so fun and easy to meet for a coffee or an adventure shopping for Italian food in the Bronx. She’s got one of the biggest and most generous hearts of anyone I know. Also, funny as hell.

L. One of the very few close friends I’ve made at church, mostly a WASPy, frosty crowd. She’s an amazing mom, an attentive and loving listener, a font of calm wisdom.

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The view from D’s apartment, which she sometimes lends me…

D. Oh, what we’ve seen, and survived! Both of us divorced, both of us career journalists still (!) in the business, both of us who’ve become New Yorkers who came from elsewhere. In a deep, long friendship, there’s so much shared history. She’s my oldest friend in New York.

M. More than family, she took me into her Toronto home year after year, hosting and celebrating birthdays like Jose’s 50th, and nurturing me for three weeks after my terrifying encounter here with a con man. Now she’s recently re-married, at 70. Yay!

MS. Young enough to be my daughter, this talented photographer is beautiful, smart, hard-working, adventurous. I admire her drive and skill, and so enjoy her visits. She’s slept on our sofa many times.

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 A cup of tea at the Ritz in London…where C joined me

C. This astonishing young woman, also half my age, is a treat: whip-smart, emotionally intelligent, resilient as hell. She and I share a global perspective from life lived in various countries and some similar family issues. So happy that she and her fabulous husband are in my life.

PHMT. We met on a rooftop in Cartagena, Colombia when I was in my early 20s. I promptly fell hard! “I’m gay,” he said. Oh. OK. Let’s just be great friends! And we are. He finally stopped being cool to Jose when Jose and I married — knowing, finally, I was back in good hands, as he was so deeply protective of me for years. That’s friendship.

MO. Ohhhhh. We call ourselves the Pasta Twins, a play on each of our names, Marioni and Catellini. We met in freshman English class at University of Toronto, a very serious, very po-faced venue, when we rolled our eyes at one another. College pals know us in ways no one else ever will. We dated the wrong men, (like the gggggorgeous male best friends we met at a party, both of whom shattered our hearts), and fought for our independence from difficult fathers. Our adult lives could not be any more different — she’s the proud mom of three grown daughters and lives very far away now — but our love continues.

Wishing every one of you the blessing of friendship, now and for years to come!

My unexpected refuge

This is the view from what might be my truest home, one to which I’ve been returning — lovingly welcomed in good times and bad, whether I was lonely-and-single, freshly-divorced or happily-remarried — for more than 20 years.

It’s in Toronto, the home of a friend I met when I was just starting out in journalism, a woman 11 years my senior, a witty, fun, worldly publicist.

Through our work, and with her, I had some of my best adventures, both personal and professional, like one of my first-ever visits to New York where I (yes) performed eight shows of The Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada (as an extra.) She took me to see “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway and loaned me money when mine was stolen.

As I spent my 20s in Toronto, forever single but professionally doing well, she saw me through some mighty tempestuous affairs, one with a local legend, an eccentric/talented guy we still talk about and recall with some fondness. My own parents never met or even heard of some of  my ex-es, even the Big Deals, but she remembers them all.

Like me, she’s had plenty of dishy beaux and never had kids. Living alone suits her.

What she so generously offers, to me and many others, is a place of refuge.

I once stayed with her for three weeks as I recovered from being victimized by a con artist in New York in 1998, an experience that left me so terrified and traumatized I seriously considered — for the first time since leaving Canada in 1988 — returning to Toronto for good. I needed time and a safe place to heal far, far away from the fear and, even worse, my local police and DA who dismissed his six felonies, and my experience, with a laugh.

In all my subsequent visits over the years, M and I rarely hang out or have long heart-to-hearts. She’s always super-busy, but gives me a key and we bump into one another in the kitchen for a few minutes or chat as she’s getting ready to go out to another meeting or event. But the full-to-bursting fridge is mine to raid, the teetering stacks of newspapers and magazines everywhere there for the pillaging.

Most important of all, though, her home is a place I feel safe and loved. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my 50th, inviting 10 of my oldest friends. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my husband’s 50th as well, only a few months later.

She is, it has taken me a long time to fully understand, true family.

I left my father’s house for good when I was 19. He sold it weeks later and went to Europe to live on a boat for a few years. My mother was traveling the world alone. My home, then, was a tiny studio apartment. I had no aunts or uncles or cousins nearby, no siblings and no family support.

My parents never told me it was OK to come home again, not after my divorce, not after losing a few jobs and trying to weather the recession. My troubled mother lived a six-hour flight away and my father had a new family with little tolerance for me hanging around.

M’s house — I finally, gratefully realized after all these years as I sat alone one morning this week with a cup of tea in the darkened kitchen — really is home, if home is the place you are always greeted with love and kindness.

I finally told her that this week, even though both of us are uncomfortable expressing so much emotion. (We WASPs just don’t do feelings!) 

Do you have an unexpected refuge?

Or have you offered one?

The College Best Friend — I Finally Visited Mine

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British Columbia's flag; my birthplace and where I am on vacation...Image via Wikipedia

She was my maid-of-honor — even though she was then living a three-hour drive from Alaska but still willing, 13 years after we graduated, to make the trip to suburban New York City. My wedding day was filled with torrential rain and foreboding.

Just before we headed down the aisle, I whispered: “If this doesn’t work out, please still be my friend.”

It didn’t.  She did.

She still wears and enjoys the earrings I bought her as her thank-you gift. Our lives have been very different: she married a logger turned electrician, raised three daughters in small British Columbia towns, worked in education. Divorced from my doctor husband, with no  kids, I chose to try to keep climbing the greasy pole of New York publishing.

But her cheerful, chatty Christmas letters kept coming.

This week, I finally visited her B.C. town, and spent a few days catching up. I hadn’t seen her husband since their wedding day, 20 years earlier.

It was as though a week had passed, not decades.  She proudly showed me the blue metal recipe tin I had made for her, with some of my recipes still in it. I still use the battered, stained cookbook she gave me all those years ago.

We went to a lake and threw sticks for her dog, a lovely yellow lab named Ben, and shared our stories, riddled with the same insecurities that have plagued us forever, and maybe always will. It was comforting to be so known, and still so loved.

Her name is Marion and in college we were the pasta twins — Marioni and Catellini.  Then, we once dated men, both of them faithless, gorgeous wretches, who were best friends, as we were. She asked me about a man I had totally forgotten; best friends carry our memories.

We remembered how much we know each other’s histories and families, and the hopes we had and the ones we still hang onto.

We had much, this visit, to learn. But we now know we’ve still got some time.

Redheads Re-Found — Facebook's Mid-Life Discoveries

I heard yesterday from someone I never thought I’d encounter again. He’s had a Big Star career, with degrees from Sciences Po and Oxford and ran a national newspaper — and found me today on Facebook.

“Didn’t you used to be a redhead?” he asked.

Well, yes, for about six months in my 20s, when we both worked at The Globe and Mail, both ferociously ambitious. We weren’t close friends or even distant friends, but such is Facebook and such is life that, like some odd comet circling the heavens every 235th year, people are now finding me again after 20 or 30 years, and vice versa, of late.

While some people, maybe those in their teens or 20s, collect “friends” to reassure them of their popularity, I — like others in my cohort — see it as more useful professionally. I recently spoke on a panel of fellow career journos, about 15 of us, many of them in their 50s, 60s or beyond, to a room full of publicity seekers. We were asked how many of us are on Facebook and almost all of us raised our hands, eliciting a gasp of surprise from the audience. I expected it, no matter what my colleagues’ age.

I’m happy to re-connect with real friends but am also smart enough to recognize the value of the additional social capital of friending people I’m not so fond of or, sometimes, don’t even know. But they know people I like and trust, so, occasionally, I add them. The guy who emailed yesterday had 1,500 friends, among them a writer I need to know.

Et voila.

One of the first FB rediscoveries was also a redhead when we first met, in college, a tall walking muscle of a man hoping to make the U.S. Olympics rowing team. He was gentle and kind and sent me a bouquet of red roses so enormous that I said to the delivery boy “I’m not dead!” We met on a college exchange program, he an American, I Canadian. He was, still is, a lovely man, now on his second (long and happy) marriage. The last time I saw him he was a new Dad, married too young to the wrong woman, and he knew it. It is good to know he is happy and thriving.

Also thanks to FB, I’ve re-found my best friend from when I was eight, now living a four-hour drive away, another lost redhead. We’re both dieting, fighting terrible arthritis, trading memories — some wildly inaccurate, some true — of one another’s parents.

It’s like finding a fly in amber, staring back into those pasts and comparing notes on what we then felt, but were often too young to know or to say. Turns out we know, in common, yet another redhead (I am not making this up; my ‘red’ hair came out of a bottle!) named Kate who knew Becca in Grade 8 and who I met in college and later again in New York.

It’s a little disconcerting — always the case — how much older/different the men look. I wouldn’t have  recognized a few of them. The women, without Botox or surgery, look great and fully themselves.

Who’s been your best (re)-find? Who ‘s found you that you’re happiest about?

The Long-Lost Friend Re-Discovered

We all have one. The kid we knew when we were little whose house and family were as familiar to us as our own, maybe — if your family was weird or cold or fought a lot — even a refuge from yours. One mom kept a full candy dish because she knew how I loved it and was totally cool when I’d head straight for the fridge after saying hello. (Boarding school food was never enough and never very good.)

I always wondered about Becca, who I knew when we were eight in Toronto and our Dads were both filmmakers. They lived in a huge house with all sorts of nooks and crannies. Her younger brothers — to me, an only child — were deeply exotic, their bedrooms filled with Guystuff. Everyone was insanely creative; she was inventing embroidery stitches at the time and I still have a purse she made for me then. Her older brother (crush!) was my date for a ninth-grade prom. I wore a cobalt blue lace dress, vintage, whose zipper split halfway through the evening. He gallantly covered me with his jacket.

I heard from her this week, after 27 years of silence and constant wondering, on Facebook. She’s just moved to a city about four hours’ drive away and we’re filling in the many blanks. Heaven.

Who have you re-found? Who’s re-discovered you after decades apart? How is it now?