It sound silly, but isn't as silly as it sounds. Friendship is sensitive, and it's those interruptions, past, present, and future, that can make it so ridiculously hard. A can't live with it, can't live without it thing.
But that's not the point of the hottest study at UCLA, which is worth talking about, if only for a minute, because I'd like to get back to that friendship interruptus thing. Gale Berkowitz's piece waxes poetic on friends (thanks J and others for the link). We get it, 100%, those of us who are female, about friends:
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.They help us remember our past, shape our identities, fill in gaps in other relationships, and more. Laura Cousin Klein, PhD co-author of the study believes there is a biological reason that friends serve us well when we're under stress. Fight or flight, the old stress response paradigm, is a gross simplification.
Actually, cognitive therapists have known that since the fifties, but okay.
. . .when the hormone oxytocin is released as part of the female stress response, it buffers "fight or flight. Females don't run, and they don't fight, they turn to tending the children and socializing with other women, which in turn stimulates greater oxytocin production, which further counters stress by producing a calming effect.So it's pretty important that we do what is natural to us, arrange chick flick night.
Or at least lunch. Or dinner. Guys, apparently, because they're guys, don't get this warm and fuzzy oxytocin high because they are guys and their testosterone mitigates its effect, anyway. Whereas estrogen, the hormone that makes females softer in so many ways, might enhance it.
It does seem that men relate less intimately to one another, although some of us would suggest that this is a response to internal homophobia. Whereas the female brain gets warm and fuzzy at the very thought of shmoozing with other female brains, guys get prickly.
Even guys can be intimate, however, we know that, and we see it quite a bit in cyberspace where it's safe and there's less fear of exposure, thanks to anonymity. Having that sixth degree of separation, male bloggers are just like female bloggers, and master whatever intimacy fears they might otherwise face in life stuck being guys.
The study could be interpreted as a biological proof, the one that some of us have been looking for, that women, as a group, are truly superior in fundamental ways. We certainly score better on social report cards.
Can't wait for the comments. I'm ducking.
But you know it's much better to cry with your girlfriends than to stuff your feelings or throw back the Jack with the guys! Well, some of us think so.
All this and Jeffrey Zaslow's story (WSJ, Sat-Sun) about the Ames Girls. Eleven (now 10) women from Iowa have remained close friends for over thirty years. And they didn't stay in Ames, Iowa, either. They kept the mojo working from afar.
I love so many things about this story, but mainly hate that I don't have this, a minyan* of close childhood friends. Mr. Zaslow finds it marvelous, too, that these "girls" stayed a cohesive social unit, for he spent a good deal of time with them to research his book. The book documents their friendship and may imply that the magic that keeps the Ames girls together has something to do with having no issue with the label girls. Whatever the secret, maybe it's a private school or a church thing, I haven't read the book, or all of the article to be absolutely honest here, whatever the reason, we're jealous.
Because it's true that the people we grow up with are the ones who remember. They remember our parents when our parents were young. They remember how we looked, how we behaved. They're the ones who suffered at our sides or yakked with us on the phone until daybreak when our teachers embarrassed us, or boyfriends dumped us, or our parents spleened us or screamed at one another, shaking the rafters. So having friends around ten, twenty, thirty years later is a blast to the past, every time you meet up. Old friends refresh the old pages.
Now really. Why don't all of us have a group of ten or eleven best friends?
Families on the move are partially to blame. The army brats whose parents have to pick up and move to serve Uncle Sam cart their kids from city to city, post to post. And those brats (how I hate that word) sometimes attend upwards seven to ten schools before they graduate high school. The government should find another way, seriously, to stop this slam dunk to socio-emotional health. Friendship interruptus is in the mental health equation, no question.
Poverty is, too. Parents one step ahead of the wolves tend to be on the move. Bye, bye, class of 2010. We're heading south where it's warmer, west where nobody knows our name.
And then there's normal adolescence, for so many of us. Those of us who suffer from being normal might behave in unorthodox ways as adolescents, one might even say anti-social ways. We get depressed and withdrawn, difficult to socialize with, but we also get curious. And when that happens we want to know what other people are like, want to befriend new kids, ditch the old.
Dropping old friends was an occupational hazard for some of us, not only as adolescents, but as younger children, too, and is thought to be part of the developmental growth process. It isn't smart to ditch people, but some of us do it anyway, can't cop to that girl scout motto, Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.
And we know which ones are gold.
And when the new kids get boring there are others to replace them, there always are. So kids moves on, socially, don't always care or look back. Until ten, twenty, thirty years later they stop and say, Where did everybody go?
Moving from one peer group to another can be painful to the ones left in the dust. Teenagers, ten-year olds, don't have farewell lunches or termination discussions. They just drop each other. It's assumed if I don't call you that I don't like you anymore. It's painful and it's mean, but this is how kids are.
We have to watch this in the blogosphere because as our social circles grow, it is inevitable that bloggers will feel "dropped" when in fact there is no disrespect, no one is being dissed, it just happens, too many friends, not enough time to read one another's blogs and still write our own and occasionally wash the floor.
But we kind of know that our hearts are still in it, the social game, and we feel the love. We're not dropping anyone and the blogrolls roll on. But we're no Ames Eleven.
So much of this cut-off stuff is in the very fabric of our complicated realities, so much so that parents should warn children:
Life hurts, and it starts with friendship.
There are other reasons that groups of eleven are rare. To even establish such a group implies inclusiveness, the polar opposite of insulting exclusivity, and we need some social maturity, lots of it, and basic human kindness to keep adding members to clubs. Don't you kind of wonder, Who did the Ames Girls leave out?
Once I joined a choir and it was fabulous. We all so enjoyed it until, one day, a new singer joined us, and this person sang so loudly and so off-key that it was impossible to keep the choir going. We had to stop singing, the director had to make up a reason she couldn't work so that we could all save face. But that's social maturity, if not to the extreme, the nth degree.
Social maturity in friendship, keeping friends, having friends, is hard to muster up if you grow up in a family that is incredibly dysfunctional, chock full of neglect and/or violence. It's more likely that you'll be shy and insecure, that you'll develop some bad habits, too. Some of us become aggressive, like our parents, or jealous, insensitive, dependent, avoidant. These are casualties of having lived in emotional chaos.
And we don't want to invite anybody home, let alone eleven others.
In this position it's pretty obvious why having friends feel like a stretch. Friendship requires trust, more than a little risk. The skittish among us don't have that. So we don't have the friends to lose, let alone drop. And those of us who learn to be aggressive sometimes garner aggressive friends. And when we outgrow the tough skin, when we want out of the gang, well, there goes the Top Eleven.
Which brings us to another top-notch way to kill friendship. Get sober. An addict who loses the desire to hang around with people making love to their bottle of beer, will lose them, the beer drinkers. There might have been a history of years of drinking and smoking, shooting and sniffing and BAM! a person decides this isn't the healthiest way to live and off to a Twelve Step meeting he goes and never looks back.
Well, maybe not never.
And don't tell me they weren't good people, the people making love to the bottle of beer or the stick or whatever. Just because people have an addiction doesn't mean they have no feelings, have to be thrown away. I know it feels that way at the time, and surely they threaten sobriety and the whole nasty episode has to happen. But then they're gone, and for all we know, maybe they're sober, too. And you can't repair a relationship just because you say I'm sorry. (check out theSecondRoad.org for more on getting sober and making new pals in the process)
I just hate cut-offs, is all.
Do we have to keep going? Do we have to talk about the fact that as soon as women get engaged they gradually begin to dump their single friends? Or when they have their first baby, or first set of babies, they don't even know where they left their phones, let alone remember your phone number? Or how when they get sick and who doesn't, in one way or another, or depressed, they get introverted and hide, and sometimes, don't you hate this, some people have the audacity to die, to abandon everyone, not just us, to suicide, no disrespect to those who are no longer living. They got sick or were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or went off to war.
So what I'm saying here is that we're drawn to stories about the Ames Girls, and to Sex in the City, and Friends, and the women on Desperate Housewives, I should say some of us are, because these female clusters have figured it out, how to make and how to keep friends, and we know, at least those of us who are female, how fan blanking tastic it is to have them.
I'm sure there's already a Hallmark holiday in the making to honor friendship. But for those who have lost them, the feeling is going to be bad, just like it is on Mother's Day, because of that oxytocin deficit, and half the time, seriously, nobody's saying goodbye
*minyan rhymes with gin-gone is a quorum of 10 Jewish men.