X is for X-BFF

X BFFsI’ve been in and out of love with men many times over the decades, but breaking up with my best friend, Sharon, was worse than any failed romantic relationship. It knocked the wind out of me for years, consuming me as I tried to figure out what went wrong. How could someone who was so much a part of me be gone from my life? I felt like a crazy person, unable to move on from my guilty, shameful obsession.

I’m not the only one. Almost every adult woman I’ve talked with has a similar story. The details and personalities differ, but the women I’ve spoken with all feel equally crazy and obsessed by a deep hurt that at best leaves a lot of scar tissue, but often never heals. (I was lucky—Sharon and I eventually reconciled.)

I wonder if the hyper-idealization of friendship between girls and women is part of the problem. Our friends are supposed to be everything to us—super supportive, always there for us, able to finish our sentences, someone who gets us inside and out. In fact, sometimes we seem like the same person, inside and out! That urge to merge is so delicious—and so deadly.

We know how to be close, but difference often feels like an unbearable distance. That’s often when trouble starts. Worse, women seldom know how to deal in a healthy way with all those “not nice” feelings: conflict, aggression, envy, and competition. So we sweep problems under the rug, hoping they’ll go away. Or act out big time. Or exhaust ourselves with endless processing. (No wonder the movie Bridesmaids  always strikes a nerve for me—I’ve seen it four times!)

What makes female friendship so susceptible to ruptures? Can we enjoy tight bonds without cutting off the circulation?


What do you think? What are your experiences with X-BFFs? Were you ever able to drop the “X” even if regaining “BFF” proved elusive?

I is for Inheritance

Maggie was my trainer when I volunteered for a crisis hotline in 1977. Although she was 30 years older than I, we became close friends and colleagues. Maggie and her husband, Peter, came to my wedding. Whenever Maggie and I went out to lunch, I’d say hello to Peter. But I didn’t know him at all outside of these brief encounters and Maggie’s stories about their life together, first in war-torn England, then fleeing the Soviets in Prague, then in America.

When Maggie was stricken with Alzheimer’s, my interactions with Peter became a little like the change in shift between the live-in caretaker and the respite help. “How is she doing today? Will she be able to order off a menu? Does she still know who I am? Have there been any repeats of the time she tried to get out of a moving car? How are you doing?”

“Oh, fine, thanks,” Peter would reply, always the stoic and dignified immigrant. Occasionally I would hear frustration in Peter’s voice as he persuaded Maggie to put on her socks. Or maybe he just spoke louder because Maggie was losing her hearing as well as her mind.

Whenever I would return from my brief outings with Maggie, Peter would say, “She always seems in better spirits after she sees you. Thank you.”

Maggie died seven years ago today, but I have kept up my visits. Every few weeks, Peter welcomes me into the home he and Maggie shared. He is as heartbroken today as he was when she died.

“I’m ready to die, too,” my new 94-year-old friend tells me. “But Maggie wouldn’t want me to be the kind of person who stops getting dressed, stops washing, sits around doing nothing all day. So in the meantime, I’m keeping busy.”

And in the meantime, we talk—about his life in Prague as a multilingual intellectual and journalist before the Nazis came, about his service in the British Royal Air Force, where he met Maggie when stationed in her home town. We talk about Maggie, about politics, about his children and grandchildren, about my work and family.

What a priceless inheritance Maggie has left me.


What unexpected treasures have you inherited?

First Friends

Me and Nancy at Concord Bridge (MA), June 1961

Me and Nancy at Concord Bridge (MA), June 1961

I barely remember my first friend, Regan, who lived next door to us in Cincinnati. There’s a picture of us as at age four on a stone wall, in identical shorts and midriff blouses, belly buttons protruding. But that’s about it. Regan moved away to a neighboring state, which, in the 1950s geography of childhood, may as well have been the moon. Besides, less than a year later, my family moved to New England.

There I met Nancy. She had a pixie haircut and freckled face wide open with friendliness. She lived two corners and a short, steep hill away from me, back in the days when free-range children were the norm. Nancy’s house backed onto the woods, where we spent hours building forts, climbing rocks, and fashioning furniture out of twigs and moss. Her mother, strikingly beautiful and always welcoming, would serve up snacks and listen to our tales of adventure.

In fourth grade, I pushed the two of us to take up violin together. I scratched my way through a few torturous lessons before quitting, but Nancy really took to it.

Despite the disparities in our musical talent, Nancy and I were inseparable. Then, in fifth grade, her family relocated to the far corner of Massachusetts. We promised to stay best friends forever, even visited once or twice. But as often happens, we lost touch.

As I began to delve deeply a couple of years ago into my long-held obsession with ruptures in women’s friendships, I thought about Nancy a lot. Ours was a drift, not a rift—a relationship disrupted by circumstances, but not the complicated messiness I would later come to know with close female friends. I grew nostalgic for our wonderful times together. So, thanks to the modern-day miracles of Google, I found her.

Nancy has the same open, friendly face (we both have better haircuts now), a different last name, a husband and beautiful freckle-faced daughter, and a house in the country with lots of animals. Plus a long string of musical accomplishments under her name. A former symphony violinist, she is now an assistant professor of music, director of her college’s symphony and chamber orchestras, and coordinator for their Strings Program and auditions. I’m glad one of us made it past the scratching stage, and glad that I have such fond memories of my first best friend.

Now Nancy and I exchange emails and holiday news. She signed up for my blog, and even signed up her still beautiful and gracious mother!

Today is Nancy’s birthday.

Happy birthday, old friend!


First friend stories? Are you still in touch? How have your earliest friendships shaped your adult ones?

Friend Me


I never thought this day would come. But there it was on my timeline:

“Hi, Mommy. Let’s be facebook friends finally.”

The last time I had been privy to Ally’s social media life was when she was 12 and let me look at her MySpace page for a dollar. Reading about her Harry Potter crush was no different from hearing about it face to face for free. I wondered why I had wasted my money, and quickly lost all interest in cyber-sleuthing. My children were born and mostly raised before technology made childrearing a living hell, so this is not as negligent as it sounds.

Now Ally is about to turn 23–independent enough to no longer need to prove her independence.  And so she’s accepted my Friend Request, sent so long ago I’d forgotten I’d ever committed the faux-pas of asking in the first place.

“Mom,” both daughters had protested when I first got on Facebook and naively proposed that we become friends. “Are you out of your mind?” I think they may have phrased it more diplomatically, but I am skilled at discerning the subtext behind polite demurrals.

What is the subtext behind this sudden confirmation of my Friend Request? (And when will my daughter Emma follow her sister’s lead?) Ah, I get it . . . Ally, an aspiring writer, is trying to build platform. As an aspiring writer myself, I know that’s what I should be doing, too, inviting everyone in the world to be my friend and “Like” my page (which I have yet to create). Somehow, though, I can’t get past thinking of platforms as 70s shoes to be avoided, and the time in college someone stole my wallet on the platform at the Philadelphia train station. Perhaps I could have chased the thief down had I not been wearing those damn shoes.

Now I can communicate with my new friend about how to set up my writer’s page. After all, what are friends for? Not much, I’m afraid, at least not the eye-rolling daughterly kind. My preliminary request for help resulted in Ally’s telling me I could figure it out in five minutes if only I would google it.

At any rate, I’m not sure how I feel about being Facebook friends. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was terrible policy for the military, but it turns out to be pretty serviceable as parenting advice for those with older teenagers or young adult children. So far I’ve been relieved to find that Ally’s Facebook life is about as racy as her MySpace page. Do corporations really pay people to troll through prospective employee’s pages looking for embarrassing and illegal revelations of youthful folly? If so, they are not paying them enough.

The real problem is that now I have to think about my posts and whether or not I want Ally to see them. Since all I post are political petitions and my writing, I’m not too worried. Except that Ally is the child who said, when I asked if she minded what I wrote, “I don’t care what you write about me as long as I get a cut of any money you make.”

What price, friendship?


Are you friends with your kids on social media? Pros and cons?


Line a Day for Five Years

One Line a Day, Five-Year Memory Book

Of the many kindnesses bestowed on me during my cancer detour last year, one stands out. My friend Mary, also a therapist who aspires to write, brought me a small aqua book with “ONE LINE A DAY” embossed in gold letters on the cover.

“This way you won’t be overwhelmed by the blank page,” Mary said.

We had often commiserated over our tortured relationship with writing: our avoidance of it, the ways in which life intervenes, how hard it is to find just the right groove between feelings so raw they burn a hole through the page and one’s psyche versus feelings so repressed our attempts to capture them in words are devoid of life. We shared feelings of fraudulence, futility, fatigue. We knew the misery and mercy of dinner to be shopped for and prepared, the wish to turn off the computer and drown ourselves in West Wing reruns. We knew how to rally one another, to persevere with a slim thread of belief in our own gifts and dreams because the other believed so whole-heartedly in them.

“Just one line a day,” Mary continued. “Anyone can do that.”

But what jumped out at me was the volume’s subtitle: “A FIVE-YEAR MEMORY BOOK.”

Five years! If Mary believed I had this kind of time ahead of me, I could begin to retrieve myself from the choking fear that cancer evokes of being dead and buried.

Since then I’ve written every evening in my aqua book. Mostly just mundane stuff—how my neuropathy rated on a scale of 1-5; Obama’s poll numbers; the little things I’d accomplished (or not) that day. There really wasn’t enough space to go any further than that. But restriction brings freedom, as my yoga teacher always reminds us when she urges us to open up a little more space by breathing through a constricted pose. The same is true of writing—being confined to a line a day freed up space to write more than I’ve written in a long while. The foreshortened time cancer threatened also brought an urgency that freed my mind from neurotic clutter.

And so I have lived, a line a day, breathing in each new morning, writing it out each night. “Five Years” permitted me to envision a future I feared I might not have.

Last night I closed out Year One. Tonight I begin in the second spot on the page for October 29.

Year Two. And then more to come. What a gift.