The wOw Conversation: The Power of Friendship

Photo Credit: Joe Fornabaio NY Times

As the year draws to a close, wOw’s women reflect on how the people who matter can become the family of our own choosing

JONI: Let’s talk about friendship. I’m talking about long-term old friends, and what happens with those. And how important are they to us? What happens when one disappoints us or when we’ve outgrown an old friend? Do we feel guilt? Do we feel obligation? And who were our friends? Who made differences in our lives? One thing I feel is that when one loses one’s parents as I have, I find my friends become my family – my family of my own choosing. So I take friends much more seriously than I ever did, and I am hurt by them when things don’t go right. And I suffer a lot of guilt when I know I should move on from one of them. I wonder if anyone else has experienced that.

LIZ: Well, we are living in a very sort of rarefied urban culture. But the way I grew up, families didn’t have friends. They just had relatives. And I lived my whole life growing up with relatives, except for whatever little friends I made in school. My cousins and aunts and poor relations were who we socialized with. I find that really sort of tragic in the end. People need to go out of their families and make friends and have this experience that you’re talking about which, of course, I now have in spades because there are only a few nieces and nephews left that I am related to any more. So my friends are really important to me. In Texas I have two girlfriends that are exactly my age. I went to college with one of them and started kindergarten with the other.

JONI: Lesley, you were going to say something?

LESLEY: Some of you have heard me say this before, but I think that, for women, our girlfriends become just what Joni said – family. Liz, you find that when you leave your parents, you need to recreate a family. You need that. As we need food, love and shelter, we need to have connections with other women. We all need to feel we can talk to someone and share happiness and sadness and communicate in a really deep way with women. It goes back to caveman times when women stayed home while the men went out and hunted, and we stayed together in a circle. I think it’s a deep, absolute necessity for our lives, our happiness and health.

MARY: Except for my daughters, most of my friends in my life have been people I’ve been working with, one place or another, because we have so much in common and we share so much. And I found that men have been extremely satisfying as friends. Whenever a man became my friend and trusted me he would tell me everything.

LIZ: I agree. Men are great talkers, great gossips and very engaging.

MARY: Women are much more communicative than men are normally. And women become like your sisters right away, sort of. But when a man trusts you and becomes your friend he tells you more than even women do. They just lay down on the floor and tell you everything.

LIZ: I agree with Mary. One of the greatest things that happened to me, as I grew older and got out of the romance rat race, was that I began making friends with men. And men are not afraid to be friends with you. They know you’ll not try to marry them or get their money or something. And I’ve had really incredible experiences in the last ten years with men, becoming friends with men. And it’s wonderful. It’s a real gift. Lesley, it’s how I feel about your Aaron. I feel he’s really my friend, as well as I feel you are. And I could see Aaron – go to him with a problem or ask him to help me or something like that. And that’s very dear to me.

JONI: Who has been a great friend to you? I know [former governor of Texas] Ann Richards was a very close friend, Liz.

LIZ: I had a wonderful experience with Ann. I’d known her a long time, slightly. When she moved to New York in 2001, when all the cowards were moving away, I introduced her to everybody I could and tried to help her. Of course, Ann already knew a lot of them, but she always said she could never have succeeded in New York without me opening doors for her and introducing her around. I just had this fabulous time with her for five years. So her death is such a tragedy for me. I feel such a loss, because she was so much smarter than I was and she had that ruthless ambitious thing that you’re talking about, that I admire so much in women.

JONI: And you’re such a –

LIZ: Well, I am an old softy compared to the rest of you.

LESLEY: What you just said, you can be ruthless as long as you’ve got Ann Richards’s sense of humor, because everything was with a smile.

MARY: My daughters are my closest friends by far.

JONI: Damn it. I thought I was your closest friend.

LIZ: You can’t have everything, Joni.

MARY: I think the group of us here today talking are as good a friends as I’ve ever hoped to have. I don’t think you can beat these four, except for my daughters. For a very long time in my life, I had two assistants at the office and they were my friends. I mean, they were with me all the way, because I lived an impossible life and they made it possible. They learned to look like me, they learned to dress like me, they learned to talk like me, they –

LIZ: Are they around? Are we ever going to meet them?

MARY: Yes, they’re amazing. At one point, one of them looked so much like me that she could go with clients; she could take care of their children and get them into colleges. She could go to dinner with clients and they felt that I was there.

LIZ: Joni and I are taking a lot of your clothes as soon as you leave and go back on your boat, the Strangelove.

MARY: It was during a period in my life when I was doing more than a human being thought they could. Having two people who understood me so well was so wonderful – if I hadn’t had Catherine and Kathie I really don’t think I could have done it. I just couldn’t have. And now, I feel the same way about the four of us.

LIZ: Joni, you have been such a great friend to me and for so long, and I think I was so unproductive as a friend for years. Now I’m making up for it.

MARY: Do you think there’s anything we wouldn’t say to each other, or we couldn’t tell each other?

LIZ: And Mary and I just slid into old friendship, though I’d never really known her before.

JONI: Well, let me ask Lesley the same question: Have you had one particular friend that has sustained you in that way that we’re hearing about – about these Catherines and Kathies?

LESLEY: Not one like that. Although I’ve had friends – long-time friendships. But what I get sort of confused about is who I deliberately stay in touch with, and what friendships I nurture and don’t let go, and which ones I do let go. And I don’t really know why. I think some of our motivations with friends are kind of hidden to us – at least to me. I have friends that I don’t see, and I don’t know why I don’t. And others I absolutely will not let out of my life.

LIZ: I see in my own life that I have sometimes dropped people, or they tell me I’ve dropped them, or their feelings are hurt, or I didn’t remember their husband’s name, or something. And because they’re too high maintenance. And my life is sort of pell-mell. I just can’t fit everything into it. You can’t be all things to all people. And I do think you have to finally be selective, particularly if you’re sort of a vague public figure like I am, where people can throw tomatoes at you. And expect a lot out of you.

MARY: But I think the four of us slid into something that is extremely honest and easy and good for us.

LESLEY: I agree. Totally. Completely.

LIZ: This experience has been incredible. And I love it, but I’m practically at death’s door here and now I’m in a big love affair with …

JONI: Fifteen women.

LIZ: … the women on the web. And all of those smart dames coming onto the site asking questions, giving opinions, et cetera.

LESLEY: The idea that we are in a project together – it’s almost like a political campaign, or making a movie. We care about it and then we find out we actually like each other.

JONI: We have a common goal and we are close enough that we’ve managed to open up more because we’re all working for something. One of my favorite books was a book called Trio by Aran Saroyan, which told the story of Carol Matthau’s friendship with Oona Chaplin and Gloria Vanderbilt. And this went on through decades and it went through marriages and it went through –

LIZ: It finally blew up, the friendships. Oona married Charlie Chaplin and so she was sort of forcibly removed from the Gloria Vanderbilt and Carol Matthau orbit. I think in the end maybe they all got friendly again. I hope so. Oona and Carol are both gone and there is only Gloria, the glamorous survivor and mother of TV’s Anderson Cooper!

JONI: But in that era, the male used to take precedence over the female friendships. Once women married, the wife got cut off from friendships. And I think there is a big change now. It used to be, at least in my memory from husbands before, that we would hide our friendships. If we were talking on the phone, as soon as the husband came into the room, or the boss came into the room, or the male came into the room, we’d hang up right away. And that no longer is the case; friendships are just as valuable, just as important, as the relationship with your mate. Female friendships are too important to put second.

8 comments so far.

  1. avatar Linda Myers says:

    I grew up with so much family that wasn’t blood, friendships my parents had long before I was born, with their children becoming non-blood family and life long friendships as well. I have also found the true friendships which have remained in life hold a common point beyond just the time of life I am in at a certain point. The ones who took a residence in my heart have always remained and if I only talk to them once every five years, a conversation can pick up and be like yesterday.
    My life, for some reason keeps going through seven year cycles and few along the way have crossed over through the cycles in keeping a common ground of interest and activity. I am use to letting go and accepting the time spent, with very few in life separated for reasons of any hostility, it just happens but the good times stay in memory.
    If I had one person from this long line of non-blood family I would choose to step back or know more about it would be a boyfriend my mom had as a teenager, who reentered her life again a few times after my Dad died. I heard about him all my life so maybe he was just an enigma in my thinking. The month after she died, on Valentines Day my sister said a card arrived from him and she sent it back to him – and still refuses to give me a last name. Chances are now he is gone also. Friendships fade in many ways though that friendship has always peaked my interest.

  2. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Looking back, in our child-bearing years from early on (and mine were very early), we naturally formed friendships with the mothers of our children’s friends as the children travelled back and forth between houses.  To me, they were a Godsend.  In my neighborhood, we were all the same age, all college grads, and pretty much had come from almost the same childhood backgrounds.  We could talk to each other almost in shorthand, could depend on each other, and see each other through good times and bad (though, looking back, “bad” really wasn’t that bad!!)

    I still have a few of those women as friends though most of my women best friends are from my childhood years.  They too followed the same path, had the same life, and – like most of that era – had children first before the larger LIFE began to take form.

    OK.  “After-children” my dearest friends have always been men.  To say that life has been wonderful is an understatement.  They don’t gossip.  . and we can talk together, knowing that on either side nothing is going to be repeated.  Once I was in that “new chapter” in my life, I was highly ambitious to be more than a small cog in the larger world.  Like a sponge, I soaked up what was being said.  Conversations with men became a combination of business and pleasure.  That remains the same — and I have found that it sharpens the mind in a way that I love.  But I have learned so much about interpersonal relationships from their point of view — which has served me well.  We laugh more — which is my favorite thing to do.  And – I think we have all found this — that once confidences are shared, usually they are friends for life.  My men are all of that — we have grown together and understand each other.  Touching base as often as possible has never lapsed in this wonderful world.  . and the conversations are stimulating as we encourage each other to greater heights (well, when we are not sharing the personal things).

    And so, this combination of women friends who have stuck like glue together from childhood and then “the men” have made me so blessed.  I think both are part of the package we can call “the good life”.  And “good” doesn’t even come close to what it really is.  May it always remain!!!!

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    A friend of mine’s mother once told me there are “fair weather friends” who flee when the thunderstorms of life hit and “foul weather friends” who offer the umbrellas and who in the end are the real friends.  One “foul weather friend” makes up for all the “fair weather friends.”

  4. avatar Maggie W says:

    What a great picture of four gorgeous ladies! Each with a terrific smile!
    On a small table in my office are two pictures I cherish. One was taken in a sailboat on a crisp February day. The four of us are fresh faced from the university and grinning, huddled together, and all wearing hoodies. Since that time, we have taken 19 vacations together. The only time a person missed was when one of us was pregnant or had a new born or a sick child. Our next trip will be to Cabo San Lucas in May.
    The other picture is in front of the Alamo. The year was l991. There are 14 of us, in shorts and tee shirts and huge sunglasses. Flip flops. Visors. We all stayed at the historic Menger Hotel ( didn’t see any famous ghosts though. Dang!) Although we now all live in three different states, we still get together in San Antonio to sip margaritas and have fun on the Riverwalk. My children call these ladies their aunts. Their children also call me Aunt Maggie. We have named some of our children after one another. We have the same conversation frequently… very fortunate we are that Fate stepped in and led us to one another.

  5. avatar Linda Myers says:

    It is almost New Years Eve, and nothing from Liz?? Wishing all of WOW well.

  6. avatar J Holmes says:

    Friends – could not live without them. 

  7. avatar eleanore wells says:

    I’ve never quite gotten the “man relationship” thing right, but I am proud that I have a circle of true and fabulous friends (male and female) who have been an integral part of my life for many decades.  It’s what matters

  8. avatar Patrice Baldwin says:

    I love the picture of the four of you. Three have the hair style I’ve been trying to emulate and the fourth (Liz) I just changed from. I’ll get it one day.
    I’m much older than y’all, (78 this month) and I envy your active work/social lives. In my day, I only worked away from home for a few years in the animation business. I loved the camaraderie with men. The women in my life from waaaay back are just one. We’ve kept up from Girl Scouts to this new year. I’ve moved around in my life, and my family only had one other kid my age. When I moved down to LA for art school, I began with a couple of new friends with whom I still keep up. Then I moved to Mexico for 10 years and had a whole new bunch of new best friends. The last one died just last year.
    Then I moved up to AZ and started another new group with whom I still write. After another 10 years I went back to CA but only for a couple of years when I went over to China to teach and acquired some new friends whom I still write to also. When I came back after a year, the year in Austin was sort of with my daughter’s friends; nothing lasting there. Then back to AZ and I have 7 new and old friends here, but only one whom I could call up and have a cup of tea with.
    So I’m left with good friends in CA, AZ, MX, TX, China, and girl scouts. And I’m glad to have my one good friend in Tucson to hang out with. Good thing I’m a letter and email writer. The thing is, artists usually work alone, and that is what I’ve learned. I’ve recently closed my private press after 30 years, and gone back to painting… but in the 21st century way… digitally.
    Check out my website to see where I’ve landed:   Starting a new business at 78 is really fun!!!