SUMMER FRIENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about old friends; people who knew you when you were a lot younger and who shared a part of your life that doesn’t exist anymore. That got me thinking. Why do some people become ‘old friends’ and others drop by the wayside? Why do some people stick with you over decades while others drift away?

I believe that most people start out as situational friends. You meet and become friends because you’re sharing an activity or a stage of life. Examples are people you work with and parents whose kids go to school with and/or are friends with your kids. Also, people you meet through hobbies, like at a golf or tennis club, a knitting circle, a book club, etc.

What makes some of those friendships ‘take’ and become permanent? I have no idea. Many friendships seem to end when the shared activity stops – you change jobs, your kids graduate or find new friends, you leave the club, whatever. I’ve had so many friends like this it blows my mind. I’ve often wondered why we lost touch. Why was it that that particular person or couple slipped away? We were so close!

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But some friends do stay with you and ripen into wonderful ‘old friends’. I’ve never been able to tell which friendships will last and which won’t. In the mid-late 1980’s I was redecorating my house from top to bottom. I spent two years working closely with my decorator and we became friends. At around the same time, my daughter became friends with a girl in her kindergarten class and I became friends with her Mom (and Dad as well – we also socialized as couples). Those friendships lasted all the way through high school – 12 years. Who am I still close with 30 years later? The decorator. The Mom still lives five minutes away from me and we haven’t even talked in years and years. The decorator moved out-of-state more than 10 years ago but we’re still the dearest of friends.

For many years, Tom and I had a group of friends who shared a dock with us at the marina where our boat lives. We were crazy close. We traveled together with our boats, partied all summer, and had gotten together regularly over the winter. Gradually, boats left the marina, people moved away and most of them disappeared from our lives. Only one friend remains out of at least six or eight couples. I was heartbroken that the ‘gang’ dispersed into the ether.

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I think friendships like these end because of some odd combination of laziness and busyness. When you no longer share that situational ‘bond’, you’re not thrown together. You have to make more of an effort to see each other. Obviously, if you haven’t developed a strong emotional connection that transcends your ‘situation’, that won’t happen.

Also, people are busy. Between work, family, and other friends, time is at a premium. If you’re not at the top of someone’s ‘priority list,’ you lose. The common ‘bond’ was what got you to the top of the list before. Now, unless you have a personal bond or you forge a new one that shoots you to the front of the line – you’re toast. You just don’t fit into the new reality of your former friends’ lives.

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I have to admit, I’m hypersensitive. I take it at least a little bit personally whenever someone drops out of my life. But, I don’t lose sleep over it either. I’ve learned making and keeping friends has as much to do with timing as anything else. Like romantic relationships, some things are not meant to be. Fortunately for me, many wonderful friendships have blossomed, lasted, and enrich my life today.

Now that we have encountered a world with a plague we never imagined possible, I suspect there will be more losses of friends and groups of friends. There will be people who don’t want to go out. I have heard that is beginning to happen to people my age in other places. I’m hoping we are not among them.

BEST FRIENDS FOR AN AFTERNOON – Marilyn Armstrong

It has nothing to do with hooking up or any other kind of sex. It has to do with becoming the closest of friends with a complete stranger for one afternoon, then never seeing him or her again.

One year, about 30 years ago, I was visiting friends in Montreal. I was poor, didn’t have a reliable car, so I took the bus from New York to Montreal. It was a five-hour ride. I figured I’d sleep most of it, but instead, I found myself seated next to an Indian (from India) medical student who was studying medicine at McGill University. He had just been visiting friends in New York and it was time to go back to studying.

He explained that he was on a scholarship from India and the deal was, he would study, become a doctor, then go back to India and do three years of work there to compensate the government. But, he said, he wasn’t going back.

I was surprised. “But you took the money,” I pointed out. “Don’t you feel you owe them something?” He sighed.

“India is so big,” he said. “So poor. There is very little I could do there that would mean anything. But I could do some great work here in Canada. Research work that might save many people and not just for three years. Maybe for a hundred years.”

He then talked about India’s relationship with Great Britain. “Mostly, everyone hates the British, but they gave us one thing for which we will always be grateful.”

I raised both eyebrows (I can’t raise just one, sorry) and looked at him.

“English,” he said. “Before the British, we spoke hundreds of languages. In each valley, the villages had their own language. Across the nation, we couldn’t talk to each other. Then along came the English and suddenly, we could communicate. For that, we are grateful. It may not be our best language, but it the one everyone speaks.”

After that — getting a look at India I had never seen before — I passed along all of my current issues including trying to get a Jewish divorce in Israel while living in New York, a process so complicated that even 32 years later, I get a headache thinking about it. Not to mention the nasty piece of work who,  for hard-to-fathom reasons, I had married. And children. Mine. His. Ours. As well as the big ocean between us.

Greyhound bus terminal

The two of us never even exchanged names. When we parted at the bus station in Montreal, we had no thought of ever meeting again.

We were best friends for one afternoon on a long bus ride between cities. And three decades later, I still remember it.

IF YOU SURVIVE THE WEDDING, MARRIAGE IS A PIECE OF CAKE – Marilyn Armstrong

When Garry proposed, I was shocked. That was not supposed to happen. He was 48. I was 43 and had been married twice. My first husband (still alive) was Garry’s best friend. It was (really) complicated.

I had finally managed to get unmarried to number two which was made a lot more difficult because I needed an Israeli board of Rabbis in Jerusalem to agree. You’d be surprised how difficult that can be. They are not modern guys.

Photo: Debbie Stone

After I got over the shock, I realized we would have a wedding, about which I was not enthusiastic. I have never been enthusiastic about weddings. But Garry wanted the whole thing. Flowers,  music, and his pastor from childhood who was retired, but he dragged out of retirement for the occasion … and of course, me. Also, it had to be in New York at his childhood church rather than in Boston where we lived — and where Garry had lived for more than 25 years.

Having told me what he wanted for a wedding, Garry retired and let me deal with it. He figured out I would do everything and he could show up in a tuxedo. Voila! Done and done.

Somewhere in Ireland

The whole thing’s a blur. Luckily, I have it on a DVD. As a bride, you get moved around, told where to stand. You wear shoes so painful you need the jaws of life to remove them from your feet. Also, the gown had no shoulders, so I had to wear a corset. It was a hot September and beneath the corset, I was bathed in sweat. There were stockings with garters, a veil, flowers, coiffed hair, and more makeup than is suitable for a very warm day. Sheesh.

As for the date, it would be when Garry’s baby brother, the honorable Dr. Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf’s Choir wasn’t going to be on the road with the choir. We wanted him to sing — and he wanted to sing — but he’s a busy guy. Then there was a bagpiper (my first husband insisted). My Maid of Honor wanted to sing (lovely voice) … and another friend was going to sing too. NO way we were getting away with simple music and anyway, Garry has a streak of Hollywood director in his soul, so we made no plans for the reception, but staged a big show for the ceremony.

That was September 15th,1990, so it will be 30 years this year. Time sure has hurried by.

When people asked if they could bring their kids, we said “absolutely not” and they brought them anyway. Garry’s mother invited all her best friends because she was Garry’s Mom and felt she could do whatever she wanted. And she did.

I wanted to go to City Hall and have the Mayor marry us. He was a pretty good friend then — still IS a friend, though he’s long out of office. We could have had a nice little ceremony on the steps of city hall, grabbed a plane at Logan and headed for Ireland. But we had to have a wedding. I think we were the ONLY people to invite 86 people and end up with 110 people attending. No one refused.

Everyone came. “You mean — GARRY is getting MARRIED? I’ve gotta BE there!” He was Boston’s longest surviving bachelor, so this was an occasion for all and sundry. It was a great wedding which I know because we have the DVD. A couple of years ago, we transferred it from tape to DVD having discovered that mylar tape corrodes rather quickly. Who knew?

With a few exceptions, we know all the same people today we knew then. Funny how that works.

I suppose we stayed married because we were determined to make it work. We really cared about each other. Love is important in a marriage, but I have to say it is the friendship that keeps it going. When the flush of romance has been crushed under the pressure of two full-time jobs, all Mr. Romance wants to do is sit around the apartment watching baseball. Being friends helps.

Love is a grand thing, but a deep and abiding friendship lasts forever. So, if I were you, I’d call a time-out at a big wedding and spend the money on a fabulous honeymoon. Honeymoon food is better and you don’t have to wear high heels.

EXTROVERTED INTROVERTS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I learned a new phrase recently, ‘extroverted introvert.’ I’d never heard it before but I instantly recognized that it applied to me and even explained some things about myself that had always puzzled me.

I have extrovert qualities but at heart I always felt like an introvert – so I could never figure out where I fit  on the spectrum. I would often be disappointed in myself when I didn’t feel as outgoing and social as I thought I should. I would beat myself up when I craved down time before and after bursts of socializing.

But that’s apparently natural for extroverted introverts. In fact, extroverted introverts are defined by their periods of sociability coupled with essential periods alone to decompress and recharge. This defines me to a tee.

Some people at our marina can sit on the dock and chat for hours. But after a while, I have to excuse myself and spend some time reading or writing. Extended socializing can be exhausting for me and often when I reach my saturation point, I mentally check out. I used to be upset with myself when this happened and I would worry about whether other people saw me as unfriendly. But now I can just relax and enjoy the amount of chit chat that is comfortable for me.

Another characteristic of extroverted introverts is that we crave deeper connections, with real substance. We don’t do well with much small talk. This means we are happier with a few close, meaningful friendships rather than many superficial ones. We feel rejuvenated and fulfilled when we have rich conversations and feel an emotional bond with other people.

I always felt bad that I had so little tolerance for idle chatter, but now I understand that since it gives me so little gratification, I should forgive myself for wanting to avoid it as much as possible.

We extroverted introverts are therefore better in small groups rather than large crowds and we actually prefer one on one conversations. I’ve always thought of myself as basically shy and insecure, though you would not think that to meet me, and in a crowd, I’m a wallflower. I tend to listen and observe more than talk. I hang out near the food or near the person I came in with and I’m wary about approaching people and starting a conversation. I’m often the one who offers to help the hostess set up or clean up to get away from the group setting.

But once someone is introduced to me, I open up and blossom and can form friendships with people very quickly. Also, if I sense a connection with someone, I have no problem asking a person I’ve just met for their contact information and inviting them to meet for coffee. I’ve come to realize that this is not the norm and that many people are reluctant to ask a stranger to hang out. That surprised me because I’m usually not that confident. But I think that my desire for deeper connections with others supersedes my shyness and anxiety.

The flip side of extroverted introverts’ need to connect is the fact that we are naturally empathetic and make us great listeners, a great shoulder to cry on and someone our true friends come to for comfort and advice. I pride myself in being that ‘sounding board’ to many friends and to both my children. I’m told that I am truly non-judgmental and therefore make people feel comfortable opening up to me. I’m thrilled about this because it’s something I’ve always striven to be.

My grandmother was fiercely judgmental and my mother always stressed to me how important it is NOT to be that way. My Mom turned out to be very judgmental too, though much more subtly. But somehow I achieved my goal of accepting people as they are and acknowledging that other people have different standards and values than me and that neither of us are inherently better than the other.

One of my best friends complimented me by telling me that I am one of the least negative and least judgmental people she knows and how much she appreciates that about me.

I don’t think that anything will change now that I know I’m an extroverted introvert. But it’s comforting to know that while I don’t neatly fit into the larger division of humanity between extroverts and introverts, there is a subset that fits me pretty well.

There are lots of other people who straddle personality modalities like I do. So I realize that I will never be the life of the party, but I am the person my friends will confide in after the party. And that’s fine with me.

LONG DISTANCE PARENTING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve had a long-distance friendship with Christine, who lives in London, for close to 50 years. I learned how to stay in close touch before texting and emails and Skype existed and when long-distance phone calls cost a fortune. I learned to appreciate how short but intense visits, living in each other’s homes and traveling together could create an intimacy that no amount of shared dinners can equal. I understand the emotional connection forged by sharing the little, everyday moments. This bond can withstand both time and distance.

Now I have the same kind of long-distance relationship with my daughter, Sarah, who lives in LA. Like with Christine, our relationship is one of the extremes – extreme distance punctuated by periods of intense togetherness. For most of the year, we communicate via text and phone. Then, for periods of ten days to three weeks, we live together and spend all our time together. My daughter and I have learned to enjoy different types of sharing and appreciate our own combination of relationship modalities.

Thanks to modern technology, Sarah and I can share the major and minor events of the day with both words and photos. I can tell her if a dress she’s trying on looks good and she can help me decide which outfit to wear tonight. We text our reactions to TV shows we both watch and I can also give her hourly reports when her sister-in-law was having surgery.

Sarah and me a few years ago.

My daughter hates the phone so we don’t talk that often, but once we’re on the phone, we have long, rambling conversations hopping from one topic to another. To me, it’s almost as good as sitting together with a cup of tea.

Then she comes to visit. She’d been going to UCLA for the past two years to get a certification in Interior Design, so she’s been able to come east at least twice a year for two to three weeks at a time between semesters. What a joy! We are together 24/7 and do everything together. She comes to the supermarket with me and I take her dress shopping. We watch TV, play with the dogs, visit with friends and family, hang out with Tom, play gin and double solitaire and laugh a lot.

Sarah, a few years ago

Sarah loves to tackle major projects when she’s home, like the hoard of photos and papers that were sitting in boxes in the attic. Now everything is organized and labeled in plastic, mouse-proof containers. That project took two visits to complete. This holiday season, her project was to create 14 photomontages (on a special photoshop program) representing different phases of our family history from my grandparents’ youths to the present. She had to go through all my photo albums and search through all the photos I have on the computer. Then she had to see which photo-combinations worked well together in the montage. The result is amazing!

Sarah and her brother on one of her recent visits.

There is something about this kind of mundane sharing that creates and/or reinforces strong bonds. In fact, I probably spend more hours a year physically with my daughter in LA than with my son who lives one and a half hours away. This is similar to the difference I see between my local and my long-distance friends. The intense time I spent with Christine, in our homes and traveling together, with and without our children through the years, forged a strong and different kind of bond than the ones I have with my local friends.

With local friends, we go to dinner and hang out at each other’s homes, but we never share the day to day details of life. We never wake up and see each other before coffee and brushing teeth and hair. We don’t see each other’s daily routines. It’s like the difference between dating someone and living with them. NOTE: My local friends have changed over the years, with people moving in and out of my life regularly. But my friend in Germany has been in my life for 35 years, one friend in London for 35 years and the other for 50. I do have US friends for that long, but it’s a small percentage.

So I’ve learned to accept and appreciate different kinds of relationships. I would definitely prefer to have my daughter live closer so I could see her more frequently. But I can also see the benefit of our intense periods of togetherness. I know we can maintain our incredible closeness over time this way, so I can be grateful for that. This is the silver lining of our cross country existence.

Sarah, Tom and I have planned a trip to London in April of 2020 and we’ll be staying with Christine for five days. It’ll be like old times! I’ll get to live with my long-distance friend and my long-distance daughter at the same time. I can’t wait!

Christine and me in 2013

THEN SHE SUMMED UP FAITH IN ONE SENTENCE – Marilyn Arnstrong

I had a very dear friend who was going through a terrible time of her life, yet her Christian faith never wavered. She once told me you could sum up Christianity in a sentence.

“What is that?” I asked.

Marilyn Baker

“Christ died,” she answered, “so we would be nice to each other, even before morning coffee.” Then she smiled and took a sip from her cup.

Be kind to everyone. Even when you don’t feel like it. Maybe especially then.

She has since passed on and I still miss her every day. She was the gateway to my understanding that religious people could be honorable and courageous, not merely plotting hypocrites. She was pure gold.

 

WE MADE IT – Marilyn Armstrong

The first thought I had this morning was “The phone is ringing. Answer the phone.”

Getting to the phone from bed is a stretch and a twist. I could make it easier if I moved my Disney “Someday my Prince will come” lamp. But this would also make it more difficult to turn the lamp on and off. Since I use my lamp more often than I answer my phone, the phone stays put.

Regardless, answering a ringing phone from a dead sleep is one of my more acrobatic moves. Most times, when it rings early in the day, it is either a telemarketer or a doctor’s office reminding me about an appointment. This time, it was a friend from whom I was glad to hear.

“Hey, Rob!” I said. You’ve got to love Caller ID.

“I’m alive,” he said. He sounded great. Considering he had just had two heart valves replaced during the previous week, that’s not such a small thing. I was amazed, delighted and impressed he sounded so perky and clear-headed.

Rob goes way back into the early teenage years of my life. We met at the college radio station. He was 13. I was 17. I felt very superior since I was obviously four years more mature than he was.

He always had a baby face, full of freckles. He still does, though the hair has become mixed with gray. Our lives have continued to intersect throughout the decades. When he was 14, he got cancer. He was treated. Went into remission. Decided to skip college because he figured he was going to die young.

Not.

He taught himself computer programming and morphed into a software developer. He learned to fly. Bought a small plane. I got to fly it too, even though it was a pretend flight as “co-pilot.”

It was fun, scary, and made me realize I love to fly. As a passenger. No piloting for me, unless I can grow my own wings.

He went to live in Brussels. I went to live in Jerusalem. Both of us came back and got married. My first husband — with whom we were all friends because he ran the college radio station where we met died following a mismanaged mitral valve replacement. I was married to Garry by then, having met Garry at that same radio station.

No exaggeration. Everything started there.

First dawn of spring 2017

So you can see why everyone in our crowd is more than normally nervous about heart valve replacements, even though Jeff’s death was at least partly his fault though I think more the result of an arrogant doctor who failed to take fundamental precautions during post-operative care.

Hearing from Rob was heartening. He had two valves replaced, the mitral and the aortic. He had previously, some years back, had a coronary bypass, so he was a little cranky this surgery. He takes exceptionally good care of himself — and his wife, Mira, would personally fight back death with her bare hands. I wouldn’t mess with her.

We had talked several times about surgeons, hospitals, mechanical versus tissue valves. I explained why I preferred tissue. No blood thinners and with all the other medical issues I’ve got, who needs to deal with potential bleeding issues too? Rob is not exactly free of other medical problems, either. He’s got his original cancer lurking. He will never run out of things to worry about.

Nonetheless, he sounded terrific. Alert. Alive. He had made it. If you live around here and you need serious heart surgery, I highly recommend Beth Israel. They are terrific. If there’s such a thing as a great hospital experience, you will have it there. I don’t say this lightly, having been resident in pretty much every one of Boston’s highly-regarded facilities.

It was deeply reassuring to not lose another friend. Given how small our “herd” has become, we try to grow closer. Because now, we really know time isn’t forever.

We are a strange herd of oddballs — musicians, writers, artists, mathematicians and more. Long may we live.