the friendship salve

I am sitting on a bench in one of my favorite places in town, sipping a chai tea latte and people watching.  Tulips are in full bloom, the sky is the kind of blue that only happens in the West, and throngs of locals and tourists are milling about the pedestrian mall, pausing to watch the street performers and artists.  A man to my left is arranging his body into a small box, accompanied by a man playing a didgeridoo down the way to my right.  My iPhone says it’s 60F, but in the sunshine at this altitude, I’m certain it’s closer to 70F or more.  I am peeling off layers every few minutes.

On the bench next to me are two women, who appear to be in their 30’s.  They’ve been sitting there since before I sat down, and are completely absorbed in their conversation, the springtime activities around us completely forgotten, ignored.  They are speaking loudly enough for me to hear, 10 feet away, and so I am shamelessly eavesdropping.

One of the women is verbally processing the end of a relationship.  She is describing to her friend, in detail, the end of the relationship.  How she knew.  What she did.  The arguments.  The subsequent loneliness.  Her recent, furtive attempts at dating again.

Her friend is the more grounded one at the moment.  She listens and offers advice, validation, support.  She makes her friend laugh and, even at this distance, I can feel the comfort she is delivering.  Their body language speaks to a long and intimate friendship, although some of their exchange suggests otherwise.  Regardless, they are doing what women do so well for each other:  they are bonding, supporting, comforting.

What would we do without our friends?  What must it be like to have no female friends?  Mine have carried me through some monstrously difficult moments with grace and compassion.  I cannot imagine not having that in my life.

In my youth, I was never one of those girls who completely dropped her girlfriends when she got a boyfriend.  Typically what has happened during those times is that my “friend” list gets edited, those acquaintances with whom I do not have a deep connection are pruned back.  But my friendships — and that bonding time with other females — is far too important to me  to let go because of the man in my life.

My marriage was the exception.  For various reasons, I felt guilty for spending time with my friends, and slowly, gradually, they all but disappeared from my life.  Until one day, many years later, I woke up feeling barren and alone and void.

When James and I started dating, I wondered, briefly, if that pattern would repeat.  But I found that I still made time to see my friends, that I still needed that connection and didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty taking that time to indulge in the balm of female friendship.  James teased me, for “being such a girl,” but it was clear that he didn’t really mind, that he admired and valued my friendships.

I suppose, like most things, the need for face-to-face contact with our friends — for that intimate connection — varies with each of us.  This time after my divorce has taught me that I need it deeply.  Not just when things are difficult or stressful or sad, but always.  I need to talk and listen and share and connect.  I need afternoons in the sun like the women next to me are sharing.

I imagine that the two women on the bench one over will stay long after I depart in a few moments.  They are still catching up, exchanging stories and laughing.  I watch them and know, that when they leave each other today, it will be with lighter hearts and fuller souls than when they sat down.  They will smile more and rest easier for their time spent together.

And so will I, for having, just by proximity, soaked up some of the salve that is female friendship.

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