For a long time I have wanted to write about women's friendships. But
since those friendships are so important, and since trust is a major
ingredient in a friendship, I thought writing about it would be too
personal and too hard. Now, however, Ellen Goodman and Patricia
O'Brien, two of my favorite writers, have written a whole book about it
and called it, "I Know Just What You Mean." They talk in intimate
terms about their own friendship and set a great example for us all.
Yes, I know just what you mean.
Let me explain quickly that I am not ignoring men's friendships. I
simply don't understand them. The authors don't either, but they made
the effort in one chapter. Men's friendships are different - not
better or worse -- but very different from women's. So be it.
Many women's friendships are life long beginning in the sand box, but
they can start anywhere along the way. Ellen and Pat met when they were
both in the 1974 class of Nieman Fellows in Journalism at Harvard. Both
were in their thirties, divorced mothers of young children. Ellen had
one child, Pat had four, and neither had much money. Their
friendship, begun in that year in Cambridge, has lasted nearly 30 years,
across distance, new marriages, growing careers and growing children.
But as old friends know, it keeps getting better if you hold on through
the bends and curves.
The authors are saying what I have known all my life. "Friendship
matters to women; it matters a lot. . . women are looking around at
other women who are their fellow travelers and saying -- this person is
important in my life."
Women need to talk. It is at the heart of women's friendships and it
starts early. If you have ever been around a 17 year old female and a
telephone you understand. One chapter is titled, "We talk. Therefore
we are friends."
The talk comes first, and the trust grows. Women's friendships are
built on sharing and acceptance. They trust each other, they are
always there for each other, they are loyal to each other, they laugh
and cry together and they have fun. Good friends know no age
differences. I have been especially fortunate all my life to have
friends of all ages. And good friends recognize the differences
between them and learn from them. Pat calls it "swapping our
strengths and weaknesses."
Of course there are pitfalls in any long term relationship. The authors
interviewed many women, from famous ones like Oprah and Ann Richardson,
to some on welfare, discuss the way they have maintained wonderful
friendships and worked their way through the bad stretches.
This book leaves you feeling enriched, like George Eliot, who wrote,
back in the early 19th century. "Oh the comfort-- the inexpressible
comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts
nor measure words, but pouring them all right out just as they are."
Another kind of friendship which is relatively new in the history of
women was shown last week when the nine female members of the United
States Senate sat down side by side on the Larry King show. These women
-- from Maine to California, from Washington to Louisiana, Democrat and
Republican -- have forged a friendship on common experiences. They have
all been through the same grinder to get where they are, and have had
the same problems to face when they arrived. They recognize the scars
in each other. Sure they disagree on a lot of things, but they are
strong enough to know their friends, and each one said publicly that
she will not campaign against any of the other eight, regardless of
My friend the philosopher is the one who makes me think about what I am
writing. If she raises an eyebrow on the first rough draft I re-think
it very carefully. She is the one I call nearly every Friday night
whining, "This column is not coming together and probably never will."
And I know that she will say, having heard those exact words roughly 500
times by now, "Yes it will. It will be good."
"A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature." Ralph Waldo