Dinner With a Friend

I am sailing out to dinner with one of my dearest friends, Katey.  Believe me, it’s hard to sail anywhere when you are wrapped up in layers of coat, sweaters, scarf, hat and boots, looking like an obese mummy, but I am trying.

My husband wonders when I’ll be back.  In two hours, I tell him.  Give or take.  “Katey and I haven’t talked — really talked — in years,” I tell him.  “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

He looks the way men do when you tell them something like that: puzzled, a little skeptical.  It’s the same way he and our friend Rob looked Friday night, when Rob’s wife Laurie and I tried to explain to them the importance of keeping in touch with our circle of friends — how it’s one of the most significant parts of our lives.  The husbands clearly thought it was nice, but a little odd.  They didn’t get it.  “They’re so lucky they have us,” I told Laurie.

But anyway, Katey and I have been friends since we were both young women in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Already the mother of two young children, Katey tutored me through my first pregnancy.  Katey has a bossy streak, so she gave me lots of advice.

We were both just beginning to write then — ambitious, but tentative.  We had different ideas about combining work with motherhood, and I can remember arguing about that.  But we were friends — and if you’re lucky, there’s enough room in a friendship for that kind of disagreement.

Thirty years later, our kids are grown and doing well.  Katey says her daughter is as bossy as she used to be.  It occurs to me that’s true with my daughter, too.  Our careers — well, we’re writers.  Our careers have taken off, stalled, sputtered, taken off, repeat the sequence ad infinitum, try not to get dizzy or too full of yourself or completely demoralized.  Nothing’s forever, except for death, I hear.

Right now, though, we’re both doing pretty well.  Katey wrote a highly respected biography of Burt Lancaster and her new biography of Jim Thorpe, which will be released by Knopf in the fall, sounds every bit as fascinating.

So, we talked about our work, our families, our pasts, other friends, friends who have died, relationships, politics.  I took full credit for helping Katey, the Northern Californian who settled on the East Coast, see that this is a vast country of fascinating people and places, particularly Texas and Oklahoma.  Sometimes, you win an argument with Katey, even if it takes 30 years.

I came home three hours later, hoarse from talking.  My husband asked if I’d had a good time and I told him yes, it had been great, so wonderful to talk and drink and catch up as if we still had all the time in the world, with our lives in front of us.

But I was thinking, once again, that this is one of the great divides between men and women: That they can’t quite understand the sheer joy and sustenance women get from their close friendships.  I can’t explain it.  But I can’t explain why I need oxygen, either.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about the male, the female, the amazing result

13 comments… add one
  • Ah, close friendships with women!  I envy your having maintained them all these years.  My move to France made that difficult.  I do miss that hoarse feeling you describe.  And, men don’t get it, you’re right.

  • Amen to this. Me and a friend of mine try to get together once every one or two weeks to catch up and keep each other sane. It’s a blessing when we can keep up with it because, the rest of the time, we’re both so buried in work and our own self-neuroses. Making the effort to see each other grounds us in a way nothing else does.

  • You are so right, Ruth. That’s why “Sex and the City” and other girl-friend movies are so popular. Women need their girlfriends in a way that men don’t need their male friends.

    That said, have you seen the new show “Men of a Certain Age” with Ray Romano? It’s about three long-time male friends who actually talk to one another about things of substance!

  • I’ve kept up with my good girlfriends since moving half a world away via phone and email, but I sure miss having a sit down dinner or movie-fest with them. Nothing like it.

  • I know exactly what you mean, Ruth. I have a dear friend in Ireland, whom I only see now and again, sometimes after years have passed. But every time we get together, it’s as if we had seen each other just the other day. The problem is that, when we do get together, our husbands are usually along for the ride, and they stand around, like spare corpses at a funeral, making idle conversation and wondering if we’ll ever run out of oxygen. Then one year my husband gave me the Christmas gift of a lifetime: a trip to Ireland on my own. I stayed with my friend and we talked non-stop for a solid week, staying up into the wee sma’ hours every day. But we never once ran out of things to talk about.

  • What would I do without the women in my life. I recently had dinner with a good friend whom I hadn’t seen in person in 4 years. Not only did we stay out talking well past our bedtimes, but it felt like we were still roommates in college. There’s nothing like having a connection with people where time and place does nothing to dent your mutual interest and intimacy. Great post!

  • You are right,  friends are so important.  I have lost track of many of my old friends, and that makes me sad.  I have a big family, and I count cousins and sisters in law as close friends.  Those I haven’t lost.
    A time arrives in the life of a daughter when it becomes necessary for her to boss her mother.

  • Cindy A

    Agree with Tessa.  Girl talk is best without the spare corpses.

  • It’s so nice to have longterm friends like this who have known you since forever. I love how your voice was hoarse from so much talking. I think some men do have intense friendships as well but you are right that most don’t have the same experience talking with friends that women do. I’m about to meet a friend for coffee. I can’t wait!

  • Sheryl

    This is a lovely sentiment, Ruth. I couldn’t agree more…friendships are as important to me as my own marriage and children. They add something to life that is essential (oxygen!)  The worst blow I ever got was losing my two best friends to cancer. Part of me never recovered from the loss of such close friends. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have many friendships spanning miles and years. It takes work, but the work is worth it.

  • Winston

    I’m sure I don’t know why we breathe oxygen either, what with us living on a planet whose atmosphere is 79% nitrogen.  Be that as it may, I think an Oxygen Bar would be an excellent rendezvous spot for meeting up with old friends for a chat-fest.

  • Amen to all that. I’m sure my husband wondered why I spent such huge chunk of that Saturday with you when you were in Dallas last month…on a day when our granddaughter was visiting us, yet.

    You and I know why we do stuff like that. Phone calls and e-mails are OK substitutes when distance intervenes. But there’s just no substitute for quality time spent talking, one-on-one and face-to-face, over lunch or dinner or coffee with a real friend.

  • totally agree with your sentiment, ruth. i count my blessings every day for the great galpals — near and far, young and old, longtime and new — who listen, laugh, and love. where would we be without ’em?

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