One of the perks of being a middle-aged woman (besides the physical alterations, faltering marriages, temperamental teens, and capacity-diminishing parents) is the ability for every woman you meet to become an instant friend.
Oh, wait--that’s me dreaming that all women did that—that we are all big mouths by the time we celebrate our 40th birthday because, honestly, what are we waiting for? Why hold in the aches until you can make them momentarily disappear with savory, sweet, and liquid munchies or share them in a fifty-minute counseling session that doesn’t begin to ease the pain you’ve experienced since last week’s visit.
For years my marriage disintegrated until home and husband were cursed words. I would call my mother in tears, but she couldn’t give me more than a guilty opportunity to vent, what with her 54-years of holding hands with my father, and a “bear it” attitude. But tell friends, that was not done; I believed that we’re supposed to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt. And in the study, “Taboo Topics among Close Friends,” Robin Goodwin found that, no surprise here, “Most taboo topics reflected unwillingness to discuss family matters or hurt feelings.” This closed-door—or rather closed mouth—policy is pervasive in many cultures.
Naima Brown-Smith noted in “Family Secrets” that “families keep secrets as a way of protecting themselves against perceived vulnerabilities.” When we’re vulnerable in the home—we want to appear strong outside of it—or at least capable of having a conversation without breaking down in tears. Even in this age of social media, Brown-Smith found that “Among the most common explanations for why outsiders do not know more about family life is that information is considered personal and/or that revealing certain things would demonstrate inadequacies.” Let’s finally admit it ladies—by the time we get our first errant chin-hair, we surely should have recognized some personal lackings.
In a 2011 study, “Misery Has More Company Than People Think,” researchers at Stanford, Berkeley and Syracuse Universities observed that when we don’t share our negative emotions we end up with “less social support, more depressive symptoms, lower well-being, and less life satisfaction.” By not sharing, never mind over-sharing, we’re harming ourselves—and our friends.
I was only able to confide in one friend about my divorce and that was only after she overheard my ex-husband yelling at me on the phone, something, she finally admitted, she could relate to. Another friend, recently divorced and living in a different city, could offer her lessons learned because we needed to talk about something besides our daughters. And I needed that—I needed friends to talk to—ones I could call, free of charge, for insight and battle cries. I needed to not be solitary in my pain.
Having no one to friend is apparently not the reason why we’re not sharing. In the study, “Social Connectivity in America,” researchers at USC and the University of Toronto found that from 2002 to 2007 American adults have on average ten friends “they meet or speak with at least weekly with a few additional virtual friends and migratory friends” (internet friends who become face-to-face friends). So we’re underutilizing our friends, and ourselves as friends.
Why not admit when the marriage is hollow? Do you really think you’re the only one who has nothing to say to your husband when he comes home after the kids are asleep, never mind no sex? Do you think only your mother needs more care than you can provide through a telephone? Why should someone have to say to a friend that everything is fine when nothing is fine except the weather? Why are we still our mothers with their notions of dirty laundry flapping in the wind?
At my parent’s 50th anniversary party, my mother told people that my husband couldn’t come because he had to work; she couldn’t bring herself to say that we were separating. But once she did start to tell her friends, she found that they could run a series of worst son-in-law competitions. It was a revelation and a release for her—and me.
We need to follow my mother’s example (I can’t believe I just wrote that)—speak honestly and openly. We need to trust each other, because we are the village—and shouldn’t we shape it to fit our needs? It’s time, surely, to admit that we need friends, not just to see a chick flick or get away from the kids, but because they are our best counselors and sounding boards.
Later today I will eat cucumber sandwiches with friends. I am imagining crustless white bread sandwiches and tea with cream. And maybe I’ll get a real conversation going by making a revelation or two. (Would talking about chin hairs count?)