Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship. – Epicurus
One of the great boons of becoming single again is rediscovering the deep pleasures of friendship. There is current research pointing out how much greater is the circle of emotional strength of the single person vs. the married one. Within marriage there is typically a drift toward insularity; the focus narrows as spouses often wean from old friendships and turn to each other for the bulk of their emotional needs. So when studies are done examining loneliness, guess what? “People living alone are less likely to be lonely!” Why? Because friendship is the major factor impacting one’s sense of loneliness, and singletons are just more motivated to maintain their ties with friends, family and neighbors. They learn to develop networks and keep them fluid and alive, creating for themselves a wider, more stable community.
I am tempted to say that friendship is the most reliable single source of love, amusement and joy that we humans have. Of course the love we have for our progeny and (ideally) the joy we derive from them is profound, but there is something in that bond that simply comes with the territory; despite their abundant charms, there is arguably little, at least in a devoted parent, that is autonomous about deeply loving one’s child. And sure, the love that leads one into marriage/partnerhood is pivotal and all that – key for many to their survival and sanity – but the love and support of a friend is unalloyed by the heavy, often dark material that gets unearthed in the course of building a committed partnership. In a solid friendship, there are no petty disagreements about turf and responsibility, or larger battles emerging from ancient expectations and struggles about how to navigate a future together. Friendship exists on another playing field altogether.
For a long period from my teens into my early thirties, I had an anomalous relationship with friendship. That deep sort of joined-at-the-psychic-hip-in-your-teens friendship that some women are lucky enough to have, that can last throughout a life span, is something I never lucked into. In my case, attending three different high schools had the effect of wrenching me out of so many possible friendships that at a certain point I believe I stopped trying. Add to that an induction into Sarah Lawrence (then a women’s college known for its iconoclastic, mildly conceited student body) that only lasted a year before romance led me astray. After a year of messing with the high drama of first love, and another of resurrection from it, I wound up at the Museum School in Boston, also known for its iconoclastic student body, and this one was stand-offish in epic proportions.
But by then another romance and a tendency toward hermeticism made finding women friends a less pressing issue. I wound up socializing with a gang of young men, the highly intellectual cohort of my then boyfriend. I started reading Hegel and brushed up on Nihilism. One of the guys who hung out in the dense fog of smoke playing speed chess at our apartment was none other than Carl Ogilvie, a ringleader of the fairly radical SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). I actually began to believe I was some sort of adult tomboy and wonder if I’d ever have a female friend again. For that entire year the focus of this male cadre was the Zapruder film and the vast, wickedly knotted conspiracy theory behind the assassination of JFK. To be part of the gang, I even read long sections of the Warren Commission Report. And I smoked Camels.
Geographical shifts further dislocated me – a move to Los Angeles with my boyfriend, which finished off that dyad, and back to New York in a matter of two years. Entering the hardcore world of Manhattan’s radical downtown art scene as director of a small, experimental arts foundation, was a huge career leap, but my life was so fast-paced, both day and night (this was the eighties), and it was all such a mind-bender that I had no time to even think about friendships.
Winding up married with a child a few years later, I found myself an unwitting benefactor of the easy commonality bred between new mothers and became a fast friend of another local mother. Living in Tribeca, we convened in the neighborhood park and pushed our strollers through the canyons of Manhattan, bonding over the seeming absurdity of us becoming mothers, since both of us saw ourselves as lousy candidates. But yet another move, this time to the suburbs, disrupted that friendship. And although a few friendships developed there, nothing really cut the loneliness of being isolated in the suburbs and in a struggling marriage.
Now of course some of these factors are quite particular, and yet I think many women, whether young marrieds or mothers, know this conundrum. A good marriage is built on friendship and ideally that withstands the stressors of modern life. And yet, numerous are the enemies that invade that stronghold and corrode its foundations. With more responsibilities and less time, the modern adult female friendship winds up being one of commiseration through phone calls and the occasional dinner out.
So, now single again, I find that my friendships are deeper, more spacious, more fun and more meaningful. Not just with my single friends but also with new friends and their partners. Some of my best new buddies are in same sex relationships, both male and female, and contrary to the old adage ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd’, with these folks I have the best of times. Evenings of non-stop conversation that stretch into the wee hours. Wild bursts of hilarity. True love, really.
Maybe this can be cracked up to reaching a certain age, or to being beyond the urgent duties of parenthood, but I do think that the single life gives one an immense freedom to bond according purely to one’s own proclivities, and to bond wantonly and joyously.