Old Friends, Female and Fifty-Something

Halloween festivities at Marymount 1973

Halloween festivities at Marymount 1973

It’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend.  I was actually going to include “Friday” in the title of this post, but figured that would be alliteration overkill.

In any case, not only do I have the New York City Coalition Against Hunger Benefit Fashion Show to look forward to this evening, but on Saturday and Sunday several of my old college friends are gathering in New York City for dinner, a show, Mass at St. Patrick’s and a Sunday brunch.

My roommate Paula and friend Adriana, enjoying a spring day on the green

My roommate Paula and friend Adriana, enjoying a spring day on the green

I have always deeply valued the friendships I made at Marymount College.  Even so, decades passed with little contact among us.  I remember trying to say good-bye to my dear, best friend Adriana, who was going to be returning to her home in Colombia, South America, and she kept stopping me.  “I don’t say good-bye.  Don’t say good-bye,” she insisted, diverting my desire for a last hug, steeped in awareness that we would travel miles and miles, literally and figuratively, before we would ever meet again.  I never did get to say good-bye, and I’ve never seen her again.

But most of the time, it isn’t anything dramatic that keeps friends apart over the years.   Life gets in the way.  We might see each other at weddings, but then it’s off to build new lives with significant others, and kids, and careers with a whole batch of new friends, and years and years pass.

In my case, not only did my friends fade into the distance, but my college, as of a couple of years ago, is no more.  Marymount College celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 2007, and it was a bittersweet anniversary and final reunion, because the college was closing.   With declining enrollment, perhaps due to lack of interest in same-gender schools, Fordham University had taken it under its umbrella and tried to keep it alive, but finally, we got a letter stating that they had sold the beautiful campus overlooking the Hudson River and Tappan Zee Bridge, and that Marymount would cease to exist except for representation by an alumni association and a collective body of memories.   Lots of Marymount alumni are left alma-materless, including the notables Rosalind Russell, Geraldine Ferraro, Susan Lucci.

My son, who works in Public Affairs for Rutgers University, was in on the huge transition that Rutgers had last year,  centralizing all of the various colleges that made up Rutgers.  One of the most controversial issues was what to do with Douglass College, Rutgers’ women’s college.   The argument was that women’s colleges are no longer relevant in today’s society.   I’m not sure that’s true.  There have been studies showing that women flourish in women’s colleges–when in a single-sex environment they are more active collaborators, have tighter student-faculty bonds, experience more support and intellectual challenge.   When Marymount started facing pressures to go co-ed, like many colleges in the height of the women’s movement, their slogan was “Marymount separates the women from the boys!”   When I went to college at Marymount, there was only intellectual growth unencumbered by intimidation; inquiry unencumbered by male ego, creativity unencumbered by sublimation.

But I digress.  Now that life has gone on and even my college has passed on, time seems to favor reconnections with old friends.  When we meet this week, we don’t need hotels–one friend is staying at her daughter’s up by Columbia University, one at her daughter’s in Gramercy Park, I will be staying at my son’s in Union City.   Our kids have their own activities now, leaving us to pick up where we left off with our own friendships.

For a while, I bemoaned not having the women friends of my youth, but my friendships weren’t gone–they were only in hibernation as we all moved with the speed of light through weeks and months and years of being wives, and mothers, and Domestic Chieftans.  One of the best things about getting a bit older is being able to reclaim some of that time for ourselves, and just be the people we were in our college years, but a bit wiser.

Returning to these ties may be good for our health, according to the UCLS study on friendship among women.

Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol. There’s no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live longer…Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life.

Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That’s a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships (Three Rivers Press, 1998). Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women, explains Dr. Josselson. We push them right to the back burner.

So time to put the friends back on the front burner.  I’m going to dust off the Christmas card list and take up a few friends on their offers–“Let’s get together in 2009!”    But not just because it will make me healthier, or live longer.   Because they give me strength.  They make me laugh.  They’re fun to be with.  And, after all these years, I still adore them.