Just Friends?

Friends My yoga teacher is on another spiritual plane. He lives in a world where men and women can be just friends. He’s getting married next month, but he often talks about his very good female friends. This does not compute with me, as I have not had a real male friend since I was a teenager, and even then, some of them later confessed they just liked me because I didn’t wear a bra.

Not sure if it is just me or if this male/female friendship thing is a universal law from which only yogis are exempt.

I am not talking about “friends” who are my girlfriend’s husbands or lovers. I am not talking about the great gay guy I love talking to when I see him once a year at a friend’s party. I am not talking about Facebook friends.

My definition of a male friend is an actual guy who I feel safe calling up to go out to lunch or shopping or a movie. And nobody would hit on anybody, the idea would not even occur to us. No wives or significant others would feel threatened during the course of this friendship, either.

I thought I had it, a real male friend, a couple of times. But then somebody (and it wasn’t always him) would blow it. Take G for example. I wasn’t even thirty when I met him, introduced by our mutual therapist. We vowed over wine that we would just hang out and be friends. This lasted through one coffee date and about halfway through a singles dance, when we suddenly discovered we liked each other better than any of the other singles there. It ended in unfriendly tears a few months later.

Then there was my pal D. I’d liked this guy forever and had always wanted more, but through the years he kept telling me we were better as friends. Then I married Al and D married some lucky woman and we parted ways. Until about the time I turned forty and she divorced him. He gave me a call. We went to the movies. I felt safe with him because he’d always shut down my romantic overtures in the past. But then he held my hand during the movie. I let that go. After all, he was newly divorced. Perhaps he just needed the human touch. Turns out, he wanted more than a touch. Too bad that by the time he finally wanted me, I was committed heart and soul to somebody else.

I truly believed that by the time I hit fifty, I was ready for real friendship with a man. F was perfect. He was a writer (like me). He was happily married (like me). He loved yoga and meditation (like me). He occasionally liked to get away from his daily life to write. That’s how we met. At a writer’s conference hundreds of miles from both of our homes. After the conference, we started emailing. We saw each other again at another conference the next year. This time the spouses were involved. We all liked each other. It felt like a real friendship.

Then the test. We’d meet for a week at the same conference where we’d first encountered each other three years before. Nobody else in our loose-knit writer’s group would be there. No spouses, either. Just the two of us. I was totally up for it. We planned bike rides and dinners out and lots of writing time. I drove the five hours and checked into our agreed upon hotel. He called my room and asked if I wanted to get a drink. I said sure and met him.

Which is when he said “I’ve already decided. We are not having an affair.”

He said it like he was fending off some advance he hoped I’d make. He said it like it was a real possibility, like he wanted me to talk him out of it. If he really was the friend I’d believed him to be, I would have laughed and told him that the two of us in bed had never crossed my mind. It hadn’t. He wasn’t my type. My husband, now, he’s exactly my type.

But I didn’t laugh, in fact I stayed uncharacteristically silent. I brooded sadly on the fact that an affair had even crossed his mind. It changed something, like a line being drawn in the friendship sand. I felt awkward all week. When I got home, I wasn’t surprised when our emails lost their spark and eventually diminished into nothingness, because I’d finally figured out that, for me at least, close male friends are not a part of my destiny. Luckily I have an abundance of the female kind.

Flower Power

Just finished reading Drop City, T. C. Boyle’s edgy take on the counterculture of the 1960s. Boyle’s narrative muscle brought back my freak days in glorious trippy color. Because I called myself a freak, not a hippie. Hippie was the establishments’ word for what we were, and they didn’t know shit. We called straight guys “the man” and the term was not meant kindly.

Boyle’s freaks and heads, chicks and cats, lived in a commune, the real getting back to nature deal. As I read,I was sort of jealous of them. I’d never lived in a commune, not really. The places I stayed in my freak days were derisively callled crash pads by our landlords, houses or flats in cities, never farms on rolling acres. An exception was a great place in Key West that looked out to the Gulf of Mexico. 

As an introver t, it was difficult for me to share my space with so many other people. As an underpaid waitress, it was a necessity. Just as it was a necessity that I share the bed of the guy paying most the rent in Key West. I didn’t mind, not really. I even came to care for him–until the next young girl came along looking for a place to stay and took my place in his flea-infested bed.

Boyle’s book brought back those days, the flowers, peace and love. But also the panhandling, poverty, and dirt. The worst part of letting my freak flag fly was the whole ridiculous idea of free love. Love wasn’t free, not really. Free love was just code that meant hip chicks, if they really had their head together, if they really knew where they were at, if they really dug the scene, if they were totally free of establishment hang ups, got naked with any guy any time.

And that, I see in hindsight, was just another form of coercion from the man.

Puttering

In April, I doubled my teaching load. Normally I would not give up my free time this way, but my husband works for Chrysler. Or should I start calling it Fiat?

What I noticed most of all when I suddenly had to work all those extra hours is that when I did get a free minute, I turned on the television, opened a novel, or logged onto Facebook. Sometimes I cooked, which was as close as I got to puttering for an entire month.

Now that things are normalizing, I realize that cooking is not the same as puttering. I also realize that puttering is essential to my peace of mind. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a day, I need that time to unwind, to go aimlessly from room to room, straightening the stack of mail on my desk or petting my cat or putting away the pile of laundry on the bed.  

Other things got left behind when work picked up. I didn’t write as much. That’s finally back on track. I stopped meditating. Slowly adding that back in, five minutes at a time. My treadmill grew cobwebs, which I still need to sweep away. And yoga class? Namaste who? Sigh.

On the plus side, I had lunch with friends on Monday and Wednesday this week. I cooked for two hours yesterday, making all kinds of healthy food that should last several days. Still, this morning I was feeling a little down. Blue moods for me usually mean lack of exercise, but I just didn’t feel up to getting out the vacuum to suck up all those cobwebs. I didn’t have the time to drive to the yoga studio, either.

But I had a few minutes to putter. And that made all the difference.

Three by Thirty

By the time I was thirty years old, I’d been married three times.

My first husband was a musician. He was a sweet guy, but he wanted to be Jimi Hendrix, and I was just a waitress, trying to support us both on my tips from the Chinese restaurant. We were eighteen and in love. Or maybe I mistook yummy sex and sweet friendship for love. I said my vows in the same dress I’d worn during commencement exercises at my high school graduation just a month earlier. It was 1973 and the mayor presided over our group ceremony in the city of Detroit. We had no honeymoon, but a year later, it was over anyway.

 In 1976, our country celebrated the bicentennial and I ecstatically entered into my second marriage. This was a dream wedding, with a floor-length ivory gown and lace veil, a church ceremony, and a photographer hired to catch every blissful moment. The groom was my soul mate and, eventually, the father of my two lovely sons. We had a good life, a wonderful life, until it wasn’t. Before I left, we tried marriage counseling. It didn’t work, because, my husband said, the problems were all mine. At his urging, I entered into individual therapy.

I tried for two years to change who I was so that I could be happy with him–and he with me. Therapy eventually allowed me enough insight and courage to leave a worsening situation. 

I left both my marriages, one after a year, one after seven years. When I married my third husband in 1985, I made a promise to myself that I’d never leave him. He has the best qualities of each of the others, qualities that work well with my personality, that help us stay solid. He’s kind and loving like husband #1, and he’s a good provider and keenly intelligent, like husband #2. And he has the key thing neither of them were ever able to offer: he believes in me. In my goodness, in my kindness, in my intelligence. But most importantly, he believes in my writing self. He honors that room of my own. 

I’ve been married to Al for 24 years now, and not all of those years have been easy. We came close to splitting up a couple of times. What kept us together were his steadiness and my determination to never go through the horrors of divorce again. I was particularly determined not to put my children through that again. Not very romantic, but then, I’ve finally learned, marriage is about much more than romance. 

My Tipping Point

Something shocking in the current O: The Oprah Magazine beauty section this month: an older woman is considering dying her eyebrows at home. And the beauty editor actually encouraged her to do this, outlining what to me were scary precautions, like having two bottles of sterile eyewash on hand just in case.

Maybe it’s only a short trend from dying grey hair to dying grey eyebrows, but it made me think: will the greying of my eyebrows be my aging tipping point? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

It’s easy to think so, with my eyebrows still naturally the same shade as my admittedly salon-enhanced hair. I have considered growing out my hair, letting it turn the salt and pepper shade it clearly yearns to be. I’ve even thought about stopping the constant cutting and layering and arranging of bangs to a more simple style of just brushing it back and twisting it into a neat granny bun. Not quite ready for that, maybe because I’m not an actual granny yet.

What else would go down that slippery slope toward Total Granny if my eyebrows turned grey overnight? Would I stop wearing contact lenses? I have to admit in a way that would be a relief. I wear my glasses most of the time now anyway, and when I do put lenses in, I’m constantly using re-wetting drops to assuage dry eye syndrome.

What about jeans with zippers? Those elastic-waisted jeans look so comfy. And they’d be fine with a long enough top, right? Who would know? Well, I would. I’m not sure why it matters, but it does. So for now, I’m going to keep beating back the inevitable process of looking my age.

But I really believe the minute my eyebrows go grey, I’ll stop the madness. And I have to say, I’m sort of looking forward to it.