I can only speak for women of a certain age, but it seems harder to make close friends later in life. Friends made later in life never seem to gain the same intimacy. You socialize rather than confide. Maybe certain slots are already filled and life is too busy to start over. Maybe it’s the fatigue of listening to yourself complain for so many years that you are hesitant to expose newer friends to the same tired pity party. New friends get the highlights. Whole swaths of past milestones are never mentioned as if you could ignore their impact on your current life. It feels a little dishonest. Sins of omission, perhaps. But to these women, you are a different person, one more confident, more in charge of her life. These women have never seen you cry.
It is exactly why I adore them.
Our closest friends often predate our need for hair color. A confluence of circumstances was likely the spark. Kids in the same play group. College roommates. A first job. You grew close over shared moments, a difficult confession, another teary glass of wine. Friends in this category are the ones that escape the confines of time. Weeks go by and you pick up as if your last meeting was yesterday because for many, many years, your last meeting was yesterday. The imprint of those years overshadows current distance.
And yet, one of the women I feel closest to is someone I have met only four times in over fifty years. Lynn was seven and I was eight when we became pen-pals. You can imagine the early letters. “I am fine. How are you? Do you like bikes?” It was years before an audiotape went round the world and I heard my first Australian accent. Her voice was crazy weird.
Here was a friendship with no shared moments. No phone calls. Huge gaps in our narrative, and yet it grew. Having a pen-pal was like having a diary that answered you back. Here was someone I could lament my lack of breasts at twelve. Or tear apart the boy that snubbed me at fourteen. We shared every milestone— births, deaths, divorce, grandchildren. But beyond that, we shared our worries, our failings, our hopes. Writing was never a chore.
The first time we were face-to-face was in 2006. My husband and I met Lynn and her sister, Julie, at the bus station in Philadelphia. We are taking a Greyhound from New York, whatever that is. I worried on the drive into town that I wouldn’t recognize her. I hadn’t had a photograph in ages, and well, photos are deceiving. For forty-five minutes, we searched the bus station waiting room, worried they’d missed the bus, calling the restaurant delaying our dinner reservation repeatedly.
And then two women we’d passed dozens of times approached, sans luggage (a misunderstanding at NY’s Port Authority.) It took only the fewest of minutes, taking in her face, searching for a connection made through the printed page, and then yes, I know you! I’ve always known you!
I was online before the Internet came to her corner of New South Wales. Even when she finally got dial-up, we continued to write letters by hand. I can’t imagine we will ever stop until death takes one of us. We email now just to say a letter is on the way. Letters are infrequent, but still, I feel incredibly close to her.
These days, friends are acquired easily, a click on a FB request or an acceptance of a new follower. But my relationship with Lynn was not built on sharing silly photographs with hundreds of strangers. It was birthed one letter at a time, one confidence at a time. And it required the utmost patience, as the return post was many months away.
I wonder if this kind of relationship can happen today. Would a young person Facetime a potential friend to see if chemistry exists? Could they see behind the eager face and the nervous laughter? Would they be drawn in by an exotic accent and settle for a commonality as quick as a hand of cards?
Lynn and I have visited four times now. Three in the States and once when I journeyed to meet her. Each time we pick up from the last letter as if I saw her yesterday, though sadly, each visit feels like the final one. It is a special friendship, one that defies the categories, and I am possessive of it.