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I was discussing it with Joan, one of my idols. The busy newspaper editor who faced the demands of headlines and deadlines with incredible aplomb. She seemed to have it all..

How does she do it, I was asking her. And what gets sacrificed along the way? There was a long pause, and then Joan told me: what gets sacrificed is Joan.

My friend has lost the calm and contained woman she once was. She has had to let go of balance, equanimity and, in her case, a husband who just couldn’t adjust to the wife he had expected to be a mother and homemaker but had instead reinvented herself as a dedicated career woman.

Of course, that doesn’t happen to everyone who begins marriage in a traditional way and then changes the script. But Joan and I both know it happens with some regularity to women and men of our generation, those who grew up believing in happily-ever-afters. The ones who grew up watching Hollywood endings: sweet little wives wrapped up in aprons and surrounded by white picket fences.

The conversation with Joan got me wondering about women – my daughters, my friends, myself. Frankly, I thought of renunciations first. And yes, there have been plenty of them as I grew from girl to woman to person, shifting priorities, values and views of myself along that journey.

Once upon a time, I had dusted and vacuumed daily, fluffed pillows semi-compulsively and tried for that magazine-ideal look in our house. I had clipped complicated recipes from newspapers and magazines, and painstakingly prepared them because I thought that was what women were supposed to do.

Back then, I would “try on” my mother’s roles, struggling to make peace with a restlessness in me that baking perfect pound cakes didn’t quite satisfy. I don’t know precisely when I shed my original role as Suzy Homemaker, but it had a rather short run in my life.

Motherhood, which came soon enough (I was already one at 22) was all-consuming and deeply satisfying. But it also was relentlessly demanding, often frustrating and absolutely the hardest – and best – work of my life.

It was during that phase that a fledgling writing career also began, one always relegated to a back burner. Like so many women who learned the script of the 1950s, I had the abiding notion that outside-the-home work was, by definition, a back-burner position.

And look at the world now, with a work force that’s at least half female and with women defining themselves by work just as surely as men always have. The gains have been enormous. But for some, the losses have been, too.

After my conversation with Joan, I realized the one that saddens me most is the pleasure of women’s friendships.

Of course, there are some left that thrive and nourish me. I couldn’t live without them. But as my generation of women has exited the kitchen door and entered the wide, wide world, we have had to let go of one another and march forward more or less alone.

I miss long, leisurely, silly phone calls with my old pals – for me, emails and texts just won’t cut it.

I miss excursions to the country to search old barns for bargain antiques with women friends who loved the hunt as much as I did or to a fancy dress shop “just to look.” And I surely miss the me who was once part of an extended community of the heart that existed among my women friends.

When I told Joan about my reckoning, she assured me that one of these days, it will all come ’round again, that many women who are “out there” will find the need to return to one another.

I hope she’s right. I hope that next month or next year or the one after that will see women united in the lovely embrace of friendship. I know that for me – an enlightened, liberated and yes, sometimes lonely, woman – it can’t happen soon enough.

Sally Friedman can be reached at sfriedman@sjmagazine.net.

May 2017
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