How to Stay Friends for 30 Years

768b919fa22206ad0360afc9e99e9a8eThirty years ago this fall, I moved into a tiny single room in an all-girls dorm at the University of Delaware with another girl I’d never laid eyes on before who lived in a city I’d never even thought much about before at a school I’d never even visited before. And it all clicked.

Long after we’d become good friends – after spending months lying on our bunk beds and talking late into the night – she’d confided that based on my fancy-sounding street address she figured I was some New Jersey princess and given that she hailed from Baltimore, I assumed she lived in the projects. But our preconceived notions were quickly dismissed after we met and bonded our first night at school trying to haul a case of Busch beer, which we had talked someone into buying us, about a mile back to our dorm room concealed in a duffel bag. It turned out that when it came to underage drinking, we were both resourceful and well matched.

It was dumb luck that landed the two of us together and that we happened to get along so well. In 1984, decades before incoming freshmen hand-picked their college roommates on Facebook to coordinate color themes and bedding, you just showed up and hoped for the best.

The first indication that we belonged together was that we both ended up squished together in a dorm room meant for one person after we failed to submit our housing forms in a timely fashion. We were both pretty slovenly and liked to drink beer. I was introduced to George Thorogood and NRBQ and she tolerated my infatuation with Prince and the poster I hung of him on our wall. She brought with her a two-foot-tall red ashtray, one of those industrial type receptacles where you stub the butt out and then press a button to release it into the can. And because our tiny room became the hub for all of our new friends to come and smoke cigarettes and watch General Hospital most weekday afternoons, the can quickly filled up — which excited us to no end.

We both also brought our good friends from high school to college with us and they became our core group of pals at first. Over time, our gang expanded to include another girl in our dorm and a few more who we met through the sorority I rushed sophomore year. We were kind of a mismatched crew. Some of us would never have ended up friends with others were it not for the group as a whole. But beer and boys were a common denominator with a big dose of bossy thrown in. Somehow when we were all together – despite everybody wanting to be in charge – it just worked.

By the time we graduated in the spring of 1988, the eight of us had been through a lot – failed romances, missed periods and more than a few drunken nights. A few days before graduation we gathered in a tiny side room of the sorority house and passed around a bottle of champagne for each of us to sign and vowed to save it to drink when the last of our crew got married. We finally drank it in September 2000, when the final one of our crew got hitched and right before I celebrated my own tenth wedding anniversary.

How could we have known then, as we passed the cheap, fizzy wine around for each of us to sip, what the following ten years would hold? That three of our marriages would collapse and that the union we celebrated that night, dancing under the stars far out on the east end of Long Island, would be so short-lived? That in less than a year the groom would go to work on a bright September morning at the top of the World Trade Center and never come home?

Maybe in the end it’s the loss that all of us in the group has experienced in one form or another that has brought us even closer than those days when we piled on a couch to watch Moonlighting or borrowed each other’s Benetton sweaters for tailgates. Going off and living our lives became the glue that held our friendship together.

We’ve become so much more than the one-dimensional girls who met 30 years ago. All that loss – of spouses, parents and dreams of the perfect lives we thought awaited us – has let us connect with each other in a much more real way. We tease and joke and boss but there’s a softness to it now.

Inherently, we’re still the same girls we were 30 years ago – The Boss and Study Buddy, The Spy, The Nice One, the Senator (aka Honeypot) the fabulous Jet Setter and the GDI (Goddamn Independent). And I’m always good for laughs. We just have a lot more layers now. So much has happened since we signed that bottle of champagne all those years ago.

The eight of us gathered last weekend for a few days of eating, drinking and laughing as we have almost every year over the last decade. It’s an easy friendship, the kind where even though we don’t keep in touch the way we should and only half of the group is on social media, we can pick right up where we left off.

We’ve long since given up on the notion that we’re actually going to do something when we get together. We usually muster a walk along the beach or through a park under the bright autumn leaves, but mostly, we sit around and talk. And while we probably logged about 100 hours of conversation between the eight of us – on the couch over early morning cappuccinos or curled up together on a bed late at night after one-to-many glasses of red wine – I honestly cannot share any of the discussions with you because they were either too honest or too raunchy.

Most every conversation ended with someone turning to me and saying, “Do NOT blog about that.”

I was describing the group to another friend when I got home, and she laughed and said, “Sounds like it’s the family you get to pick.”

And maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, because even though I’m not sure if we would have picked each other 30 years ago – like in what world would you even think a nice conservative Visitation girl from D.C. would pal around with a Jersey Girl with big, permed hair? – somehow it all works.

But, much like family, over time you don’t love people despite their differences but often because of them. So maybe the secret to staying such good friends over 30 years is learning to appreciate people for who they are or maybe, just like ending up in a tiny room with some girl from Baltimore, it’s just dumb luck.

8 friends + 19 kids + 9 weddings + 3 ex-husbands + 2 boyfriends = 30 years of friendship.

Eight friends + 19 kids + 9 weddings + 3 ex-husbands + 2 boyfriends = 30 years of friendship.

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Gains and Losses


Credit: Susan Buchenberger

In theory, you would have thought I’d be happy they were leaving.

I mean, I scored a lot of swag over the last few weeks as my next-door neighbors frantically cleaned out their house so they could pull up stakes and move to Hong Kong this past weekend. They needed to clear out for another family in town who are renting their house while they’re gone.

Here are just some of the bigger items that I am the new – and in some cases — temporary, owner of:

  • Sauna
  • Trampoline
  • 2 paddle boards
  • Potted boxwoods
  • Multiple bags of quinoa
  • Not one but three iPhone 5 chargers
  • Trader Joe’s Frozen Mahi Mahi steaks

This is not to mention the two shopping bags full of frozen and refrigerated items, about 10 bottles of assorted alcohol and one final bag yesterday containing everything from Trader Joe’s popcorn to a new bottle of Nivea lotion and Band Aids that I brought home.

I could have also had a cat, dog, bunny and various houseplants, but I drew the line at anything that required being kept alive. I can commit to quinoa but not animals, nowadays.

Initially, when my neighbor Susan started to offer various pantry items to me as she began clearing out her kitchen to prepare to move to Hong Kong for a couple of years for her husband’s job, I demurred. I was okay in the herbal teas and balsamic vinegar department and felt bad taking hers.

But then she told me how she tried to get another friend to take items from her pantry, and that friend also politely declined, and Susan said to me, “All I could think was: For fucks sake, please just take it!”

She needed us to help take stuff off her hands. It made her life easier.

So I stopped saying, “No,” every time she offered me something, which turned out to be a lot since I lived right next door, making it relatively easy to unload giant things like trampolines and saunas. I stopped feeling embarrassed or guilty for taking their stuff and saw it as something that made the giant move to the other side of the world with her husband and three young boys a tiny bit easier.

But of course, all the Kahlua and frozen Mahi Mahi steaks in the world could not make up for how much I was really losing. I told Susan that as we hugged good-bye in her garage Sunday morning as the giant black van waited to take her and her family and their 17 bags to JFK to fly to Hong Kong.

“You’ve been such a good friend,” I cried as we stood their hugging each other and she hugged me a little tighter and I thought about what an understatement that was. How critical her friendship has been to the quality of my life.

She was a major part of the safety net that kept me from falling to the ground during and after my divorce. She always included my youngest child – who’s 11 and around the same age as her boys – in whatever they were doing.

“Does he want to come over to watch a movie?”

“Does he was to stay and eat pizza?”

“Does he need a ride to lacrosse?”

“Does he want to stay at the beach with us?”

“Does he want to go to the movies with us?”

“Does he want to sleep over?”

It was always so easy and made the transition from stay-at-home mom to single working mom a lot easier.

She never said, “No,” when I asked her for a favor, never even hesitated or made me feel bad. She often asked if I needed anything if she was running to Costco or Trader Joe’s, and gave my family more free cupcakes from the cupcake business she ran on the side, than we could ever dream possible.

And she looped me into her group of friends — who have kids around my youngest child’s age — which helped me not only meet a great group of people but let me find a niche after my divorce and needed to find a place to set up my beach chair in the summer. She gladly welcomed me into her circle and had a spicy margarita waiting when I got there.

Her husband, Michael, was just as good. He was the boys’ lacrosse coach and helped us with the complicated equipment and always made sure my son was on his team, which came in handy this past spring when I forgot to pick my guy up from practice and Mike just scooped him up with his own kids to bring home.

“I literally forgot him,” I texted Michael back in May. “WTH is gonna happen when u guys r gone?”

WTH is right.

When I first told my 17-year-old daughter that our neighbors, whose boys she has been babysitting since they moved next door seven years ago, were definitely moving to Hong Kong, she started to cry. “Not my babies,” she sniffled.

But we knew that the move was hard enough on Susan and the boys without us being all weepy in front of them, so we put on a good face. We talked about how exciting it was, this new adventure, and how they’ll be back in New Jersey with lots of stories to tell in a few years.

In the meantime, for the rest of us, it’s kind of like a temporary death. I’ll miss the day-to-day interactions, the ease of having someone just a few yards away who I can ask to borrow an egg or sesame oil or drive me to the hospital if I’m feeling especially crazy. I’ll miss being able to tell my son to go outside and see what the boys are doing and watching them all play soccer on her front lawn for hours on end. I’ll even miss all the pieces of crap they set up in my driveway as they practiced for their future jobs as professional skateboarders and BMX riders.

So when I walked around Costco and Wegman’s yesterday crying after they pulled out of the neighborhood, it wasn’t really for Susan’s family that I was weeping. They were going to be great. I mean, they already have a trip planned to Thailand in October.

To be honest, I was really crying for me.

Because I might have gained a sauna and lots of quinoa, but for now, I’ve lost some wonderful friends.