Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Intimate friendships

Whatever ambivalence I felt about the Grad School City portion of my recent trip, I felt none whatsoever about my housing arrangements: I spent three nights with my college roommate and her family and three nights with another college friend and his husband. This arrangement was originated by necessity--half-pay means no money for a hotel room!--and I had some trepidation about burdening busy people in the middle of the work-week. But it was terrific to have that time with them, and to be, however, briefly, a part of their regular lives.

As I've aged, this has become increasingly rare: actually seeing how my friends live. Sure, I have friends whom I meet for drinks every week; friends whose houses I dine at regularly; and I've even rented a vacation house with several friends for a weekend. But that's not the same thing.

When I was in my twenties, I was enmeshed in my friends' lives in ways that went beyond our constant phone calls. We actually lived with each other, even after college, and even after most of us had gotten our own apartments. If we lived in different cities, we'd visit each other for long weekends--and if we lived in the same city, we'd crash at each others' places when it got too late to go home for the night. We'd sleep in the same room, use the same bathroom, make breakfast together. Or we'd hang out at each others' places for hours as afternoon turned into evening, watching bad t.v., reading magazines, drinking a bottle of wine and doing our makeup as we tried to decide what to do with the night.

Now we're busier, with work and other things. Almost all of us are partnered and half of us have kids, and spending large blocks of time together is a trickier proposition. Even when Cosimo and I stay overnight with friends, it's usually just one night (if we're traveling), or there's some event we're all going to (reunion, sporting event), so the rhythms aren't those of real life.

But over the past year, I've stayed for two or three nights, just by myself, with four or five different friends (and their partners and kids, if they have 'em), some of whom I'd never before seen in pyjamas, or whose kitchens I've never experienced flooded with early-morning sunlight.

It's been a treat. The greatest luxury is simply that of time: all those hours in which to have the kinds of conversations that emerge only over a day or two of doing other things--fixing meals, taking the dog for a walk, running errands--and that wouldn't necessarily come out over a 45-minute phone call or a hasty lunch. But there's also the special intimacy that comes from witnessing someone's daily routines with her partner or her child or her pets, from seeing the corner of her kitchen table where she pays her bills, or learning how her coffee maker works. I like that intimacy, and I miss it. But I'm glad to have gotten a fresh taste with a few friends this past week.


Comradde PhysioProffe said...

Funny coincidence that you posted this today. Last week I spent two days staying at a dear old friend's home while in their town to give a seminar at their local University. It was awesome to actually be part of the family for a few daya, reconnect with my friend, and get to know his wife and daughters.

Flavia said...


I'm glad you've had this experience recently, too. There's something really profound about sharing in someone else's daily life in this way.

I don't think that focusing on one's partner or family, as most of us do as we age, is in any necessary way opposed to sharing in our friends' lives (speaking for myself, my closest romantic relationships have always given me a deeper capacity to love and empathize with others--friends, family, strangers); but it does come down to time, and there's simply less of it to spend with friends as we start devoting more of it to work and family.

Last week was a reminder to me both to make more time for my friends, but also to really be with them when we're together (rather than worrying about always having a plan or a reason or an agenda for a visit).

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

This is cool. I miss having this kind of friendship, too, but I think I might be gaining one.

My kids go to school with some other kids whose house is two blocks away from us. I'm becoming good friends with the mom. Recently, she came to our house when it was a straight-up mess. Basically, we'd been too busy to clean. Cleaning is for weekends. Anyway, it felt okay to have her come into the midst of our scrambled house, and I didn't feel judged or anything. It just felt like we were suddenly better friends than before. That's like a true test of friendship -- being able to open your home to someone no matter what the state of it is. :)

Flavia said...


Yes, and you've hit on an important point, which is that our openness to others or our need to control how we appear to them can wax and wane, depending on life stage. I used to be much more uptight about having people see me in my natural state (despite the fact that I hung out with people casually much more frequently), but for some people it's the opposite: having more control over their lives makes them more reluctant to let people in. But it isn't just a unidirectional process.